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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Pregnant with Chrrist

"Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing...Test everything; retain what is good." 1Thess 5: 16,18

On this, the third Sunday of Advent, we pause in joy and say: We are pregnant.  Though it might startle some, the Cistercian monk, Blessed Isaac of Stella, was very clear about this is the 11th century. Listen:
In a way, every Christian is also believed to be a bride of God's word, a mother of Christ, his daughter and sister, as once virginal and fruitful.These words are used in a universal sense of the Church, in a special sense of Mary, in a particular sense of the individual Christian. (1)
Thinking of ourselves as mothers of Christ may be unusual and counter intuitive, but when we let the words settle in, it is wonderful.  The whole church is pregnant with Christ, yearning to give birth to him each day through our good works, service and worship.  Teresa of Avila reminds us,
Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours, yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world, yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.(2)
Though the challenge is daunting, when we reside in the joy of being pregnant with Christ, the mystery surrounds us and fills us with delight and hope.

Today, be joyful as a "mother of Christ."

How are your challenged to give birth to Christ each day?

Friday, December 12, 2014

St Lucy

"When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him." Mt 21 31-32

Today's Gospel is a difficult one for me.  Perhaps like some of you, when I get involved in a heated argument, it often becomes more important for me to be right than in relationship.  I have struggled with this my entire life and it is not difficult for me to see myself among the Pharisees trying to convince everyone, without regard for the truth or what is happening right in front of me,  that Jesus is a charlatan.  That thousands are listening to John the Baptist announce that he is not the Christ and convincing even prostitutes and tax collectors that his message is from God,  the Pharisees suggest that prostitutes and tax collectors are poor witnesses and will do anything to feather their own nests. Failing to even consider the humility and honesty of John, especially when he points to Christ as "the one who is to come," (Lk 7:18-19) they risk their salvation for the sake of their fragile power.

The feast of St. Lucy only increases my discomfort.  After Lucy rejects a proposal of marriage, the fellow she spurns "accuses" her of believing in the Christ, and even though she realizes the danger, Lucy acknowledges that indeed she is a Christian. When she refuses to recant her belief, she is martyred.  We know little else about her life, but the early church held her up, even including her name in the first Eucharistic prayer, because of her simple, direct an unwavering faith.  What a challenge she is to us.

Today, pray with St John that Christ will increase as you decrease.

Which of your faults get in the way of growing in faith?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Our Lady of Guadalupe

"A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars." Rev 19a

One of the great lessons of Advent and in the lives of the saints is that God comes to the humble.  St. Juan Diego, who has his own feast now after being canonized by Pope St John Paul II, described himself to Our Lady of Guadalupe as, " a nobody, .. small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf."  How he wondered would a bishop believe that Mary sent him to request that a church be built in her honor?  After all, by his own account, he was merely a subsistence farmer, a nobody.

Hearing Juan Diego's anxiety and fear, Mary assured him that if he took the flowers she gave him which were growing on the top of hill in frozen soil, the bishop would listen to her through him.  Indeed, when he brought the flowers to the bishop as proof of his own integrity and Mary's promise, the cloak with which he was carrying the flowers had an image of the woman who appeared to him. Startled, the bishop's skepticism melted away, and he ordered that a church be built in Mary's honor and gave Juan Diego permission to receive the Eucharist three times a week. A singular privilege at that time, receiving the Eucharist was a burden as well. The nearest church was a fifteen mile walk from his home!

A faith filled life, though privileged, is never easy.  We need to work at it, and even when we try to escape from God, God will find us wherever we are.  God's love and confidence in us is always greater than our own.

Today, ask God for the faith to see yourself as God sees you.

Do you have a favorite Marian feast?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Confessing God's Goodness

"I am the LORD, your God, who grasp your right hand; It is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.” Is 41:13

Several years ago I was asked to help hear confessions in a Spanish speaking parish. Although the majority of the people were from the Dominican Republic and loved having me in the confessional since they realized that I struggled to understand them, a few were from Mexico and had been catechized in a way that touched me deeply.  Each of the Mexican penitents began: "Father, I confess that God is good and has given me faith. I confess that God has blessed me with a wonderful family, and I confess that I have friends who support me and love me."

Only after beginning with this non traditional formula of "confession" which immediately reminded me of St. Augustine's Confessions, did they begin to ask pardon for their sins, again with an unique introduction.  "So Father, because God is so good and has been so good to me, I have been ungrateful and these are the ways."  Honestly, I delighted each time a person catechized in this way came into the confessional, and have used the same formula myself when celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation.

Thinking about these men and women occasions fundamentally important questions for us as people of faith: Have we been grateful enough for God's presence, understanding, compassion and forgiveness, for the one who grasps us by our right hand and promises to help us?  Are we full of gratitude to the God who never sleeps, never forgets us, and is always ready to welcome us home? Are we more worried about avoiding sin than doing good and fostering the good news in our families, communities and churches?

Today, let God take your right hand and guide you to where God needs you to be.

For what or whom are you most grateful as Advent unfolds?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Growing Closer to God

"My yoke is easy, my burden light."

All of us have people in our lives who get under our skin.  Almost anything they say makes us defensive and resistive. Though we cannot easily articulate what it is that disturbs us about the other person, it is very real and disabling. Often enough the person who annoys us at every turn is a mirror image of ourselves. If we find ourselves talking too much and not listening carefully enough to others, we resent it when others prattle on and seem not to hear the opinions of others.

On the other hand, it is good to remember that our personality gets under the skin of others. Self reflection can be humbling, but it can also take the edge off our annoyance and calm our spirits. More important, it can be the first step in recognizing and accepting the call to conversion and transformation
Jesus has a ready answer when we allow our own faults or the foibles of others to bother us unnecessarily. Come to me, he insists, don't be afraid. I will be your guide and protection; I will make your burdens much lighter but you must let me help. Stop trying to figure out what it is about yourself or others that bothers you. It is a waste of time and fruitless. Place my yoke around your shoulders and walk the path to which I direct you. In me, everything is possible.

Today, pray for someone who annoys you.

What is the heaviest burden the Gospel asks you to carry?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Revisiting our Priotities

"Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end."

Spiritual directors often speak of "resistances" to God's action in our lives. Sometimes it is unresolved conflicts from the past that seem to block our submitting ourselves to God.  At other times, it is too much work , too much television or too much time in front of the computer. Perhaps because we want to be comforted all the time, we resist looking at what needs to be changed in our lives.

Part of my work demands that I spend time reflecting on the daily scriptures, researching areas with which I am not familiar and actually writing this blog or a homily, but the computer cannot be my life.  Unless I take sufficient quiet time to remember God's enduring presence all around me, what I read, study and write will be like dry straw. Lacking a certain spirit, it will be unable to help lift people to God and urge them to live for God and do God's work. When they do this, they will be comforted.

Advent is a good time to examine our own commitment to faith and its practice. Have our prayers become routine, mumbled out of obligation quickly and with little heart?  Has our inability to stop comparing ourselves to others impeded our own progress in the spiritual life? As Jesus reminds his hearers: the wisdom of following him will be vindicated by our good works.  People will see in us the Christ who grounds us in hope or they will ignore our halfhearted attempts to appear religious.

Today, ask God to reveal how you resist his transforming Word.

Which of God's demands do you most often resist?


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Immaculate Conception

"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Lk 1:27

Whenever I get a glimpse of authentic, uncluttered love I am always moved. I remember watching the Special Olympics a few years ago when one young man stumbled running around the track and two of his competitors stopped to help him before continuing their own quest for a medal.  Their action was so natural and so pure that I knew they were challenging everyone watching to reexamine their priorities. Mary, the mother of Jesus, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, does the same thing. Being without sin frees Mary to be for us and for the whole world. Unfettered by sin, she responds freely to anyone who ask.

Think for instance about those times when you experience a deep freedom.  Nothing clutters your mind or your heart. You can listen without searching for an answer. You can respond without having to be right. You can give of yourself totally to another not because there is a reward for doing so, but simply because it is the right thing to do.  When we experience this kind of freedom, we begin to appreciate the great gift of Mary, Mother of the Church.  To be born without sin, to be able to resist sin in all its forms, freed her to be Christ's mother and ours. What a gift Mary is in this regard, and what a gift we can be when we put aside our selfishness and self centeredness in order to live for others in the name of Mary' son Jesus.

Today, ask for the gift of thinking of others first.

Who is the most generous, other centered person you know?