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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Fourth Sunday of Advent

"The LORD is with you." (2 Sam 7:3)

The 7th Chapter of II Samuel has always moved my heart.  David's relationship with God, even when he speaks to God through Nathan the Prophet, is so natural, so honest and open that it offers us a model for our own prayer.

Caught up with his duties as King, David suddenly realizes that in his hurry to defend and build up the faith of his people, he has forgotten to build a permanent and beautiful place for the Ark of the Covenant.  Even though Nathan assures him that he has nothing to worry about, David knows that he has forgotten something very important and God knows it, too. Nathan, in a dream that same night, is reminded that God has always been a companion to the Jewish people who were nomads for so long. God, like the people themselves, lived in a tent, a dwelling easily dismantled and moved to a new place when their goats and sheep needed new grazing land. 

More important, God was happy to move, to be with his people, to assure them that the covenant he made with them would endure forever no matter where they wandered. Though shocking to Nathan, God insists that he does not need a lavish and permanent dwelling place, but is content to be among his people wherever they are. Nothing has changed. God accompanies us wherever we go, as Servant, Shepherd and Guide.

Today, pray to be a worthy tent for God.

What image of God most helps you walk a path of faith?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Yes

"May it be done to me according to your word."  Lk 1:37

In a remarkable and evocative homily about Mary's response to the angel Gabriel, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, an 11th century Benedictine and reformer, speaks for us all in urging Mary to say yes to God and yes to us. Bernard asks Mary:
Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.(1)
Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Bernard's challenge to Mary is actually addressed to all of us. Advent is not a time to dally or delay, not a time for virginal simplicity. It is a time to say yes without fear.  God needs to be born in us again today, not tomorrow or in the New Year.  God depends upon us in our weakness, fear and sin to accept his hand and assurance that with God all things are possible. Unless we ask for the grace of going beyond our imagination, we cannot hope to arise, hasten and be open.  With God all these actions are not only possible but necessary and Mary's yes assures us of this.  May it be done to us according to your word!

Today, even if you are living in darkness, say Yes to God.

What or who has helped you say yes to God?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Being Fruitful for God

"His wife was barren and had borne no children." (Jg 13:3)
"But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years."(Lk 1:7)

Barrenness is a particularly difficult burden to bear, and in the ancient world it was often seen as a punishment for sin.  Both the wife of Zorah, the father of Samson, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist were barren, and we can only imagine the pain they felt.  No doubt both women were familiar with the words of Jeremiah who tells us that Rachel wept inconsolably because she was barren.  For Jewish women not to have children meant they had no identity, no value, and no blessing from God.  Zorah's wife in today's passage from Judges isn't even named. How great then the joy of both women when, in their old age, God blesses them with children whose role in salvation history will forever help believers to appreciate the greatness of God who blesses us when we least expect it.

In these last days of Advent, the same is true of us.  Our roles in the ongoing story of God's love for the world, while sometimes muddy and confusing, are radically important to God.  God wants to speak through us, to announce good news, not only through the strengths and gifts we each have, but through our willingness to endure weakness and suffering for the sake of building God's reign.

Today, pray to be fruitful for God's sake.

What are the gifts God has given you for the sake of others?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Fidelity of Joseph

"Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly." Mt 1:19

All of us have been hurt by others and been tempted to respond in kind. Angry and confused, in the name of justice, we strike back, and although our actions and words rarely do any good, we sometimes feel a little better about standing up for ourselves. No doubt hurt and confused, Joseph had determined to divorce Mary quietly. Not wanting to shame Mary but convinced that his proposed marriage to her could not happen, Joseph learns in a dream that God has other plans, and he listens.

Listening is a radically important aspect of faith, especially when we are troubled. Cluttered with all kinds of thoughts, we might be tempted to react in order to free ourselves from feeling awful, but Joseph reminds us that this is a mistake. Only patient listening to God no matter how loud the "crowd" might be will allow us to discern how God wants us to go forward.  Advent is a time to follow Joseph's example. Not rushing into action but waiting upon Go for direction will surely help us live the Gospel more fully.

Today, wait before making a difficult decision.

Who or what helps you to faithful to God on a daily basis?


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Jesus, Son of David

"Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Christ, fourteen generations." Mt 1 16-17

Genealogies are always intriguing and revealing.  The genealogy of Jesus is no exception. Matthew is intent on helping his readers understand that Jesus came from the tree of David and is the Messiah whose coming was promised long before his birth. 

Furthermore, a careful reading of Matthew's genealogy counts four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Women were rarely mentioned in Jewish genealogies, and the one's mentioned don't fit the mold one would expect in the genealogy of Jesus. Tamar was abused and only conceived when she disguised herself as a prostitute in order to bear a child with Judah who rejected her.  Rahab is a prostitute and a non Israelite who should not have married an Israelite. Neither is Ruth an Israelite but Boaz marries her. Finally, David spies Bathsheba bathing and is so overcome with desire for her, he has her husband Uriah killed in order to satisfy his own lust.  

All this is pretty messy stuff. Jesus has lots of "black sheep" in his family tree and the point of the scripture is that it doesn't really matter. God can and will write straight on crooked lines.

Today, ask God for the humility to accept yourself and your family as you are.

How do we live faithfully in families and a church that is so dysfunctional?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Remnants for God

"I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly,... They shall do no wrong and speak no lies; Nor shall there be found in their mouths a deceitful tongue; They shall pasture and couch their flocks with none to disturb them."

More than once as a friar I have shopped for rug remnants. Wanting to spruce us a bedroom or a guest parlor, I searched carpet outlets for their left over pieces of fabric that would would give the friary some warmth and texture. Usually inexpensive, the remnants were of good quality and though the did not fit the rooms perfectly, they did their job and were able to last even when the rooms in which they were placed had a lot of traffic.

God speaks of remnants in the Hebrew bible and promises the Jewish nation that though they were unfaithful to the Covenant, there would always be humble and lowly believers who maintained their faith despite the cost. In the bible the remnant of Israel were poor and from the underclass, but their faith was strong and unbreakable. Despite their struggles they knew God was with them as a guide and protector, and they could not and would not turn away from the gift of faith handed onto them freely by their parents and relatives. Like the remnant rugs I purchased, the remnant of Israel were of high quality, and though they would never know high office or important positions, they sought only to please God and be faithful witnessed to the Covenant. While most would never notice them, they were the reason God remained faithful to the Jewish nation despite the infidelity of most believers.

Mary and Joseph, poor, probably uneducated and without pretense become God's choice to bring Jesus into the world. Like the remnant of old, Mary and Joseph say yes to God despite the cost and become the ground upon which God builds the new and everlasting Covenant, Jesus, the Messiah and Savior of us all.

Today, think of yourself as a remnant for God's use.

How do you maintain your faith in the face of overwhelming challenges?




Sunday, December 14, 2014

God's Nuptial Bond with Us

"Show us, LORD, your love, and grant us your salvation." Ps 85:8

Because it is impossible to adequately articulate who God is or how much God loves us, the bible reminds us to ask God to show us his glory, and uses images and metaphors to invite readers (and pray-ers) to emply their imaginations in trying to understand and enter the mystery of God's presence and love. The prophets even suggest God is like our husband or wife, a remarkable attempt to draw us closer to the God who promises never to abandon us.

Images like this can unnerve us, but that is not their intent. Rather, the prophets want to gently break down our easy, familiar categories of belief which can unwittingly lead us to take God and God's care for us for granted. When Isaiah speaks of God as our husband or wife he assures us that God is linked to us forever in a loving relationship of total commitment, even when we are in exile.  Although we might be separated for a while, God, like our wife or husband, will faithfully search for and find us no matter where we wander.
All of this image changing takes time, however.  Unless we reflect deeply upon the mysteries of faith we uncover through rituals, images and metaphors, Advent and Christmas will pass us by like a flash of lightning, but will leave us unchanged.

Today, ask God to slow you down in order to make Advent a time of conversion and new life.

What image of God most impacts your prayer life?