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Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Day

"The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child." Lk 2:16-17

Every year the church begins the New Year by holding up Mary, the Mother of God, as a model for believers everywhere. Mary, as mother, is first of all present to Jesus, something that is more difficult than it seems. Being present to another does mean we try to fix or help them, but serve them. Like a good waitperson in a restaurant who does not hover or keep asking how your food is, she makes you feel comfortable. His or her only purpose is to help you enjoy your dining experience Mary is like this for Jesus and us.

Servants also know their place. This is not to say they should be willing to be treated poorly or abused, but because they understand their role, they realize and accept that their purpose is to make space for the other, to encourage, empower, and highlight anything about the person or country they are serving that is good, admirable and trustworthy.

Christians do well to remember Mary's lessons. When we realize that our primary task is to witness to the truth and transforming power of the Christ, we never have to be center of attention, we listen more than we speak, and we live faith as a verb: an action, and a lifestyle, that invites others to live for others. We do this more naturally and simply when we are grateful for the great gift our our faith and our salvation.

Today, serve someone with joy.

Do you have a special devotion to Mary? Why?



Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Tablets

"I write to you not because you do not know the truth but because you do, and because every lie is alien to the truth." 1 Jn 2:21

We often know the truth, but must always be careful to speak it at a time in a way that others can hear. It is equally clear that we often don't know the truth. Unfortunately, when we make the mistake of judging a book by its cover, or we misinterpret something another says, we jump to conclusions that are not based in fact, but in our interpretation of what was heard without testing its veracity.

There was a word in last week's readings that offered a good example of this. Zechariah, unable to speak after John the Baptist's conception, was asked what name he wanted for his child. Contrary to custom, Elizabeth, his wife, said that her son would be called John, and Zechariah confirmed his wife's choice after calling for a tablet. Even though no one in his family had the name John, Zechariah assured the crowd that Elizabeth's choice was a good one.

Smiling as I read the text, I realized that the word tablet to twenty first century young people meant a small computer like device with a touch screen that they could use to access the internet and the digital world. Though the bible and today's young people use the same word, they mean something very different, and there is a lesson for us in this. While we always have to listen carefully and discern how and when to speak, we cannot avoid the most important demands of the Gospel. Loving our enemies, reaching out for those most need and living simply are Gospel truths we all know, and when we live them with passion, we proclaim Good News.

Today, examine your conscience in the light of the Gospel.

What Gospel truths are most difficult for you to face?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Anna's Fidelity

"There was a prophetess, Anna,...(who) never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer." Lk 2: 36, 39

There are people, even today, who are called to live in almost total silence and dedicate their lives to prayer. The Poor Clares, for instance, are powerful women all around the world who live quietly, usually on the outskirts of towns and cities, and work to create a sacred space where God can work in them and for us. They pray in common, before the Blessed Sacrament and privately, and usually make altar breads or sew vestments for the Eucharist to support themselves. Remarkably, although they rarely make enough money to pay their bills, many believers, grateful for their deeply committed lives, are happy to bring them food, money and other necessities because they realize how important their lives are in the church.

Anna, the prophetess, might have been a Poor Clare or a member of one of the other contemplative communities in the church. Anxious to know God and do God's will, and even more anxious to proclaim God's desire to all who yearn for a Messiah, Anna would have slipped to the background in order to offer her prayer and serve God, and in all of this she offers contemporary people powerful lessons.

Life is not about being seen, recognized or lauded, but about being faithful to the vocation to which God calls us. If that means listening more than talking, praying as much as working, and living compassionately with other like minded women in an enclosed space, or working the streets tirelessly among the poor, we have only one responsibility: Be faithful to our call to live the Gospel and let ourselves be drawn more deeply into the mystery of God.

Today, take five minutes to remember that you are, before all else, a child of God.

Do you know an Anna in your life?



Monday, December 28, 2015

Meeting Simeon and Anna

"The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him." Lk 2:33

One of the most joyous moments for many couples of faith is to have their child baptized at Mass on a Sunday morning. In many parishes, the parents are invited to approach the altar after the post communion prayer and hold their new born up before the entire assembly. The smiles on their faces and the loud applause of God's people always lifts my spirit as I imagine God clapping, too.

The Gospel today invites us to join the new parents Mary and Joseph as they approached the temple. We might imagine them being stopped by friends and strangers alike wanting to congratulate them and offer them a blessing and a prayer.  Surely, their hearts must have overflowed with joy when Simeon, full of the Holy Spirit, (Lk 2:27) took the infant Jesus into his arms and declared that he was gazing upon the "light to reveal you to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” (Lk 2:32) Though they could not have understood completely what was happening to them or what their own role would be, they knew that Simeon and Anna were filled with delight, and so were they. The Glory of Israel and the light of all nations had been born to them.  And to us!

Today, be a light to those around you.

Can you remember a time of joy in your own faith journey?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Holy Innocents

"When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under." Mt 2:16

Today seems like a perfect day to celebrate all the children who have been lost, stolen or killed for the sake of power, money or unearned prestige, especially the children of Palestine and Syria. Imprisoned behind walls on the West Bank or chased from their homes to Europe and beyond, they are as lost as Jesus must have been in Egypt. These children remind us that too often we act as if life is ours for as long as we like and we can spend it any way that pleases us, but the Christian gospel demands something else.

All life is a gift from God and must be spent as a gift for others. When we fail to remember this most fundamental faith demand, we too often wallow in our own failures and losses. That our well- intentioned deeds do not always result in success is not the point. That we freely offer others the gift of ourselves is. That is why Christ came among us. He was and is a sign that God cannot and will not abandon us, even when we turn away from God and fail to live the Gospel. We have only to lift our heads to find God waiting to lead us again along a path of other centered love.

Today, remember the innocents: the children of Palestine and refugees.

How does faith help you face unspeakable evil?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Holy Family

"Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another." Col 3:12

Being family can be hard work. So can being church. As children grow and develop their own religious values, politics and friendships, they can move away from their families of origin and even become separated at a deeper level. Painful though it may be for all involved, there is often little anyone can do except pray for patience and reconciliation. One wonders what Mary and Joseph's family thought when Joseph, warned in a dream, fled to Egypt. Did it hurt their families? Did they even know where the young family was going?

The Holy Family is sometimes held up as a model for all but for the wrong reasons. If we allow ourselves to idealize their life together as one of blissful peace and happiness, we cheat them and ourselves of finding in them a compass for our everyday lives. In fact, the scriptures offer evidence that Jesus regularly confused his parents. He stayed behind in Jerusalem without telling his parents, and initially refused to help the young couple at Cana, who because of poor planning, were running out of wine for their wedding. Mark's gospel goes further and suggests Jesus' family thought he was out of his mind. (3:21). Everything was not sweetness and light!

The Holy Family is important for contemporary Christians when we allow their experience as family to shape our attitudes towards one another and the world. When, as Paul reminds us, we put on compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness, especially towards people in our own families, we witness to the saving work of Christ in and for us and remind all that we are the Body of Christ.

Today, listen in your family twice as much as you speak.

What are the greatest challenges contemporary families face in living the Gospel?

Friday, December 25, 2015

St Stephen, Martyr

"Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people...but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke." Acts 6:8,9

The reasons we reject others are many. Sometimes we don't like or trust the person. At other times, their message annoys or upsets us, and unfortunately, there are some who reject others because of race, ethnicity, culture or sexual orientation. Although most of us have been raised with the bromide, Don't judge a book by its cover, we all have our prejudices.

Stephen was rejected simply because he was preaching the salvation of Jesus Christ, a message that frightened traditional religious types who used their power to control others' lives. When Stephen's wisdom and spirit began to sway people towards Christ and away from the synagogue, his fate was sealed. Some scholars believe that Stephen had attended and worshiped at the synagogue in which he was preaching, making his sin even greater. To draw others away from the Talmud was bad enough but to do it to one's neighbors and friends was a much worse offense.

Putting Stephen's feast on the day after Christmas is no accident. The church wants believers to know there is a cost to following the babe of Bethlehem. The joy we feel at Christmas must be tempered by the challenge of every day faith, and though Stephen's witness leads to his death, he dies with gratitude and hope.

Today, be grateful for those who live and speak our faith with power no matter the cost.

Have you ever been attacked or rejected because of your religious faith?



Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas

"She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Mt 1:21

For most believers, Christmas is a delight, a wondrous celebration of faith and family, but for some, Christmas is a terrible burden. Because expectations for Christmas are so great, we can try too hard to please God and others, and get in the way of God's plan. Only when we learn to slow down, listen, and respond rather than react to every situation, can we hope to know and live God's plan for us and the people we love.

When we take a few moments to reflect on the first Christmas, we realize both Mary and Joseph had to stay very centered as they traveled and waited for the birth of Jesus. Away from their families and without the security of a place to stay, they had to rely on a kind inn owner to find them a place for their child to be born. While the insecurity must have been very trying for them, they endured. Strengthened by Mary's yes to the angel, and Joseph's dream, they trusted that God would lead them where they needed to be to fulfill Jesus' destiny.

When we let God lead, everything changes. We understand, and more importantly accept, that no one lives on his or her own terms, and God will guide us if only we accept God's path. Mary and Joseph teach us this important and powerful lesson and Christmas is our opportunity to follow their example.

Today, give God permission to lead you.

What hurdles must you cross to celebrate Christmas with joy?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Zechariah's Joy

"Zechariah, (John the Baptist's) father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying: 'Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free.'" Lk 1:67

What a joy it must have been for Zechariah to announce that God had set his people free. In exile often, the Jewish people yearned for a military solution to the Roman problem. Invaded by Caesar's armies, Israel had little control of the land God had given to them, and they hated it. Zechariah's prophesy would have filled them with hope.

God's willingness to rescue his people is a constant theme in the Hebrew bible. No matter how often the chosen people turn away from his rule, God's mercy trumps his anger and God welcomes the Jewish people into his heart. Our biggest concern should be not taking God's goodness for granted. Rather, our gratitude for God's graciousness ought to be a sign to the world of our Gospel commitment.

It is important to speak our faith, especially on behalf of the voiceless and people in exile: immigrants, refugees and people living in shelters. When a society and a church ignore or turn away from those most in need, we deny God's concern for those who are lost and open ourselves to the criticism that faith is a crutch upon which we lean, not a dynamic and inclusive lifestyle that sees all people as brothers and sisters.

Today, say something on behalf of the needy.

What most inhibits your willingness to speak up on behalf of the voiceless?



Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The birth of the Baptist

His mother replied: "He will be called John." But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name." Lk I:59

What's in a name?  In the ancient world, everything. Names were given to children by their fathers to honor his ancestors and elders. Mothers had no role in this ritual, but Elizabeth does. Only when Zechariah writes the name John on a tablet is his "mouth opened and his tongue freed." Clearly, Elizabeth's child John would play an important role in salvation history. John, whose name means God is gracious, would usher in a new order and a new way of being in the world.

Unlike so many, John would have no doubts about his role. He knew he was not the Messiah, despite the desire of so many who accepted his baptism. Rather, his entire life would consist in pointing to Jesus, and announcing the coming of the Messiah. Admitting that he was not worthy to untie Jesus' sandal strap and that he needed to decrease and Christ increase, John becomes a symbol for every Christian.

Our task as believers is not to posture or pretend that we are important, but to be grateful for the name Christian, and recognize Christ in every person and prepare others to receive his Good News. Accepting that we are God's children gives every Christian an identity that is empowering forever. We need not have any fear about who we are or what we are to do. Like John, we are to point to Christ as Redeemer and hope for all humankind.

Today, help someone find Christ.

What are the biggest obstacles we face in announcing the Good News?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Mary's Hymn of Joy and Praise

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."  Lk 1:46

The Venerable Bede, an 8th Century monk, in an attempt to help us understand the depth of Mary's gratitude, expands St Luke's language:
The Lord has exalted me by a gift so great, so unheard of, that language is useless to describe it; and the depths of love in my heart can scarcely grasp it. I offer then all the powers of my soul in praise and thanksgiving. (Universalis)
These days as we creep ever closer to Christmas, the church cannot get enough of Mary. Full of anticipation, Mary sings but knows that words and music, no matter how beautiful, cannot express her joy at being the mother of Jesus. She can only offer thanks, and we would do well to follow her example.

Thanksgiving is the ground and base of Christian spirituality. If we do not practice Thanksgiving, we will never understand the Eucharist or fully appreciate God's total and persistent love of us. Only when we live gratefully for each day of life and faith are we able to proclaim the Good News unequivocally and completely.

Today, imagine where you would be without the love of God.

What are you most grateful for?



Sunday, December 20, 2015

Who is Mary to You?


"Blessed are you who believed." Lk 1:44

St Bernard of Clairvaux, in a remarkably moving and demanding sermon, begs Mary to help her sons and daughters:
Let humility be bold, Mary, 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.
Reading Bernard's words always lifts my spirits. It is clear that the Saint thought of Mary as his sister, mother, and friend, someone to whom he could speak plainly and with abandon. Mary was not an historical figure, but a living, breathing companion with whom Bernard could plead and beg. His example should embolden us. Both Mary and Jesus are meant to be accessible players in our personal and communal lives. We should never be afraid to approach them and ask for help and guidance.

Today, imagine you are one of the people Mary passes on her way to see Elizabeth. Stop her and ask for direction.

What has helped you draw close to Mary and the saints?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Our Spiritual Journeys

"Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth." Lk 1:39

The notion that the spiritual life is a journey is an important one in the Judeo Christian tradition. Believers are always on the way and reaching for something else. So is God. God seeks us out. God desires us, and in the Song of Songs the writer wants us to imagine God as a romantic lover who will leap mountains in order to be with us. And in the Gospel of Luke, God wants us to believe that winter's cold and darkness is over because the light has come into the world.

Mary learns the lesson of pilgrimage early. Almost as soon as she says yes to being the mother of the Messiah, she leaves her home and travels to be with Elizabeth, and her visit is not a drop in but a three month stay. What she will learn about Elizabeth and herself will shape her life and ours. Though we can only guess what happens in Mary's heart as Jesus grows in wisdom and age, we know that she was always near him, sometimes correcting, at other times consoling, but never abandoning her son despite the terrible personal cost.

If God is always seeking us and surrounding us with love, why should we be afraid? Mary's fear faded fast when she allowed the the Spirit to enter her. So should ours, and in the end, as long as we do not turn away from the journey, we have nothing to fear.

Today, take one step towards God and see how God responds.

What parts of your journey have most filled you with joy?

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Fruitfulness of Faith

"Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John." Lk 1:13

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 mother 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 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?


Thursday, December 17, 2015

St Joseph's Fidelity

"When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home." Mt 1:24a

There are many ways to wake up. Sometimes, it is simple. Our bodies tell us to pay attention. We have a headache that will not go away or we discover a skin growth that looks strange. Our bodies are telling us to pay attention and take action. At other times, especially when we take time to relax and reflect, an idea that has been percolating in our minds and hearts, takes shape. We read about AIDS in Africa or the plight of refugee children in Syria, and we start searching the Internet for places and organizations that are addressing these vital concerns. Waking up to the challenge of acting on the Gospel is important for our own salvation and the good of others.

Joseph, the husband of Mary, troubled by his young wife's pregnancy, wakes up. Not wanting her to be stoned, he decides to divorce her quietly. In this way, Mary will have other chances to marry and build a family. But then Joseph has a dream and when he wakes up, he knows that God wants him to marry Mary despite his misgivings. That he listens and acts upon the message he receives is critical for Joseph's salvation and ours.

When Joseph allows the "dream word" to take root in him, he abandons his own instincts about Mary and welcomes her into his life. Not only did this act protect Mary, it legitimized Jesus in the eyes of the Jewish community and makes Joseph a model for everyone in the church. When we are open to God's voice, no matter how it comes to us, we make God's desire for the world possible.

Today when you wake up, pause and let God speak a liberating word to you.

Have there been moments in your life that changed the course of your faith?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Human History

"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 who is the grandfather of David 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. Every honest look at the human family, and Jesus was really human, is full of failure, ambiguity and sin. That Jesus would be born of Mary, a virgin, is consistent with his genealogy.  There is no cause of scandal here, only rejoicing.  Jesus is like us in all things but sin. That Jesus wept over Lazarus's death, ached for the widow whose only son had died, and was drawn to the sick and the suffering reminds us everyday of his full humanity and fills us with hope for ourselves and our world.

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

Is there anything in your family history that needs healing?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Speak the Truth in Jesus' Name

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” Mt 7:22

Although tradition tells us that John the Baptist and Jesus were related, the scripture also seems to suggest that, for a time at least, John was unsure of Jesus' identity. Why else would he have sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the "one who is to come?" Jesus' response is clear. He assures John that he is the one spoken of by Isaiah the prophet and Jesus' answer sets the tone for his entire mission and ministry. He will be a healer who does justice, and it is his commitment to justice that will lead to his death.

John the Baptist, like Jesus, believed that the Jewish leaders had failed the poor and he was not afraid to voice his displeasure both in his preaching and lifestyle. John was a hermit who lived in the desert. His preaching attracted large crowds from among the poor because he spoke to their hearts and defended their rights, but when he attacked Herod for his marriage to Herodias, the wife of his half brother Philip, John was a marked man.

Both John and Jesus remind us that speaking the truth, despite its consequences, is an essential element of embracing the Good News. This is not to say, as Pope Francis reminds us, that we should be strident and overly focused on one or the other issue. Rather, we need to read the signs of the times and speak up on behalf of those whose lives are most threatened.

Pope Francis has repeatedly mentioned the unemployment of the young and the loneliness of the old as growing problems in the 21st century to which the church must address herself. His concerns need not become normative for us, but ought to stimulate our thinking and action. In this way, we all become committed to the needy and forgotten.

Today, ask the Lord to free you from the fear of speaking truth to power.

What stops you from responding to the poor as God's favored ones?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Humility

"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 21:32)

Changing our minds is hard work, something that most of us do only reluctantly. Even when the truth stares us in the face, we resist. Perhaps we are afraid of losing something with which we are comfortable. Or we think that changing our minds might be interpreted as disloyalty to a friend or people in power. Whatever the reason for our resistance, letting go and changing our minds in order to follow the Lord more closely is a clear mandate in the gospel.

Today’s gospel portrays a community of Jewish leaders unwilling to change, even after seeing and experiencing the honesty and integrity of John the Baptist. When Jesus suggests that prostitutes and tax collectors are more willing to change than them, their resistance only deepens. To be compared to people at the bottom of the social ladder is an insult which they will not accept. Not only do they refuse to look at Jesus with open eyes and hearts, they begin to plot against him, not because of his ideas but because their power and standing in the community are threatened.

All of us have reasons not to change. We have lived faithful catholic lives. We have followed the commandments and tried to live the beatitudes, but the Lord often demands more. Perhaps we have been hurt by a colleague, a friend, even a spouse and we refuse to believe that they can and have changed. We avoid them, speak dismissively of their good works or smirk at their efforts to change. The problem is ours, not theirs, especially if they have discovered a way to follow Christ which might help us on our pilgrim journey.

Today, ask for a dose of humility that allows you to change you mind for the sake of God’s reign.

What helps you let go of old hurts and view others with God's eyes?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

St John of the Cross

"Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things." Mt 21:27

St John of the Cross was a very young man when St Teresa of Avila saw qualities in him he could never have seen himself. Bright and insightful, an artist and song writer, above all John was drawn to the mystical path in the spiritual life and was not afraid of the dark night to which he was called. Teresa knew John was different and although she was thirty years older than John, she wrote, "He was so good that I, at least, could have learned much more from him than he from me."

John of the Cross was destined to be like Elijah the prophet, a fire and a flaming furnace of God's love. When he died at 49 he had helped found, despite enormous opposition from his own Carmelite brothers, many monasteries of discalced Carmelites who led an intense life of prayer and penance while also being hugely effective apostolic ministers, writers and preachers. The poet, Jessica Powers, shortly before she entered the Carmelites herself, wrote of John's books:
Out of what door that came ajar in heaven
       drifted this starry manna down to me,
       to the dilated mouth both hunger given
       and all satiety?
       Who bore at midnight to my very dwelling
       the gift of this imperishable food?
       my famished spirit with its fragrance filling,
       its savor certitude.
       The mind and heart ask, and the soul replies
       what store is heaped on these bare shelves of mine?
       The crumbs of the immortal delicacies
       fall with precise design.
       Mercy grows tall with the least heart enlightened,
       and I, so long a fosterling of night,
       here feast upon immeasurably sweetened
       wafers of light.
Today, ask God to let you see with God's own eyes.

What keeps you from a more intense prayer life?


Saturday, December 12, 2015

John the Baptist

"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, let joy be your path of peace.

What keeps you from being joyful and a dangerous world?


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Zechariah's Silence

"But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words." Lk 1:20

In the ancient world of Israel, barrenness was a "disability, an unspeakable burden for women and a shame inducing cloud for men. Without a child, a woman was thought not to have an identity. Only children, especially males, would give her a voice and a place among others who gave birth.

On the other hand, men were rarely blamed for infertility, and the Talmud reminds men that if, after ten years, their wives could not bear children, they must divorce them in order to fulfill the law which commands men "to be fruitful and multiply."

No wonder Gabriel seems surprised after assuring Zechariah that Elizabeth would  bear a child in her old age. Sharp tongued, Gabriel rebukes Zechariah for not believing that God is about to lift his burden, and "punishes" him. Zechariah will not be able to speak until John the Baptist is born, and then only after he accepts God's name for the child.

It is difficult, especially when one has lived for a long time with a "disgrace," to believe that God will intervene. Most of us have prayed to have our burdens lifted without success and wonder whether our prayer is pure enough for God to hear. When our darkness deepens, we even wonder if God is listening at all. The key, of course, is to accept life as it unfolds and live with unanswerable questions, but this is often easier said than done.

Today, ask for the gift of speechlessness in the face of the unknown and undecipherable.

How you manage your darkness?


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Celebrating our Best Selves

"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

Advent is a time to ask ourselves whether we are really paying attention to the action of God in the world. Many people in the United States feel overwhelmed by Advent, not because the liturgical season is so demanding, but because the time before Christmas is given over to choosing and buying gifts, many of which are neither needed nor appreciated. We have fallen into customs that bind us unnecessarily and burden us with useless worry.

There is a simple solution to this quandary. Ask yourself at what time of the day you are most awake, most alert, and most productive. When you honestly determine this, give a piece of your most important time to God. Rather than do one or three more tasks, sit quietly, breathe deeply and let your mind rest in gratitude for your life, your friends, and God. After this kind of basic meditation you will be much more alert to the "incredible things" of God all around you.

Today, take five minutes to do nothing.

When do you like yourself best?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Facing our Weaknesses

"My yoke is easy, my burden light." Mt 11:30

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 7, 2015

The Immaculate Conception

"The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it." Gen 3:13

Why do we blame others so easily when we are embarrassed or ashamed?  Uncomfortable and confused, we try to get out from under the microscope to bargain for time and examine why exactly we do this. Of course, there are any number of answers, all of which can teach us about ourselves, but at root we look for scapegoats in order to escape the consequences of our actions.

Countries and churches do this as well. Our own Catholic church was guilty of this fault when the sexual abuse scandal first surfaced. We blamed psychologists and psychiatrists who gave our leaders bad advice when they suggested abusing priests could safely return to ministry. We deflected attention from ourselves by reminding everyone that the worst sexual abuse offenders were family members, not priests, which is, of course, beside the point.

Honestly facing our failures and sins is made much easier when we have Mary, the Immaculate Conception, as our intercessor. This feast celebrates that Mary, without from sin from the first moment of her conception, is always free to pay undivided attention to us, her children. Free of self absorption, she reaches out for all those who look to deny their sin or turn away from their guilt, by inviting us to honesty and integrity, to admit our wrongs, and reach out in compassion for others.

Today, acknowledge one sin and ask for the grace to face its consequences.

What helps you accept and address your faults?



Sunday, December 6, 2015

St Ambrose

"Keep the word of God.... Do not forget to eat your bread, or your heart will dry up." St. Bernard of Clairvaux 

St. Ambrose knew that the scriptures were like bread for the heart. Unless we nourish ourselves regularly, we will certainly lose our ability to function. Anyone who has had an intestinal disorder knows this well. The first thing a doctor tells someone struggling with a stomach virus is to remain hydrated. Our bodies are radically dependent upon water to function properly and without additional nourishment we risk serious consequences even when we do not feel like eating.

So convinced was he that God's word had to be preached in clarity and power, Ambrose was not afraid to take on Emperor's and Kings in defense of the faith, and  though he was often disliked for his directness, like a physician who insists we eat and drink when we only want to sleep, he was convinced that the unvarnished word of God had to be preached and lived simply if it was going to nourish us and keep our hearts from drying up.

Today, read a scripture passage as if it were bread.

Whose challenging preaching moved you to transformation?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Splendor of God

"Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever." Bar 5:1

Because we so often fail to live our values deeply and authentically, we find ourselves mourning and in misery, unable to see the glory of God all around us, and what a shame it is when this happens. We suffer a small hurt or don't feel especially well and we lose track of where and who we are. The Jewish people, unable to hear the prophets cries to reform their lives, find themselves in exile and slavery, but Baruch reminds them that all is not lost.

The prophet and Advent itself challenge us to let go of mourning and remember we are God's glorious creation. No matter what we do or how often we fail to live our faith, God is waiting and willing to be born in us again. We have only to let God dwell within and among us for everything to be different. Because a few Jews, even in exile, never failed to honor the one God and keep holy the Sabbath, God forgave everyone their sins. The same gift can be ours if only we ask for it.

Of course, this is often more difficult to do than we imagine.  When we enter personal or family dark periods, it can seem almost impossible to look up, recognize all the good around us and celebrate that even in our mourning we are loved, but the Advent readings urge us never to give up and always to try again.

Today, put on the splendor of God by taking a slow walk to appreciate the great gifts of creation.

What helps you to put aside mourning and put on the splendor of God?

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Harvest

"The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest." Mt 9:38

What master or owner of a farm or field would not want to gather up a rich harvest?  Having spent hundreds of hours, preparing, sowing, weeding and watering, the harvest is a time to collect the "wages" of their work, and because in many cases there are only a few days to accomplish this, most farmers rush to gather up what they have sown as soon as the crop is ready.

Nevertheless, some of us are so busy with other matters that we lose sight of our priorities, and fail to respond to fields overflowing with produce. When we do this, our delay can cost us everything. Although it is clear that Jesus wanted his hearers to respond fully to all those seeking God and God's word, there were those among the leaders of the Jews who resisted the power of his preaching and sought to undermine his authority. When they did this, the possibility of a new harvest for them was lost. The same can be true of us.

Paying attention to all that God is doing among us is essential for believers. We cannot afford to dwell too long on our diminishment and losses. Though we may have failed to respond fully in the past to Jesus' call to discipleship, the call is repeated today for everyone who has ears to hear and eyes to see. The harvest is ready and plentiful. Seek help in gathering it in.

Today, invite someone to help you spread the Good News.

Who is the most convincing "harvester" you know?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Being freed from our Blindness

"As Jesus passed by, two blind men followed him." Mt 9:27

Sometimes the gospel stories seem stark, and lack detail. This makes sense of course when one remembers that only a few people in Jesus' time were literate, and the intention of the gospels was not to write a biography of Jesus but to announce him as Messiah, son of God and savior of the world. Details were not important in a written form. The story teller could elaborate and fill the text with passion and power for those who could not read.

But the Gospels are not always stark. When the blind men today say, "have pity on us," we stumble upon an important detail and a telling moment. Not only is the request polite, they plead with Jesus to look upon people who are outcasts from their own family and community. Condemned to a life of begging and isolation, the blind men, like Moses, (Ex 33) beg Jesus for help, and become an example for all.

Jesus often reminds us that because we have eyes does not mean that we really see. Only those who see with the heart will experience the fullness of the revelation. The blind men, even before they are healed, see and know the Lord as Messiah and so approache him politely, but with hope and confidence. The Messiah's task is to open the eyes of all to the wonders of God's enduring care and love for the world, and because the blind men remember this, they are healed.

Our task is the same. If we want to see, we must first acknowledge God as creator and redeemer. Only then will we know the Messiah in our hearts.

Today, open your eyes again to the wonder of the created world.

What blindness do you need to healed of as Advent begins?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Stubborn Pride

"Great crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others." Mt 15:30

The world often gets very small when we are struggling. A friend who ran in the NYC marathon told me she could think of nothing but the finish line for the last few miles of the race. Suffering from hypothermia, she ignored her body's signals to stop. Her goal was in reach and she could not let it go. Similar things happen to all of us. Exhausted by working too intensely, we often keep pushing to finish whatever project we are working on and find ourselves too tired to enjoy what we have accomplished.

How often when we are stressed we forget that Jesus is waiting for us to approach him, and let our pride get in the way of asking for help. Determined to work through whatever problem is in front of us, we are like people trying to push back the tide or the waves of an ocean. Our independence or our personal goals become more important than our faith, and when we fail, we complain to God and sometimes even doubt God's existence. Although the Gospel continually assures us that the Lord is always near and anxious to help us, we fall into old patterns of self reliance and howl against the night when all we need to do is stop, rest and let God be God.

Today, ask for the grace to walk with God no matter how slowly God seems to be moving.

Did anyone teach you to slow down in order to find God in every situation?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

God's Generosity

"The LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines."Is 25:6

The generosity of God is a constant Advent theme, but we can only appreciate it if we stay attuned to our bodies. Because we too often reduce the spiritual life to peaceful "feelings" and what happens within us, we miss the power of God's goodness. Isaiah stretches us to think of God providing us not just with food and wine, but with rich food and choice wine because he has conquered sin and death.

In the ancient world people expected their kings and leaders to provide a great feast after a victory over their enemies or when a new covenant of peace was sealed, and Isaiah uses this image to help his listeners understand the fullness of God's love and God's inclusiveness. The feast which God provides is not only for those who participated in the battle, but for everyone, and Jesus reprises this theme when he insists that his disciples not send the people away hungry who have been listening to his message of hope.

We should have no doubt that Christ asks us to accept the same challenge. We must not be stingy, but give of our substance to those most in need, and we need to do this without regard to class, race, culture and background. God demands we give all who are hungry rich food and choice wine.

Today, share something you really treasure with a stranger.

What rich foods and choice wines have you received from God?

Monday, November 30, 2015

New Shoots

"A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse." Is 11:1

When Isaiah promises that a new shoot will come from the stump of Jesse, he reminds all believers that God can make something extraordinary from nothing. At the same time, the prophet is not speaking about a miracle in a classic sense. Rather,  Isaiah wants us to remember what happens often in the natural world. There are trees with so much inner life that even when they seem dead, we can take one of their broken branches, stick it in the ground, water it often and before long  it takes root and becomes a young  tree.

Clearly, a branch of Jesse’s tree, even when it seems dead and lifeless after its exile in Babylon, is stronger than we think. God will plant it again so that his faithful followers might have life and believe in his promises.

The challenge to believe that God wants to do something great and new in us, even when we are tired and feeling ragged, is uplifting. God’s love is enduring and, like a broken  branch, stronger than we can imagine. We have only to plant and water it and it will take us to Christmas.

Plant a good deed in someone’s heart and let God do the rest.

Are there “miracles” in nature that remind you of God’s love?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

St Andrew

"How can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?" Rom 10: 14-15

Too often we reduce the ministry of preaching to the ordained or those specially trained to proclaim and interpret God's Word for retreats and day of prayer, and people who preach the word formally ought to be well trained. There should be no doubt of this in the United States. More than any other aspect of church life, poor preaching is cited as the primary reason that people stop attending church on Sunday's. Close behind preaching is a lack of warmth and welcome in our parishes, and this is the "preaching" that we should look at very closely as foundational to the ministry of Jesus.

Most people are not called to preach the Word of God formally, but all are called to "preach" with their lives. When we spend our time, talent and treasure for others, we preach loudly about our values, and often people ask about this. Why, they say, do Bill or Barbara, Juan or Minh spend so much time volunteering in soup kitchens, hospitals or homeless shelters? And the answer is faith. Because Jesus sends us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned, we preach when we offer anyone solace, comfort, food or drink, and we should never underestimate the value and power of these actions. If all we do is preach the word formally, but fail to live the Gospel, the faith will be empty and shallow.

Almost daily since his election, Pope Francis has insisted on this. “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” The message for Catholics is unmistakable. "Preach" the Gospel with your lives. Get dirty doing it and the message of Jesus will be be heard as a transforming promise, not a sterile set of rules.

Today, do something simple for God.

What keeps us from "getting dirty" in our efforts to proclaim the Gospel?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Putting Aside Fear, Welcoming the Stranger

"People  will die in fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world."

The instinct to survive is strong. Very few people when facing the end of their life let go without a struggle. Although we see friends and family wrestle with cancer and wonder why they are willing to try almost any treatment, the fear of the unknown can overwhelm the best of intentions. In our everyday lives, we are urged to diet, exercise and relax regularly in order to live more healthily, and while this is understandable and good, we can become obsessed with preserving our lives.

The Christian who reads the Advent Gospels with an open heart knows that Jesus' most basic Gospel challenge is to think and act on behalf of others, especially the suffering, the poor and refugees. Not to respond to the people of Syria, Iraq or the Sudan because we are so obsessed with our own well being and fear of death is an offense against God and God's people.

As the letter to Hebrews reminds us, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Heb 13:2 The book of Leviticus is even clearer. "You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." Lev 19:34 

Today, give some time you don't have to help someone struggling to survive.

What do you think our faith demands of us with regard to welcoming the stranger?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Honesty with Ourselves

"Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” Lk 21:36

Today is the last day of the liturgical year and a good time to make a simple review of our faith life. Four actions ought to mark the life of a faith filled Catholic and we can reflect on them through a series of questions. Have we been faithful to God and the community of believers by gathering regular for prayer and worship, especially on Sundays? Have we taken time to reflect on the mysteries of faith, especially as they are articulated in Scripture? Have we celebrated God's gifts with joy and gratitude? Have we served others as if they were Christ? 

Coming together regularly, studying and praying about God's care for us and serving those most in need are visible signs that God matters in our lives and that we want to witness to God's mercy before others. For most of us the only way we preach is through our actions. We can talk about faith all day, but if we never act on it, we are as Paul reminds us a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. We make a lot of noise but don't do anything for others but annoy them.

On the cusp of Advent, we have the opportunity to be honest with ourselves and God and recommit ourselves to God's dream and desire for us. Going to mass, picking up a bible and offering a helping hand to the needy is a great way to begin. 

Today, be honest with yourself and God. Make no excuses for your faults. Ask to begin again.

Which dimension of our faith life most attracts and empowers you?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

All life is Passing

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." Lk 21:33

A person's word is important. In the ancient world everything was done in word and ritual, and oral agreements were binding. As we near the end of another liturgical year, the lectionary focuses on passages that help us understand that no matter how short life is, or how poorly we have lived it, if we turn to God in hope and faith, we will be saved. God's word in Jesus is true. God's word, Jesus, is true.

The faithfulness of God underlies our entire faith tradition. Though we are often unfaithful both as individuals and communities of believers, God has promised always to accompany us in life, to love us, to guide us and welcome us to a place at the eternal banquet forever.

When Mark tells us in forbidding and threatening terms, "In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken," (Mk 13;24) we should not be frightened, but rejoice. The gospel writer wants only to wake us up and remind us that no matter what happens within and around us, God will be faithful.

Today, pray for a peaceful death.

How do you speak with others about death and dying?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Day



"Bless the God of all, who has done wondrous things on earth; Who fosters people’s growth from their mother’s womb, and fashions them according to his will!" Sir 50:22

Thanksgiving is not always easy, especially if your family has suffered death very recently, but we need to stop and thank God no matter how heavy life is at any given time. God has done wondrous things within and among us. God has created and nurtured us, challenged and directed us, loved us unconditionally and promised to go before us to prepare a place for us. What more could we ask?

In fact, many want to ask for much more. Struggles at work or with family, sickness and poverty, or wealth and success can be great burdens. Unless we find a way to accept and be grateful for all that is, we cannot hope to find the path of light that God has marked out for each of us. This is no easy task. God's ways are often confusing and upsetting, and feel very dark, but the memory of how God has guided us in the past reminds us that there is a purpose to everything. That it is God's purpose, not ours, is painful but rewarding in the end.

Whether you eat turkey with all the trimmings or spend time with a loved one in a hospital this Thanksgiving, take a few minutes to list all the people who have been gifts to you this year. Let their faces and goodness come before you like photos in a digital photo frame. Pause and pray for each of them. Doing something like this will make your Thanksgiving rich no matter what it brings.

Today, take five minutes of silence and be thankful.

What has made Thanksgiving day memorable for you through the years?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Wisdom of Jesus

"I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking." Lk 21:15

A friend recently insisted that wisdom is o.k. but he agreed with Sophie Tucker's famous maxim, "I've been rich and I've been poor. Rich is better." Humorous, but scary. Many, if not most people who identify as Christians, subscribe to sayings like this even when Oxfam reports that the 85 richest people in the world have more wealth than the 3.5 billion poorest. More important for Americans, Oxfam also tells us that in the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.(The Guardian)

Imagine what these statistics would look like if Christians chose the wisdom of Jesus rather than wealth and power over others. Wise believers would seek a path to justice for all, a way to use the earth's resources to address the the ISIS crisis, the ongoing AIDS pandemic, and a world that attacks poverty instead of people. Why not dream? Jesus did and changed how we view the world and our place in it.

Today, pray for the wisdom to be the Christian God needs you to be.

What gift would you ask of God?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Saint Andrew Dũng-Lac, Priest, and Companions, Martyrs

"Blessed be the Lord, my rock." Ps 144

Viet Nam has often been a difficult country and culture for Catholics, especially during the 19th and 20th centuries. Between 1820 and 1900 more than 100,000 Catholics were martyred for their faith, and the persecution continued in the 20th century when Catholics living in the northern part of Viet Nam had to abandon family and possessions and flee to the south in order to escape oppression or imprisonment.

Although we know very little about St Andrew, there are multiple testimonies about Catholics of his generation who were forced to renounce their faith and step on crucifixes to demonstrate their total lack of respect for the sacrifice of Jesus.  In the end, Andrew was beheaded for the crime of being a parish priest.

Reading about the Vietnamese martyrs reminds us of other people who have been persecuted, not because of some heinous crime, but for being who they are. Syrian refugees suspected of being ISIS, Jews, especially in the Holocaust, blacks in the United States, homosexuals everywhere, and women whose voice is ignored or discarded simply because they are women.

Today, pray for anyone persecuted for their faith or identity.

How would you respond to religious persecution?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Imitating Widows

"He noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins."

Any society, especially any local church or parish, that becomes too concerned with maintaining its internal life will slowly die if it fails to notice and reach out to the needy. As we near the end of another liturgical year we are reminded of this simple truth over and over. All our spiritual practices, especially prayer, while at  first blush appearing to be about our inner life, are in fact about making our salvation known to others.

No matter how often we say it or reemphasize it, the Gospel is a gift that must be given away. While it is a rule of life and a guide for how to negotiate life's difficulties, it's primary purpose is to announce the saving work of Jesus by doing justice, redressing wrongs, and listening to the cry of the poor. These behaviors allow God to do God's work.

Though it can be difficult and agitational for those who demean the efforts of the poor on their own behalf, doing justice is always convincing. When Christians feed the hungry and care for the poor in the name of Jesus, their actions speak much louder than their words.

Today, decide to help someone in need without them knowing it.

Whose work on behalf of the poor do you most admire?


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Christ, King of the Universe

"I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep." Ez 34:11

The Prophet Ezekiel teaches us that God is our shepherd, the one who promises to be our protector especially at night when we are most vulnerable.  In becoming our shepherd God assumes the role of the lowly peasant, someone in the ancient world who had no voice, whose only task was to protect the sheep. Illiterate but compassionate, shepherds would gather all the sheep together at night and literally lie down at the opening of the sheep pen to keep predators from entering. God promises to be our shepherd, our guide, our protector.

This aspect of God's nature is made even clearer in today's gospel when Jesus, as the King of all creation, assures us that when we assume the role of shepherd and feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter to the stranger, clothing to the naked, and show compassion to the sick and imprisoned, we do it for him.  Becoming totally other centered is the task of shepherds and Kings, and we can do this on a daily basis when we look out for those most in need and those often ignored or dismissed by others as pariahs.

Today, thank God for the privilege of visiting the sick and imprisoned, of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and giving drink to the thirsty.

How do you understand the Christian call to be shepherds and servants to those in need?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Presentation of Mary



Although there is a powerful message in Mary's presentation, the art that emerged to help us understand this mystery is heart rending. How could a couple who had been childless let go of their daughter at such a young age? Would God ask this of them or anyone? When we see Anne's face in the depiction of the event we wonder what it must have been like for her see Mary walk into the temple. Did she worry, fret, wonder what might be next for her? While there are no answers to these questions, one truth emerges. God will always be near. No matter what we might have to suffer, God will be our companion. St Anne knew this. Mary knew this. We know this.

Today, pray for the courage to face whatever difficulties you encounter with faith.

How do you face unanswerable questions?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Rededicating Ourselves to Christ

"Let us go up to purify the sanctuary and rededicate it." 1 MC 4:36

Last week I helped celebrate the Confirmation of 40 young Catholics. It was a festive day full of joy, and many of us were thinking of our own Confirmation. Although few Catholics I know celebrate the anniversary of their Confirmation, it is something we ought to consider. Confirmation challenges us to focus more intently and naturally on the promises made for us by our parents at Baptism.

Taking time to remember and reclaim the gift of being anointed as priests, prophets and rulers, all of whom were rubbed with oil to signal their call to live faith fully, we realize we are never alone on our faith journey. Anointed as priests we are also challenged to gather others and consecrate all in God's name for worship, and as prophets we accept the challenge to remind everyone of the great demand of Christ to live his law. But most of all, Confirmation reminds us that Baptism is about dying to self in order to live for Christ in the sure hope that we have already been saved and have only to live out baptism's call in order to know and live with God forever.

Today, like the Maccebees of old, let us rededicate ourselves to a life of discipleship.

Do you ever think of your Baptism or Confirmation?


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Facing Our Mistakes

"As Jesus drew near to Jerusalem, he saw the city and wept over it." Lk 19:41

Distress and upset comes to everyone, even Jesus. We can curse it, fight it, deny it or cry over it, like Jesus, but we cannot avoid it, and our faith tradition is clear. Until we learn to accept suffering as an ordinary part of every life, we will waste time trying to elude it. If Jesus, the God man, was not immune to suffering, neither are we.

At the same time, the Gospel does not ask us to seek suffering, but to accept it when it comes, often without warning or obvious meaning. In a poignant and demanding book, Where the Hell is God, Richard Leonard, an Australian Jesuit, explores suffering from the inside. Devastated and lost after a car accident that left his sister a quadriplegic, Leonard reminds his readers that God does not will our suffering, but will enter it with us if we allow it. Avoiding easy answers and cliches about God testing us, Leonard invites his readers to walk together in faith as they seek meaning in darkness.

Today, revisit an incident of suffering in your life and ask God for healing.

How do you make sense of random suffering?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Living the Gospel without Fear

"I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away." Lk 19:27

As we near the end of another liturgical year, the church offers us scriptural texts that help us reflect on the the year that is fast slipping away.  How have we used the gifts we received?  Have we spent them on behalf of the kingdom?  Are we richer for having given them away?

Luke's story of the nobleman who gives his servants 10 gold coins and challenges them to multiply his wealth while he is away, reminds us of Matthew's story of the talents but it is very different. Ten gold coins is a very modest gift.  Unlike a talent which would have been worth about $25,000, ten gold coins would have been the equivalent of about $200, and it should not have caused the servants overwhelming fear nor been difficult to invest in such way as to provide the nobleman with a healthy profit when he returned.

In other words, Jesus is suggesting that the gospel is easy to grow if we give it away generously. While some might fear that if we "spend" the gospel completely we will have nothing, everything about Jesus' life and death suggests that the more we give away the little we have, the more we will have for ourselves and everyone else who needs or wants it.

Today, worry about living the Gospel today not about what you will need tomorrow.

What are your biggest fears in living the Gospel completely?

Monday, November 16, 2015

St Elizabeth of Hungary

"There she attended the most wretched and contemptible at her own table." (Office of Readings)

Married at fourteen, Elizabeth of Hungary had three children by the time she was twenty only to suffer her husband's death and die herself at twenty four.  If this sounds like a thousand other stories you have read about a girl from almost any inner city in the United States, it isn't. It is a synopsis of the life of St Elizabeth of Hungary, the patroness of the Secular Franciscan Order, who in less than a quarter of a century of living, fired the imaginations of her contemporaries with her love of the poor and her willingness to serve them with her own hands and food.  In fact, her witness was so powerful, she was canonized only four years after her death.

Elizabeth was born into and married royalty. She had access to money and power, but when her husband died on his way to fight the sixth crusade,  she decided to leave the palace and follow Conrad,  her Franciscan spiritual director, to Marburg where she continued her life of compassion for those most in need.  Conrad wrote that Elizabeth "built a hospice where she gathered together the weak and the feeble. There she attended the most wretched and contemptible at her own table."(1)

Heroines and heroes are always important.  They not only encourage us to stretch beyond what feels comfortable in our faith practices and to live simple lives, they also remind us that our lives as Christians are public lives and ought to be impact the lives and lifestyles of our communities and nations.

People of faith, especially the married and families, are the ground upon which the church builds communities of compassion for the poor and justice for all. After all, it was the faith and courage of our parents and grandparents, so many of whom were immigrants, who came to this country and built, hospitals, schools, orphanages, soup kitchens and shelters because they knew that faith demanded they respond to the struggles they saw all around them.  Though the structures might change, the demand of the gospel to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty will never change. St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who is the patroness of Catholic Charities, remains an icon who challenges our generation not only to pray for justice in our churches, but to live the gospel in our streets.

Today, recall someone who has been a heroine of hero to you and pray to live like them.

Do you have a favorite Saint? 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Vulnerability of Not Seeing

"A blind man was sitting by the roadside begging." Lk 18:35

A older friend, struggling with his hearing and beginning to feel very isolated, told me he would have preferred to lose the use of his eyes than his ears. Embarrassed to ask people to repeat themselves, he found himself not participating in conversations and shying away from communal gatherings. Though he has hearing aids, he still often feels alone in a group and ignored by people with whom he often had enjoyable conversations.

Whether one is struggling with blindness or deafness is not the point of today's Gospel. The isolation and loneliness that accompanies the loss of any our faculties is painful, unnerving and confusing, especially in a society that often looked at physical infirmities as punishment for sin, and it is this to which Jesus addresses himself. The Lord wants us to feel and be an integral part of his body, the church. Anything that inhibits or limits this participation is his concern, and should be ours. 
Sometimes, although we see and hear perfectly well, we fail to respond to others who are struggling. Too busy, too self absorbed or too compulsed by the need to succeed, we are blind and deaf to the needy. 

Today, listen to someone you normally avoid.

What have you been privileged to see or hear that opened your heart to the Gospel?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Nature's Secrets

"Consider the fig tree and all the other trees. When their buds burst open, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near; in the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near." Lk 21 29-30

Paying attention to nature is a simple path to insight and reflection.  Jesus often invites us into the mystery of God's ways in this manner.  Today it is the fig tree. Tomorrow it may be the farmer sowing his seed or the power of the sea in a storm.  Unfortunately, in a society as frantic as ours and as fascinated with technology, we often fail to appreciate the wonders of nature all around us, but we can change. For instance, we might consider intentionally shutting down our computers, cell phones, and  Ipads for half an hour a day, and take a slow walk. While it might be difficult to begin and stay faithful to a practice like this, eventually our bodies and spirits will yearn for the "breaks", the quiet times and the rest.

Life unfolds in patterned ways and cannot be rushed.  It takes nine months for a child to be born.  It often takes five years for an apple tree to produce fruit and those of us getting older know that we are very different people at 60 than we were at 20. The task for the Christian is to continue to enter life as it comes, not rushing or pushing, but accepting life on its terms, and attending to God's presence at every stage of life.

Today, wherever you are, pause for a few moments, breathe deeply and look around you.

What can help you not rush?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Persistence

"Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?" Lk 18:7

Persistence in prayer is an important Christian virtue. Jesus reminds us of this more than once, and the widow who pesters the local judge to help her attain justice is only the most dramatic example of this. In St Matthew's Gospel Jesus tells his disciples to "Watch and pray always, lest you enter into temptation," and (26:41) St Paul echoes Jesus' call to pray always in first Thessalonians. "Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances."

Praying always can seem like an impossible challenge. For most, when we try to pray, distractions fill our minds and hearts almost as soon as we begin. Even when we pray the rosary or other devotional prayers, we find ourselves thinking about everything but the prayer! Just the same, our willingness to put everything and everyone in God's hands each day is a very powerful prayer although it is often difficult to manage. Trusting God completely is something most of us aspire to, but rarely accomplish. That is why the practice of prayer is so important.

Getting in the habit of saying the Jesus prayer, Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner helps many. Others, especially those helped by 12 step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous use the serenity prayer often. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Repeating both or either of these prayers regularly will help any well-intentioned believer create a space in their lives for God to be God which is, after all is said, the purpose of all prayer.

Today, choose a simple prayer and repeat it throughout the day.

What is your favorite prayer?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

St Frances Xavier Cabrini

"Stand erect and raise your heads because you redemption is at hand." Lk 21:28

Two things marked the early life of Mother Cabrini. She was frail and sickly as a child and only four of her 10 siblings survived adolescence, but neither situation shuttered her imagination. When her father would read to his children about the great men and women who left their homelands to go around the world as missionaries, Frances dreamed of joining them. Frances' faith was bigger than her weakness.

Faithful to her parents until their death, Frances helped them on their farm and went to school, but soon after their death she began to explore a religious vocation. Rejected at first because of her poor health, Frances persevered and soon the local bishop asked her to found a new congregation of religious women. Sure that Frances' efforts would benefit the local church, the bishop was excited by Frances' new congregation, but Frances had bigger ideas. Soon after making vows, she added the name Xavier to Frances, after the famous Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier, and went to Rome to establish a convent. Soon after, still hoping to go the Orient as a missionary, Frances was asked to help Italian immigrants in the United States. Resistant, she asked the Pope Leo XIII for help in discernment, and the Pope assured her that she should go West to the United States, and from this point her life exploded with activity and zeal.

St Frances Xavier Cabrini was a brilliant organizer and administrator. She founded 68 missions and, though she hated ocean travel, crossing the Atlantic more than thirty times. Her work took her to New York, South America, Chicago and New Orleans, and all of this with failing health. A woman of our times, Frances Xavier continues to inspire women and men of the 21st century with passion and zeal.

Today, pray for the young to accept the call to discipleship.

To whom do you listen for advice and encouragement?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

St Josaphat

"First, he must suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation." Lk 17:25

How we respond under pressure is often the measure of our faith and courage. St Josaphat, a 17th century martyr, reminds us of this. Committed, as a bishop, to the cause of trying to heal the Great Schism, of reuniting Rome and Constantinople, he first reformed both the local church to which he was assigned and his own life. Though some thought he was too demanding that people live simple lives, his personal witness to frugality and honesty convinced many of his cause, but not all.

Josaphat was killed by a mob, certain that one of their number had been abused and imprisoned by those committed to reconciliation with Rome. After his martyrdom, he as thrown into a nearby river along with a dog that had tried to protect him, but it was the Jewish people who should be held up as faithful to the Torah in defense of Josaphat. When Josaphat and his servants were being beaten and killed, Jews rushed into the courtyard of the bishop and rescued many, and it was Jews who mourned his passing. Because they recognized his goodness before God, the Jews refused to be intimidated or drawn into a fight not of their making while many Catholics for whom Josaphat died hid in fear of their lives.

Today, stand up for someone whose name is being dragged through the mud.

What are your biggest challenges to live faith despite the cost?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

St Martin of Tours

"The apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our Faith.'" Lk 17:5

Faith, though a great and free gift, is fragile. Frequently, especially when we are moving along in life confidently and without too much effort, we forget how central God and God's love for us is to our everyday life. When we remember to pray, we pray too quickly or by rote, and everything becomes more important than our spiritual lives. We rush to get things done, don't even see friends and family in need, and find ourselves focusing on others faults rather than their good qualities. Although there are dozens of reminders along the way, we fail to see them and without realizing it, our faith wavers.

While none of us wants to be tested, neither can we deny that the challenges we face strengthen us. When a parent falls ill, a friend struggles with mental illness or old friends divorce after many years of marriage, we pause and wonder. What is happening within and around us? What ought to be our faith response? When we have been walking at God's pace, attending to God's way in our lives, the responses come naturally and simply. Pray. Be with hurting friends and family as companions. Don't instruct. But when we have taken faith for granted, we find ourselves muddled, overly upset, angry and confused. What should we do? Pray. Slow down. Listen. Ask for an increase in faith.

Today, take five minutes to sit in God's presence without an agenda

What kinds of situations most test your faith?

Monday, November 9, 2015

St Leo the Great

"When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” Lk 17:10

St Leo the Great, better known to most as the Pope whose eloquence convinced Attila the Hun not to destroy Rome, must have been deeply committed to the service about which St Luke writes. An authentic relationship with Christ can do this. When we enter the mystery of the Jesus as truly God and truly human, his power becomes ours and enables us to live as servants of all in ways we could never imagine.

The conviction that Christ acts in and through us is the foundation of our call to discipleship. When we humbly acknowledge and accept that our own gifts, no matter how many they might be, are inadequate for the work of salvation, everything changes. Not only are we freer when we rely on the Lord for the strength we need to live the Gospel in a powerful way, we are more effective. It is always astounding to meet people whose faith is so deep that they draw us into God's love by the way they speak, act and live. The challenge, of course, is to be one of those people.

St Leo's faith was such that, while on a mission to Gaul, he was elected by the people to be bishop of Rome and Pope. It was everyday people who recognized in Leo the kind of faith they knew was necessary to direct the church at a very turbulent time. Leo not only effectively moved the church to recognize the importance of Rome as the seat of church authority, he did it peacefully, an effort that effectively won for him the title Great.

Today, ask God for the strength to live your baptismal vocation with peace and power.

What believers do you think of as Great?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Dedication of the Laterna Basilica

"Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh." Ez 47:9

One of the wonderful images in the Book of Revelation is the flowing river about which Ezekiel also speaks. Watering and washing every bit of land through which it flows, the river helps every thing along its banks to grow strong. Fruit trees will produce large amounts of nourishment for all every month, and every kind of fish will grow strong and multiply in its waters.

The river, of course, is the water of life that flows to all from the restored temple and it will bring new life and hope to all who enter it, which is the point. We must enter the waters of baptism, drown and be raised up again in Christ if we hope to live the Gospel. This is not an easy journey or notion. To die to self so that Christ might live is the heart of the Gospel but is not something we do intuitively. We must learn to die from those who have gone before us in faith, especially the martyrs, and that is where the Lateran Basilica leads us.

St John Lateran is the basilica of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. First among all Rome's church's, it is dedicated to St John the Baptist who lost his head for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, and reminds us that the most fundamental work of the church is to witness to Christ crucified and raised up for the sake of all. John the Baptist never forgot that his mission was to make straight the way of the Lord. Willing to die for this privilege, John the Baptist continues to remind us of our role. When we make the way of the Lord straight people can find their way into the mystery of God's love.

Today, pray for the grace never to forget God's enduring love for all.

What do you most value about the church, the people of God?




Saturday, November 7, 2015

How much is Enough?

"For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she (this poor widow), from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood." Mk 12:44

There are two things in today’s gospel that move me and remind me that the gospel is about transformation, not just information. No doubt I have said this before, but I often worry that Catholics don’t think of themselves as disciples. Discipleship, they say, is too high an honor, and with a false sense of humility, suggest that they do not deserve such a title. Nothing could be further from the truth. We don't deserve or gain discipleship. It is a free gift from God who has called all of us to discipleship through baptism. We are to speak and live the good news with integrity, honesty and conviction. Jesus’ response to the widowed mother in today's gospel is a perfect example for us to follow. 

Widows were in real danger in the world of Jesus. They rarely owned property, were often illiterate and had to rely on their eldest son for sustenance and a place to live. The widow in today's Gospel ignores these dangers. More intent on giving God her whole self, she offers everything she has to the Temple and God. Her generosity never fails to impress us. I wonder if anyone at the time, besides Jesus, even noticed.

There are so many people in our world who follow the Gospel not to be noticed but to give God all they have. Their example of selflessness challenges us not to worry so much about our security, but to trust that God will never abandon us even when we have nothing.

Today, give someone of your substance and do not count the cost.

What keeps you from being more generous with your time or resources?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Two Masters?

"No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Lk 16:13

We know the Gospel tells us that can't serve two masters. How about three or four or ten?  When we think about our lives it often becomes obvious that we are trying to do too much for too many people and this can lead to resentment of all those we intended to serve. Time becomes our master, or security or accomplishment or power, but when we stop to reflect upon these matters we know that the Gospel challenge to have one master is spot on and powerful.

We need to commit ourselves on a daily basis to serving God alone. Only God can be our master and the task of the believer is to discern how best to serve this master each day. When we take time to pray about this we often reach a counter intuitive conclusion. Serving God alone does not mean saying yes to every needy person or important cause, but learning to ask God each day how to go forward, how to help, how to serve and how to announce the Good News.

Today, ask God how best to live the Good News.

Which of your concerns most often gets in the way of serving God?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Lost Sheep

“What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?" Lk 15:3

What's your opinion? While Jesus seems to think that it makes perfect sense to leave the ninety nine sheep to care for themselves as he goes in search of the one lost sheep, one wonders how the Pharisees might have answered if Jesus had simply posed the question and let them respond. What do you think they would have done?

At first glance, it makes no sense to leave ninety nine sheep alone to search for the lost one, but Jesus is making an important and challenging point with his followers. The lost are important. The healthy, he says in another place, don't need a physician. The sick do. (Mk 2:17) Jesus wants us to let go of the security of wherever we are to look for those who have lost their way, and this is often a hard challenge. Knowing who and where we are, especially in relation to power, is important. Otherwise, we will never be able to speak truth to power, but Jesus pushes us nonetheless. 

Often in Christian terms we must be people who are both/and. We must so deeply know who we are that we are unafraid to let go of our security to seek those who forget or reject their own heritage and faith. Because we are rooted in the memory of Jesus we know that wherever we are, we are in Christ, and can risk anything in order to proclaim the message of Jesus. The apostles knew this. So did the great saints. We can learn it a day at a time.

Today, open your spirit to the lost and do it without judging them.

Are there places, people and communities that you avoid?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

St Charles Borremeo

"The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable." Rom 11:29

God loves us. That is God's gift to us. But God's love is not a promise that we will never suffer or feel lost and alone. When we say that God loves us we mean that his gift, as St Paul reminds us, is irrevocable. God will never take it back, never stop loving us, and in this promise we have hope, strength and the assurance that God is near even and especially when we suffer.

God's call is also irrevocable and this can be both empowering and terrifying. God calls all of us to discipleship, and discerning what that is can be the task of a lifetime. In my own case, like many other young men of my generation, I felt strongly I was being called to be a Capuchin priest. Motivated by so many of the Capuchin priests I knew as a boy to be active, engaged and committed to the needy, God used that natural attraction to lure me into vows and priesthood. Being a friar, though important, was a distant second to being  a priest.

Thirty years ago, however, in a frightening twist of grace, it became clear that God wanted to work in the Capuchins in ways we could never have foreseen. Without devaluing the call to be priest, the church challenged the Capuchins to reclaim the charisms of their founder, and all the friars to listen to God and not simply follow our own best instincts or needs. Remarkably, this shift is cited by a majority of our young friars as the reason they were drawn to the Capuchins. When we reclaimed the dream of St Francis to form a community of brothers whose love for one another as they traveled from place to place to preach the Gospel would be their most important way of announcing Good News, everything changed. God does write straight on crooked lines.

Today, ask God to renew the vocation to which you have been called.

Who or what has been most influential in helping you listen more deeply to the Gospel?

Monday, November 2, 2015

One Body in Christ

We, though many, are one Body in Christ
and individually parts of one another.
Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us,
let us exercise them:
if prophecy, in proportion to the faith;
if ministry, in ministering;
if one is a teacher, in teaching;
if one exhorts, in exhortation;
if one contributes, in generosity;
if one is over others, with diligence;
if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Rom 12: 5-8

St Paul is never less than clear, inviting and, often, demanding. Since all of us are blessed by God with different gifts, we must spend them for the good of Christ's Body. When we forget this challenge we are prone to obsessive thinking and acting about ourselves. We become self centered and worried about how we are doing before God when the task of the Christian is to serve others as best we can and let God worry about the results.

On the other hand, when each of us accepts and celebrates the gift we have been given, everyone benefits. There is no competition or envy because everyone remembers their role and works for th good of the entire community. Leaders understand that they are servants. Cheerleaders remember to encourage others, and all of us learn to be for others, to be for the whole. 

Of course, this is the Gospel dream, and because we do not want to be naive, we also realize that we will fail to be ourselves in many situations, but failure should never be the end of our dreams. When each of us recognizes and admits our failures, the body heals and the Gospel continues to enliven the world.

Today, accept and celebrate whatever gift you have for the sake of the Body of Christ.



When have you been happiest and most fulfilled as a member of Christ's body?