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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Laughing through Anxiiety

"I should like you to be free of anxieties." 1 Cor 7:32

In recent days I have been leading a retreat for about fifty Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, a well know community in New York. They are a welcoming and kind group. Some are living independently in this very large convent, some are in assisted living and others are in nursing care. It is a beautiful place with a marvelous new chapel that, because of the balcony next to the nursing floor, allows everyone to pray together.

Naturally, some of the sisters have more anxieties than others. Those wondering whether they will soon need nursing care suffer a lot with the prospect of losing even more independence and freedom, but there is one symbol here that we all had a good laugh about.

The doors between buildings and those the open on common rooms like the refectory are automatic. Step on the mat and the doors open magically. On the second day of the retreat, in order too address their anxiety, I mused aloud that the pearly gates would be surely automatic doors for women like them who had been so faithful to the Gospel. Perhaps that is the vision Paul had for his communities when he told them he wanted them to be free of anxiety!

Today, no matter your anxieties, put yourself in God's hands.

Does your faith help you with your anxities?

Friday, January 30, 2015

St John Bosco

"Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen." Heb 11:1

When when St. John Bosco was only nine years old, he had a dream in which he rushed into a group of children who were cursing and tried to stop their misbehavior by fighting with them. Failing to help them he looked up and saw a man clothed in white who told him that the only way to change the children was through kindness and gentleness. John resisted the message for a long as he could, but the dreams kept coming.
Though many told him to ignore his dreams and others tried to have him committed to an institution for the mentally ill, John listened and began to develop skills like juggling and and magic in order to draw young troubled young boys to God. Kindness and gentleness, he learned, were much more effective than harsh words. Eventually, his dreams, confirmed by Pope Pius IX, led him to found the Salesians who continue to minister to wayward boys all over the world.

It can be very challenging and confusing to listen to our dreams, despite the evidence we find in scripture that God often uses dreams to attract, warn and instruct us. While not every dream we have is important, some of them may be.  Paying attention to our dreams and talking about them with a trusted friend or director can help us discern God's will for us.

Today, ask for God's direction.

Have you had a dream that helped you discern God's will for you?


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Making Sense of Suffering

"Remember the days past when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a great contest of suffering." Heb 10:32

Sometimes the suffering we read about in the bible stuns us. David is a case in point.  Threatened by his own son, he flees Jerusalem barefoot, but still has the presence of mind to listen to Shimei who is cursing him and throwing stones and dirt at him. David recognizes that Shimei is a prophet calling him out of his fear and into a renewed relationship with God. 

St Paul reports much the same treatment and suffering on his missionary journeys. 
Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren;… 2 Cor 11:24-26
Sometimes it is only the person who appears crazy and out of control to others who is able to get our attention. Unless we are willing to acknowledge that suffering comes to everyone, especially if we are trying to live a principled and faith filled life, we can never hope to understand and experience the transforming power of the Gospel.

Today, don't be afraid to listen to those who seem crazy.

How do your understand the suffering of so many in the bible?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Being the Light of Christ

“Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?" Mark 4:21

All of us put our light under a bushel basket from time to time, and while it is understandable, it hurts others, especially those close to us. Just as important it hurts us. When are hide our light we let nothing and no one in, and we pay for it. While we can hear others on the most superficial of levels, it is almost impossible to respond to friends and family with compassion and understanding. Because  we are so wrapped up in our struggles, we ignore the needs of everyone around us.

The prophets knew this well, and it is the reason they regularly resisted God's call to announce good news and remind people to listen to God. When no one is listening, it is very difficult to keep speaking, yet that is what God demands of us. Because we never know when someone's heart will open to the light, we must continue to live and proclaim the Gospel. It does not matter if we anyone notices. It is not about our success. It is about being faithful to God as God is faithful to us.

It often surprises us, especially after a period of darkness, that God never stopped being present to us and urging us to transformation. Neither do our closest friends abandon us when we fail to respond to them.  When the light of Christ does shine again, it is good to remember, especially when friends fail to respond to us, that their hearts might be dark for a little while, and our only task is to wait with patience as God waits for us.

Today, ask God to help you be a light in the darkness.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

St Thomas Aquinas

"All that is true, by whomsoever it has been said has its origin in the Spirit." Thomas Aquinas (1)
Born into wealth, Thomas Aquinas was given by his parents to the Benedictines as an oblate when he was only five years old in the hope that he would one day become a monk and eventually be the abbot. Thomas, however, followed a different path went to Paris to study. Soon afterwards, he joined the Dominicans, a mendicant community committed to simplicity and poverty.

Upset, his parents sent this older brother to "capture" him and forced him to return to their home, but Thomas, determined to remain with the Dominicans, left home after a year and returned to Paris and his studies. A student of Albert the Great, it was not long before Thomas outshone his mentor and became the most prominent teacher of the middle ages.

Folding the wisdom of Aristotle into Catholic thought, Thomas challenged scholars to look at the world, philosophy and culture in a fundamentally different way. The church was not the only font of wisdom, Thomas's teaching implied. Theologians needed to study the scriptures and church teaching, as well as the discoveries of science and philosophy in order to know the fulness of truth at the center of God's revelation.

What a lesson for us. As Catholics we should have no fear of the world and its wisdom. Neither should be resist what music, art, and literature teach us about beauty and wonder which ought only enhance the awe we have for God.

Today, thank God for the beautiful

Have any of the great thinkers helped you grow in faith?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Our Ongoing Conversion

"I have waited, waited for the LORD, and he stooped toward me. And he put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God." Ps 40:2

Conversion is a process. We all know this, but continue to get fooled. Just as we think we can relax, sit back and enjoy where we are in life, change comes or is demanded of us. A parent or a friend gets sick, a child's life turns in a direction we never expected, and we have doubts about our vocations. There is no getting around it. Though we often resist it, change is necessary and inevitable.

King David is a good example of this. Strolling on his roof top, he sees Bathsheba bathing. Smitten, he has relations with her and when she announces shortly afterwards that she is pregnant, he panics. David's pride or perhaps his fear of losing his influence in the community block his conscience, and he arranges to have Bathsheba's husband, and his friend Uriah, killed.

Despite all this, God eventually relents and forgives David. As our young people might say, you can't make this stuff up. The lesson is clear. No matter how egregious our fault and sin, if we express true sorrow and are willing to change, God will forgive us and help us take the next steps in life. Conversion, like the land yielding fruit, is an ongoing process, "first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear."

Today, ask forgiveness of every sin, and the grace to change.

Can you forgive like God?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sts Timothy and Titus

"The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you." Mk 4:24

The word pastor, though ancient, is not always completely accessible to people in the 21st century, especially those from the so called "developed world."  Most of us don't know many shepherds and so are unfamiliar with their role and importance.

Shepherds in the ancient world, though from the underclass, played an important role in the society, especially for the poor. Because the poor could not afford their own shelters for their sheep at night, one shepherd would watch over the sheep of many other peasants, and it was his job to protect the sheep, even with his own life. At times, he would even lie down in front of the opening of the sheep pen at night to ward off predators. Thus, in the Old Testament, God is often pictured as a shepherd, someone who not only created us, but shelters and protects us, especially when we are in great need.

Sts Timothy and Titus are recipients of the so called pastoral epistles, letters from St. Paul with lots of practical advice about how to help the people given to them for their guidance and protection. For example in 2 Timothy, Paul writes, "Avoid foolish and ignorant debates, for you know they breed quarrels. (2:24) How differentt all our lives would be if we heard and interiorized this advice. 

Today, ask God to give you the gifts of a humble pastor.

How do you see yourself called to pastor others?