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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Our Leprosy

"A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, 'If you wish, you can make me clean.' Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, 'I do will it. Be made clean.'” Mk 1:40

That Jesus listened to the desperate pleading of the leper and allowed him to draw near was remarkable. Jesus knew that by associating with the leper he became unclean himself, but it did not matter. The leper was suffering not just from the disease but from the isolation imposed on him and all lepers.

Lepers had to tear their clothes and call out "unclean" whenever anyone approached them. What a terrible punishment; what an awful life, but the leper who calls to Jesus for help ignores the teaching of rabbis and so does Jesus. After Jesus cleanses the leper he warns him to tell no one. Of course, the man newly made whole and freed from the desperate loneliness that was his life could not keep quiet. Who could remain silent about such a wonderful gift?

There is a leper in all of us. We obsess about our sins, want no one to see as we really are and even try to hide from God. That the society and church sometimes shun us is not the deepest pain. Too often we isolate ourselves through useless guilt. Only when we remember that we have been cleansed once and for all through baptism and forgiven over and over by Christ's redeeming love, are we really free. When this happens we cannot remain quiet. We must find our voice and announce the Good News. God wants us to draw near and desires to set us free. We have only to ask for help and healing will come.

Today, tell someone you have been made clean by the love of God.

How do you respond to people who others think of as unclean?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sts Cyril and Methodius

The use of the vernacular, or the language of the people, has long been controversial in the Church. Even today there are those who think we should return to the use of Latin in the liturgy primarily because it is not a "living" language and, therefore, less subject to misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

When Sts Cyril and Methodius, whose feast we celebrate today, wanted to make Slavonic the language of the liturgy the Bavarian bishops reacted, fearful they would be stripped of their influence in the Slavic world. Clearly, the preaching of Cyril and Methodius was having  a powerful effect on the people. That the liturgy might also be celebrated in a language the bishops could neither speak nor understand made them very anxious.

Power is almost always an issue in our lives. When we lose the power to speak, to see clearly, to drive a car, own a home or influence a vote, we can react violently against authority and God.  We want our voice and our freedom. The Bavarian bishops were so afraid of losing their ability to guide the church that they forced Methodius into exile for three years, to no avail. Cyril and Methodius were trying to spread the gospel with every tool at their command. That they were impeded, even stopped for a while by those who should have celebrating their efforts, only made them stronger and more effective.

Today, speak and act in a way others can understand your faith.

How do you react changes in the church?


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Groaning in Frustration

"Then Jesus looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!”

Most of us recognize Jesus' agonized groaning as something that comes over all of us. Though we explain ourselves clearly and carefully, a colleague, a friend or a family member misunderstands or misinterprets our intent. We explain again, even more slowly. Still, some claim not to understand us. Only when we realize and accept that some are resistive to our message, do we begin to have some peace!

Jesus has tried hard to assure his hearers that he is an observant Jew, but many, troubled by the power of his words and deeds, insist they do not understand him. He sighs out of frustration, and no doubt realizes that he is in a deadly arm wrestling match with the leaders of the Jewish community. Though he will continue to assure the Pharisees and scribes that he wants to work with them for the reform and renewal of the Jewish community, he knows that his efforts are fruitless.

We have the same obligation as believers. Without arrogance or resistance, we must listen to those who challenge our beliefs or seek to undermine our religious convictions. If we intend to follow Jesus' example, we have no other choice, we must continue to announce God's Good News.

Today, ask yourself if you are resisting hearing someone with whom you disagree.

Which teachings of the Catholic tradition are most difficult for others to understand or accept?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Not Giving Up

“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” Mark 7:29

Communicable and deadly diseases always frighten us. So do demons. Before anyone knew that HIV/AIDS could not caught by a sneeze or sharing a soft drink, there was immense fear in people about something they did not know. People with AIDS were like demons. Even after it became clear that AIDS could only be spread by the exchange of body fluids through sexual contact, needle sharing and the very rare blood transfusion, people were very much afraid. Something as toxic as AIDS scares us and the same was true in the ancient world regarding people possessed by demons.

Even as Jesus listened to the desperate pleading of the Syrophoenician woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon, he tests her and insists that he has come as food for the Jews. But the woman is not deterred. Asking Jesus to think of her as a dog, she reminds him that even dogs can eat the scraps that fall from the master's table. When Jesus heals her daughter and frees her from the demons obsessing her, he challenged people then and now not to dismiss people because of their illness, sexual orientation, race or religious convictions.

Today, listen with your heart to someone from a different race or religion.

Do you know someone with the courage and fortitude of the Syrophoenician woman?


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Soul Hunger

"Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”

Hunger is a powerful teacher. When people are really hungry, even starving, it is very hard to listen to others, much less learn. Hunger, like anger or a chronic illness, gets in the way of everything else. Trying to teach hungry people is like trying to put one more ounce of water in a glass that is already full. No matter how skilled the teacher, when people are hungry new insights and knowledge are wasted. There is no room in the hungry person for anything new or transformative.
Jesus knew his Jewish antagonists were more concerned with catching his disciples breaking the law than with the integrity of the Torah. Hungry to maintain their influence and power over the people, they wanted only to find fault with Jesus and his followers. They were not interested in the hunger the disciples had, but only wanted to undermine their teacher.

In many ways, we already know this. When we are physically hungry or we are hungry for companionship, friendship and love, we can settle for almost anything, even though our minds know that our need is getting in the way of our good sense. Because we are so hungry, we can't listen to anything or anyone. The misplaced hunger of the Jewish leaders condemned them, and it will do the same to us if we want only to be right.

Today, don't be afraid to ask for the "bread of life" to feed you with good sense and hope.

What kinds of hungers block you from living the Gospel?

Monday, February 9, 2015

St Scholastica

“I asked a favor of you and you refused. I asked it of God and he granted it.” St. Gregory the Great

Every year the office of readings brings a smile to my face. St. Scholastica, the twin sister of St. Benedict, knowing her death was near, asked Benedict to stay the night at her convent and allow their conversation about spiritual concerns to continue. Benedict, unwilling to break the monastic rule forbidding monks to sleep outside the monastery, refused. Scholastica prays, asking God to intervene. Suddenly, a fierce thunder storm breaks out. Benedict, (I think with a hint of smile) asks his sister what she has done and she responds, “I asked a favor of you and you refused. I asked it of God and he granted it.” Three days later Scholastica died.

Prayer is not intended to change the course of human events, but sometimes it helps, if not for its direct effectiveness, at least for its power to change us.  How important it is each day to stop, ask God to make us aware of his loving guidance and enter more deeply into his presence. Think about what happens to us each time we pause to remember the sick, the hungry, the homeless, the home bound, and those trapped inside countries at war. Prayer allows us, even forces us, to get outside out own worlds and concerns to allow the Spirit to lift us up, center us and strengthen us not to be afraid to let go of our own will and desires. Prayer may not cause a thunderstorm each day, but it lets God do God's work in and around us.

Today, don't be afraid to ask God to free you from rigid obligation and lead you into love.

How do you pray?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Forgetting Who We Are

"In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters."

It happens to all of us. We forget who we are. We forget the immense dignity that has been lavished upon us by a loving God, and we act in a way that not only offends God, it offends everyone around us. Perhaps it was Solomon's old age, but the great wise man, begins to build altars to the gods of his many wives. Solomon forgot his roots, forgot that God had created all things and blessed him with great wisdom. Solomon's behavior also makes us wonder whether his faith began to weaken as he neared death and was trying to cover all his bases.

Not infrequently, many older people begin to experience a kind of anxiety about death that is often surprising. People of faith their entire lives, they begin to ask difficult and unsettling questions. Is there an after life? Am I worthy of a place in heaven? Many also obsess about their past and wonder if they have really been forgiven. When this happens, it is important to keep things very simple, and with C.S. Lewis remember that, "The harshness of God is softer than the kindness of men (and women) and His compulsion is our liberation."

Today, ask God to let you feel God's compulsive, liberating love.

How do you respond to doubts about your faith?