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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Transfiguration

"Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them." Mk 9:2

Conversion is a slow process. We need many reminders that we are God's people and that God is always with us. Like almost anything else we learn in life, we "get faith" for a while and then lose it. Because daily life often confuses and challenges us with questions about suffering, death, poverty and hunger, we forget who we are, and seasons like Lent are necessary to help us return to the "straight and narrow" path of Jesus.

The transfiguration of Jesus is like a Lent for the apostles. Jesus has been slowly letting the apostles know who he is, and today he makes it absolutely clear that he is the fulfillment of the prophets. One might say that it is the "baptism" of the apostles.

Our own faith life and Lenten journey are similar. We have moments of pristine clarity and insight, and then the fog returns and we can hardly see where we are going. Not being afraid of this process is the key to completing our pilgrimage. Conversion lasts our entire life and while we might lose our way, God never loses sight of us.

Today, try to remember a moment of transfiguration, when you knew exactly who you were.

What has been your experience of conversion into Christ?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Covenants

"Today the LORD is making this agreement with you." Dt 26:17

Covenants are sacred agreements, usually between two nations or tribes. It was common in the ancient world for warring people to end hostility with a covenant. Representatives from each group or tribe would split animals in half and walk between them, clearly signifying that as long as each group kept the covenant, peace would reign. The dead animals, however, were a powerful sign. If either party to the covenant broke the agreement, war and killing would begin again.

The book of Exodus reminds us that God made a covenant with his people, assuring them that if they kept the covenant, they would live in peace with God and God would protect them. It is a remarkable time for the Israelites. God is promising always to be faithful to them. Their only obligation would be to keep the commandments, and while God would often have to correct and challenge them to keep their promises, they had only to remember the covenant and turn to God to be healed.

When Christians call Jesus the new covenant, they assert that God's faithfulness has been extended to us beyond anything we could imagine. Jesus is God incarnate and his resurrection promises us life forever. As long as we live the Good News of Jesus in a transparent way God will forever walk by our side and hold us in the palm of his hand.

Today, be transparent in your gospel life. Love one another.

How do you manage broken covenants in your life and family?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Getting Started on the Road to Easter

"If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift." Mt 5:23

One of the fundamental questions asked of every school of spirituality is where it begins? Ignatian spirituality, for instance, begins with personal and world sin. Only after a person has confronted his or her complicity in making the world a harsher place and community through selfishness, pride, lust and arrogance, does the pilgrim join the journey of Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. It is a natural and understandable place to begin, but it is not the only place.

Franciscan spirituality begins by reminding the pilgrim to stand in awe and wonder before the greatness and goodness of God, and only after celebrating the glory of God in all creation does it ask believers to face their sin. It is a different path with the same goal, to know, appreciate and enter the mystery of God's unconditional love. For Franciscans, only the strength and assurance they gain from seeing God's presence in all creation makes it possible for them to face the awfulness of their own ingratitude.

Jesus' reminder to his disciples seems to take this second path. God is more intent on rejoicing in our conversion and willingness to be reconciled with our sisters and brothers than in than in taking pleasure from our death through sin. God wants to celebrate who we are when we turn to him, not to turn from us in disgust. How wonderful God is!

Today, take a deep breath and ask God what you must do to be in God.

Where does your heart lead you in beginning again your spiritual journey?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Darkness as a Path to Spiritual Growth

"Then the LORD said to Moses: Stretch out your hand toward the sky, that over the land of Egypt there may be such darkness that one can feel it. So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and there was dense darkness throughout the land of Egypt for three days. People could not see one another, nor could they get up from where they were, for three days. But all the Israelites had light where they lived." Ex 10: 21-23

Darkness of spirit can be immobilizing. Inundated with problems or memories that emerge every time we open our eyes, there is no place to go. Friends with cancer often spoke of their illness in this manner. Each day they would wake, hoping for a shift in how they felt physically and emotionally, but there was only nausea and darkness. What a burden they had to carry, and what a plague that came upon the world when Pharaoh would not free the Israelites from slavery.

Remarkably, the call of Lent is to allow God to take us into this kind of darkness so that we might be cleansed and able to see again, even in a darkness "one can feel." Though our faith tells us that God is in the darkness with us, and Jesus in the desert experienced this, it is awful, frightening and disturbing. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta told her spiritual director that this kind of darkness followed her for years. While those who knew her could never have suspected this terrible kind of trial, it was real and suffocating, and led her to the edge of unbelief.

When periods of darkness like this come upon us, we must stay still. As the poet, Jessica Powers wrote, "God sits on a chair of darkness in my soul...I sit at His feet, a child in the dark beside Him." God does not make the darkness go away, but sits with us in it. Is that enough?

Today, try not to hide. Give yourself to God as you are.

How do you live with the darkness that comes to you?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sackcloth

"Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God." Jon 3:8

Sometimes there is a line in the scriptures that both amuses and startles us. The book of Jonah tells us that when the King of Nineveh heard Jonah's warning that his huge city would be destroyed unless he repented, he not only put on sackcloth and sat in ashes, he ordered the cattle to be dressed in sackcloth as well. Even as I write I am trying to picture the scene. The text suggests, however, that Jonah was neither impressed nor moved by the king's show of repentance. Jonah didn't want the people of Nineveh to repent. He wanted them punished, but God was impressed, which is all that matters.

God knows our hearts, and while most of us are not inclined to make a show of our repentance and dress our animals in sackcloth, we can be sure that when we turn to God with sincerity and sorrow, God hears our cry. Perhaps even more important, God hears the cries of our enemies, and the challenge to rejoice in their repentance is before us everyday.

Today, pray for someone you don't like.

What does it take for you to let go and let God direct your life?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Praying

"In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him." Mt 6:7

Many people want to pray more until they realize that they don't know how to pray or think they don't know how, and find themselves in a quandary. Most people of faith learn to pray as children in a very ritualized fashion. They know the Our Father and Hail Mary. Many remember a morning offering and the mysteries of the rosary, but are left wondering what is next.

Today's scripture is clear and helpful. It is not necessary to use many words when we pray. In fact, too many words get the in way of most conversations. What begins as a dialogue becomes a monologue. One person speaks, the other listens. One person is content with the "conversation," the other leaves wondering what just happened, and unfortunately, something like this is the experience of many when they pray.

St Clare of Assisi spoke of prayer in a similar way when she instructed her sisters to let God gaze at them, and they should learn to gaze at God. In other words, prayer can be as simple as taking a long, loving look at the real. Sitting quietly in our rooms or our car for a few minutes before we begin the day, and letting our spirits look at all that is, can allow us to hand our day over to the Lord and trust in his loving presence.

Today, try praying quietly. Don't use words. Let God gaze at you.

Are you able to sit quietly with God and let God look at you with love?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Justice for All

"You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer." Lv.19:11

When I was a boy my father was paid twice a month, and although his wage allowed us to pay our rent and eat, it was very modest. In those months when his second paycheck was withheld over a weekend because the month ended on a Sunday, it was especially difficult for my mother who had to stretch every penny. Every time I read Leviticus I think of my parents and offer a prayer in gratitude for the sacrifices they made for me and my siblings, but I also have some guilt.

It is too easy to forget the poor, especially when we keep insisting that the poor are being paid an adequate wage. That most of us have more than we need does not seem to impact us very deeply. Some may even claim that they deserve everything they have since they risked they capital and should be rewarded for the "danger" to which they exposed themselves.

But Leviticus is clear. Do not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer. Even 3500 years ago, people realized that those who hired themselves out a day a time needed to be treated justly. Today is no different.

Today, pray for those without work, for the underemployed and for those who are underpaid.

What do you think are our obligations to the poor as a people of faith?