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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Anger and Faith

"He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables." Jn 2:15

Few gospel scenes are more dramatic than Jesus chasing the money changers out of the temple precincts, and with good reason. Jesus was angry, an emotion we rarely associate with him or Christianity, despite the fact that it is almost always anger that brings about change in a society. It was anger over taxation without representation that spurred the American revolution, and it is anger at oppressive regimes that continues to turn North Africa and the Middle east into hotbeds of change. Though uncomfortable, anger is an important emotion for all to feel.

Jesus is not angry that people are making a small profit exchanging one currency for another. His anger is at those who charge whatever they can get from pilgrims, most of whom were surely poor. In the Palestine of Jesus' day, pilgrims would come to the temple once in their life from all over the known world. If they were Greek, they would have to change their drachmas into shekels and then when they arrived at the temple they would have to change their shekels into temple shekels, and this last exchange was often usurious. Money changers, knowing those seeking temple shekels were not about to turn away from an impossible rate of exchange, would charge whatever their unsuspecting victims would pay.

While all of us expect to pay more for basic services, like food and drink, when we visit a shrine or monument, gouging is never acceptable. That Jesus would defend those being abused by unscrupulous business men reminds us to do the same on behalf of the poor. Injustice and oppression, especially against the poor, is never o.k. Anger that leads to transformation is.

Today, examine your conscience regarding the practices you might employ to gain leverage over others.

What kinds of injustice make you angry?

Friday, March 6, 2015

God's Compassion

"Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt...who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency?" Mi 7:18

Sometimes it is almost impossible to appreciate the depth of God's love for us. Not only does the prophet Micah remind us that God does not remain angry at us, He delights in freeing us from our sins. Perhaps because we know ourselves so well and remember those times and people who, as our twelve step friends remind us, "live inside our heads rent free," it is overwhelming and wonderful to think of a God who forgets. Last week a friend reminded me of this when she repeated a phrase she had heard at a workshop. "It's easy to forgive and forget as long as the person we are forgiving doesn't forget that we forgave them."

This same theme continues in today's gospel when Jesus tells the story of the forgiving father who, after his son left home early and squandered his inheritance, catches sight of him "while he was still along way off." Apparently, the father, even after years of waiting, does not lose hope and looks for his son's return each day. God, the gospel suggests, is like this for us. We have only to turn towards "home" for God to come rushing out to embrace us. God does not focus of our misdeeds and sins, but on our willingness to repent.

Today, turn to God with all your heart.

What is God's mercy like for you?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Jesus our Capstone

"The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone." Mt 21:43

The scriptures are full of stories of intrigue and violence. Today we are presented with two of them, Joseph  sold into slavery by his own brothers, and the son of the vineyard owner killed by the tenants. In Lent, of course, they are preparing us for Jesus' suffering and death, but there is also a telling reminder in the middle of today's gospel. When we see only with our eyes and "not by faith," we miss hugely important lessons.

Engineers and architects have been fascinated for centuries by the simple but elegant style and form of Roman arches. Strong today even after 2000 years, the arches are built with stones almost exactly the same in size, except for the capstone which allows the arch to stand freely and strongly. The capstone is chipped at and broken so that it fits perfectly between the others. Rejected as a a regular building stone because of its odd shape, it becomes the capstone only after it is hacked at and formed in a way that allows the rest to stand together.  Our capstone, of course, is the Christ, who suffers so that the "arch" of God's kingdom can endure.

Today, welcome the uncomfortable and confusing.

When has suffering in your own life helped you enter more deeply into the mystery of God's love?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

All is Gift

"If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead." Lk 16:31

The story of the rich man and Lazarus, who lay at his door hoping for a morsel of food, is painful to read. It is not that being rich is bad. Rather, the rich are more likely to ignore the world as it is because they are comfortable. The Jews of old knew this well. God had reminded them often never to forget how they had been enslaved, otherwise they would be no better than the Egyptians who used them for their own profit. Life has not changed very much in this regard.

It is very easy to take for granted the "riches" we have. Whether our wealth lies in money and property or friends, family and honest work, we are at risk. When God's goodness to us is taken for granted, we begin to believe that we have earned everything we have, forgetting that all of life is a gift. As a boy, although we did not have much money, I went to school everyday, drank clean water, ate nourishing food and slept in a warm bed. I never thought much about these "riches." I did not earn them. They were my right, and I thought everyone in the world benefited from the same gifts. When it became clear to me that this was not the case, I knew my conscience would never rest until I did something for others out of justice, not simply out of love.

Today, feed someone who is hungry for hope, faith, compassion and understanding.

Share your experiences of feeding others.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Careless Words

"Let us destroy him by his own tongue; let us carefully note his every word." Jer 18:18

The people who were carefully noting Jeremiah's "every word," were not seeking the truth, reconciliation or compromise, they were trying to trap him. Afraid that the prophet's challenge to reform might be taken seriously, they looked for a way to undermine his influence and discredit him. The same thing happened to Jesus and he would have none of it. Because both Jesus and Jeremiah knew they had been empowered by God to speak the truth, despite its consequences, they had to speak.

Lent is a good time to "watch" our own words, rather than others. When we rush into confront others because of a real or perceived offense, we almost never accomplish what we hope. Responding with anger almost always increases the heat of an argument, while a calm, reasoned intervention that asks questions and seeks clarity allows everyone to think and respond in a way that helps all to reconcile. Truth does not emerge from trying always to be right, it blossoms when we work to know and live God's will.

Today, pray for someone trapped in unhealthy competition.

What do you do when you hear someone's character being smeared?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Unchecked Justice

"Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow." Is 1:16

Justice is a common theme in the bible, and while it is proposed as a good in itself, it is also a foundational way to evaluate our lives. As the Catholic church was planted in American soil, it built schools, hospitals, orphanages and so much more. It also began to send missionaries around the world. It was a proud and strong church. Bishops, and sometimes even pastors, could call local civic officials and exert their influence. Young Catholics began to take their place on planning and school boards, and in local, state and national legislatures. While this is the natural path that so many ethnic and cultural groups take in the United States, it can also be very dangerous.

When power becomes a good in itself, justice takes a back seat and institutions like the church become arrogant and self protective. Choosing to look the other way at the sexual sins of its clergy, and taking for granted the trust of the people, some bishops sent offending priests to new parishes where they abused more children. How awful! "Make justice your aim: redress the wronged," Isaiah shouts, and his challenge must be ours if we are ever to help heal the abused, and reclaim the trust of the people.

Today, ask pardon for ignoring the gospel demand to live a just life.

Have you been the victim of injustice? Have you been unjust to others?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Judging

"Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned." Lk 6:37

Judging the motives of others is natural, but dangerous. Someone acts in a way that makes no sense to us and we immediately interpret it. In this election year we might find ourselves saying, President Obama is just trying to assure himself the women's vote, or Mitt Romney is trying to hide his wealth. We often base these judgments on one thing we heard on the news or our political prejudices. To this point, this kind of thinking and judging is normal and necessary. Not exploring our judgments and conclusions, and dismissing another person or political position completely based on very little evidence, is where we get ourselves in trouble with the Gospel.

Jesus was always being judged. Those threatened by his message tried to convince others that he only wanted to wrest power from the Pharisees and Sadducees, and exalt himself as a prophet and healer. It was very difficult for his enemies, and for us, to encounter a totally other centered person. Jesus came to announce the Good News of his Father. He wanted to remind us that we are saved and have only to turn to God in faith to receive this great gift. The gratuitousness of his goodness was too much to accept, even though it was only a fulfillment of what God had promised the Jews long before.

Judging without facts in order to undermine the goodness or motives of others for our gain is a sin, one which we should pray to be freed from this Lent. When indeed we encounter someone who apparently is manipulating others for his or her own gain our obligation is to confront them, not to destroy their person or reputation.

Today, judge others with God's compassion.

When are you most tempted to sit in judgement of others?