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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Revisiting Almsgiving

"Let us visit Christ whenever we may; let us care for him, feed him, clothe him, welcome him, honour him, not only at a meal, as some have done, or by anointing him, as Mary did, or only by lending him a tomb, like Joseph of Arimathaea, or by arranging for his burial, like Nicodemus, who loved Christ half-heartedly, or by giving him gold, frankincense and myrrh, like the Magi before all these others." St Gregory of Nazienzen (Oratio 14, De Pauperum amore, 23-25: PG 35, 887-890)

There are many forms of almsgiving, one of the three great Lenten practices to which we were directed on Ash Wednesday. Many in our society have little money, and some who had money for a while, are struggling now because they lost their jobs or had to accept work that pays their bills but little else. While the acceptance of these difficult circumstances is a real penance for those who have lost their ability to live and support their families in a manner to which they were accustomed, Lent demands even more.

For those who have money, giving some of it away is among the least testing of their penances. "Visiting" Christ in the poor and needy is the real challenge of the gospels, and as Gregory of Nazienzen suggests, it cannot be reduced to a single act, but must be an attitude we develop. Opening our eyes to what is in front of us and choosing how best to respond is difficult but necessary. That 1 billion people in the world have no access to clean water and 21/2 billion have no sewage is not something we can address by ourselves, but working together with others to feed, clothe and house the Christ among us without the resources to help themselves is a clear mandate of the Gospel.

Today, "see, judge and act" about a vital issue in your own community.

Have you had the privilege of helping the poor directly? What was it like for you?

Friday, March 13, 2015

Living the Faith We have Learned

"You are not far from the Kingdom of God." Mk 12:34

Last week I was speaking with a priest friar about the saints we have known. Almost all of them were lay people. It was not that we were discounting the holiness of priests and religious we knew, but were clearly more touched and challenged by the integrity and faith we encountered in the people we had been sent to serve. Not incidentally, the people we both knew were not scholars, but parents, husbands and wives and grandparents. What they shared in common was their fidelity in the face of very long odds. They had faced sickness, death, and poverty with courage and honesty. They did not whine about how God had dealt them a poor hand, but were grateful for God who had accompanied them in their struggles.

Jesus was tough on the Scribes, not because they lacked insight, but because they seemed only to know the law but said nothing about living it. He will be hard on us for the same reasons. In Lent we try to recommit ourselves to prayer, almsgiving and fasting because they are practices that encourage us to put the law into action in our lives.

Today, ask yourself if are more interested in being theologically correct than transparently faith filled.

Two Great Commandments

(Yesterday's post got stuck someplace. Forgive me!)

Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, 
with all your soul, 
with all your mind, 
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus makes our task clear, simple and very difficult. We are to love God and neighbor as God loves us. There is no wiggle room in his challenge, but there is always understanding when we fail. God waits for us to respond, picks us up when we fail and sends us out whether we are ready or not. When we submit ourselves to God's ways, we cannot fail.

God protects, God forgives and God sets us free over and over to begin again. Made in God's image, we are to save one another from the "fire" of shame that reduces people to objects of need, rather than subjects of our compassion. If God is compassionate, understanding and accepting, so must we have hearts of kindness and mercy.

Today, let God be God. Get out God's way.

What is most difficult for you in loving like God?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Facing our Pride

"For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons. If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out?" Lk 11:19

It is always strange when we hear Jesus entering into what appears to be a silly debate with his opponents, until we remember that the text we read is as much about his first followers as it is about him. Frightened by the increasing demands made on them after Jesus’ death and by their exclusion from the synagogue, the early disciples of Jesus fought with one another and their Jewish brothers and sisters, and while it was foolish, it was understandable. Because they were intent on defending the purity of  Jesus’ teaching, Jesus' first disciples allowed themselves to squabble over an interpretation of the gospel, and thereby broke the bonds they had with one another.

The same can often be said of us. It is the rare person who has not found himself in a debate with a friend or family member that never seems to end. Even though everyone around us gets bored or loses interest, we keep insisting on our position and find ourselves saying things we really don’t mean or believe. Lent is a good time to develop “spiritual practices” that help us face our pride and avoid these situations, or at least end them quickly.

Today, avoid all arguments.

Do you have a strategy for avoiding drawn out conversations and arguments that go nowhere?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Forming our Children in Faith

"However, take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children's children." Dt 4: 9

The word tradition is from the Latin verb tradere, which means to hand over. It is an important word for Catholics because we insist that there are two fonts of revelation, scripture and tradition. Scripture alone, without an official commentary, can easily be misunderstood. At the same time, the less than careful use of tradition can become oppressive. Scripture and tradition are the two fountains out of which our faith flows.

Furthermore, when we read the scripture in concert with our Tradition, we should always remember that God's revelation is intended to set us free, not bind us up. Our Jewish brothers and sisters often say that the Talmud, or the commentary on the Bible, is like a fence. The intent of the commentary is to protect the integrity of the word in much the same way that our Constitution protects the vision of the founding fathers. Tradition lets us know we are on the right path, but it is more like a compass than a map.

Tradition is the compass we hand onto our children to guide and console them. In the light of our Tradition, they are challenged to become the living word of God by embodying the best of who we are as Catholics, and discover ever new ways to proclaim God's Good News in the changing world within which we all find ourselves.

Today, be the tradition. Be transparent in your love for Jesus Christ.

Who was your most important teacher about matters of faith?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Forgiveness

"You should know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up.”  Dn 3:18

The remarkable story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego always lifts my spirit. Thrown into a raging fire because they refused to to worship King Nebuchadnezzar's God or the golden statue he made, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego assure the king that their God will protect and save them even if he allows them to die in the fire. 

That they are protected from the fire, while spectacular, is almost incidental because they are living the simple truth that saints have always insisted upon. They serve God, pray and care for the needy, not to be successful, but to be faithful. It is the failure to live faith in this way that condemns the servant in today's gospel who, after being forgiven a large debt, refuses to forgive his fellow servant in a small matter.

God protects, God forgives and God sets us free over and over to begin again. Made in God's image, we are to save one another from the "fire" of shame that reduces people to objects of need, rather than subjects of our compassion. If God is compassionate, understanding and accepting, so must we have hearts of kindness and mercy

Today, offer someone who cannot repay you an ear of compassion.

Has anyone ever stood with you in suffering without judgment?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Truth

"They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong." Lk 4:30

The setting of today's gospel is astounding. Imagine it. Jesus, preaching in his hometown synagogue, has been very direct with his neighbors, castigating them for not accepting him as a prophet, and reminding them that other prophets suffered the same fate. Hurt and angry at what they perceived as a slight, his community drives him out of town.

Were they literally chasing him, forcing him to run away? Would they have actually hurled him over the hill and into oblivion? The gospel tells us that Jesus was able to slip through the crowd and escape. It almost sounds like a James Bond movie. People intent on murder, which was not justified by the Torah or Roman law, and the prophet finding  a way to avoid capture.

Clearly, the gospel writer wants his readers to know how much danger Jesus was willing to submit to in order to do his Father's will, and how angry the crowds were with him. Truth can do that to people. Truth drove Jesus to tell the truth, and the truth about their unwillingness to change so upset the people that they drove him out of town.

Today, listen to someone who annoys you.

Are there any difficult people or situations from whom you learned more than you expected?