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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Good Shepherds

"Jesus said: 'I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.'" Jn 10:11

God as our good shepherd has always been an attractive, inviting and empowering notion for believers. In the ancient world from which this image comes, shepherds were the underclass. Although they had no voice in the society, they played critically important roles, especially for the poor. Because the poor could not afford their own sheep pens, shepherds were hired to look over the sheep of many families in a common pen throughout the night, and  while they were able to rest, they could not sleep since it was their task to protect the sheep from predators. In order to do this effectively, shepherds would lie down across the opening of the sheep pen in order to protect the sheep entrusted to them. That the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament remind us that God and Jesus are shepherds, willing to give their lives for their sheep, is both comforting and challenging.

Parents are natural shepherds, willing to protect their children from anything and anyone who might threaten them. Parents almost always do this without personal concern or fear. They know it is their duty, especially in the first years of life, and would have it no other way. These days, because people are living so much longer, children often become parents to their parents, and it is these "children" caring for their parents who show us a new face of God's unconditional love. Every time I visit a hospital or nursing home and encounter people feeding and clothing their parents of a daily basis, I am moved and strengthened by their generosity and unselfishness. Theirs is a heavy burden, but like Good Shepherds, they do it graciously and compassionately.

Today, thank someone who has been a Good Shepherd to you.

What is your most helpful image of God?

Friday, April 24, 2015

St Mark

"Clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another." 1 Peter 5:5

Commentaries on the scriptures are full of midrash, a homiletic method of biblical explanation that fills in the gaps that the text does not reveal directly. There are midrashim about Mary, for instance, at Cana which suggest what she was thinking when she told Jesus, "They have no wine."

Another Mirash about the miracle at Cana concerns Mark, whose feast we celebrate today. Legend has it that he was one of the servants who filled the six stone water jars with water. When Jesus changed the water to wine, Mark was especially moved by Jesus' power and compassion, and it was at Cana that he decided to follow Jesus as a disciple.

Though we cannot "prove" any of these stories through the lens of history as we record it today, we can be sure that something stirred the hearts of those who encountered Jesus to follow him and risk their lives to proclaim the good news he was preaching.  The same is true for us. Very few conversions that last are built on intellect alone. Only when our hearts are moved does the truth of the Gospel change us forever.

Today, think about the experiences of faith you have had and be grateful?

What stories of conversion most impacted your faith life?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

More than Bread

"I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst." Jn 6:35

Jesus is many things to many people. For some he is healer; for others he is God's word who enlightens the whole world. In today's gospel, Jesus reminds all that he is not simply a source of free food, but the bread of life who will feed us forever if we form a relationship with him.

Right relationships, about which the prophets so often spoke, are always a source of life for believers in the one God. It is through right relationships with God, others and all creation that we enter into the mystery of God's love with awe and thanksgiving. 

Unfortunately, like the people in today's gospel, we too often want God to "give us bread" so that we can go about our lives without worry or need and return to God only when we want something else. More sadly, if God does not give us what we want, we seek other gods and cling to anyone or anything in our path that satisfies us for the moment. Money and the ownership of property, for instance, can appear to answer all our needs, but that is not what Jesus promises. Rather, he wants to enter a right relationship with us that "preserves the integrity, resilience, and beauty" (1) of God and all creation.

Today, examine your relationships and ask God to make them "right.".

Who do you most admire because of the integrity, resilience and beauty of their relationships?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Advocacy

"Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  He replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” Acts 8:30-31

More than thirty years ago, following the renewal of religious life commissioned by Pope Paul VI, the Capuchin friars incorporated "house chapters" or formal gatherings of the friars to discuss our life and lifestyle. While  these meetings sometimes devolved into a sharing of our schedules, our new Constitutions intended them to be a forum in which we both reflected on our common life and shared our struggles and joys in living the Capuchin life. For me there was enormous wisdom in encouraging the friars to meet regularly to discuss our life together because I had noticed that every time our local fraternity added or lost a member life changed, and unless we attended to these changes we would struggle more than necessary to live well together.
People need to have a voice in families, fraternities and societies, and when new members are not given a voice they will take it either by talking too much or not at all at community gatherings. Whether a friar or a new member of a parish council chooses to over talk or say nothing, they have a voice, and unless they are asked to articulate their concerns and vision, they will block the work of the friary or the council.

All of this is implied during the Easter season when the scriptures remind us that we have an Advocate, one who speaks for us before God and the people. Because the apostles and disciples were told not to speak about Jesus after the resurrection, they needed an Advocate, a defense lawyer, who would empower them to speak for themselves. Afraid of the consequences of speaking out, the disciples needed the grace and strength to move beyond their fears to announce the Good News that God had set us free in Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of Jesus would continue to accompany the church throughout history. When we embrace this power, we speak and live without fear and with integrity, and become Advocates for all the voiceless in society, especially the poor.

Today, ask God to help you speak Good News without fear.

Who most impresses you with their willingness to speak with and on behalf of the poor?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Let the Joyful Valleys Ring

"Let the mountains skip with gladness, and the joyful valleys ring...Christ...has lifted up the portals of our home beyond the stars." Let the Holy Anthem Rise (Hymn)

Sometimes it is a hymn that moves our spirits, and surely the Easter hymn, Alleluia, Alleluia, Let the Holy Anthems Rise, can lift our hearts in praise. A poem, this song is filled with images that help us recognize how impossible it is to adequately acknowledge the transforming power of Easter. That the mountains skip, and the valleys ring out with song, remind us that all creation has been changed by the God who can't wait to welcome us to our eternal home.

At times, the language of poetry and hymns reminds us of what some unfairly label "new age" spirituality, but how else can we speak of Easter without setting our imaginations free? Skipping mountains may not appeal to everyone, but it is a wonderful way of helping us picture God's love for us. That creation itself rises up with joy because of God's gracious forgiving love helps us step beyond the rational language of ordinary discourse in order to celebrate how much God loves us and wants us with him forever.

Today, breathe in the breath of God and let it free you to dream.

Have you known someone who helped unlock your imagination so that your faith might grow?

Monday, April 20, 2015

The God of Sweet Honey

"I took the small scroll from the angel’s hand and swallowed it. In my mouth it was like sweet honey, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour." Rev 10:10 as found Office of Readings

If you have been poor most of your life, as were the apostles of Jesus, the announcement in the Book of Revelation that neither wealth, nor health nor a large and successful family were signs of God's enduring love would taste like sweet honey. No longer would you have to strive to be like others, nor would you be always seeking to own something or someone. Rather, you would be anxious to eat this honey over and over again. Unfortunately, when you repeated this message, your stomach would turn sour. That is the clear message of the 10th chapter of Revelations to the early church. That which was at first sweet would become sour in the telling because you were challenging people to have different standards of success.

The same was true of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis tells the whole world that before God gave him the grace to kiss a leper, he was lost, but after kissing him (or her?) what before was bitter was turned into sweetness of body and soul. While this was true for Francis when he chose to live like and with lepers, his message was bitter for others, especially his own father, who wanted Francis to grow even richer than he himself was. When Francis rejected his father's wealth for a life of minority and poverty, he not only lost the love of his father, he threatened the feudal system into which he was born.

The gospel is always a threat and a bitter pill to swallow when it challenges us to reexamine how we live, and how we look at others. Unless we ask for the gift of seeing all creation with God's eyes, we miss the sweetness of the message. God loves all unconditionally, not just Jews and Christians, but all people. God even loves our enemies.

Today, ask God to let you taste the sweetness of his word, even in the telling.

Have you ever known anyone who changed their life and lifestyle completely in order to live the Gospel more completely?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

God's Passion

"Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life." Jn 6:27

The apostles and disciples were full of passion after Pentecost. So filled with the hope of God's reign changing everything, nothing could stop them in going from place to place despite the danger to themselves and their families. They had heard the good news and been transformed by it. Passionately, they move onward and upward, working for the food that would endure forever. Convinced the reign of God and Jesus' return was very near, they worked tirelessly for the sake of the Gospel, but soon enough the tired and faltered.

The same thing happens to us. When we are young, we can be passionate about changing the world, raising a family, building a career, and cleaning the environment. Our passion drives us and seems unstoppable. Even though we often fail, we get up, move on, and search for new ways to live authentically, but being passionate also comes at a high cost. When passion becomes rushing, a change is in order. We must learn to harness our passion, listen to our bodies and discern how best to move forward as disciples. Only when we allow God to do God's work and direct our lives can we hope to be free from the constant need to perform and succeed that derails so many.

Today, be passionate about being alive.

Whose passion for the good and for God most changed you?