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Saturday, May 2, 2015

Deeds not Talk

"Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth." I Jn 3:18

Talk can be easy. Action is always more difficult. In the U.S. culture people are very used to saying "I love you," or "love you," at the end of every phone conversation. This is not a bad custom in itself, but when it is not followed by action, it becomes hollow. How many times can we say "love you" to grandparents, for instance, and never visit them even when they live in the same county or town.

Today's second reading from the first letter of St. John is intended to comfort those who are stumbling and struggling with divisive teaching in the community, and to reassure them that no matter how confusing life might be, we must live the good news, not just debate it. How best to articulate faith in Jesus was a necessary step in the early church's growth. That some were trying to use these disagreements for their own political gain was unfortunate but understandable. As the early church began to grow and gain followers, who would lead it became not just a matter of theological orthodoxy, but of power and control.

There will always be debates in a church as culturally and religiously diverse as ours but the lesson of  today's scripture is clear. We can endure disagreements about how to preach God's word as long as we are all trying to live the gospel in our daily lives.

Today, ask yourself whether you spend more time arguing about the truth than living it.  

What is your best experience of working through differences in your parish or family?

Friday, May 1, 2015

St Athanasius

"Master, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jn 14:8

It is difficult to imagine what it must have been like for Christians at the beginning of the fourth century. For three centuries they had been persecuted. Welcome neither in Jerusalem's synagogues nor Rome's temples, they hid in the catacombs or died in the Coliseum, but within fifty years of the conversion of Constantine, Christianity became the state religion and anyone who sought office in the Roman empire had first to be baptized. The chaos and confusion must have been overwhelming. Rejoicing on the one hand in the new freedom they had to worship in public, they had also to deal with divisions within their ranks, especially about the nature of Jesus.

St Athanasius was about 20 yrs old when Constantine first professed faith in Jesus. Exiled five times from his see in Alexandria, he continued to defend the divinity of Jesus in a world that wanted compromise at any price, and held up St. Anthony of Egypt and his simple life as a model for all Christians. That he remained faithful to the most basic teachings of Christianity despite great personal suffering makes his life a challenge for believers everywhere.

The struggle to live a faith based life at the beginning of the 21st century is great. With the explosion of  the newly emerging social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, there is enormous competition for our attention. How the practice and life of faith fits into all of this is unclear, but with Athanasius we can recommit ourselves to live simply and transparently as witnesses to God's love for us in Jesus Christ.

Today, be grateful for anything and anyone who reminds you of God's love for us in Jesus

Who most impresses you with their simple life of faith?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

St Joseph the Worker

"My sheep hear my voice." Jn 10:27

Hearing the voice of someone you can trust is a very comforting sound, especially if you are in a difficult or new situation. The first time I traveled to Bolivia I got off the plane after 15 hours of travel, looked around and could not find a familiar face, but after collecting my baggage, I heard the friar I was intending to visit call my name. Although I was far from New York and very tired, I felt at home.

Shepherds in the ancient world did that for their sheep. Most shepherd's had a different whistle or sound for each of their sheep and when the sheep heard their master's whistle, they followed him. He was their guardian and would lead them to fertile pastures where they could eat and drink.

St Joseph was like that for Jesus. It should not be difficult for us to imagine Jesus, even as an infant, turning and smiling when he heard Joseph's voice, and it would have been Joseph's voice in his early years that would have instructed Jesus in the ways of the world and at work. Today as we celebrate St. Joseph the Worker, let us pray that workers around the world will find their voice and hear the voice of the church in their quest for safe and productive work places, and just wages.

Today, pray for a friend or enemy by name.

Whose voice was most important to your growth as a person?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Powerlessness

“My brothers, if one of you has a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.”

Many years ago while visiting a young missionary friar in Central America, I learned of a struggle many women experienced in small mountain villages. Abused by their heavy drinking husbands, the women would not leave their villages. Initially, the friars thought the women were staying because of the vows they took when they married. Only after many visits did they realize they were staying with their abusive husbands because they had no place to go. Penniless, they felt trapped. With three or four children, it seemed impossible to them to go anywhere. Instead, they endured the abuse for the sake of their children, and the friars stood by them as best they could.
For those who work in the developing world, situations like this arise regularly, and sometimes I wonder whether the Apostles were saying something similar to the women of Central America when they asked Jesus, "To whom shall we go?" Indeed, most of the apostles were fisherman with few options. To what or whom could he return? Because they had risked leaving everything to follow Jesus, there was no place and no one to whom the could return.

It's good to remember this when we try decide how best to respond to immigrants new to the United States. Whether or not they have documents, most feel powerless. Most must speak in a second language. Few can return to their countries of origin with any hope. Unless we stand beside them in faith, they have no one.

Today ask yourself what you do when you feel powerlessness in the face of overwhelming problems?

How can we stand with the poor and the powerless in their everyday lives?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

St Catherine of Sienna

"The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common." Acts 4:32

The Gospels are clear when they remind us of Jesus' goal for his people. Jesus wants us to be one in the Spirit, and promises us that our unity will be the sign that the Spirit lives in us. "And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me." (Jn 17: 22-23)

Unfortunately, too often the church does not live or fulfill Jesus' prayer, and it takes people like St Catherine of Siena to remind Popes and princes of Jesus' desire. Traveling tirelessly between Avignon, Florence and Rome, Catherine is credited with getting Pope Gregory IX to return the papacy to Rome from Avignon where it had moved for largely political purposes.

History also highlights Catherine's legacy as a mediator and as a mystical writer whose message, especially in her Dialogue, was so sophisticated and nuanced that Pope Paul VI would name her a doctor of the church. When we focus on the goal of Jesus to be at one with all creation, and let go of our own agenda, we can, like St Catherine of Siena, have enormous influence for good in the world.

Today, try not to win an argument but to be at one with whomever is speaking.

Whose willingness to sacrifice their own agenda for the sake of unity between and among believers do you most admire?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Spiritual Safety

"I am the gate, Whoever enters through me will be saved." Jn 10:9

Are your home and parish spiritually safe places? Are your family members and fellow parishioners free to speak, question and challenge the unexamined assumptions that underlie so much of who we are and what we do?

No doubt for some these are threatening questions, but spiritual safety at home and in our parishes is critically important to our faith growth. Unless people can explore freely the foundations of their faith and question those in authority, not with intent to dissemble, but with the hope of learning more about God and entering more naturally into the life of the faith community, they will stagnate or wander away from the practice of faith.

In today's gospel Jesus reminds us that he is the source of safety for the sheep, and that whoever enters through him will be saved. Too many others, he insists, especially the leaders of the Jewish community, were not good shepherds to their flock. They did not look after them. They did not protect them against predators. Rather, they taught the law to reinforce their own power, not to advance the reign of God.

When Jesus makes these kinds of charges against the Jewish leaders he knows there will be push back, and yet he can do nothing less. He must protect the faith of everyday people, and assure them that the role of authority is not to control, but to lead the faithful to know, love and serve God more deeply. Only when parents and church leaders realize that their children must become adults can our families and parishes use God's power to transform the earth.

Today, be a place of safety for someone who is struggling with belief.

Who helped you to trust God's shepherd like care when you were confused or hurt?