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Saturday, August 8, 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?

Friday, August 7, 2015

St Dominic

"A man who governs his passions is master of the world. We must either command them, or be enslaved by them. It is better to be a hammer than an anvil." St Dominic

While preaching at the Eucharistic liturgy, with few exceptions, is confined to ordained men, much preaching in retreat centers and para liturgical settings is done lay women and men, and for those of us who have heard it, it is uniformly informed, powerful and challenging. The Dominicans especially have fostered this practice. Known as the Order of Preachers, they conduct workshops and seminars on preaching around the country in order to emphasize the importance of hearing a wide variety of preaching styles and voices so that everyday people might be attracted to the Gospel.

St. Dominic would have appreciated his followers efforts. Committed, like Francis of Assisi, to a deep reform of the church through simple living, care for the poor and careful teaching, Dominic is best known for his defense of the faith against the Albigensians. Successful, not simply because of his insightful and precise teaching, but because he was committed, like the Albigensians, to an ascetical life, Dominic appealed to ordinary people seeking to live the Gospel more fully.

It does not surprise people these days when Pope Francis encourages the church, especially its leaders, to live and preach more simply so that more and more people are attracted to the power of the Gospel lived with transparent joy and integrity. That women and men lay preachers, in the spirit of St Dominic, might lead this reform would be a wonderful gift to the church.

Today, pray for the ongoing reform of the church.

What do you think of lay people preaching?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Denying Ourselves

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Mt 16:24-25

The essence of Jesus' message is other centeredness, a virtue that is both difficult and dangerous. It is difficult because it demands that we think of others first, even when they haven't earned our attention or concern, but Jesus is clear when he tells us that it is the sick who need a physician, not the healthy. The gospel demands patience, consistency and compassion, but when the other person ignores our outstretched hand or pushes us away, we can be easily discouraged.

Other centeredness is also dangerous. Too often wanting to please others or being afraid of disappointing them, we worry more about our goodness than the other's need. Anxious to "fix" the sick as a way of proving our fidelity to God, we ignore others in need, even members of our own family. Having a good "soul friend" can help us avoid this danger. All of us need someone to show us how to let go of our pride and will in order to let God do God's work.

The saints often struggled in this area. St. Francis, trying to imitate Christ in every way, punished his body so severely through fasting and work that he had to apologize to "brother ass" at the end of his life and ask God's pardon for abusing himself in the name of the Gospel. Practicing a prayer of listening each day can help us trust God more than our own disordered inclinations. Sitting quietly before God and asking for insight and generosity are the keys to leading an other centered life.

Today, pray for the gift of discernment to do God's will not your own.

When is it most difficult for you to be other centered?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Transfiguration

"Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. Jn 9:2

Seeing is believing we often say, but Jesus says it differently. Seeing with the heart is transforming. Celebrating the feast of the Transfiguration is supposed to do this for all of us, but too often we only see, we do not see with the heart.

St Paul says it this way: "We see by faith, not by sight," (2 Cor 5:7) and I am always grateful that the apostles did not see, nor understand who Jesus was. Their expectations and experience of the Lord were deep, even embedded, and what they saw of him on a daily basis got in the way of their understanding and acceptance. Despite the fact that Jesus shows them another side of himself in this gospel, they still don't get it. Neither do we, but it does not matter. Jesus will continue to open himself to us and invite us to know him with our hearts not just our eyes.

Today, be quiet, listen and ask the Lord to open your hearts.

Have you had moments in your life of real transformation? 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

God's scraps

“Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Mt 15:27

When we read about the disparity of wealth in the United States, most of us can feel very powerless. Knowing that 10% of the American people control 75% of the wealth is disconcerting and discouraging. What power does the average person have to help change our country's policies? In 2014, for instance, 268 members of congress were millionaires and their net worth was 9 times that of the average American. Why would congress want to alter this scenario? Often depressed by their powerlessness, the poor lose heart and the will to work for change. 

The Canaanite woman in today's gospel who asks Jesus to free her daughter of a demon is a remarkable example of someone who, despite overwhelming odds. refuses to be put off by Jesus' insistence that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Far from allowing herself to be distracted by the rejection of Jesus and his disciples, she continues to advocate for her daughter. That she compares herself to a dog eating scraps from its master's table finally gets Jesus to look at her and acknowledge her faith. 

Giving into discouragement or despair is not an option for Christians when they advocate for the poor. No matter the cost, believers must continue to follow the example of the Canaanite woman and work together with other people of faith for a just life for all in our society and around the world. While we might not be successful all the time, the justice of our cause will surely move the hearts and minds of other believers to work for a society that refuses to allow some to live in destitution while others hoard resources.

Today, ask he Lord to teach you how to help the poor.

What aspects of life make you feel most powerless?

Monday, August 3, 2015

St John Vianney

"Strive for unity, for there is nothing better. Help all, as the Lord also helps you; suffer all in love (indeed, you are doing this). Pray unceasingly. Beg for wisdom greater than you already have, be watchful and keep the spirit from slumbering. Speak to each person individually, just like God himself, and like a perfect champion bear the infirmities of all. The greater the toil, the greater the gain." St Ignatius of Antioch to Bishop Polycarp 1st century C.E.
The sentiments of Ignatius of Antioch challenge all of us called to leadership in the church, and whether we experience it actively or not, we are all called to leadership. The documents of the Second Vatican Council are clear about this. So is Jesus. We are called to be servants. We are, like Jesus, to kneel and wash the feet of others and to discern how best we can help build the reign of God on earth.  As Thomas Sweetser, S.J. and Carol Holden argue, as leaders we are to develop skills in "information gathering, decision making, community building, conflict management, and evaluation," (Cf Sweetser and Holden) if we hope to empower everyone around us to live and function well in the 21st century church.

There is no doubt that St John Vianney did this in his life. More than anything else he listened and responded to people where they were, and while he did this in the confessional, we all need to learn this art if we want to help others take their rightful place in a church that increasingly depends of lay leadership for its survival.

Today, listen to someone without defensiveness or feeling pressured to answer?

Who or what has been most helpful to you in your understanding and call to leadership?


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Give them Something Yourselves

"Give them some food yourselves." Mk 6:37

Why does Jesus insist that his disciples feed the people who had been listening to him for a long time? Why doesn't he accept what seems like the  very reasonable suggestion of the disciples that Jesus dismiss the people so they can go to nearby towns to buy themselves a meal? Shouldn't we all take care of ourselves and anticipate our needs so that we won't have to be dependent on others for our everyday needs?

There are no easy answers to these questions, but there is a ready response to the disciples. Rather than placing the responsibility on those following him to feed themselves, Jesus wants his disciples to anticipate the needs of the crowds, no matter how large, and rely on God to show them how to live and act in the world.

The challenge is clear but sometimes overwhelming. The Christian community needs to anticipate the needs of those around them, not to enable them to do nothing, but to give them time to hear the Good News and and be transformed by it. We all know the simple truth that faces us. Unless we witness to the Gospel by putting ourselves second, we are not believable.

Today, ask someone what they need. Do not tell them what you are willing to give them.

Whose generosity most moves you to change your own mindset?