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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Helplessness

"Jesus then said to the Twelve, 'Do you also want to leave?' Simon Peter answered him, 'Master, to whom shall we go?'" Jn 6:68

Many years ago while visiting a young missionary friar in Central America, I learned of a struggle many friars had with women to whom they were ministering in small mountain villages. Abused often 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 Peter was saying something similar to the women of Central America when he asked Jesus, "To whom shall we go?" Indeed, Peter was a fisherman with few options. He was probably illiterate and owned no property. To what could he return? While the gospel writers cast Peter's response as an act of faith, which it surely was, it might also reflect his powerlessness, a helplessness that becomes his greatest strength. Unable to go anywhere without Jesus, he teaches us how we must live in the 21st century.

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?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Queenship of Mary

"Let me go and glean ears of grain..." (Ruth 2 ,2)

The Deuteronomic Code (1) demanded that Jews not harvest the corners of the field so that the poor might "glean" what they found there in order to eat and provide for their families. Some rabbis even suggested that farmers should not go over a field twice in order that the poor might harvest what they did not plant and thus preserve their dignity. The Deuteronomic Code was a kind of "safety net" in the Old Testament, a system that provided for the poor without forcing them to beg. Never forgetting their exile in Egypt, Jews were commanded to remember the poor and provide for them. 

In today's reading Ruth, who has no stature when she returns with Naomi to Bethlehem, suggests that she might go into the fields and "glean" something so that she and Naomi might eat. Ruth's humility startles us. Willing to abandon her chances for marriage in her own land to accompany Naomi to Bethlehem, she is willing to live a simple life of gleaning, of living off the charity of others. Her relationship with Naomi is so important to her that she sacrifices everything in order to be faithful not only to Naomi but to Naomi's God.

Today, in Mary's and Ruth's names, ask God for the gifts of humility and gratitude.

What are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of announcing the Good News?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

St Pius X

“The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example."

The ministry of the Pope, St. Pius X, is a good example of why the church is always in need of reform. Realizing that 19th century spirituality had disenfranchised many, especially children, from a full sacramental life, Pius X, in 1902, wrote: "The chief aim of our efforts must be that the frequent reception of the Eucharist may be everywhere revived among Catholic peoples....For the soul, like the body, needs frequent nourishment; and the holy Eucharist provides that food which is best adapted to the support of its life." (Mirae Caritatis)  The Eucharist, Pius reminded us, is real food and real drink. Our senses are the pathway to our souls. It is through them that we know the glory of God and God's love for us in a bodily way.

Today's gospel passage reminds us to follow, not those who rely on the law for their power, but on Jesus as the Icon of God. Jesus, like children, the poor and lowly never takes life for granted,  but teaches us to treasure the gifts of the earth each day and eat and sleep with gratitude.

Today, be grateful for all you eat, especially the Eucharist.

What or who helps you to remember the nourishing and nurturing gifts of creation?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

St Bernard of Clairvaux

"Then the king said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those (the rich and powerful) who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’"  Mt 22: 8-9

Wealth itself is not the issue in the Gospel, but the attitude that rich people sometimes have about what they possess is. It is easy to believe, especially if you have worked hard, that you deserve all that you have and can do almost anything to protect your assets. Worse, when the wealthy act as if they have the power to control life or belittle poor people by stereotyping them as lazy, shiftless and undeserving of a decent wage and modest success, they offend God and the Gospel.

On the other hand, when people have been blessed with good fortune and are always grateful for what they have, they usually are anxious to find ways to help others. Realizing that some of their success came to them because they were in the right place at the right time or they have a rare skill that others need, they live simply, look out for others in need and get involved socially in projects that help the less fortunate to live with dignity and joy.

Bernard of Clairvaux, like most saints, understood the hard sayings of Jesus well. A brilliant writer and poet, he let go of a life of privilege to reform the Benedictices and used his gifts to help others understand the unconditional love of God for all. Seeing the good and the need for forgiveness in returning crusaders, he used their experience and romantic language to help them find God and change the face of Western Europe.

That Bernard also made the mistake of leading the 2nd Crusade and inflaming the passions of Christians anxious to recapture the Holy Land, a sin for which he later apologized, only helps us understand that saints also make mistakes. Asking forgiveness and seeking reconciliation mark the life of every committed believer.

Today, thank God for the all that you possess and examine your conscience about what you really need to live the Gospel well.

What are your biggest fears about not having enough money, property and possessions?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

God's Generosity

"The last will be first, and the first will be last.” Mt 20:16

Because gratitude for the ongoing presence, love and support of God is the foundation of the Christian life, it is important never to forget that all we have and are is gift. This simple truth is radically important to the believer. While all our lives will have dark moments as well as times of light, God is present in all as friend, lover and mentor. For this reason and so many others, therefore, we need to be grateful and pray to be free of fear.

The disciples and apostles did not always appreciate this teaching of Jesus. Peter asks the Lord, because he and the other apostles had sacrificed so much to follow him, what kind of reward he and they could expect. (Mt 19:28-29) Jesus' response, while gentle, is also a challenge. Promising Peter that his reward will be great, Jesus also reminds him that the "last will be first and the first last," and this warning is important for all to hear. There should be no doubt that the Lord is generous, kind but also just. If we find ourselves thinking or acting in a way that suggests we deserve more because of our good deeds, we will find ourselves in the last place.

Today, thank God for being alive.

What experience of faith makes you most grateful?

Monday, August 17, 2015

When being Last means being First

"Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Mt 19:30

Coming as it does at the end of Jesus' teaching about the danger of wealth and the disciples' questions about their reward, the challenge not to seek the first place in anything is an important Gospel lesson. Jesus is clear when he warns his followers not to worry about the issues that can so easily consume them. Whether they struggle for financial security or want assurances that the path they are following is a good one, Jesus' disciples must remember that God's promise to them is not first about this world, but about the next.

At the same time, we need to be careful when interpreting this passage. Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus used their modest wealth, knowledge of the law and religious authority as weapons to frighten and intimidate the underclass, and more than anything else, Jesus condemned this behavior. The purpose of the Law was to assure believers that God was their companion and guide and they had nothing to fear from any civil power, even their oppressors, if they lived the law with joy.

For Christians, the call is direct. Jesus, as the fulfillment of the law, is the one who must be at the center of our lives. Nothing we can gain in the world can substitute for this relationship. As long as we are willing to enter into the mystery of God's love in Christ and submit ourselves to him, we have nothing to fear.

Today, remember who you are before God and be grateful for your faith.

How do you interpret Jesus' call not to seek to be first?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Perfection

“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Mt 19:21

Perfection is a multifaceted word in English and can refer to many different things. Getting a score of 10 for a competitive dive or a mark of 100 on an exam indicate perfection to some, but it is not what the word perfect means in the Scripture. Literally, we could translate the Greek teleios as complete, as in having all our fingers, toes and body parts, but a better translation means being yourself without guile or posturing.

Being ourselves before God and others is difficult. It means accepting ourselves as we are without pretension, and letting ourselves be known by others without deception. Obviously, this is a life long pursuit and can never be accomplished without a large helping of grace. God can do in us what we cannot do for ourselves, but this is often a hard and painful lesson. Most of us want to define perfection and draw its parameters according to our own insights and desires. Worse, we work for perfection diligently and obsessively, and only when we fail over and over again do we finally submit to God and ask to be who God would have us be.

This last is a strange kind of perfection. Like Paul who lived his entire life with a "sting" in his flesh, it means living with and even treasuring our weaknesses because they not only teach us much about ourselves, they demand we learn and practice compassion towards others.

Today, let God make you as perfect as God needs you to be for others.

Which of your faults is most difficult to bear?