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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Denying Oneself

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." Mk 8:34 

Humility is a constant in the Bible, but it is an illusive concept and practice. Not an attempt to diminish ourselves or consider ourselves only from the perspective of our failures, humility is the willingness to recognize and be attentive to God as the center of all that is. More, humility demands we allow ourselves to be consumed with and in God, and this humility frees us from the fear of death. Knowing that God wants to be with us forever, not because of our accomplishments, but because God created us, we celebrate being chosen, not with pride, but with a radical gratitude about being made in the image and likeness of God. 

The the 19th century art critic, John Ruskin, insists that we can recognize authentically humble people by their fascination, not with themselves, but with the God who acts through them. "Really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not of them, but through them. And they see something divine in every other man and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.” And again, "The first test of a truly great man is his humility. By humility I don't mean doubt of his powers or hesitation in speaking his opinion, but merely an understanding of the relationship of what he can say and what he can do." (Ruskin)

Today, be honest and honor God for all that God is: Creator, Savior, Friend.

What most frightens you about being taking up your cross?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Christ Our Rock

"That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when the flood came, the river burst against that house but could not shake it because it had been well built." Lk 6:48 

What is the rock upon which we are to build our lives? God's fidelity is a good place to start. Though it seems natural to think about a sound financial footing and doing what we can do assure ourselves of good health, these are not the rocks about which Luke speaks. God's living word must be the foundation of our lives, and God's word is true, lasting and clear. 

When we listen and act on God's word, Luke assures us that we are building on rock, not sand, but the struggle continues. At times, we interpret God's word in ways that do a disservice to the power of the word. When the gospel tells us to ask for whatever we want and need it will be given to us, we have to be cautious. Jesus is not frivolous. We cannot pray for a new car and expect it to be delivered the next day. Rather, the scripture demands that we pray for the strength to do whatever it is that will foster God's reign. When we pray to be strengthened for this role, we can be sure of a response.

Today, ask God to sustain you along the path of faith.

What gifts has God given you when you asked for help?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ignoring the Speck in Other's Eyes

"Remove the wooden beam from your eye first." Lk 6:41

It is a truism that the behaviors in others that bother us the most are the actions we dislike in ourselves. Nevertheless, recognizing this when it is happening is often difficult, especially if we are angry or hurt. Wanting only to be rid of the feelings that disturb our peace, we blame others for how we feel.

Jesus knew this well. When he corrected the leaders of the Jewish community about laying heavy burdens on peoples shoulders while doing nothing to help them, he was calling them to transformation. While it was easy for the leaders to spot small infractions of the law, because they were concerned more with their own power than the spirit of the Torah, they found it difficult to celebrate the good they uncovered. The gospel challenges these destructive behaviors.

Life is very different when we look for the good in others rather than their faults. Full of compassion because we recognize our own weaknesses in others, we ask for the mercy of God to help all who suffer from the blindness of blaming others rather than working and living together for the good of all.

Today, notice the good in the lives of those closest to you.

What habits of others most annoy you, and how does the gospel help you respond?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Enemies

“To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." Lk 6:27

Very little in the Gospel can shock and startle us like the phrase "love your enemies." Unfortunately, because we have heard it so often, it sometimes washes over us like another bit of information, and fails to stop us in our tracks or make us think.

Loving our enemies is hard work. It means turning our world upside down, letting go of hurt and beginning again. It does not mean we should be soft or weak. In fact, loving our enemies can make us very strong if only we have the courage to ask God to show us a path towards authentic reconciliation, especially if our enemies are in our own family.

Jesus made many enemies because he continually challenged the power of the Jewish leaders of his day. More upsetting to some, he also demanded that everyone study and reinterpret the Torah. The Law, as Jesus lived it, was intended to lead people closer to God and the service of God's people. Though it might bind and irritate its followers at times, it only did this because it demanded great sacrifice and the acceptance of God's leadership and plan in the lives of the faithful. The Gospel does the same thing.

Today, ask for the strength to love one enemy.

What stops you from loving your enemies?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

St Peter Claver

"We must speak to them with our hands before we try to speak to them with our lips." St. Peter Claver

The feast of St. Peter Claver is one I always enjoy celebrating, first because Fr. Peter Claver Eich was my vocation director.  That Fr. Peter Claver was also a great athlete did not hurt his invitation to me to consider becoming a Capuchin.  But even more important, St Peter Claver attracted me because of his heroic life and the service he offered to slaves in what today is Cartegena, Columbia. Leaving his home in Spain, never to return, St Peter Claver's bold spirit captured my youthful imagination and spoke to me of possibilities that I did not want to consider.  After all, I fancied myself as an athlete, and in the words of an early basketball coach, would someday “make a difference at center court.” Never mind that I was 5’ 9” and slow.  I understood basketball from the inside and dreamed of playing professionally.

The story of St. Peter Claver’s life made me reconsider my priorities and forced me to think beyond sports to a world of religious heroism.  Here was a man who spent almost forty years on the docks of Cartagena waiting to care for slaves who had been so badly treated on their journey from Africa that one third of them died in transit.  As soon as the slaves landed, Peter would rush to them with medicine, food and (dare I say it) tobacco.  As he himself said, "We must speak to them with our hands before we try to speak to them with our lips."(1)

What a powerful sentiment!  That we must speak to people with our hands before we announce the gospel to them remains powerful advice.  Especially today, when the church is often under a cloud of suspicion, we would do well to listen more and speak less. As the book of Lamentations reminds us, "It is good to hope in silence for the Lord's deliverance." (3:30) While we cannot fail to announce the truths of our faith tradition, especially about justice for all, we ought to do so with a soft voice and strong, loving hands.  Our actions for justice will convince more people about the gospel compunction we feel than all the words in the Bible.

Today, speak with your hands. Help one simply because it is the right thing to do.

Whose example helped you become a doer of the Gospel?

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Nativity of Mary

"Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means 'God is with us.'" Mt 1:23

Birthday's are festive times, and although Mary probably didn't celebrate hers like 21st century Americans, we ought to celebrate it with real joy. Mary is the one who’s "yes" to the angel and God made possible the entrance of Jesus into history and her birthday might be a time for us to light a few candles to remember her life and her sorrows. 

There are few saints who teach us more about accepting and celebrating life as it unfolds than Mary. Apparently content with her life, especially after she was promised in marriage to Joseph, her life turned upside down when she was still a young girl. A visit from an angel invited her to know God in a more intimate way than anyone before her, but this knowledge came at a great price. She would be talked about and ridiculed, forced to flee her country and family, and when she was free to return to Palestine after Herod's death, she would be faced with the awful burden of watching her son suffer and die as a common criminal.

No wonder we want to celebrate her birthday. Mary's nativity invites us to trust that even that which appears and feels like an overwhelming sorrow, will be transformed by God into hope for all peoples and all nations. Happy birthday, Mary. Thank you for showing us the path to hope in darkness.

Today, ask God for the grace to embrace whatever comes your way.

How do you celebrate your own birthday?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Compassion

"Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, Jesus said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out and his hand was restored." Mk 3:4-5

The loss of a limb, even for a brief period of time, is a heavy burden. Imagine what it must have been like for the man with the withered hand. Ignored by most and pitied by others, Jesus reaches out in compassion for him, but the Pharisees, looking not at the man's need but his sin or the sin of his parents, want Jesus not to heal on the Sabbath. Any reasonable person, especially those unfamiliar with the narrow interpretations of the law by the Pharisees, knows to respond to those in need even on the Sabbath. It is clear that the man with the withered hand is not the concern of the Pharisees, Jesus is, and the Pharisees want to undermine his growing power.

While it can be difficult to understand any religious leaders who hesitate to help those in need, all of us understand the desire not to let our "enemies" get the upper hand.  Unfortunately, too often we allow governments and churches to use almost any means to protect us from those who threaten our power, influence and or financial stability. This is not the way of Jesus and cannot be ours. Only when we make the most vulnerable our primary concern will we know and live the Gospel with power and compassion.

Today, ask God to free you from any fears that inhibit your response to the most needy.

Do you make excuses to condemn others who make you uncomfortable?