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Saturday, October 3, 2015

St Francis of Assisi

(Although today is a Sunday, it is also the feast of St Francis, and I am using the feast of Francis for reflection and prayer.)

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes." Lk 10:13

The name Francis is in the forefront of the news these days, especially in the United States. Pope Francis has dominated the news for days during his pastoral visit to our country. Humble, honest, and unafraid to speak his mind, the Holy Father has captivated the imagination of many around the world and has begun to use his new prominence to speak out on behalf the voiceless. Calling the church to return to its foundations, Pope Francis is living up to his name. When asked why he chose the name Francis, he was clear, “The poor, the poor. When he (Cardinal Hummes of Brazil) spoke about the poor, I thought of St. Francis of Assisi,” said the pope, who took the name of Francis, “Then, I thought of the wars.”

St Francis of Assisi not only thought about the poor, he became poor and like so many great saints he allowed God to turn his life upside down. Urged as a boy to be a soldier and fight for Assisi, Francis listened, went to war against the neighboring town of Perugia, but then heard God's call to let go of his warring ways and live the Gospel without compromise. Like the 3rd century martyr, St Maximilian, who said "I am a solder of Christ, I cannot fight," Francis fought not for dominance over his neighbors but for Gospel purity. Wanting to live so poorly that he and his brothers would have nothing to defend, he directed the friars to own nothing and possess nothing, eventually convincing the Roman hierarchy to approve their way of life. Francis' example continues to inspire thousands of women and men today.

Today, live simply so that others can live.

What should be our response to the poor?

Friday, October 2, 2015

Everyday Epiphanies

“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it." Lk 10:23

All of us, like St. Paul, have had epiphanies, times when the scales fell from our eyes and we could see and experience life in ways that before were hidden. These are important moments which often shape our lives for years to come. At the same time, they are only epiphanies. Critical and revealing, but nothing and even a hindrance if not acted upon. 

Jesus is clear about this when he reminds us that to those who have been given much, much will be expected. Gifts of faith, insight, wisdom, understanding and integrity are not for us alone. Rather, they are given to us for the good of the community of faith. We must spend them, much as we would a gift certificate, and we must give them away freely as Paul did after his conversion.

Most of the time, our eyes are clouded but this should not distract or discourage us because we probably could not bear seeing everything as it is, but when our eyes are opened, we must look for and respond to those most in need.

Today, ask the Lord for a simple Epiphany for the good of the church.

What have been your most important Epiphanies?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Our Guardian Angels

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” Mt 18:10

Most of us work diligently not to despise anyone or anything, trying always to think of all creation as a gift from God. Nevertheless, we slip, we sin, we fail. In recent days, the actions of our Congress have led many to despise the intransigence of those we have elected to serve, but whose behavior too often seems self protective and rigid. Because we so need our representatives to remember all the people of this nation, especially the poor, we expect them to have the comprehensive and inclusive view of what a stoppage in government service might mean for the neediest of our citizens.

When Jesus wants his disciples and opponents to understand fully his attitude towards them and his expectations of them, he reminds them to look at children as icons of humility. Children, he insists, can teach all what it means to understand greatness. We are not called to dominate or manipulate others, but to serve one another like children and slaves, and to be innocent, vulnerable and alert to everything and everyone around us, especially the poor.

Today, remember that there are angels around us to protect us.

How do you counter arrogance in yourself and others?


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

St Thérèse Lisieux

"Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest." Lk 9:47

St Therese was a girl of fifteen when she entered the Carmel of Lisieux, a choice that led to many struggles her entire religious life. Living with older women who often criticized her for petty faults, she determined to perform simple acts of charity for all her sisters without notice, and these gentle acts of  love became the foundation of what she called the little way.

Therese also struggled in a culture and with a spirituality that emphasized the fires of hell and eternal damnation, but did not give in. Her blood sisters, who recorded her words and insights as she neared death, tell us she offered her last communion for Fr Hyacinthe Loyson who others called a renegade for leaving his religious community, marrying and fathering a child. Therese saw only a man in need of prayer and hope.

Therese's little way remains an attractive path for many in the twenty first century who feel overwhelmed by information overload and the demands of overly busy lives. The little way is clear, accessible and direct. While some might argue that the path of Therese does not address the structural injustices that divide our world so deeply, others would insist that each of us can help one another one kind act at a time.

Today, do something simple for someone without them noticing it.



Tuesday, September 29, 2015

St Jerome

"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." St. Jerome

St Jerome is one of the most important scripture scholars in the history of the church. His translation of the bible into Latin, completed in the 4th century, was the basis of every translation into modern languages until the middle of the 20th century. His brilliance and discipline were such that he was able to produce not only a translation of the bible that continues to be a resource for contemporary students of scripture, he also wrote dozens of commentaries on the bible, and more than a hundred letters.

This being said, Jerome was a volatile, tempestuous and driven man. Reading a few of his letters makes you glad you were not in his sights. Jerome lived at a time and in a church that badly needed reform and his answer was a rigid asceticism. In what many consider his most famous letter, he warns St. Eustochium about every possible threat to her virginity while also acknowledging that even when he went to the desert to escape the insanity of the Rome of his day, he was tormented by fantasies of Roman dancing girls.

Jerome because is a powerful example of how God works with us as we are and uses even our faults for the good of others. Jerome’s life reminds us that when we submit ourselves to God, great things happen, and that God and history remember all the good Jerome did and underplay his shortcomings. What a wonderful lesson for us.

Today, ask for forgiveness of your sins, but don’t forget to be grateful for the gifts God has given you.

Have you experienced God dismissing your faults but using your strengths?

Monday, September 28, 2015

St Michael, Gabriel and Raphael

"Bless the LORD, all you angels, you ministers, who do his will." Ps 103:21

Although it is easy to forget it in our information saturated culture, messengers are important. In many parts of the world, there are women and men who write letters for those in their families or villages who are illiterate, and many of them try not just to communicate a message in a literal way, but seek to put tone and feeling into their writing. In more recent times, messengers carry important letters from business to business to make sure the letter arrives safely and without delay.

In the ancient world, angels were messengers. Their primary task was to speak on behalf of God to people God wanted to address directly. Gabriel comes to Mary asking her to be the mother of God's son and Michael reminds the church that God will always guard us, and Raphael assures us that God will be our guide.

All of us are called to be angels to one another. Not only are we challenged to speak the Good News to others, we must be the Good News, and this happens every time we let the word of God live in and through us. While this is always simple, it is never easy, but everything is possible when we trust in God.

Today, be an angel to someone starving for a word of comfort.

Who has been an angel of God to you?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Simpliicty

"For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.” Lk 9:48

It can seem overwhelmingly impossible at times to live simply for God and not worry about personal goals, wealth, property and even our health. God does not ask us to be successful, and the Gopels are forever reminding us that God does not want thousands of rams or burnt offerings from his chosen people, but only their fidelity to a life of gratitude before God for all God does.

Why won’t we believe this? What can’t we believe it? In the West, at least, competition between and among people, especially men, is still a driving force that often artificially props up our self image even if it does nothing for the life of the community, and we convince ourselves, sometimes with the help of televangelists, that God wants us to succeed. When we are really crazy with these ideas we convince ourselves that it is our success that pleases God, and unfortunately our success sometimes attracts clergy who see our wealth as a ticket to their own success as pastors.

Today, walk humbly and see how it feels.

What are your most difficult obstacles in living a life of faith in a culture of success?