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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Selling All

"He went away sad, because he had many possessions."

The severity of Jesus' demand that we renounce all our possessions can be overwhelming, especially when we read it out of context. The best scholars of the bible always remind us that when we ask God for the strength to let go, to renounce everything for God, God gives us back what we need to live well and serve others. While God's challenge is daunting, it is also necessary. Belief demands that we learn to trust God with our entire lives despite the cost.

Those who accept the call to marriage, for instance, know that there is an immense amount of listening, responding and letting go, but the reward of a marriage well lived is the gift of a relationship that, as Paul reminds us, evokes Christ's love for the church. If either spouse becomes rigid and unbending, the marriage falters and fails to be the sign of God's love that the world needs. Likewise, those called to a communal life as vowed religious know the emptiness of holding onto ministries or positions of power when God says let go.

When trying to listen to the God who demands everything from us, it is also important to remember that most of us have more than we could ever use or need, and it is our fear and pride that causes us to worry about whether we have enough or how others see us. Rather than let go to simplify our lives, we acquire more and more ideas, stuff and baggage. Jesus might sound harsh, but his message is clear. Don't be afraid to give God everything. The reward is a Gospel freedom beyond anything we could imagine.

Today, recommit yourself to a Gospel life no matter the cost.

Which of your possessions or ideas are most difficult to renounce?

Friday, October 9, 2015

Hearing and Observing God's Word

"Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it."

Not infrequently we hear friends say, "Be careful what you wish for." Warning us that we may not like the consequences of a wish fulfilled, they seem to be cautioning us not to pray, dream or imagine a different future, but to be stoic and satisfied with life as it unfolds. While this might be a subtle way for friends to alert us to be careful about a new relationship, it can also be awful advice. Not to ask for help in understanding and living God's word means we think of ourselves as totally independent even though the Gospel urges us to live as one body and to be interdependent.

Telling the truth to ourselves and to God is always a good place to start. Acknowledging that we need help everyday to know, interpret and live the Gospel authentically is not only honest, it gives God permission to lead us, even to places we have not considered going. Making ourselves available to God for God's work is good for everyone.

Today, listen to God in silence for five minutes.

What are your most fervent prayers?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Divisions Among Us

“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house." Lk 11:17

Though  I rarely comment on politics in this blog, the text today certainly seems to apply to our nation and church these days. Like most Americans, I am befuddled by the inability of the Congress to find a compromise that protects the voiceless and poor in our society, and I am angry. What happens to us as a people when we fail to look at issues and concerns from the other side of wherever we stand, and more important, what happens when we only think about protecting our own assets?

Jesus faced this in his life and warned his sisters and brothers in the Jewish community against being so divided that they collapse. Surely, he would say the same to us in the church in the United States today. How is it possible not to work for a deeper unity when so many believers have walked away from the regular practice of their faith? As I travel around the Northeast, I rarely see young families and your people in church.

Are we not listening to one another? Are we so rigid that we can't find a way to move beyond the "theologies" that divide us at our core? Are we only speaking about issues but failing to hear the person behind the issue?  If the church of the 21st century hopes to have a voice in civic affairs, then it must get its house in order. Unless we provide a united front and find a way to speak with one voice about critical issues like hunger, housing, health care and immigration reform, we will be a clanging symbol that everyone ignores.

Today, be silent. Say nothing for a while and see what happens when you listen.

What do you think most divides us as a country and a church?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Asking for Help

“Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Lk 11:9)

Being unafraid to ask others for help is an important lesson in humility, and a sure sign that we have not become so arrogant that we live as if we don’t need others. Nevertheless, it is difficult for most people to ask for help, and those who do are often looked down upon. Homeless street people may be shown pity and helped, but they are seldom respected as human beings, and it is the rare person who engages them in conversation about their lives.

Being needy is a not a fault or a sin. It is the human condition, and St Paul reminds us often to remember that we are the body of Christ. In Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians and Ephesians, he returns to the image of the body of Christ, and insists that a body is made up of many parts, all of which must work together for the good of all. Further, when a part of our body is under stress it is natural for the rest of the body to come to its aid. An injury or infection is not perceived by the body as sinful, but sick, and as Jesus reminds us, it is the sick who must ask to see a physician.

Today, don’t be afraid to acknowledge your need and ask for help.

How do you feel when you have to ask others for help?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Our Lady of the Rosar

You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.”  
(Lk 10:27)

Learning to pray by rote is important. Repetition allows the substance of the prayer to seep slowly into our psyches and souls, and repetitive prayer like the rosary teaches us that we do not have always to be conscious of every word we speak to God, but we do have to be faithful. 

Just as parents repeat maxims to their children to help them understand their deepest values, so we pray to God in a way that lets God know we have not forgotten or ignored his importance in our lives. We may not always know what we are saying, but we want God to know we are faithful even when we can't find the words to express our commitment to the Gospel. Memorizing the command of Jesus to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, helps us never to forget that what might seem impossible to us is possible for God when we let God show us the way.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen, one of the most dramatic and effective preachers of the twentieth century and now a candidate for canonization, one wrote:
"The rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men (and women); it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the rosary is beyond description." (History of Rosary)
It does not matter if we are blind, simple or old as long as we keep praying as best we can, and the rosary is a wonderful way to do this.

Today, say a decade of the rosary with an open spirit.

What are your best experiences of repetitive prayer?

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Unjust Steward

"The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’" Lk 16:3

Occasionally, I meet someone who tells me they never pray for themselves, and I am stunned. Praying for oneself is natural and necessary. Help me, O God, to live in your presence. Keep me focused on your desire for the world, and show me the path you would have me walk are all prayers that are honest, make sense, and honor God. Of course, we can pray selfishly and we ought to try to avoid too much of this, but never praying for ourselves could suggest we don't need God at all.

Anne Dillard's little book on prayer, Help, Thanks, Wow is a delightful exploration of this kind of prayer. Dillard demonstrates that the universal cry for help is natural and ought to lead to prayer. When we are lost, terrified of tomorrow and confused about how to be present to others, the simple prayer, Help! is a very honest way to tell God that we need direction. Moreover, when we remember to say thank you to God for always being there, our prayer is complete.

The blind man's insistent cry for help is a good Gospel example of this. Though many tried to quiet him, fearing perhaps that he was disturbing Jesus or being foolish, the blind man shouted all the louder when he knew Jesus was near. So should we. Asking for help everyday to live God's dream for us not only reminds us of our dependence on God, it honors God by acknowledging his power to impact our everyday lives.

Today, respond to someone else's request for help, even if you don't have time.

Why is it sometimes difficult for you to ask for help?

Living with Anxiety

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things." Lk 10:41

There is a series on anxiety that has been running in the New York Times for several years. (anxiety) Sometimes difficult to read because the writers suffer so from what to others might be insignificant situations, it is, nevertheless, insightful and demanding. I read it because I am an anxious person and want to learn more about the condition, but also because it reminds us that almost 20% of Americans regularly suffer from anxiety. Clearly, for anyone committed to a Gospel life, compassion for the suffering is essential.

Although it is difficult to know if Martha's anxiety is similar to what the Times' columnists write about, the text is clear. Martha is anxious to have Jesus address her discomfort and tell her sister Mary to help in the kitchen. Jesus responds gently enough, but reminds Martha that Mary has chosen the better part. Mary wants Jesus to free her from her anxiety and thinks having her sister help with the serving will do this, but those who suffer from anxiety know this is not the case. Unless we learn to enter and own our discomfort, it will always control us, and while we might want to blame others for it, it belongs to us and only we can engage it and live with it.

Examining those times in life when we seek explanations that free us from responsibility for our own actions is a necessary aspect of Gospel living. Acknowledging that what is bothering us is not caused by others is the first step in accepting ourselves as we are. Jesus wants Martha to see and accept her envy and let Mary attend to her own faults. He wants us to do the same.

Today, stay with your anxiety or upset. Don't run.

What situations most often make your anxious or worried?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Good Samaritan

"But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight." Lk 10:33

The story of the good Samaritan is one of the most well known and powerful stories in the Gospels, and for good reason. Samaritans were hated by the Jews. Accused of being syncretists, people who mixed religious traditions for their own self centered purposes, Samaritans also built their own temple to which non observant Jews were welcomed in contradiction to Jewish law.

If some of this sounds familiar, it should. Too many people label others in ways that not only challenge their belief systems, but denigrate their persons, and Jesus will have none of it. The Good Samaritan, he reminds us, not only risks his own life by responding to the fellow who has been robbed, he brings him to an inn so that he can rest and recover from the attack. We know nothing else about this particular Samaritan. Whether he worshiped in the  "false" temple on Mt Gerazim in Samaria and therefore was judged unclean by the Jews was irrelevant. That he stopped and aided someone in need is Jesus' only concern.

Today, help someone in need.

What aspect of the story of the Good Samaritan most moves you?