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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Everyday Service

"Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mk 10:45

Service of others, even our enemies, is one of the great hallmarks of the Good News, and while some might not consider service of others good news, Jesus does, in the most emphatic of terms. Unless we learn how to serve others, even becoming like slaves in this regard, the message of the New Covenant will go unheard.

Gratefully, most of us have met and been moved by people whose entire lives are given in service to others. For most of my years as a priest I have had the great privilege of offering the Sunday Eucharist in places where volunteers prepared everything for Mass. I had only to prepare a homily. Everything else was done with love and dedication by people who never looked for special mention or attention.

Anyone encountering this kind of dedication cannot help but be moved and lifted up. Whether it was distributing music books already opened to the proper page, or moving chairs so that those in wheelchairs might find a place among us, these loving men and women did everything they could to help create a sacred space for God's people to gather, worship and rejoice.

Today, thank God for the privilege of serving God's people.

When have you known the glory of God in serving others who could not repay you?

Friday, October 16, 2015

St Ignatius of Antioch

"The time for my birth is close at hand. Forgive me, my brothers. Do not stand in the way of my birth to real life; do not wish me stillborn. My desire is to belong to God." Ignatius of Antioch, Early Christian Writings

How do you think you would spend your time if you were being led to your death? Ignatius of Antioch wrote seven important letters as he was transported from Antioch to Rome and his martyrdom, insisting always that he was ready to die and was not afraid. Jesus had overcome death through his resurrection and Ignatius was anxious to join the Lord in heaven. It is an amazing testament to faith, and his letters to the Romans say it clearly.
Fire, cross, struggles with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs-let them come to me, provided only I make my way to Christ than be king over the entire earth.
Although most of us will never have to face the specter of martyrdom, we must be ready for challenges to our faith. How to respond to the apathy about faith all around us, and how to live in a country that has so much material wealth are challenges we face everyday. Unless we keep our eyes on the prize like Ignatius of Antioch, we can get lost in the muck of materialism that masquerades as success.

Today, ask for an increase of faith.

Are you willing, like Ignatius, to die for your faith?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Getting Closer to Jesus

“Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows." Lk 12:7

The disciples were drawn to Jesus for many reasons. He spoke to their hearts. He addressed them with dignity. He was a healer and prophet. He spoke with power. But they were also cautious and afraid. When Jesus spoke to and about the Pharisees he was dangerous. Like poor people everywhere, the disciples rarely chose to confront the the powerful. Because the Pharisees were able to intercede for them and help them with a meal or clean clothes, they were not going to bite the hand that fed them. That is why today’s gospel is so telling.

Luke tells us that there are so many people trying to get close to Jesus that some are being trampled. No doubt Jesus’ disciples were impressed and hopeful. The prophet they were following was popular and powerful. More important, he was a rabbi who cared about them, but his warning about not being swayed by the leaven of the Pharisees had to make them very anxious. No doubt some moved to the background where they might escape the wrath of the Pharisees if necessary.

Jesus’ suggestion that some of them might die as a result of following him was not what they wanted to hear. But others heard him at a deeper level. Rather than retreat, they moved closer to him where there was no reason to be afraid. Since they were worth more than many sparrows, God would protect them, guide them and strengthen them when they were threatened.

Today, move closer to Jesus and ask God for the faith to believe in your own worth.

What keeps you from embracing the Lord and the Gospel more completely?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

St Teresa of Avila


“Let nothing disturb you, 
Let nothing frighten you, 
All things are passing away: 
God never changes. 
Patience obtains all things. 
Whoever has God lacks nothing; 
God alone suffices.” 
St Teresa of Avila


The bookmark of St. Teresa is fascinating. We wonder if she read it everyday. Tradition suggests it was written in her own hand and was a reminder to live in peace with Christ despite the struggles she would experience throughout her life.

Committed to the reform of the Carmelites in a Catholic world threatened by the Protestant Reformation, her life was difficult. Accused by some friends that her "visions" were diabolical, she also suffered deeply when the Carmelites forced her to retire to one of their monasteries for years before finally allowing her the freedom to spread her renewal to other convents and monasteries. In all, she founded 17 monasteries of reformed or discalced Carmelites and wrote treatises on the spiritual life that remain classics in the Christian west.

Whether Teresa reflected on her prayer and plea each day matters little.  On her feast, we can read and pray it with care hoping to interiorize her desire to let nothing disturb or frighten us, but to remain patient with ourselves and God in all matters of the spirit.

Today, pray for patience.

What most impresses or moves you about St. Teresa's prayer?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Imposing Burdens

“Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.” Lk 11:46

First the Pharisees, now the scholars of the law. Anyone who imposes burdens on others without helping them to know and do better, has no place in the heart of Jesus. Committed to freeing people from the burdens of the law, and the weight of poverty and illness, Jesus assures his listeners that God wants to set them free. God does not seek to punish us for our faults, even less for our illnesses, but to heal us and fill us with hope.

Why some people seek to make God into a soldier protecting the law from intruders as if it were a hidden treasure entrusted to them alone, and punishing anyone who interprets the law leniently, is always troubling. The God of the Scriptures, while sometimes demanding and hard on leaders, is nonetheless merciful, kind and endlessly forgiving. The story of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32) assures us that God, even when we have wasted our inheritance, waits for and embraces us when we return to our senses. God does not want to punish, but to fold us back into the family of faith and help us to live lives of compassion and service.

Sometimes, by insisting loudly on our opinion, we lay heavy burdens on peoples' backs.. The force with which we present our point of view is intimidating and dismissive of others whose speaking skills are weak, and makes it impossible to recognize or acknowledge the insights they have. Worse, when we ignore the uneducated, we make them invisible, and fail to profit from the wisdom they have gained "on the streets" of life.

Jesus insists that we treat every person with dignity, even awe. (Lk 7:44) Only then can we avoid the condemnation visited upon the Pharisees.

Today, listen to someone from whom you expect nothing.

Have you ever learned about life and faith from the poor and uneducated?







Monday, October 12, 2015

Pharisaism

"The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal."

It must have been shocking and upsetting for the Pharisees and scribes to hear Jesus assert that only that which comes from within defiles a person. In fact, it is difficult for most of us to hear the great challenge of Jesus to put aside our desire to control ourselves and others with a rigid interpretation of the law. Jesus insists that salvation is not about discipline alone, but about asking God to cleanse our hearts of jealousy, resentment and suspicion of others.

More important still is whether we are willing to help others worry less about how they appear and more about the integrity of their faith lives. St Jerome says it well, "I bid you not to tear your garments but rather to rend your hearts which are laden with sin. Like wine skins, unless they have been cut open, they will burst of their own accord."(St Jerome on Joel)

Most believers know the truth of the gospel from the "inside." They realize that what appears to be a faith filled life is empty unless it reflects an interior commitment to live without guile. When each of us admits that a life of ritual rigidity and lawful integrity is hardly good news, we will begin to announce the gospel as Jesus did.

Today, don't be afraid of an honest self examination.

How do you resist an unhealthy dependence on the law as a substitute for gospel living?


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Holding onto Pain

"Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation."

Jonah's challenge is both similar and very different from the apostle's. Jonah must walk through Niniveh and remind its citizens that unless they reform, their entire city will be destroyed. In this aspect of his ministry Jonah is a forerunner of the apostles, but Jonah is reluctant to assume his new role. In fact, he hopes he fails. His dislike of the Ninivehites is deep. He does not want them to reform and hopes that God will destroy them.

The apostles, on the other hand, while no doubt having their own prejudices, are not reluctant at all to follow Jesus, even though they do not know the fullness of their mission. Jesus' personality and power draw them like fresh water in the desert. They do not hesitate leaving their boats and their families to follow the one who promises a new reign and a new world order.

There is a bit of Jonah and the apostles in all of us. Because no one can escape hurt, especially broken relationships and friendships, like Jonah, we sometimes harbor and hold onto painful memories that cling to us like an ink stain on a new shirt. We scrub and launder the shirt over and over, but the stain remains. Though we know we have no choice but to find a new shirt, we cling to what seemed so clean and fresh but is now ruined. Unless we change shirts, we will be unable to begin again.

Today’s scriptures, while encouraging us to heal and begin again, give us a choice. Live in bitterness like Jonah or cast our nets into the sea of God’s love where Jesus promises us we will catch men and women who are anxious for the peace and security only God can provide. When we submit to God’s path, God will show us the way to fullness of life.

Today, listen for God calling your name.

How do you encounter pain?