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Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Splendor of God

"Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever." Bar 5:1

Because we so often fail to live our values deeply and authentically, we find ourselves mourning and in misery, unable to see the glory of God all around us, and what a shame it is when this happens. We suffer a small hurt or don't feel especially well and we lose track of where and who we are. The Jewish people, unable to hear the prophets cries to reform their lives, find themselves in exile and slavery, but Baruch reminds them that all is not lost.

The prophet and Advent itself challenge us to let go of mourning and remember we are God's glorious creation. No matter what we do or how often we fail to live our faith, God is waiting and willing to be born in us again. We have only to let God dwell within and among us for everything to be different. Because a few Jews, even in exile, never failed to honor the one God and keep holy the Sabbath, God forgave everyone their sins. The same gift can be ours if only we ask for it.

Of course, this is often more difficult to do than we imagine.  When we enter personal or family dark periods, it can seem almost impossible to look up, recognize all the good around us and celebrate that even in our mourning we are loved, but the Advent readings urge us never to give up and always to try again.

Today, put on the splendor of God by taking a slow walk to appreciate the great gifts of creation.

What helps you to put aside mourning and put on the splendor of God?

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Harvest

"The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest." Mt 9:38

What master or owner of a farm or field would not want to gather up a rich harvest?  Having spent hundreds of hours, preparing, sowing, weeding and watering, the harvest is a time to collect the "wages" of their work, and because in many cases there are only a few days to accomplish this, most farmers rush to gather up what they have sown as soon as the crop is ready.

Nevertheless, some of us are so busy with other matters that we lose sight of our priorities, and fail to respond to fields overflowing with produce. When we do this, our delay can cost us everything. Although it is clear that Jesus wanted his hearers to respond fully to all those seeking God and God's word, there were those among the leaders of the Jews who resisted the power of his preaching and sought to undermine his authority. When they did this, the possibility of a new harvest for them was lost. The same can be true of us.

Paying attention to all that God is doing among us is essential for believers. We cannot afford to dwell too long on our diminishment and losses. Though we may have failed to respond fully in the past to Jesus' call to discipleship, the call is repeated today for everyone who has ears to hear and eyes to see. The harvest is ready and plentiful. Seek help in gathering it in.

Today, invite someone to help you spread the Good News.

Who is the most convincing "harvester" you know?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Being freed from our Blindness

"As Jesus passed by, two blind men followed him." Mt 9:27

Sometimes the gospel stories seem stark, and lack detail. This makes sense of course when one remembers that only a few people in Jesus' time were literate, and the intention of the gospels was not to write a biography of Jesus but to announce him as Messiah, son of God and savior of the world. Details were not important in a written form. The story teller could elaborate and fill the text with passion and power for those who could not read.

But the Gospels are not always stark. When the blind men today say, "have pity on us," we stumble upon an important detail and a telling moment. Not only is the request polite, they plead with Jesus to look upon people who are outcasts from their own family and community. Condemned to a life of begging and isolation, the blind men, like Moses, (Ex 33) beg Jesus for help, and become an example for all.

Jesus often reminds us that because we have eyes does not mean that we really see. Only those who see with the heart will experience the fullness of the revelation. The blind men, even before they are healed, see and know the Lord as Messiah and so approache him politely, but with hope and confidence. The Messiah's task is to open the eyes of all to the wonders of God's enduring care and love for the world, and because the blind men remember this, they are healed.

Our task is the same. If we want to see, we must first acknowledge God as creator and redeemer. Only then will we know the Messiah in our hearts.

Today, open your eyes again to the wonder of the created world.

What blindness do you need to healed of as Advent begins?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Stubborn Pride

"Great crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others." Mt 15:30

The world often gets very small when we are struggling. A friend who ran in the NYC marathon told me she could think of nothing but the finish line for the last few miles of the race. Suffering from hypothermia, she ignored her body's signals to stop. Her goal was in reach and she could not let it go. Similar things happen to all of us. Exhausted by working too intensely, we often keep pushing to finish whatever project we are working on and find ourselves too tired to enjoy what we have accomplished.

How often when we are stressed we forget that Jesus is waiting for us to approach him, and let our pride get in the way of asking for help. Determined to work through whatever problem is in front of us, we are like people trying to push back the tide or the waves of an ocean. Our independence or our personal goals become more important than our faith, and when we fail, we complain to God and sometimes even doubt God's existence. Although the Gospel continually assures us that the Lord is always near and anxious to help us, we fall into old patterns of self reliance and howl against the night when all we need to do is stop, rest and let God be God.

Today, ask for the grace to walk with God no matter how slowly God seems to be moving.

Did anyone teach you to slow down in order to find God in every situation?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

God's Generosity

"The LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines."Is 25:6

The generosity of God is a constant Advent theme, but we can only appreciate it if we stay attuned to our bodies. Because we too often reduce the spiritual life to peaceful "feelings" and what happens within us, we miss the power of God's goodness. Isaiah stretches us to think of God providing us not just with food and wine, but with rich food and choice wine because he has conquered sin and death.

In the ancient world people expected their kings and leaders to provide a great feast after a victory over their enemies or when a new covenant of peace was sealed, and Isaiah uses this image to help his listeners understand the fullness of God's love and God's inclusiveness. The feast which God provides is not only for those who participated in the battle, but for everyone, and Jesus reprises this theme when he insists that his disciples not send the people away hungry who have been listening to his message of hope.

We should have no doubt that Christ asks us to accept the same challenge. We must not be stingy, but give of our substance to those most in need, and we need to do this without regard to class, race, culture and background. God demands we give all who are hungry rich food and choice wine.

Today, share something you really treasure with a stranger.

What rich foods and choice wines have you received from God?

Monday, November 30, 2015

New Shoots

"A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse." Is 11:1

When Isaiah promises that a new shoot will come from the stump of Jesse, he reminds all believers that God can make something extraordinary from nothing. At the same time, the prophet is not speaking about a miracle in a classic sense. Rather,  Isaiah wants us to remember what happens often in the natural world. There are trees with so much inner life that even when they seem dead, we can take one of their broken branches, stick it in the ground, water it often and before long  it takes root and becomes a young  tree.

Clearly, a branch of Jesse’s tree, even when it seems dead and lifeless after its exile in Babylon, is stronger than we think. God will plant it again so that his faithful followers might have life and believe in his promises.

The challenge to believe that God wants to do something great and new in us, even when we are tired and feeling ragged, is uplifting. God’s love is enduring and, like a broken  branch, stronger than we can imagine. We have only to plant and water it and it will take us to Christmas.

Plant a good deed in someone’s heart and let God do the rest.

Are there “miracles” in nature that remind you of God’s love?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

St Andrew

"How can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?" Rom 10: 14-15

Too often we reduce the ministry of preaching to the ordained or those specially trained to proclaim and interpret God's Word for retreats and day of prayer, and people who preach the word formally ought to be well trained. There should be no doubt of this in the United States. More than any other aspect of church life, poor preaching is cited as the primary reason that people stop attending church on Sunday's. Close behind preaching is a lack of warmth and welcome in our parishes, and this is the "preaching" that we should look at very closely as foundational to the ministry of Jesus.

Most people are not called to preach the Word of God formally, but all are called to "preach" with their lives. When we spend our time, talent and treasure for others, we preach loudly about our values, and often people ask about this. Why, they say, do Bill or Barbara, Juan or Minh spend so much time volunteering in soup kitchens, hospitals or homeless shelters? And the answer is faith. Because Jesus sends us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned, we preach when we offer anyone solace, comfort, food or drink, and we should never underestimate the value and power of these actions. If all we do is preach the word formally, but fail to live the Gospel, the faith will be empty and shallow.

Almost daily since his election, Pope Francis has insisted on this. “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” The message for Catholics is unmistakable. "Preach" the Gospel with your lives. Get dirty doing it and the message of Jesus will be be heard as a transforming promise, not a sterile set of rules.

Today, do something simple for God.

What keeps us from "getting dirty" in our efforts to proclaim the Gospel?