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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God

"The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child." Lk 2:16-17

Every year the church begins the New Year by holding up Mary, the Mother of God, as a model for believers everywhere. Mary, as mother, is first of all present to Jesus, something that is more difficult than it seems. Being present to another does not mean we try to fix or help them, but serve them. Like a good waitperson in a restaurant who does not hover or keep asking how your food is, our mothers only want us to be comfortable in our own skin. Mary is like this for Jesus and us.

Christians do well to remember Mary's lessons. When we realize that our primary task is to witness to the truth and transforming power of the Christ, we never have to be the center of attention. Rather, we listen more than we speak, and we live faith as a verb: an action, and a lifestyle, that invites others to live for others. We do this more naturally and simply when we are grateful for the great gift our our faith and our salvation.

Today, serve someone with joy.

Do you have a special devotion to Mary? Why?

Friday, December 30, 2016

New Year's Eve

"And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." Jn 1:14

Those of us who have lived in the New York area most of our lives are very familiar with the New Year's Eve celebration that goes on each year in Times Square.  More than a million people begin gathering early in the afternoon and then wait for hours so they can watch the lighted ball drop exactly at midnight to celebrate a New Year.  Like any ritual, it is designed to help people begin again, to put aside the past and focus on the New Year just begun.  Many people use the occasion to seek reconciliation with family or friends. Even more make resolutions to change their lives so that 2017 will be better than 2016.

While we understand and appreciate the fun and hope of the night, the incredible statement we read in the first chapter of St. John's gospel can lift our spirits even more.  John writes,  "And the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." These words remind us of something that is almost too powerful for us to fully appreciate. Despite the failure of the human community to honor God and neighbor consistently, despite our wandering from the path of justice and life, God loves us so much that God speaks the word that becomes flesh as the ultimate sign of God's undying love. God wants to be with us, to walk with us, to weep with us, and live with us forever.

Today, let go of fear and open your heart to the indwelling of God in your lives and communities.

Are New Year resolutions important to you?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Holy Family

"Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." Col 3:12

Family life at the time of Jesus was very different from how we understand family life in 21st century North America. Gender roles were sharply drawn, leaving women especially with few rights, and although women and mothers were honored, they rarely owned property or had any education, making Jesus' relationship with women, many of whom became important disciples in the earliest community of believers, all the more interesting and challenging.

The letter to the Colossians reminds us that the so called feminine virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience are foundational to Jesus' vision. If we are going to be in what the scripture's call "right relationship" with one another, we must put on these virtues, especially in our families. Unless parents are humble in their guidance of their children, their offspring will inadvertently learn that power is something to be used over others rather than with them. Only when everyone in a family senses their own dignity, even when receiving correction, can we avoid creating an "us" against "them" mentality which can never be good for family life.

Today, practice humility. Ask for guidance.

What do you think are the most important family values in the bible?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Fifth Day of Christmas

"The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him." Lk 2:33


Thinking about bringing their new born son to the temple must have ben a delight for Mary and Joseph. We might imagine them being stopped by friends and strangers alike wanting to congratulate them and offer them a blessing and a prayer.  Surely, their hearts must have overflowed with joy when Simeon, full of the Holy Spirit, (Lk 2:27) took the infant Jesus into his arms and declared that he was gazing upon the "light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” (Lk 2:32)

Though Mary and Joseph could not have understood completely what was happening to them or what their own role would be in God's plan to save the world, they knew that Simeon and Anna were filled with delight, and so were they. Glory for Israel and a light to the nations had been born to them.  And to us!

Today, be a light to those around you.

What about our faith brings you joy?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Holy Innocents

"When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under." Mt 2:16

Today seems like a perfect day to celebrate all the children who have been lost, stolen or killed for the sake of power, money or unearned prestige, beginning with the children slaughtered four years ago in Newtown, Ct. While we will never understand the twists a human psyche can take that result in the massacre of children, we know it happens, has happened before, and will happen again.

All life is a gift from God and must be spent as a gift for others. When we fail to remember this most fundamental faith demand, we too often wallow in our own failures and losses. That our well- intentioned deeds do not always result in success is not the point. That we freely offer others the gift of ourselves is. That is why Christ came among us. He was and is a sign that God cannot and will not abandon us, even when we turn away from God and fail to live the Gospel. We have only to lift our heads to find God waiting to lead us again along a path of other centered love.

Today, remember the innocents: children, the disabled, the mentally ill.

How does faith help you face unspeakable evil?

Monday, December 26, 2016

St John, Apostle

“Observing the boldness of Peter and John and perceiving them to be uneducated, ordinary men, they [the questioners] were amazed, and they recognized them as the companions of Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

Sometimes we discover God in the ordinary events of everyday life. James and John, in their boat with their father, were mending their nets when Jesus called them to follow him. When they responded positively their lives were changed forever. Together James and John would witness the transfiguration and be at the last supper. John would also accompany Jesus to the Cross where Jesus would ask him to care for his mother. Because he listened and acted, John witnessed and was transformed by some of the most important moments of Jesus' faith journey.

Nothing in the life of the apostles was more important than following Jesus faithfully. In the beginning of their ministry, they had little to do except prepare others to hear the word of God. Only after the resurrection would they take up in earnest the works of Jesus, and the same is true for us. As we enter into the great mystery of the Incarnation, we have only to listen, respond, enjoy, and celebrate. Soon enough we will have to announce what we have seen and heard, and seal our faith in service to others.

Children are probably our best teachers at this time of year. As Christmas day fades, children usually settle down with one or the other toy and play for hours. I am always fascinated by their focus and peace, and they teach all of us to live in the moment as fully as possible. The call to spend the joy of Christmas will come soon enough. For now, faith is simple and we should delight in it.

Today, take some extra quiet time in the presence of the One who is always near.

What brings you most joy at the Christmas season?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

St Stephen, Martyr

"Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people...but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke." Acts 6:8,9

The reasons we reject others are many. Sometimes we don't like or trust the person. At other times, their message annoys or upsets us, and unfortunately, there are some who reject others because of race, ethnicity, culture or sexual orientation. Although most of us have been raised with the bromide, Don't judge a book by its cover, we all have our prejudices.

Stephen was rejected simply because he was preaching the salvation of Jesus Christ, a message that frightened traditional religious types who used their power to control others' lives. When Stephen's wisdom and spirit began to sway people towards Christ and away from the synagogue, his fate was sealed. Some scholars believe that Stephen had attended and worshiped at the synagogue in which he was preaching, making his sin even greater. To draw others away from the Talmud was bad enough but to do it to one's neighbors and friends was a much worse offense.

Putting Stephen's feast on the day after Christmas is no accident. The church wants believers to know there is a cost to following the babe of Bethlehem. The joy we feel at Christmas must be tempered by the challenge of every day faith, and though Stephen's witness leads to his death, he dies with gratitude and hope.

Today, be grateful for those who live and speak our faith with power no matter the cost.

Have you ever been attacked or rejected because of your religious faith?



Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Day

"She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Mt 1:21

For most believers, Christmas is a delight, a wondrous celebration of faith and family, but for some, Christmas is a terrible burden. Because expectations for Christmas are so great, we can try too hard to please God and others, and get in the way of God's plan. Only when we learn to slow down, listen, and respond rather than react to every situation, can we hope to know and live God's plan for us and the people we love.

When we take a few moments to reflect on the first Christmas, we realize both Mary and Joseph had to stay very centered as they traveled and waited for the birth of Jesus. Away from their families and without the security of a place to stay, they had to rely on a kind inn owner to find them a place for their child to be born. While the insecurity must have been very trying for them, they endured. Strengthened by Mary's yes to the angel, and Joseph's dream, they trusted that God would lead them where they needed to be to fulfill Jesus' destiny.

Today, give God permission to lead you.

What hurdles must you cross to celebrate Christmas with joy?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Zechariah's Song

"Zechariah, (John the Baptist's) father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying: 'Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free.'" Lk 1:67

What a joy it must have been for Zechariah to announce that God had set his people free. In exile often, the Jewish people yearned for a military solution to the Roman problem. Invaded by Caesar's armies, Israel had little control of the land God had given to them, and they hated it. Zechariah's prophesy would have filled them with hope.

God's willingness to rescue his people is a constant theme in the Hebrew bible. No matter how often the chosen people turn away from his rule, God's mercy trumps his anger and God welcomes the Jewish people into his heart. Our biggest concern should be not taking God's goodness for granted. Rather, our gratitude for God's graciousness ought to be a sign to the world of our Gospel commitment.

It is important to speak our faith, especially on behalf of the voiceless and people in exile: immigrants, refugees and people living in shelters. When a society and a church ignore or turn away from those most in need, we deny God's concern for those who are lost and open ourselves to the criticism that faith is a crutch upon which we lean, not a dynamic and inclusive lifestyle that sees all people as brothers and sisters.

Today, say something on behalf of the needy.

What most inhibits your willingness to speak up on behalf of the voiceless?




Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Baptist's Birth

His mother replied: "He will be called John." But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name." Lk I:59

What's in a name?  In the ancient world, everything. Names were given to children by their fathers to honor his ancestors and elders. Mothers had no role in this ritual, but Elizabeth does. Only when Zechariah writes the name John on a tablet is his "mouth opened and his tongue freed." Clearly, Elizabeth's child John would play an important role in salvation history. John, whose name means God is gracious, would usher in a new order and a new way of being in the world.

Unlike so many, John would have no doubts about his role. He knew he was not the Messiah, despite the desire of so many who accepted his baptism. Rather, his entire life would consist in pointing to Jesus, and announcing the coming of the Messiah. Admitting that he was not worthy to untie Jesus' sandal strap and that he needed to decrease and Christ increase, John becomes a symbol for every Christian.

Our task as believers is not to posture or pretend that we are important, but to be grateful for the name Christian, and recognize Christ in every person and prepare others to receive his Good News. Accepting that we are God's children gives every Christian an identity that is empowering forever. We need not have any fear about who we are or what we are to do. Like John, we are to point to Christ as Redeemer and hope for all humankind.

Today, help someone find Christ.

What are the biggest obstacles we face in announcing the Good News?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Mary's Song

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."  Lk 1:46

The Venerable Bede, an 8th Century monk, in an attempt to help us understand the depth of Mary's gratitude, expands St Luke's language:
The Lord has exalted me by a gift so great, so unheard of, that language is useless to describe it; and the depths of love in my heart can scarcely grasp it. I offer then all the powers of my soul in praise and thanksgiving. (Universalis)
These days as we creep ever closer to Christmas, the church cannot get enough of Mary. Full of anticipation, Mary sings but knows that words and music, no matter how beautiful, cannot express her joy at being the mother of Jesus. She can only offer thanks, and we would do well to follow her example.

Thanksgiving is the ground and base of Christian spirituality. If we do not practice Thanksgiving, we will never understand the Eucharist or fully appreciate God's total and persistent love of us. Only when we live gratefully for each day of life and faith are we able to proclaim the Good News unequivocally and completely.

Today, imagine where you would be without the love of God.

What are you most grateful for?



Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Mary's Journey

"Hark! my lover–here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills. My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag." Sg 2:8
Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Lk 1:39

The notion that the spiritual life is a journey is an important one in the Judeo Christian tradition. Believers are always on the way and reaching for something else. So is God. God seeks us out. God desires us, and in the Song of Songs the writer wants us to imagine God as a romantic lover who will leap mountains in order to be with us. God wants us to believe that winter's cold and darkness is over because the light has come into the world.

Mary learns the lesson of pilgrimage early. Almost as soon as she says yes to being the mother of the Messiah, she leaves her home and travels to be with Elizabeth, and her visit is not a drop in but a three month stay. What she will learn about Elizabeth and herself will shape her life and ours. Though we can only guess what happens in Mary's heart as Jesus grows in wisdom and age, we know that she was always near him, sometimes correcting, at other times consoling, but never abandoning her son despite the terrible personal cost.

If God is always seeking us and surrounding us with love, why should we be afraid? Mary's fear faded fast when she allowed the the Spirit to enter her. So should ours, and in the end, as long as we do not turn away from the journey, we have nothing to fear.

Today, take one step towards God and see how God responds.

What parts of your journey have most filled you with joy?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Tempting God

The LORD spoke to Ahaz: Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!'”
Is 7: 10-11

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 means we think of ourselves as totally independent even though the Gospel urges us to live as one body and to be interdependent.

King Ahaz had his own plans for the world and while he seems to take a humble posture before God, it is a ruse. Ahaz doesn't want to listen to God, Isaiah or anyone else and he will pay for it. As Christmas nears we might ask ourselves about our own intentions. How would we feel if we received no gifts at all? More essentially, what do we really want from God at Christmas? A good feeling kneeling before the crib? Our children and grandchildren to go to Mass? Do we really want God to start all over with us and the world? And do we want to be instruments of Good (but sometimes hard) News?

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?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

They had no Child

"But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years."(Lk 1:7)

Barrenness is a particularly difficult burden to bear, and in the ancient world it was often seen as a punishment for sin.  Both the wife of Zorah, the father of Samson, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist were barren, and we can only imagine the pain they felt.  No doubt both women were familiar with the words of Jeremiah who tells us that Rachel wept inconsolably because she was barren.  For Jewish women not to have children meant they had no identity, no value, and no blessing from God.  Zorah's wife in today's passage from Judges isn't even named. How great then the joy of both women when, in their old age, God blesses them with children whose role in salvation history will forever help believers to appreciate the greatness of God who blesses us when we least expect it.

In these last days of Advent, the same is true of us.  Our roles in the ongoing story of God's love for the world, while sometimes muddy and confusing, are radically important to God.  God wants to speak through us, to announce good news, not only through the strengths and gifts we each have, but through our willingness to endure weakness and suffering for the sake of building God's reign.

Today ask God to "fertilize" your heart, which so often seems barren, with the the hope only God can give.

Do you know what it is to be barren?

Saturday, December 17, 2016

In Christ there is no Fear

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home."

Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., one of the most important and respected theologians of the 20th century, said that it would not be rash to reduce the entire Gospel to three words Jesus said often: Be not afraid. Reminding all who believe that they have already been saved, Schillebeeckx insists there is no theological reason to fear because God has come in the flesh and promised to live with us forever.

This is not to say we won't feel fear when we are in physical danger, but the deeper fears about the after life and God's concern for every person should have no place in the life of those who believe in Jesus Christ. While we will have doubts and will regularly turn away from this basic truth, Jesus' coming among us in human form is God's promise that we we can always return to God's heart where every fear will be washed away.

What must have Joseph felt when Mary told him she was pregnant? Though betrothed, they had not lived together. He could not have been the father of her child, but in a dream, which he trusts, God tells him not to be afraid. No matter how others might look at or ridicule him, he should welcome Mary to his house, and with his yes his life and ours change. Overcoming his fears and confusion, Joseph becomes a model for us in times of doubt. God is near to him and will help him through his darkness. God is also near to us and this reality is what we celebrate and proclaim so loudly at Christmas.

Today,  put aside fear. Put on love.

What fears continue to haunt you on your faith journey?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Justice the Foundation of Peace

"Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever." Ps 72:3

It is clear in the Catholic tradition that there can be no lasting peace without justice, and no matter how often we proclaim this important truth, we forget it ourselves and fail to convince others. Why? Because doing justice is hard work.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the theologian and holocaust victim, reminded us often in The Cost of Discipleship, that living the Gospel demands sacrifice and surrender to God's plan for humankind, and this is never easy. Listen. "Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ."

In Bonhoeffer's case the cost of discipleship meant letting go of his family and the new love of his life, Maria von Redemeyer. A confirmed bachelor most of his life, Bonhoeffer fell in love in his mid thirties and the love he experienced was intense. In his Letters and Papers from Prison, he writes to Maria about the terrible duty he has to speak the truth, defend the Jews and oppose Hitler and the Nazis. Apologizing to her, he assures her that their love would be empty if he failed to live the Gospel with integrity.

It is important for every believer to pray for the courage to be a disciple no matter the circumstances or the cost of living the Gospel. Every great gift demands sacrifice. We should never be surprised by faith's challenges.

Today, pray to be free to live the Gospel without fear.

Have you ever experienced the cost of discipleship?



Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Lord's Peace

"Come Lord bring us your peace." Responsorial

Most divisions in families and parish communities are harmless. More political than theological, we experience them all the time. Someone claims to be a life long democrat or republican, a Met fan or a Yankee fan, a Vatican II catholic or a John Paul II catholic. As long as we respect the natural differences between and among us, they are innocuous and can even bring some life and fun to our communities.

At the same time, these small divisions can become yawning craters if we cling to them too rigidly or recklessly and that is what concerned the earliest Christian. Many new converts, eager to develop their faith or shape their faith practices, found themselves attracted to one or the other spiritual devotion or ritual practice and began to judge or look down upon other people and their choices. When this happens to our families or parishes, the entire community suffers. We become defensive of our own positions and dismissive of others, and this never helps a community grow and find the unity that God wants for us.

Opinions, no matter how carefully researched and studied, are still opinions. They are our interpretation of the data we uncover and cannot be normative for others. Opinions, especially those honestly and openly offered to others, are natural and good, but only when they lead to further discussion and conversation can they lead to a deeper unity among us. Deciding together as a community of faith how all can gather in peace, reflect on our faith tradition and serve others will lead to a deeper common life and help our families and parishes become the faith communities Christ intended us to be.

Today, ask yourself if your positions and how you express them invite others to know and love God more deeply.

What kinds of people and positions are most difficult for you to understand and accept?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Fear Not

"Fear not, you shall not be put to shame; you need not blush, for you shall not be disgraced." Is 54:4

Prophets are fascinating people. Like all good leaders they warn us about dangerous paths we might be taking or reprove us when we fail to live up to our values, but they can also be incredibly gentle and consoling. The 54th chapter of Isaiah is like this.

When the Jewish nation was in exile. many forgot who they were and to whom they belonged.  Others found ways to compromise with their captors as a way of staying alive, but were neglecting their religious obligations. Isaiah knew all this and decided that honey works much better than vinegar when people are lost and in pain.  Like the Samaritan who stops to help the fellow left for dead by robbers, Isaiah reminds his listeners that soon they will be home, among their friends and families and will be free to worship in Jerusalem. Don't worry, he seems to be saying, God is near and, "Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care."

Today, comfort someone who seems lost.

What or who helps you remember the comforting power of God?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

St John of the Cross

"In those days, like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah whose words were as a flaming furnace." Sir 48:1

St John of the Cross was a very young man when St Teresa of Avila saw qualities in him he could never have seen himself. Bright and insightful, an artist and song writer, above all John was drawn to the mystical path in the spiritual life and was not afraid of the dark night to which he was called. Teresa knew John was different and although she was thirty years older than John, she wrote, "He was so good that I, at least, could have learned much more from him than he from me." The poet, Jessica Powers, shortly before she entered the Carmelites herself, wrote of John's books:
Out of what door that came ajar in heaven
       drifted this starry manna down to me,
       to the dilated mouth both hunger given
       and all satiety?
       Who bore at midnight to my very dwelling
       the gift of this imperishable food?
       my famished spirit with its fragrance filling,
       its savor certitude.
       The mind and heart ask, and the soul replies
       what store is heaped on these bare shelves of mine?
       The crumbs of the immortal delicacies
       fall with precise design.
       Mercy grows tall with the least heart enlightened,
       and I, so long a fosterling of night,
       here feast upon immeasurably sweetened
       wafers of light.
Today, ask God to let you see with God's own eyes.

What keeps you from a more intense prayer life?



Monday, December 12, 2016

St Lucy

"When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him." Mt 21 31-32

Today's Gospel is a difficult one for me.  Perhaps like some of you, when I get involved in a heated argument, it often becomes more important for me to be right than in relationship.  I have struggled with this my entire life and it is not difficult for me to see myself among the Pharisees trying to convince everyone, without regard for the truth or what is happening right in front of me,  that Jesus is a charlatan.  That thousands are listening to John the Baptist announce that he is not the Christ and convincing even prostitutes and tax collectors that his message is from God,  suggest that prostitutes and tax collectors are poor witnesses and will do anything to feather their own nests. Failing to even consider the humility and honesty of John, especially when he points to Christ as "the one who is to come," (Lk 7:18-19) they risk their salvation for the sake of their fragile power.

The feast of St. Lucy only increases my discomfort.  After Lucy rejects a proposal of marriage, the fellow she spurns "accuses" her of believing in the Christ, and even though she realizes the danger, Lucy acknowledges that indeed she is a Christian. When she refuses to recant her belief, she is martyred.  We know little else about her life, but the early church held her up, even including her name in the first Eucharistic prayer, because of her simple, direct an unwavering faith.  What a challenge she is to us.

Today, pray with St John that Christ will increase as you decrease.

Which of your faults get in the way of growing in faith?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Our Lady of Guadalupe

"A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth." Rev 12:1

A careful, meditation on the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is very revealing. Mary appears as a shy, pregnant, peasant woman with bare feet.  Her hands are folded in petition like ours would be in the presence of God and an angel holds her up as an icon of devotion.
Every time I look at this image I think of the hundreds of young women I have met in the developing world. Often too timid to look in your eye, they speak softly and always with respect. More important, they answer questions directly and with few words. These women amaze me not only because many of them have good educations and have contributed to their communities with great generosity, but because they do everything without drawing attention to themselves. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a woman from the developing world who identifies totally with those she has come to address and lift up, but she also challenges us not to take ourselves too seriously. She is a disciple of her own son and as such reminds us to follow him with humility and passion. Together, her image suggests, we are held up by angels, making our cause great and our voice important.

Today, walk humbly before the Lord and ask for guidance.

Has a quiet, unselfconscious woman ever touched your heart?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Freedom from Fear

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them." Mt 11 4-5

Although tradition tells us that John the Baptist and Jesus were related, the scripture also seems to suggest that, for a time at least, John was unsure of Jesus' identity. Why else would he have sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the "one who is to come?" Jesus' response is clear. He assures John that he is the one spoken of by Isaiah the prophet and Jesus' answer sets the tone for his entire mission and ministry. He will be a healer who does justice, and it is his commitment to justice that will lead to his death.

John the Baptist, like Jesus, believed that the Jewish leaders had failed the poor and he was not afraid to voice his displeasure both in his preaching and lifestyle. John was a hermit who lived in the desert. His preaching attracted large crowds from among the poor because he spoke to their hearts and defended their rights, but when he attacked Herod for his marriage to Herodias, the wife of his half brother Philip, John was a marked man.

Both John and Jesus remind us that speaking the truth, despite its consequences, is an essential element of embracing the Good News. This is not to say, as Pope Francis reminds us, that we should be strident and overly focused on one or the other issue. Rather, we need to read the signs of the times and speak up on behalf of those whose lives are most threatened.

Today, ask the Lord to free you from the fear of speaking truth to power.

Have you known a John the Baptist? What attracted you to him/her?



Friday, December 9, 2016

Gratitude for Friends

 "Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved." Ps 80

Hearing the voice of someone you can trust is a very comforting sound, especially if you are in a difficult or new situation. The first time I traveled to Bolivia I got off the plane after 15 hours of travel, looked around and could not find a familiar face, but after collecting my baggage, I heard the friar I was intending to visit call my name. Although I was far from New York and very tired, I felt at home.

Most of us have had people in our lives who seem able to hear us on a level that both sustains and challenges us. Gifted with the ability not to speak too quickly or forcefully, friends like this help us understand ourselves and the God who seems silent but always has a message. Although we often resist their insights, eventually we let go and trust the God who speaks through them.

Today, be grateful for the people in your life who help you hear God's voice.

Whose voice was most important to your growth as a person?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

God's Lavishness

“To what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.’" Mt 11: 16-17

All of us enjoy something for nothing. Walking the streets of New York City, there are often salespeople offering new varieties of sports drinks or chocolate to passersby, and it is the rare person who doesn't take the "gift," even if they don't want it or need it. It's free, our unconscious says, take it! Because the distributors of these handouts hope that a percentage of the people who take them will enjoy the taste and become regular buyers of their products, they risk losing a good part of of their inventory in order to lay a foundation for big gains in the future.

Unfortunately, in this kind of environment, we can also get to a point where we think we deserve certain "perks," or fringe benefits even if we don't work for them. Like children who set the dinner table expecting to receive an extra portion of potatoes, we hope everyone recognizes our goodness and rewards us, but Jesus challenges this notion. The gift of faith is entirely free. We did not earn it. We cannot enhance it. We can only receive it with gratitude and give it away. More important, when we share God's gifts with others without expecting a return, the gift itself increases.

Today, put aside your expectations and let God treat you lavishly.

What expectations of God and others most get in the way of your living your faith more deeply?



Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Immaculate Conception

"Hail full of grace. The Lord is with you!"

Eugene Peterson, a scripture scholar seeking to help people who either cannot access the power of the Greek text of Luke's Gospel or have read the scriptures so often that they have  grown bored, offers us a different view of Gabriel's greeting to Mary.
Good morning! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, Beautiful inside and out! God be with you.
While some might be confused, unnerved or upset by Peterson's translation, there should be little doubt that his translation forces us to enter Mary's world in a very different way, and this can only be good. Like so many other saints, Mary's uniqueness and importance to believers has often been lost by the trappings of sanctity with which a particular culture or spirituality adorn her. Reducing her to a young frightened girl or portraying her in a manner that strips her of her humanity and femininity cheats believers of meeting the powerful woman she was. First acknowledging her fears, then questioning the angel's announcement, Mary helps us identify in faith with every person asked to assume a new responsibility, especially one for which we feel unprepared.

Only after Mary experiences fear and asks questions is she able to do what all of us must do, say yes to God. As we struggle to put aside the fears and confusion that come to all of us, we have Mary as companion, guide and mentor. Fear, Mary teaches us, is natural and necessary and wrestling God is sometimes inevitable, but if we listen deeply like Mary, we can be sure that God will show us the path to freedom and a deepened faith.

Today, re-imagine Mary's role in your spiritual life.

What stories of Mary most embolden you to live your faith with passion?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

St Ambrose

"No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: 'This is the way; walk in it.'” Is 30 20-21

St Ambrose is one of those fascinating characters who populated the early church. Known for his keen political sense and theological caution, he tried to act as mediator in Milan when it was divided between its Arian proponents and the hierarchy of the Catholic church.

Arius proposed that Jesus, because he was created by God the Father, was less than the Father, and Catholics argued that Father, Son and Spirit although distinct persons, were one God, coequal and coeternal. The battle became fierce and when Ambrose tried to help the two sides reconcile, the people, not wanting bloodshed, called for him to be bishop.

Ambrose reacted strongly. Not yet baptized, he wanted no part of the church hierarchy. Only after the Emperor Gratian encouraged him to accept the call to leadership did he seek baptism and ordination, becoming one of the most important figures in the early church. Learned in philosophy and rhetoric, Ambrose impressed St Augustine with his oratory and insight. More important, he was unafraid to confront those, even emperors, who ignored the Gospel while claiming to be Christian.

Today, be a reconciler.

Who do you most admire for their wisdom and savvy?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Comforting the Lost

"Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service has ended, that her guilt is expiated." Is 40 1-2

When I was a boy, I remember my mother talking about a friend of mine saying: Trouble always finds that boy. I wasn't sure exactly what she meant, but I did know that "Billy" seemed always to be under suspicion. Either because he started a fight or stole some penny candies from the corner store, our parents warned us not to befriend him. It must have been a lonely time for Billy. Although he was a good ball player, he was rarely chosen first when we picked teams for a game, and seemed always to be walking home from school alone.

How to appeal to those rejected by our society and invite others who have chosen a dark and destructive path to know the Lord is always the task of believers. Because Jesus challenges us to see with his eyes, we need always to try to look past what isolates sinners from society in order to find that core part of them that is anxious for redemption and life in a community. While we might often fail in our endeavors, we can never stop trying.

Today, have a conversation with someone who seems lost.

Who has brought you comfort when you were troubled?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Help of Friends

"They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying." Mk 2:3-4

Where would we be without friends? A paralyzed man who hears about Jesus has no way to see or visit the Lord unless friends help him. Though Jesus is  surrounded by needy people, the paralytic's friends are not deterred. They go up on the roof, dig through it and lower their friend in front of Jesus. It is really an amazing scene which the scribes cannot spoil with the mumbling about Jesus not having the power to forgive sins. So anxious not to lose their teaching role in the society, the scribes think nothing about the paralytic while the man's friends think of nothing else. Who doesn't yearn for friends like this?

The twelfth century monk and writer, Aelred of Rievaulx, says it this way:
No medicine is more valuable, none more efficacious, none better suited to the cure of all our temporal ills than a friend to whom we may turn for consolation in time of trouble, and with whom we may share our happiness in time of joy. ― Aelred of Rievaulx Spiritual Friendship
Today, be gracious and accept the help of your friends.

To which friends are you most grateful?

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent

"Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God." Rm 15:7

Few people have the skill and patient endurance to welcome others as their primary ministerial role. When I was a boy, welcoming visitors was an especially important element in my home if you wanted to live there in peace. Although we did not have a television when I was young, we did have a radio and it often played in the background as we went about our daily chores and life. If, however, someone knocked on our apartment door, the radio was turned off immediately. There could be no distraction from welcoming whoever visited, even if it was a salesperson.

St Conrad of Parzham, the Capuchin saint who is patron of the friary where I live, is often pictured with a ring of keys in his hand or on the cord that encircles our Capuchin habit. Conrad spend almost his entire life as a porter, the friar who responds to the front door bell. It was Conrad's task to welcome any and every visitor with the compassion of Jesus. Whether it was a beggar asking for food, a troubled wife needing to talk for a few minutes, or a donor wanting to give the friars something to help them live and serve the church, Conrad welcomed them all. It was his only job, and he did it with reverence  and love for all who came to the front door of the friary. 

When we welcome others with delight and warmth, especially those with whom we struggle, we change their lives and ours. It is a simple but very difficult role, but when we do it for the glory of God, God's name is announced with joy and hope.

Today, welcome the first person you meet for the glory of God.

Have you known people whose warm welcome of all changed people's lives?

Friday, December 2, 2016

St Francis Xavier

"At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd." Mt 9:36

St Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Jesuits along with St. Ignatius Loyola, was the among the first Jesuit missionaries. With his mind and spirit focused on going to China, Francis left Italy without language skills or money. Despite these difficulties, Francis kept his eye on the prize and at every stop along the way preached the gospel, baptizing thousands in India and Japan. That he never realized his dream of preaching the gospel to the Chinese seems insignificant now. He did God's will and that is all that matters.

Francis Xavier is a powerful reminder of what we can become when we place our total trust in God and let God do God's work wherever we are sent. None of us walks the pilgrim path of faith without obstacles. St. Augustine reminds us that we are like pieces of pottery, shaped by instruction and fired by tribulation, and should never fear the kiln. Rather, he encourages us to focus on what God is making of us while we are being tried by fire. (Augustine sermon)

Today, ask God to tell you where you ought to go to proclaim the gospel.

What are your strengths when trials come?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Gift of Sight

"Then he touched the eyes of the blind men and said, 'Let it be done for you according to your faith.'” Mt 9:29

Seeing is a wonderful gift, one we can easily take for granted. Only an injury to the eye, even a slight one, makes us sit up and take notice. That we can see and appreciate the beauty of all creation is remarkable, and while it seems simple it really is very complex. So many parts of our body have to work together for us to see, and Jesus uses this very basic faculty to teach us about sensing beyond what our eyes and ears and brain working together offer us.

Acknowledging what our senses tell us, especially when it is painful, is important not just for ourselves but for our society. When we see or witness abuse of any kind we cannot simply turn away in denial. Experiencing abusive drinking or encountering spousal abuse unnerves us and sometimes moves us into denial. We don't want to believe what we saw or heard and try to excuse or interpret another's actions to free ourselves from responsibility. But, in truth, we all need to learn that seeing and accepting what we see is important for us and for the world.

Today, open your eyes slowly and look around at the glory of God's creation.



Have you had an experience that helped you see God's action in your life more clearly?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Be as Solid as a Rock

"But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.

Sometimes we get confused about who or what our rock is.  Too often we rely exclusively on our knowledge, insight, wealth or experience as guides, and while all these tools are important and helpful, they cannot be our rock.  For a Christian there is only one Rock, the Christ of God, the one who was promised from the beginning, who came among us as a man and who continues to guide and direct us.  The Christ, our Messiah, is the fulness of God's love and the new Covenant. Keeping the memory of Christ's love fresh is a daily challenge.

When Jesus, in today's gospel, reminds us to build our house on rock, not sand, he invites us to use our  imaginations. Picture a house with four corners each of which is built on a rock, and ask yourself, in a transparent examination of conscience, what the rocks of your life are that others see in you.  To do this more simply, ask yourself what your passion is, how you spend your time, who you trust?

Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may be, this reflective exercise almost always reveals some sandy spots.  For some it is an addiction to alcohol or other chemicals that obsess them. Others know this because our behavior, no matter how careful or hidden, gives us away. For others, their rock is success at any price, despite its effects on their family.  For too many, it is blindness to the world as it is, and for a few it is using prayer and religious devotion as an escape. None of these rocks last.  They crumble and our house begins to list and topple. Christ is the house in which we live and Advent is a time to do ordinary maintenance on the foundation.

Today, pick one pillar and work at making it a cornerstone of your life.

What and who have been the rocks upon which your have built your lives?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

St Andrew the Apostle

"For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved." Rom 10:9

Salvation, Paul reminds us, is more than simple belief in God. We must tell others about God's goodness to all of human kind. We must announce the graciousness of God with power and conviction. St Andrew did this so intently that he was martyred for his faith.


Peter's brother, Andrew hears the invitation of Jesus to follow him and does not hesitate. He leaves everything to be a disciple of the Lord. Even when he was being martyred he asked to be crucified on an X shaped cross because he did not think he was worthy of being crucified in the same way Jesus was.

When we learn to speak honestly, courageously and naturally about the great gift of our faith, our discipleship is deepened and our witness becomes more powerful.

Today, Confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.

What are your biggest hurdles on the road to salvati

Monday, November 28, 2016

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.

The challenge to believe that God wants to do something great and new in us, even when we are tired and feeling ragged, is upifting. 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 27, 2016

Monday First Week of Advent

"The centurion said in reply, 'Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” Mt 8: 7-8

Most humble people have been humbled. Born into wealth or privilege, circumstances conspired against them and they lost everything. The proud complain or curse God; the humble realize that everything they had was a gift and not something they earned or deserved. The proud do almost anything to reclaim what they believe is theirs by divine right. The humble echo the Japanese proverb: When my house burned down, I could finally see the sunrise.

Remarkably, the centurion in the today's Gospel is not asking Jesus to help him but to heal his servant, and Jesus, obviously moved, is willing to respond to the centurion's request. But the centurion becomes an icon of humility for the ages when he acknowledges Jesus' power to heal without touch or physical presence. Not wanting Jesus to risk the condemnation of the rabbis for entering his house, the centurion asks Jesus only to speak a word of healing.

Humility is a good place to begin Advent. Aware that Christ's coming among us as a human child is pure gift, the believer kneels in adoration and admits how often he or she has taken this gift for granted. Ironically, this kind of humility raises us up.

Today, be grateful for all of life no matter how humbling.

What keeps you from humbly acknowledging your weaknesses?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The First Sunday of Advent

"But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh."

Sometimes we watch too closely, pay attention to too many details and get ourselves in trouble.  Not only to do we miss the forest for the trees, we get increasingly anxious about things we can’t control.  Parents sending their children to school for the first time often do this, and it can happen to me when to help a friend work his way through a troubling or difficult personal situation.  Both situations, while understandable and for some unavoidable, remind us of something wise people have said for a long time: Look but don’t stare.

The prophet Isaiah reminds us not to worry too much about what we have or don't have. Rather, the Prophet suggests that God will be more helpful to the Israelites by helping them remain faithful to the covenant. “Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” I can only imagine God smiling at Isaiah's intervention.

Today, imitate God by looking at yourself and others without staring.

What situations cause you to obsess about matters you cannot control?

Friday, November 25, 2016

No Excuses

"Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” Lk 21:36

Today is the last day of the liturgical year and a good time to make a simple review of our faith life. Four actions ought to mark the life of a faith filled Catholic and we can reflect on them through a series of questions. Have we been faithful to God and the community of believers by gathering regular for prayer and worship, especially on Sundays? Have we taken time to reflect on the mysteries of faith, especially as they are articulated in Scripture? Have we celebrated God's gifts with joy and gratitude? Have we served others as if they were Christ? 

Coming together regularly, studying and praying about God's care for us and serving those most in need are visible signs that God matters in our lives and that we want to witness to God's mercy before others. For most of us the only way we preach is through our actions. We can talk about faith all day, but if we never act on it, we are, as Paul reminds us, noisy gongs and a clanging cymbals. We make a lot of noise but don't do anything for others but annoy them.

Today, be honest with yourself and God. Make no excuses for your faults. Ask to begin again.

Which dimension of our faith life most attracts and empowers you?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Giving Away the Gift of Faith

“Consider the fig tree and all the other trees. When their buds burst open, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near." Lk 21:29

At the time of Jesus, Palestine was an arid land with little water and shallow soil. Farmers had to use their resources carefully. Because they could not afford to allow fruit bearing plants or trees that did not produce a good crop to litter the land, they became a ready example for Jesus to teach.

All of us must bear fruit. Given faith as a free gift, we need to spend it freely for the good of others. Faith is not something that merely calls us to personal holiness. It is a treasure intended to help others know God and the Good News of Jesus. Only when we live faith in a transparent way does it bear the fruit intended by God.

Today, reach out for someone who is lost.

What keeps you from producing fruit for all to eat?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving Day

“Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Lk 17:18

The feast of Thanksgiving is a time to return to the God who has so often healed us, to pause and remember all those who God has given us as companions in faith, who have accepted our faults and lifted up our strengths.  Honestly, if any of us began to name all of these people today, the list would stretch around the world. Today let us sing alleluia for friends and enemies who showed us God's face even when we were distracted by self absorption or lost in self pity.

We also thank God today for allowing us to play a small role in the healing of others.  Broken families, shattered marriages, lonely teenagers, desperate older people and the mentally ill, to name just a few, have all been given to us as gifts. Today we thank God especially for never thinking that the healing relationships we have been privileged to share with the lost have been our doing.  Most of the time the only thing we had to give others was time itself, and to our surprise, that was more than enough.

Today, find a quiet place to breathe in gratitude for all God has given you and breathe out hope to those who find life an overwhelming burden.

Who or what forces you to your needs in gratitude?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

God's Words not Ours

"Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking." Lk 21:14

Jesus makes a pretty big promise to his disciples, assuring them, even though they lack education or in many cases the ability to read of write, that the Holy Spirit will teach them what to say. While this might be the occasion for some of us to think we don't have to prepare a homily or a presentation on faith, there is no basis for this kind of thinking. Jesus is referring to those times when we are attacked unexpectedly and without provocation, not to the ordinary diligence we need to use to present our faith clearly and with passion.

Rather, the Lord wants us to trust in the Spirit of God to guide, direct, and challenge us everyday, and to realize that this is an essential dimension of our faith and its practice. Without this trust, we can only rely on ourselves or expert opinion, and no matter how knowledgeable we or our advisors might be, our insight will be insufficient.

Today, consciously commit yourself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Have you experienced the Holy Spirit's strength and direction in your life?

Monday, November 21, 2016

St Cecilia

When I was a boy, I had a summer friend who loved music. An accomplised piano player, he introduced me to the art of listening, and it is to him I dedicate this blog entry.

"O God, I will sing a new song to you; with a ten stringed lyre I will chant your praise. Ps 44:9"

St Cecilia is almost always portrayed with a musical instrument in her hands. Sometimes it is a viola or a flute; at other times she is seated at an organ, all because she is said to have heard beautiful music when she was forced to marry a pagan. From a simple incident without a firm historical foundation, Cecilia is honored as the patron of liturgical music. Clearly, what keeps Cecilia's memory alive is the power of music that fills us with hope and joy, and helps deepen the faith that is the ground of our lives.

When I was a boy there was a wonderful choir in my home parish, and although as a child I did not always appreciate the beautiful music they made, my spirit remembers the pride of the adults who sang in the choir and the joy of those who listened. At Christmas, our choir's  ministry was even richer since the men's and women's choirs combined at Midnight mass and at the principal mass of Christmas morning.  Our devoted choir was a sign that our parish was committed to God and was willing to sacrifice many hours of practice to help lift our hearts through music and song.

Perhaps Henry David Thoreau said it best. "When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest." Music not only reminds us how important our bodies and senses are in an incarnational spirituality, it helps us to express a love that is beyond words. 

Today, pray for all those music ministers who remind us with St Augustine that we pray twice when we sing. 

What kind of music transports you beyond yourself?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Presentation of Mary

"He noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins...this poor widow...has offered her whole livelihood." Lk: 21: 2-4

How could a woman without any means of support let go of the little she had to honor God? For us humans it seems impossible, but nothing is impossible for God. God's grace enabled the poor widow, who had lost everything of value to her, to cast her lot with the God who had always been faithful to her despite her struggles.

Too often we think of the the total abandonment of the widow as an exception, but we should not. The Gospel promises us that God is all powerful and will take care of us, if only we trust God in every circumstance.  This does not mean that we shouldn't be prudent with what we do have, but it does mean we should not cling so tightly to our possessions, our health, and our property that we strangle the grace of God that is meant to free us.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our mother, said yes to God despite the risk to her own reputation and today's feast encourages us to follow her example. Saying yes to life however it unfolds is the best evidence we can offer others that God is always within and among us.

Today, made a simple examination of conscience.  Are you clinging to someone or something that does belong to you?

What do you think of the widow who gives her last two coins to the temple?



Saturday, November 19, 2016

Christ the King

"Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent." Col 1:18

Although we can and often do turn away from God and the covenant God made with us in Jesus, God cannot and will not renege on his promise to be with and guide us always. Paul is clear about this. The Apostle to the Gentiles acknowledges that although the Jews were often disobedient, abandoned the law and worshiped false Gods, God was and remains merciful to them and us. Paul wants his Gentile listeners to know this and be comforted. The God who has come to us in Jesus is proof of this. The new and eternal covenant, Jesus is the incarnation of God's promise, a gift we can reject but which will never be withdrawn.

The challenge of God's promise is demanding. Made in God's image, the only way we can demonstrate to others and especially to our enemies that God's love lives in us is to love everyone no matter how often our love is rejected to ridiculed. If God is forever faithful so too must we be faithful. This is not to say we should or must allow ourselves to be abused. Rather, while we ought to withdraw quietly from any situation that allows another to strip us of our good name or reduce to an object of their wrath, we must stand ready to reconcile with our oppressors for the sake of the Gospel.

Today, enjoy God's everlasting love.

What must you let go of in order to love like God?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Is anyone listening?

"Teacher, you have answered well." Lk 20:40

Jesus always answers well, but sometimes his answers were dangerous. Never consumed with his own welfare, but unfailingly ready to protect and give voice to the poor and forgotten, Jesus speaks up despite the risk to his person and position. In many ways this is the reason for his suffering and death.

Imagine what the leaders of the Jewish community thought when Jesus held up a poor widow as an example of authentic generosity.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Mt 12: 41-44
Widows had no standing in the ancient world, and their lot was even worse if they had no sons. Ignored and forgotten by most, the woman about whom Jesus speaks remains faithful and generous, a fact that shamed the Jewish leaders and anyone else who reduced a person's value to property and wealth. Whenever we speak up on behalf of the voiceless, we follow Jesus.

Today, listen to someone who you usually ignore.

Who are the people in your neighborhood to whom no one listens?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hope

"All the people were hanging on his words." Lk 19:48

When we are in dark or difficult circumstances, we often look for almost anything or anyone to distract us. We watch too much television or waste time on the computer, hoping for some respite from the ache we feel inside. All of this is natural and understandable, but spiritually unhealthy.

The people portrayed as following Jesus in the gospels might also be falling into this trap. The text tells us they "hung" on this words, but does not tell us why they paid so much attention to the Lord. Surely, not all of them were seeking to enter the mystery of God's love more deeply, nor were they so impressed with his power and insight that they would follow him anywhere. Like people everywhere who have lost their jobs or cannot make sense our of their family's life, they look to Jesus for an escape.

Authentic hope is not rooted in the avoidance of the feelings that can torment us when we are in crisis, but in the letting go of our struggles so that we can know the Lord more deeply and trust in his wisdom more completely. God has promised to be with us in the dark as well as the light, and it is our response to Gods' commitment that can make all the difference.

Today, enter a dark corner of your life and look for God.

What do you do when your life is falling apart?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

St Elizabeth of Hungary

"You did not recognize the time of your visitation." Lk 19:44

St Elizabeth of Hungary was born into and married royalty. She had access to money and power, but when her husband died on his way to fight the sixth crusade, she decided to leave the palace and follow Conrad, her Franciscan spiritual director, to Marburg where she continued her life of compassion for those most in need.  Conrad wrote that Elizabeth "built a hospice where she gathered together the weak and the feeble. There she attended the most wretched and contemptible at her own table."(1)

People of faith like Elizabeth, especially the married and families, are the ground upon which the church builds communities of compassion for the poor and justice for all. After all, it was the faith and courage of our parents and grandparents, so many of whom were immigrants, who came to this country and built, hospitals, schools, orphanages, soup kitchens and shelters because they knew that faith demanded they respond to the struggles they saw all around them.

Though the structures might change, the demand of the gospel to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty will never change. St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who is the patroness of Catholic Charities, remains an icon who challenges our generation not only to pray for justice in our churches, but to live the gospel in our streets.

Today, pray in gratitude for those who give their lives to care for those who cannot help themselves.

How can you live Elizabeth's values in your life?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

All is Gift

"I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away." Lk 19:27

Faith, though a free gift from God, has responsibilities. We must give faith away and that means announcing the freedom that God bestows upon his people. When we fail to accept this Gospel mandate, we risk losing everything. Faith is not about making us more comfortable but about assuring us that because we have been saved, we need to spend God's gift by creating a more just world.

Unfortunately, Christians too often forget this message. Like children who take the gifts they receive at Christmas for granted, we forget that all of life is a gift, and rather than celebrate all that God does for us, we wallow in a shallow place that feels like happiness but that has no substance. We cling to things, people and places as if they belong us. Worse we sometimes use others for our own purposes rather than celebrate who they are before God.

Grateful people sometimes bubble over with thanks, but most of the time they are quiet. They listen more than they talk and encourage others to express themselves. By doing this, those to whom they listen become grateful themselves and their gratitude ripples out and washes all those around them. Grateful people cleanse the world by celebrating all that God is and does with and for his people.

Today, listen to someone who thinks poorly of  him or herself.

What keeps you from living a grateful life?


Monday, November 14, 2016

Vanity

"So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth."

Who of us is not vain? For some, it is their bodies or the color of their hair they worry about. For others, it is their insights or the sharpness of their minds. We think our memories of past events are accurate even when others have a different version, and it is vanity that makes us lukewarm. More interested in how we appear, we fail to hear God's call to surrender our lives to him without question and trust his guidance.

St Paul knows a lot about vanity, and it is not an offense to him to suggest that it is his own vanity that allows him to be so insightful. Paul warns others that God sees through our pretensions and loves us in spite of our silliness. Offering others the same love God gives us when their vanity shows is a good spiritual practice.

Today, check your vanity at the door of our heart.

In what areas do you catch yourself insisting on your own opinion?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

What do you want from God?

"What do you want me to do for you?" Lk 18:41

That Jesus asks a blind man what he wants is amazing.  It seems so obvious that the man wants to see, but Jesus asks anyway.  When the man says that he wants to see, Jesus heals him but at the same time reminds him that something even more important has happened.  The young man can see because he believed in Jesus' power.

The story, which first seems to be about a blind man recovering his sight, becomes a story about all of us.  When we place our trust in and hand over our lives to the Lord, we are saved.  The humility that allows us to let go of our fear and our pride and ask for help, makes it possible for the Lord to change our lives. Asking for help is difficult and can sometimes make us feel weak, but it is a necessary step in the spiritual life.

In our society, the desire and willingness to help others with compassion and understanding is strong. Most of us feel better about ourselves when we reach out to those in need. Accepting others help, however, is difficult for most, and causes us to wonder what we would say to Jesus if He asked what we wanted him to do for us.

Today, ask the Lord for the help you need to live the Gospel more fully.

Are you able to ask for help, even financial assistance, when you need it?

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Jesus' Wisdom

"I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking." Lk 21:15

Several years ago a friend insisted that wisdom is o.k. but he agreed with Sophie Tucker's famous maxim, "I've been rich and I've been poor. Rich is better." Humorous, but scary. Many, if not most people who identify as Christians, subscribe to sayings like this even when Oxfam reports that the 85 richest people in the world have more wealth than the 3.5 billion poorest. More important for Americans, Oxfam also tells us that in the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.

Imagine what these statistics would look like if Christians chose the wisdom of Jesus rather than wealth and power over others. Wise believers would seek a path to justice for all, a way to use the earth's resources to address the the ISIS crisis, the ongoing AIDS pandemic, and a world that attacks poverty instead of people. Why not dream? Jesus did and changed how we view the world and our place in it.

Today, pray for the wisdom to be the Christian God needs you to be.

What gift would you ask of God?

Friday, November 11, 2016

St Josaphat

"Pray always without becoming weary." Lk 18:1

In the 17th chapter of St. John's gospel, Jesus prays that his disciples may be one, but even a cursory glance at the history of the church reminds us that unity is not uniformity. There are 13 rites, many of which have multiple subdivisions. In the Roman Catholic Church each of these rites, "possess their own hierarchy, differ in liturgical and ecclesiastical discipline, and possess their own spiritual heritage." l In other words, while the liturgy, language, law and spirituality may differ markedly, the Christ who is their center is the same. It is this unity that St. Josapha worked so hard to attain.

Josaphat, working to heal the Great Schism (1054) between Eastern and Western churches, spent his entire life in pursuit of the unity for which Jesus prayed. At Vatican II, the Council fathers made it clear that Christian unity remained one of it's principal concerns.2 How very important then to listen to Jesus' command to pray always without becoming weary. No matter how painful and frustrating our divisions might be, we must continue to pray and work for Christian unity.

Today, quietly examine the issues that divide your family and/or your parish and ask God for a path of unity and peace.

What do you think are the marks of unity in the Church?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

St Martin of Tours

 "Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it," Lk 17:33

Two incidents in the life of St Martin of Tours, both recorded by his disciple and biographer, Sulpicius Severus, capture our attention. In the first, Martin meets an almost naked beggar outside the city of Amiens in present day France. Moved by the man's desperate need, Martin cuts his own cloak in half and gives it to the beggar. That night, in a dream, Martin sees Jesus dressed in the cloak he had given the beggar and hears Jesus say: "This is Martin, the unbaptized one, who has clad me." Sulpicius says that after the dream Martin "rushed to be baptized."

The second story is about Martin's "conscientious objection." Conscripted into the Roman army against his will at 15 , Martin was discharged 8 years later after refusing a bonus given to soldiers on the eve of battle. Severus quotes Martin's response to his commanding officer. "I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight."(1) Imprisoned for his refusal to take up arms, Martin offers to stand unarmed at the front of the troops as they ready themselves for battle, but when the two armies forged a peace, his gesture was never needed and Martin was discharged from the army. These stories were so compelling in the early church that Martin became and remains one of our church's most popular saints.

Today, let go of a worn out thought that troubles you.

What about saints makes them attractive to you?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

St Leo the Great

"I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me." Phil 4:13

St Leo the Great, better known to most as the Pope whose eloquence convinced Attila the Hun not to destroy Rome, must have had a big dose of the strength St. Paul talks about in today's his letter to the Phillipians. An authentic relationship with Christ can do this. When we enter the mystery of the Jesus as truly God and truly human, his power becomes ours and enables us to live in ways we could never imagine.

St Leo's faith was such that, while on a mission to Gaul, he was elected by the people to be bishop of Rome and Pope. It was everyday people who recognized in Leo the kind of faith they knew was necessary to direct the church at a very turbulent time. Leo not only effectively moved the church to recognize the importance of Rome as the seat of church authority, he did it peacefully, an effort that effectively won for him the title Great.

Today, ask God for the strength to live your baptismal vocation with peace and power.

What believers do you think of as Great?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

"Do this in memory of me." Lk 22:19

One of the most important words in the Catholic tradition is remember.  When we pause to remember the Dedication of a church, we do so, not first to admire the building, no matter how beautiful, but to offer a prayer of gratitude for all those who gathered there over the centuries. We remember the people who put brick upon brick; we remember the joy generations of people felt to be free enough to gather in faith for small and great feasts and, in the case of St. John Lateran, we remember that it is the parish of the Pope, the community to which the Holy Father belongs, the people given to him as pastor so that he might be renewed in his own faith.

Each day for many of us at the Eucharist, and at least once a week for all of us, we are called together to remember our baptism, that we are church. We gather for the celebration of the "breaking of the bread" with other believers as members of Christ's body knowing that when we are together in Christ, faith comes alive in a visual way. We gather to be re-membered, bonded to one another in hope. Some of us are hands, others feet, but all have a role and function in the living body of Christ and together we proclaim the Glory of God and the power of the Good News of Jesus Christ. That is what it means for us to be church.

Today, pray in gratitude for your parish community.

How do you understand the word "church?"


Monday, November 7, 2016

Entitlement

"When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'" Lk 17:10

Attitude is everything and nothing gets in the way of having an authentic Christian attitude more than a sense of entitlement. When we begin to think that we have earned everything we have, even if we have worked hard all our lives, we forget how blessed we have been.

I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood. People shared freely the little they had. Our parents did everything they could to send us to Catholic schools and colleges where we would have an opportunity for a better life. They did not expect much from us in return. They were happy to give us everything they had, but they did demand that we work hard, and that we be grateful, and never take for granted what came to us because of the generosity of others.

This is especially true of faith. Our attitude about faith, about what we can contribute to the building up of the body of Christ, about others who think differently than us must be one of gratitude. In fact, our faith reminds us continually that all is gift. Life is gift, creation is gift, friendship is gift, prayer is gift, and all are gifts to be given away. When Jesus sends the disciples out to proclaim good news he is clear: "Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give."(Mt 10:8)

Today, check your attitude and be grateful for your faith.

How do you avoid a sense of entitlement?

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Miracles

"If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you." Lk 17:6

As children this text was confusing and exciting. Was it possible to have so much faith that one could perform miracles, and if so what did you have to do to learn this skill? Of course, the passage is not about power and extraordinary signs and wonders, but gratitude.

When we are grateful for the faith we have and remember that it is an unearned gift, everything changes. We may not be able to perform miracles, but we realize more and more deeply that our life is a miracle, and that God is not a hovering presence waiting for us to make a mistake, but a loving father who wants us to be ourselves and to celebrate his love in our lives. Jesus is trying to help his listeners understand and appreciate that they are much stronger than they realize if only they live their faith on a daily basis.

Today, let go of a mountain you have been trying to conquer.

What have been the ordinary miracles in your life?

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Generosity

"May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word." 2 Thess 2:16

Years ago I remember a young mother of six exhorting her second youngest child to let his younger brother play with his toys. The little boy protested, but his mother only smiled and picked him up. If you let Jimmy play with whatever he wants, he will forget about it in a few minutes and you can have it back. Try to be patient and see what happens. The little boy took his mother's advice and learned a great lesson. If he did not cling to his own small possessions, he would be free, and soon enough he would learn that there were enough toys for him and his brother. Indeed, there is enough for all when we learn to let go.

When we allow our possessions, our power or our fear to possess us, it becomes impossible to hear Jesus or anyone else. We build walls and fences to protect what little we have and vow to defend it with our lives. It is clear that the leaders of the Jews saw Jesus as a threat who was stripping them of what little power they had and so plotted to trip him up, not because he was dishonoring God, but because he was threatening their security, and all this in the name of God!

Today, give something away to someone freely, and do not expect it to be returned.

Who is the most generous person you know? 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Divided Hearts

"No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other." Lk 16:13

Luke's Gospel demands that we ask ourselves: Who is my Master?  Reminding his listeners that many religious leaders have divided hearts, Luke insists that living the Gospel is about making choices which bind us to the good despite the cost. If Jesus' followers were too concerned with the traditional signs of God's love, if they were overly worried about money, property, family and health, they could not follow Jesus with full hearts.

These days we seem tempted to have not two but many, many masters. Whether it is money, our reputation or our influence upon or over others, there are multiple concerns that distract us from living the Good News with the power Jesus offers us as gift. Unless we learn to let go of that which divides our hearts, we will be running in four directions at once, not even knowing that we are lost. Taking time each day for reflection and quiet prayer not only alerts us to the competing voices within us, it can steady us on the Gospel path and be a compass that directs us into the heart of God.

Today, examine your conscience carefully about matters which divide your heart.

What fears most distract you from a full Gospel life?



Thursday, November 3, 2016

St Charles Borremeo

"For many, ...conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their 'shame.'” Phil 3:18,19

Named Archbishop of Milan when he was 25yrs old, Charles Borremeo was hugely influential at the Council of Trent. For many years he was a church careerist, working to assure himself and his family a comfortable life, but when his elder brother died during the Council, everything changed. Aware that life was short, Charles became an avid church reformer who lived a very simple personal life and gave most of his income to the poor. More important, he insisted that everyone named bishop in his provincial council be an example to the faithful of men committed to the gospel, and be well trained in Scripture for their ministries. In fact, the education of the clergy became so important to him that he started the seminary system which continues, even today, to train priests all over the world.

When Charle came to power, the church was still reeling from the Protestant Reformation. The clergy had been disgraced, and although here was little trust in the institutional church, Charles did not shrink from the work of reform. Surely the saint was asked to act more discreetly in the world, to remember the prominent family from which he came, and not to offend those who might be helpful in civil affairs. But Charles would have none of it. He was determined to move forward for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, and while some of his decisions strike modern hearers as unnecessarily harsh, Charles was afraid the church was about to collapse. He, like St Paul, had to act.

Today, pray for the ongoing reform of the church.

What do you think are the key issues inhibiting Church reform?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Leaving the Ninety Nine

"What is your opinion? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray?"

At first glance, it makes no sense to leave ninety nine sheep alone to search for the lost one, but Jesus is making an important and challenging point with his followers. The lost are important. The healthy, he says in another place, don't need a physician. The sick do. (Mk 2:17) Jesus wants us to let go of the security of wherever we are to look for those who have lost their way, and this is often a hard challenge.

Often in Christian terms we must be people who are both/and. We must so deeply know who we are that we are unafraid to let go of our security to seek those who forget or reject their own heritage and faith. Because we are rooted in the memory of Jesus we know that wherever we are, we are in Christ who is the source and summit of our lives, and can risk anything in order to proclaim the message of Jesus. The apostles knew this. So did the great saints. We can learn it a day at a time.

Today, open your spirit to the lost and do it without judging them.

Are there places, people and communities that you avoid?

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

All Souls

"They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace." Wis 3: 2-3

In one of the Prefaces to the Eucharistic prayer when celebrating mass for the deceased, we read: "Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven." These words always bring me great comfort. Realizing, even as I pray these words for others, that I have allowed myself to slip into sloppy thinking when I forget that life as we know it now, no matter how rich or satisfying, is temporary. This is not to say we should not enjoy life as it unfolds, but that it is important to remember that life on earth is fleeting. 

I often experience this simple truth when I think about and celebrate my Dad's life. If I happen to be driving to Newark Airport in New Jersey, I wave as I pass Sealand, the place where he worked for many years. A mail room worker, my dad traveled by public transportation most of his working life. Always grateful to have work, my father enjoyed his job and especially the people with whom he worked and the delight he felt touches me still. I know he is alive in Christ, and I believe I will see him again when my own life ends.

Today, "speak" with someone, now dead, who was especially important to you in life.

What do you think heaven will be like? 

Monday, October 31, 2016

All Saints

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven." Mt 5:2

What makes a saint? Some say the ability to get up after being knocked down. Others insist that humility and acceptance in the face of struggle is the mark of the great saints, and the church often speaks of heroic virtue as the defining characteristic of sainthood. But whatever criteria one uses, today we celebrate all those holy women and men, unknown to most but precious to God and the church, who listened to God's word, embraced it and let it change them.

The saints learned, often at a very young age, that pride, which so often insists that our way and our opinion is right, is the biggest obstacle to authentic transformation. Listening with an open and humble heart is the only way to real freedom. When we allow God to direct our lives for God's purposes. we open ourselves to experience the full sweetness of God's unconditional love and begin to know the delights of a simple Gospel life. The saints teach us a simple truth: only when we learn to live in gratitude for all that is will we know the depth of God's eternal embrace, and celebrate it everyday.

Today, ask God to make you a saint.

What do you think are the marks of sanctity?




Sunday, October 30, 2016

Getting to Know the Poor

"When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you." Lk  14:14

Luke's Gospel demands that we never forget who we are or where we came from. Addressed primarily to Gentiles seeking to know and believe in Jesus, Luke wanted his readers to know the fullness of the gospel, and though the message was not easy, it surely attracted those in the Gentile world who had little power, money or influence.

Luke's gospel, however, was not just for Gentiles. It's message helped all the powerless: the sick, women, the poor and cripples to believe that they were invited to the "banquet of God." No one, even the rich, would be excluded who committed him or herself to a Gospel life, but herein lies the problem. If we feel no need for anything or anyone because we can care physically for ourselves without the help of others, we tend to forget how dependent we are on one another and God for all our gifts.

Only when we regularly reflect on our mortality, and accept the limitations of life no matter how fortunate we might be, do we realize how blessed we are in God. More important, we realize that we must not exclude those less fortunate, but invite them to share intimately at our plentiful tables.

Today, remember who you are and ask for the gift of humility.

Who or what has taught you best about living a grateful life?