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Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Baptism of the Lord

"A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench." Is 42:3

The images of John the Baptist that emerge in the gospels can sometimes be off putting. Like many prophets before him, John is direct and uncompromising, making him difficult to listen to, but this is not the case when John speaks of Jesus. John's humility about his own role and his assurance that Jesus is the Messiah lifts us up and sends us forth in hope.

Jesus, Isaiah and John remind us, has not come into the world to destroy it, but to assure all those listening, especially the poor, that his task is to heal the bruised reed and keep alive the flame of faith, but only if we accept his word and allow his power to transform us.

As Jesus begins his public ministry by having John baptize him, it is clear that he will risk anything so that his message from his Father will be clear and transparent. Jesus is among us to announce Good News, but his message will be difficult for those who want to cling to power, wealth and worldly prestige. Jesus wants to set us free from the domination of all systems that fail to create a just world. This message will be his downfall and our salvation.

Today, put aside your fears of being broken and weak. Our God heals.

Is it time to begin again your own ministry of service and freedom?


Friday, January 8, 2016

Jesus Must Increase

"He must increase, I must decrease." Jn 3:30

What was it that John saw in Jesus?  Most of us have been in the presence of people with political or religious power. We know what that feels like, but Jesus was an itinerant preacher and minor prophet. Surely, John was talking about something more than the power we invest in hierarchies when he said of Jesus, "He must increase, I must decrease." Whether it was a simple matter that Jesus had no sin to confess when he came to John for baptism, or the confidence with which Jesus carried himself, we do not know but we do know John saw something and so must we.

In order to see, we must look long and hard at ourselves, others and the world. This takes practice and discernment. We cannot expect to see what it is that God is doing within and among us unless we take time to gaze upon God and God's works everyday. Some call this prayer or contemplation but naming is not as important as doing it. Finding time in our busy schedules to stop, listen, and allow the Spirit of God to guide us is essential to anyone who wants to live the Gospel, not just know about it.

Jesus often left his disciples, even for entire nights, to commune with his Father in prayer, and in this he offers an example. Because we can easily get so close to someone or something that we see them as if through a microscope, we need to step away and let God guide our eyes and hearts. In this way, perhaps we can see the Spirit like Jesus did.

Today, slow down and let the Lord look at you as you are.

What most keeps you from developing a daily prayer life?


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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Asking for Help

"Lord, if you wish you can make me clean." Lk 5:12

From time to time, all of us have to ask for help, even from those we don't like or admire. The man "full of leprosy" (Lk 5:12) asks Jesus to be made clean and as soon as he does, his life changes. Though Jesus does not want the leper to tell anyone who healed him, the crowds following Jesus spread the news about the leper's cleansing and soon everyone knows.

There is a simple lesson in this text for us. Though we may be reluctant to ask God for help, thinking our faith is not strong enough, we should not hesitate. We should always ask to be healed, and trust that healing comes in many forms. Sometimes God's healing allows us to accept the burden of a dark period in our lives, and while that might not be what we were praying for, it does allow us to move forward in faith .

When we trust God in this way everything changes. We obsess less about wanting to live on our own terms, and seek companions who will walk with us no matter what we are carrying. More important, allowing others to help us may lead to their healing. Sometimes when we ask people for help, they finally see themselves as worthwhile and their spirit opens to God in ways they thought could never again happen.

Today, ask God for healing and wait.

Have their been instances in your life when asking for help changed how you viewed the burdens you carry?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Loving God and Neighbor

"If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." 1 Jn 4:20

The Gospel has always been clear. While believers are called to follow Jesus and enter deeply into the mystery of God's love, following Jesus without loving our brothers and sisters is empty. Only the full response to all in love is sufficient, and while we all fail at this command as often as we succeed, our success is not the goal. Rather, our willingness to step beyond our small circle of friends and to love everyone as brothers and sisters in Christ is the true test of our faith.

The saints never doubted this. Although many of them had harsh tempers, they knew that their faults needed to be addressed. They did not try to defend their poor behavior but asked God for the faith to see all people with new eyes. St Jerome, to whom we owe the first translation into the Latin Vulgate, a feat that made the scriptures available to everyday people, was notorious for his temper. At the same time, especially after his vitriolic and judgmental pen got him into trouble, he write about his great remorse, and it was his sorrow and repentance that earned him the title saint.

Like St Jerome, we are all called to acknowledge our sins and return to the full love of God and neighbor. Our willingness to admit our wrongs is the first step in drawing closer to God. Being open to seeing others as God sees the, and to search for the good in each person is the best antidote to a critical and judgmental nature.

Today, revisit a person for whom you have little respect and ask to see him or her with God's eyes.

What faults in others are the most difficult for you to see?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Trusting God in Hard Times

"He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were completely astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened." Mk 6: 51-52

The world often gets very small when we are struggling. Danger also makes the world small. When the disciples found themselves struggling to row against the wind in the middle of the night, they did not recognize Jesus coming to them across the sea. Consumed by their fear, that had forgotten the miracle of the loaves and fish which they had just witnessed. Clearly hoping that Jesus show of power was a sign that he would soon lead them into Jerusalem and rid their holy city of the Romans, they failed to understand his message. In fact, the text suggests, their "hearts were hardened."

How often when we are stressed we forget that Jesus is always with us. 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, when life gets dark, we fall into old patterns of self reliance and howl against the night when all we need to do is stop, rest and let the night play itself out.

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?

Monday, January 4, 2016

St John Neumann

"If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?" 1 Jn 3:17

St John Neumann knew well the truth of John's first letter. Because he saw so many in need, he did everything he could to respond, including learning Spanish, Italian, French and Dutch. A a missionary to the United States, he became a kind of itinerant pastor, and although his ministry was rich and diverse, he needed community support so joined the Redemptorists.

Named bishop of Philadelphia at 41, the young Redemptorist, anxious to respond to the needy and unlearned, approached the teaching brothers and sisters in the area and invited them to serve with him in the schools of Philadelphia. Determined to give immigrant children especially a chance at a better life, John immediately began to build Catholic schools. In less than a decade Philadelphia, while had only two Catholic schools when he arrived,  had more than one hundred.

Success stories like John's continue to lift us up with hope. When people of faith work together for the good of all, everyone benefits. When John was named bishop, it was clear that Catholic schools could change the face and public voice of Catholics in the United States. The parochial school system that John began to build provided Catholics not only with a good education, it prepared them to make a difference in society, and taught them how a deep faith life could impact their neighborhoods and cities for the good of all.

Now it is our chance. How can we best advance the gospel in the 21st century? Are schools still the answer? Are hospitals? What will the new evangelization look like?

Today, pray to know how best to announce the Good News with your lives.

What aspect of church life has been most important in your faith life?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

St Elizabeth Ann Seton

"We have found the Messiah." Jn 1:41

Elizabeth Ann Seton had any number of firsts in her life. She founded the first American congregation of religious sisters in the United States, opened the first parish school and the first Catholic orphanage, but none of these is her greatest triumph. Despite being widowed at 30 with five young children, she decided to become a Catholic despite strong opposition from her staunch Episcopal family.

Elizabeth's courage at a time in her life that begged her to be careful and conservative remind us that when we depend totally on God wonderful things can happen. Not only are we able to make difficult decisions, we do so with conviction and serenity. When God is on our side, and God always is, no obstacle is too big to overcome.

In the United States women have always been the foundation stones of our parishes. They teach religious education, serve on every committee and week after week faithfully celebrate the Eucharist with devotion and passion. In all of this they have a wonderful model in Elizabeth Ann Seton. Not deterred by being ignored, dismissed or rejected, women know, like Elizabeth Ann, that God is their center and their guide. Nothing else matters.

Today, listen to a woman of faith.

What woman of faith do you most admire?