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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Compassion

"They have no wine." Jn 2:3

Today's gospel recounting the wedding feast at Cana lends itself easily to our own lives.  When Mary tells Jesus, "They have no wine," she could just as easily have said, "They have no coats, no food, no clean water, no hope." In the Jewish world that Jesus knew, the family of those being married had only one responsibility, to provide everyone with enough food and wine for a feast that might last several days. Not to offer their guests a simple table wine would have shamed the family and the newly married couple, and since the poor had only one real opportunity to celebrate in this manner, the shame would have followed them everywhere.

Mary knows this and points it out to Jesus who wonders why the failure of another family to prepare properly for a wedding is any of his business. He might have been feeling compassion for them but hesitates to interfere in a direct way and bring attention to himself. If he sent his disciples to buy wine, it might have embarrassed the couple more deeply. Clearly, another way of easing the tension in the situation was needed. When Jesus tells the stewards to fetch six stone water jars, no one could have known what he intended to do, and when the head waiter tasted the "new wine" he had no idea where it came from, but was amazed that this very fine wine had not been served earlier.  The party continued; no one was embarrassed or shamed, and the identity of Jesus begins to be revealed.

Today, do something for another anonymously.

Has a friend ever helped you avoid embarrassment or shame?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Take Nothing for Granted

“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Mk 2:17

Wellness, so often lauded even in religious circles, is not always a gospel virtue. If being well means one ignores or denies one's need for God and the church than it is not of God. To be grateful for one's health is good. To take it for granted and forget to praise God for the gift of life, gets us in trouble.

It is clear in Mark's gospel that Jesus continually challenges the Pharisees and Sadducees because of their arrogance. Condemning Jesus because he eats with tax collectors and sinners exposed the Jewish leaders as men more concerned with undermining Jesus' growing power than with calling sinners to conversion. More important, they refused to acknowledge their own need of help, making it impossible for them to benefit from the healing power of Jesus' word and touch.

Although we often act as if we are in charge of our own lives, nothing could be further from the truth. The great privilege of being alive demands that we live in gratitude for all that is. Life is a gift to be shared,  not a right to be taken for granted.

Today, praise God for life in its simplest form.

What daily gratitude practices do you have?


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Wonder and Awe

“We have never seen anything like this.” Mk 2:12

Seeing or learning something new is always exciting but also needs careful reflection. Just because something is new does not mean it is important or transforming. In fact, newness can be a dangerous illusion. Shiny and bright does mean deep and lasting.

There should be little doubt that the Jewish authorities were not worried about Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. False prophets and healers were a dime a dozen and it was rarely difficult to undermine the authority and power of popular healers by challenging them regarding their knowledge of and commitment to the Torah.

Jesus was different. Not only did he know the Law, he lived its spirit in challenging ways, and a reading of the New Testament demonstrates this convincingly. Jesus was not trying to undermine the authority of the Jewish leaders, but wanted them to reform their lives, put aside their fear of the Roman authorities, and see in him God's presence and power. Only when the Jewish leaders refused to acknowledge their own sins did Jesus condemn them and call them "whitened sepulchers." (Mt 23:27)

Today, let yourself be amazed at the healing power of the Lord.

Does the Gospel continue you challenge you to transformation?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Listening to those in Need

"Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and said to him, 'I do will it. Be made clean.'”

Paying attention to others, especially when they speak, is a simple act of courtesy that every person deserves, especially children and the elderly, and Jesus seems always ready to listen to those most in need. Unfortunately, for any number of reasons, we often fail in this regard. We are busy, distracted, and anxious or have a cluttered mind or schedule. Unfortunately, because children and the aging have less to distract them, they notice when we are not listening, and while they may not say anything, they are often hurt and confused by our failure to be fully present to them.

The Venerable Solanus Casey, a Capuchin friar who died more than 60 years ago, and whose cause for sainthood has already begun, was best known for his ability to listen to others with compassion. Each day at the Capuchin friary in Detroit, Michigan, people would line up for an opportunity to speak with him. Some wanted him to intercede with God to cure them. Others wanted prayers for a job. Most simply wanted to be with him for he was said to have a calming effect on people. As is often said about the people who go to Lourdes, they might not all be cured, but all of them are healed.  Solanus Casey healed people by listening with openness of spirit and compassion to all those who came to the friary, and his gentle listening reminded people that God listens, too, and will never abandon us.

Today, listen to the first person you meet with compassion.

Has anyone ever "healed" you simply by listening? 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Keeping Our Focus

"Everyone is looking for you." Mk 1:37

It is clear in Mark's gospel that Jesus was becoming so popular that he was bound to be challenged by the leaders of Rome and Palestine. Gathering large numbers of disciples was a threat both to civil and religious authorities that could not be ignored. The Roman leaders and Jewish hierarchy had found a way to coexist, and they resisted any attempt to upset the balance of power they had crafted. Though it was clear that the Jews had little real freedom, at least they controlled the temple and were free to celebrate their traditions.

When Jesus started to attract large numbers of followers he could have negotiated his own terms with the Romans and Jews, but he wanted none of it. Because he knew that his message was not political in a narrow sense, he sought deserted places to pray, regroup and commune with God, but the crowds would not leave him alone. Though he was not trying to gather people to himself, his power to heal and the strength of his presence were so influential that the civil and religious leaders had to stop him.

Is our faith and its practice ever agitating for others? Does the way we live challenge people to reorient their lives and lifestyles? When we remember that the gift of faith is not simply a personal treasure given to us for our own salvation but for the world to know the saving love of God, we can be sure that it will upset some. Nonetheless, God demands that we live a transparent and simple faith despite its consequences. Jesus modeled this and we have always to learn it.

Today, pray to be bold about your faith.

Whose practice of faith most agitated you? Did it help in the long run?



Monday, January 11, 2016

Modern Day Demons

"In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit." Mk 1:23

No family is without its struggles and demons. Some live as best they can with addiction. Others wrestle with mental illness and abuse, and are forced, like the family of the man with the unclean spirit to beg for Jesus' help. Staying calm and peaceful in situations like this can feel impossible and overwhelming, but when we summon the faith to let go and hand ourselves over to the Lord for direction and healing, we will find the courage to accept the things we cannot change and seek the wisdom of God to know what is possible.

Jesus can be our healer, but we have to allow him to help us. When we wrestle with our own demons and shame without asking for help we are like people trying to hold back the tide. Getting some emotional distance from those we seek to help is sometimes our best strategy and gives us the distance to discern how to take the next best step for healing.

Today, pray for someone seeking to recover from addiction.

How do you handle the demons in your heart and family?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Fishers of Men and Women

“'Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.' Then they left their nets and followed him." Mk 1:17

Reading about the call of the disciples, it is natural to wonder if Jesus knew any of the men before inviting them to follow him. Did he notice something in them that would help announce the great salvific message of his Father? Did he know their families? Did he call them because he noticed them listening intently to him when he preached.

We know none of the answers to these questions, but we do know that the apostles followed him immediately, and this knowledge is startling. What made Jesus' fist disciples leave everything so readily and quickly? They had families and reasonably good jobs, but something in Jesus made them look past what they had to the one calling them, and they could not resist. The readiness of the apostles to follow Jesus without questions is major focus of the story for us.

We have any number of reasons to hesitate when hearing the call of the Gospel. Discipleship, especially in the so called developed world, does not pay very well, nor does it promise fame or power, but resisting it can be difficult if not impossible for those who are honestly looking for a way of life that respects, even honors, all people.

The simplicity of the Gospel has not changed. Neither has its difficulty. Our task is to live its message of hope, transformation and submission to God with integrity and honesty. Admitting our dependence on God and being willing to serve others in his name remains a powerful invitation to anyone looking for a God who will never stop loving and challenging them.

Today, listen for the voice of the Lord in your life and follow it unreservedly.

Have you ever followed someone immediately without really knowing much about them?