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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Living in Hope

“'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.'” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, 'Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'”

Hope is an essential quality for Christians. Because we know, although we do not always feel it, that God is near, our faith calls us to be full of hope. Assured by Jesus that he has come to fulfill God's dream for his people and that he will always accompany his people through his Spirit, we live surrounded by God's promise.

A priest friend of mine insisted that every difficulty we face in life is at the same time an opportunity, and he lived his conviction. Bill had the ability to see every glass as half full. Although a priest in a place where he could have lived a comfortable life, he was deeply involved in Haiti, a country that has been struggling forever, but Bill never focused on the poverty of the people, but on their faith. He also had no doubt that the struggles of the church in the 21st century were simply a prelude to a powerful renewal that the Holy Spirit was engineering.

People like Bill challenge us to believe and hope, no matter how difficult the circumstances of our life. Taking the natural gifts of a positive personality, he wove them into his faith life. As a pastor he not only gently accompanied the poor, he encouraged people of means to share their bounty with others. Bill's witness was contagious, and whenever I find myself moving into a dark place, I think of him and remember to hope in the God who lives within and among us as a ground upon which to stand and dream.

Today, speak hopefully to someone struggling in life.

What helps you to keep hope alive when you face difficult problems?



Friday, January 22, 2016

David's Prayer

"David said, 'What has happened? Tell me.' He replied, 'The people fled from the battle, and many of them have fallen and are dead. Saul and his son Jonathan are dead too.'" 2 Sam 1:4

Occasionally, I meet someone who tells me they never pray for themselves, and I am stunned. Praying for oneself is natural and necessary. Surely, David, in his grief at the death of his friend Jonathan, prayed for himself. I can hear him say: Help me, O God, to accept your will and to live in your presence. Keep me focused on your desire for the world, not on my own grief, and show me the path you would have me walk.

Anne Dillard's little book on prayer, Help, Thanks, Wow is a delightful exploration of this kind of prayer. Dillard demonstrates that the universal cry for help is natural and ought to lead to prayer. When we are lost, terrified of tomorrow and confused about how to be present to others, the simple prayer, Help! is a very honest way to tell God that we need direction. Moreover, when we remember to say thank you to God for always being there, our prayer is complete.

Today, respond to someone else's request for help, even if you don't have time.

Why is it sometimes difficult for you to ask for help?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Protecting Children

"The old proverb says, ‘From the wicked comes forth wickedness.’ So I will take no action against you." 1 Sam 24:14

Everyone agrees that we have to protect children. The sexual abuse crisis in our country and church made that very clear, and this is where we ought to begin any conversation about abortion.

When we are able to begin a conversation with a common goal, we almost always make progress. The problem of when life begins, to which everything gets reduced, should not be our starting point in any discussion about abortion.

It is clear that the Catholic church believes unequivocally that human life begins at conception, but this conviction should not stop us from finding common ground with our neighbors about the protection of children. When we are able to build relationships with those with whom we disagree, our conversations are always more straightforward and honest. More important, the likelihood that we actually listen to the position of others and they ours increases exponentially. When we listen, common solutions emerge much more organically.

Hebrews reminds us not to become sluggish in proclaiming our faith, and when we announce good news with power, passion and joy it is easier for others to hear us and even consider our ethical positions. Rather than enter a shouting match with those with whom we disagree, let our joy be the foundation of every interchange, no matter how difficult.

Today, pray for unborn children.

How do you avoid a sluggish faith?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

St Agnes

"He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd." Mk 3:9

Being ready for whatever comes each day is everyone's goal, but often difficult to do. When we are busy with a matter that demands our full attention, it can be irritating to be interrupted, especially when we determine that our time is precious.  This is not the way of Jesus!

Today's scripture suggests that the apostles and disciples should expect to be interrupted. More, they should be ready to respond. The posture of servant demands that Jesus' followers think more about the poor and lowly who are looking to Jesus for nourishment than their own needs or plans.

A stance so simple should not be confusing or awkward for the disciples, but it is. Too often the disciples forget who they are and why Jesus came. Sound familiar? The lesson today is straightforward. Get ready to welcome anyone who comes seeking faith. Nothing is more important than the discipleship to which we have been called. Stay alert to the seekers all around you. They need the fullness of the Gospel.

Today, make the way of the Lord less cluttered for others.

Who helped you when you were lost and in need?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

David and Goliath

"David put his hand into the bag and took out a stone, hurled it with the sling, and struck the Philistine on the forehead." 1 Sam 17:41

Jealousy is among the most destructive of emotions. Often rooted in our unhealthy need to think of ourselves as better than others, jealousy destroys relationships and can lead to a kind of violence that is both random and overwhelming. When one group, tribe or race in any society has infinitely more opportunities and resources than another, violence is almost inevitable.

Saul's jealousy of David emerges from a seemingly innocuous event. The women of Israel, celebrating David's victory over Goliath, hail David for slaying tens of thousands of their enemies, and although they honor Saul their song only mentions that he killed thousands. Saul is so jealous that he begins to plan David's murder but is undermined by his own son Jonathan, who warns David about his father's intentions.

Jealousy emanates from comparisons between and among us, which always diminish one or more people. Saying someone is stronger than another person or more intelligent, while strengthening one person, slights the other and encourages unhealthy competition. Jesus and the great saints made it a point to celebrate whatever strength a person had. Rather than compare one to the other, they lifted up the gifts God gave each person to build up the body of Christ. We can all avoid the sin of jealousy by doing the same.

Today, pray for the grace to see the gifts each person has.

What situations tempt you to be jealous of others?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Purity of Heart

"As Jesus was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain." Mk 2:23

When we feel cornered, we will do almost anything to defend ourselves. It is always easier to attack then defend a weak position. There seems little doubt that those accusing Jesus’ disciples of breaking the Sabbath were really trying to undermine the Lord’s authority.

The Pharisees must have known that David had demanded that his troops be fed even with the bread consecrated for temple use. David knew his men were “pure”, that they had avoided sexual relations, and were therefore worthy of eating the consecrated bread. He reminds the priests that he always demanded purity of his troops when they were on an expedition for the nation. 

In like manner, Jesus is challenging the Pharisees to find some “impurity” in his disciples. After all, the disciples had left everything to follow him and were told often that they should take nothing for their journey except the truth of Jesus’ message so that no one could question their motives. If they were “pure” in their desire to announce God’s Good News even if it meant their persecution, why would the Pharisees accuse of them of breaking the Sabbath?

Today, pray for “purity” of heart in being a disciple.

What are your greatest challenges to living the Gospel simply and transparently?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Seeing with New Eyes

"No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse." Mk 2:21

In the Hebrew bible a garment signified covering a person's sinful condition. Jesus was challenging his fellow Jews to put aside their old garments which were fraying and welcome the new. Jesus was the new garment of salvation, the new hope, the Messiah. Unfortunately, some see this passage as suggesting that the Old Law no longer had any value, while in fact Jesus always presented himself as an observant Jew who valued the Torah but came to announce a totally new interpretation of the Law.

It is always difficult to recognize and accept the need for change, especially if the status quo has been good to you. A labor union member never wants to give back hard won advances. A politician resists compromising on key issues and grocery stores do not want to lower their prices except to encourage people to buy what they don't need. However, sometimes substantive change is necessary for the good of the entire community. Jesus came to correct Jewish leaders especially and challenge them to step back from their policies and interpretation in order to take a new look at God's dream for the world. When they could not do this, Jesus condemned them.

Letting children grow up and discern how best they can live the values so important to their family is essential if we hope the next generation will internalize what they have learned. If we only do what we have been taught because questioning might lead to rancor and hurt feelings, we will never be able to take the next step in life and faith. We need to encourage one another to live adult Gospel lives. Asking hard questions, being open to necessary change and risking new ways of making the Good News known will serve God and the faith community well in the long run.

Today, take a step back from your faith practices in order not to miss the forest for the trees.

What do you think of Pope Francis as he asks Catholics to reimagine their faith?