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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Being Honest

"Love is patient, love is kind." 1 Cor 13:4

Often when a liturgical scriptural reading is from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians our spirits drift to the passage we have heard so many times at weddings. Love is patient, kind, does not hold grudges, and we affirm what we hear, but it hardly reflects the the fullness of what Paul wants to say to the Corinthians. 

In fact, Paul castigates the Corinthians for many of the their practices, the worst of which was the failure of the more affluent Corinthians to share their pre Eucharist meal with the poorer members of their community. Paul is scandalized by their behavior and lets them know it.

It can be difficult for adults to hear or accept correction, even when we need it. Americans can be especially resistive to anyone suggesting that their lives are less than exemplary, but all of us need to reflect upon our behavior. At times we can attack the messenger, a reaction that is both a disservice to someone trying to help us, and decidedly unchristian.

Today, ask someone to help you reflect on your unexamined reactions that injure others.

Can you remember a time that a friend challenged you to change and helped you?

Friday, January 29, 2016

Poverty and Faith

"A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, 'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?' He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Quiet! Be still!' The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, 'Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?'” Mk 4: 37-40

Though we know that sudden squalls were common on the Sea of Galilee, this passage, like so many others, is not simply about a storm at sea. Jesus knew that all kinds of violence would visit his disciples and he wanted them to be ready for them. He and his followers would be laughed at, ridiculed and threatened. Would his disciples run away from the struggle and from him? Would they posture about being unafraid and try to convince the Lord and themselves that they would follow him everywhere?

Little has changed for Christians, especially for those who want to grow in discipleship. There are innumerable reasons to turn  away from a life of faith and especially from the Catholic church. As Pope Francis has reminded us recently, we have sometimes been so focused on a few key issues, especially about sex and sexuality, that we can lose sight of the larger Gospel picture that Jesus paints, and when this happens we open ourselves to hurtful and challenging criticism. Tempted at times like this to seek a different path, we need to pray not to forget all that people of faith and our church does and promotes.

As we near the end of January we ought to remember that January is Poverty Awareness Month, a time to remember that 46 million Americans live in poverty and that 1.6 million children spent time in a shelter or emergency housing last year. In response to these devastating numbers, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, working with local communities and the poor themselves, has sponsored more than 8000 community based projects over the past forty years that are designed to chip away at the awful specter of poverty in the United States. In truth, there are many more reasons to be proud of our faith tradition than to turn away from it.

Today, face the squalls in your life head on and work together with others for the common good.

Why do you stay in the Catholic church?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Mystery of Faith

“To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants." Mk 4: 31-32

Faith is a strange and wonderful gift. While many of us spend our lives teaching about it, faith's mystery always remains. Faith can never be quantified or measured, only treasured. In his classic work, The Mind’s Journey to God, the Seraphic Doctor, St Bonaventure insists that while it is possible to uncover the “traces” of God’s work in creation using observation, logic, and reflection, eventually we must submit ourselves to the mercy of God who leads us beyond logic into the heart of the mystery itself.

How important it is to remember that only when we let go of our own powers of reason can God open us to the wonders of the gift that God gives freely, completely and gratuitously. Like a mustard seed, which takes root and grows in God's time, faith challenges us to trust that even when we do not feel its power, it is will blossom and bear fruit in ways that honor the God who gives it freely and generously.

Today, let faith grow in you like a mustard seed.

Have you ever been surprised by the power of your faith?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

St Thomas Aquinas

"King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, 'Who am I, Lord GOD, and who are the members of my house, that you have brought me to this point?'"

No theologian in the history of the Christian west has been more influential in shaping theological thought than Thomas Aquinas. A prolific writer whose works include the Summa Theologica, his thought also helped Christians probe the wisdom of the Greek philosophers, especially Aristotle, as a path to new insights about the Gospels.

Thomas' use of Aristotle as a lens to understand revelation more deeply was no small matter at his time. While the Greek philosophers were admired, they were also suspect. Anything that might distract believers from God's word was regarded warily, but Thomas pushed on despite the opposition of some.

There is a wonderful lesson in Thomas' life for all of us. As the 21st century unfolds we need to find new and probing ways of helping the Gospel live in this age, and while the wisdom of the past will always be an aid in this regard, it must be supplemented by tools contemporary believers recognize and use. How the Internet and other social media will open up paths to a new Evangelization is still to be seen, but surely needed.

Today, be wise. Say nothing. Just listen.

What thinker or social media has helped you enter the Gospel message more deeply?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Marginal God

"I have not dwelt in a house from the day on which I led the children of Israel out of Egypt to the present, but I have been going about in a tent under cloth." 2 Sam 7:5

The bible is filled with God's revelations, but we too often fail to listen. When David finally stopped to think about his relationship with God, he realized that because he had been so absorbed with reestablishing God's reign among the Jewish people, he had forgotten God's home among the people. Wanting to correct his failure, he soon learned that the God for whom he wanted to build a home, was not the God of revelation. 

God could be found, David learned, but not where he expected. God tells the prophet Nathan to remind David that he has always been a nomadic God, a God of the margins, a God of the poor. Though he seemed to be stable among the Jews in Egypt, God knew his chosen ones were enslaved, and led them out of bondage into the desert where he wandered with them for forty years. Homeless, God, the Good Shepherd, tends his flock wherever they go and like his people, lives in a tent. It is clear that if we want to find God, we must look among the refugees, the sick, the homeless and he broken. More difficult still, we must accompany them wherever they go despite the cost.

Pope St John Paul II knew this truth about God and from the first moments of his papacy left the Vatican to visit and accompany the poor all over the world. Pope Francis, affirming John Paul's insight despite his age, is doing the same, but because of the need to provide him as a head of state with security, we can miss the point. Traveling on his own plane with dozens of companions and the press, we forget that Francis wants us to see him as a nomadic Pope reaching out for the forgotten, trying to remind us of the God who is always among us no matter how lost we feel.

Today, look for God in the darkest places of your own heart.

Have you ever found God among the broken and despised?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Sts Timothy and Titus

"I yearn to see you again, recalling your tears, so that I may be filled with joy." 2 Tim 1:4

St Paul's affection and love for Timothy is one of the few instances in the New Testament that allow us to experience the passion present in the first disciples. Paul reminds Timothy of    his roots. Timothy's mother and grandmother were filled with faith and Paul cites their commitment in urging Timothy to live the spirit of the Gospel in a similar way.

Seeing old friends, especially those who strive to live an integrated faith, is always a joy. While many have abandoned the practice of the faith, many more have deepened their commitment by daily prayer, reading and reflection. Some have joined religious book groups; others have entered renewal programs and scripture courses. Some have even become spiritual directors for others.

Joy is an important virtue. Nothing is more able to reflect the delight and gratitude that comes to us in faith. When people encounter believers whose joy is transparent and authentic, they cannot not be impressed and attracted to the One who gives us joy and proclaims through us the  freedom of the sons and daughters of God.

Today, seek out an old friend and share your faith and joy.

Who or what brings you joy and hope?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Conversion of St Pau

“On that journey as I drew near to Damascus,about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I replied, ‘Who are you, sir?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.’" Acts 22:6-8

Most conversions are not as dramatic as St Paul's, but almost all of us have Epiphany moments, times when the light goes on and we see clearly how God has been active in our lives, and most of these events come when we least expect them. At the same time, it is important not to focus too much on any single event or moment in our lives. Conversion moments are intended to give us a direction, not get us stuck waiting for more insight and consolation.

Most important, we need to remember that conversion is a life long process which will have its dark and light moments, and that God is in the middle of them all. For St Paul, the terrible memories of persecuting Christians, or people of the Way as he called them, never left him, but shaped his entire life. Knowing how violent and committed he could be to eradicating what he perceived to be error, helped him use the same energies for good. Though painful, St Paul's memories served as a constant reminder to change his life for the sake of  God's people and the Gospel.

It is important to take time regularly to reflect on our own conversion story. Asking ourselves how God has entered and redirected our lives, though distressing at times, also helps us remember that God is always near, always involved and always wanting us to move more deeply into the mystery of God's love. When we do this with others, moreover, we build a community of faith that strengthens all who are willing to share and grow with others towards the heart of God.

Today, take a moment to pray in gratitude for your own conversion moments.

What about your own conversion continues to guide your faith journey?