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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Fig Trees

"For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?'

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.

Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk committed to the silence of the Cistercian life, insisted that anyone who sought entry into the monastery to escape the world did not have a vocation. Even, perhaps especially, monks dedicated to silence must bear fruit by being attentive to all believers in order to bring the concerns of God's people before God in prayer.

Today,  reach out for someone lost.

What keeps you from producing fruit for all to eat?

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Forgiving Father

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”  Lk 15:17-18

The story of the prodigal son or the forgiving father is one of the most remarkable in all of scripture. In order to demonstrate God's desire to forgive us, Luke's Jesus suggests that even if someone returns to God for less than pure motives, God will welcome her. More, God embraces and empowers anyone who seeks reconciliation.

When faced with this same kind of situation, most of us would try to discern the motives of the person seeking reconciliation, but God, the Forgiving Father, does not. Satisfied that his son or daughter is home, God reaches out and celebrates, apparently believing the power of his graciousness will convince his son or daughter that he must change his or her life.

We often spend too much time trying to figure life out when we would be better off entering its mystery and discerning more carefully what few issues deserve our response. Otherwise, we will waste our lives in fruitless obsession when we ought to be doing good. The Forgiving Father teaches us always to be looking for the good in the world, not bemoaning our losses.

Today, forgive someone unconditionally.

Is there anything that troubles you about the Forgiving Father?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Expectations

"The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Mt 21:32

Whenever we fail to look at stones and people with the eyes of God, we fall into the trap of rejecting them because they don't fit our notion of perfection or beauty. What a shame and what a loss. Not only do we demean and objectify things and people who are "different," we expose ourselves as prejudiced and small minded.

We have no real idea what Jesus looked like, but we do know that he has been portrayed as a member of every race, ethnic group and culture, and while some may want to insist that he should always be a middle eastern Jew, the vast majority of  believers realize that Jesus is beyond any one culture or background.  In other words, we need to find the Christ everywhere and in every person, especially the poor.

This is not to say that difference doesn't matter. When we move outside our comfort zone culturally and socially there is always a level of disorientation, and while this is disconcerting we need to work our way through it in order to see and meet people where they are. Simply put, while inculturation is painful, when it is embraced it becomes a gift that opens us to a God who is beyond every culture.

Today, acknowledge your discomfort with difference.

Have you had a cross cultural experience that benefited you and helped shape your faith?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Lazarus and the Rich Man

“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day." Lk 16:19

Purple is not only the liturgical color of Lent, it is also the color of royalty. The evangelist tell us that though the rich man, like the priests, dresses in purple and fine linen, he has no name. Is Jesus using code language to challenge his antagonists? We do not know, but it is even more interesting that the poor man, who the rich man never even notices, has a name, an identity and becomes the key figure in the parable.

When social standing, wealth and power lead to blindness of spirit, they become impediments to knowing and loving God, and must be avoided or rejected. That the rich man has no name suggests that his wealth has not given him an identity worth remembering. Only those, rich and poor alike, who see with the eyes of God and respond in justice to the poor deserve to be remembered, named and imitated. Lazarus, though poor, has a name and his story challenges us to believe that every person, no matter how poor, has a dignity and importance in the reign of God. This is a great obstacle to many.

Lazarus reminds people of every generation, social class, race and culture that it is not our accomplishments or wealth that lead us to God, but our humility and love of all creation which save us. Jesus expresses this bluntly. "It’s terribly hard for rich people to get into the kingdom of heaven! In fact, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God’s kingdom." (Mt 19 23-24) When wealth blinds us to God's will and others' need, we are from the reign of God. Only a change of heart can help us.

Today, pray for anyone you may have dismissed because of their weakness, race or poverty.

How do you understand Jesus when he says that it is terribly hard for rich people to get into heaven?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Gospel Service

"Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mt 20:28

When the mother of James and John asked Jesus to put her two sons as authority figures on his right and left, she is only doing what seemed natural. Wanting her sons to succeed, to move up in the world and to be a part of Jesus' entourage, she reminds us of the father of St. Francis who so wanted his son to succeed that he outfitted him in the finest clothes in order to give him every opportunity to impress others and grow wealthy and powerful.

That the mother of James and John and the father of St. Francis get it all wrong should not surprise us since we have all misunderstood the Gospel from time to time. Their only concern and ours ought to be to listen more deeply to the Lord and change our ways.

Service of others is the hallmark of the Gospel, not wealth nor power over others, and authentic Gospel service means trying to make ourselves prayerfully and unconditionally available to God in order to build God's reign not our comfort or influence.

Today, ask God to know how to serve others with dignity and charity.

What are your biggest blocks to serving others freely?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Untying the Burdens of Others

“The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen." Mt 23: 1-3

Every time Jesus becomes direct with his antagonists, especially the Pharisees and scribes,  he makes me uncomfortable. A priest now for almost 47 years, it is my obligation to preach God's word without gloss, to announce the Good News simply and plainly, but this is never easy.

When any of us, committed to Jesus' message to feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, and clothe the naked, fails to do anything in this regard, we run the risk of being labelled Pharisees. Furthermore, it is not enough to give an occasional or even a large donation to a charity that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked or visits the sick. We must get our hands dirty.

Years ago I heard the story of a mother who told her troubled son that they only way he would get out of his own way and heal would be to do something for others. She encouraged him to work in a soup kitchen, or a community closet in order to get close to those in terrible need, and her advice worked. Experiencing the gratitude of those who no longer could help themselves, the young man began to realize how "rich" he was. Soon after beginning his volunteer work, he returned to school, graduated with honors, and now has a career teaching others while continuing to feed the hungry.

Today, don't just encourage others to be compassionate, do something concrete for someone in need.

What has been your experience of direct service to and with the poor?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Chair of St Peter

"Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock." 1 Pt 5:3

The role of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, has been debated and challenged regularly in history. For the last century and a half, since the end of Vatican Council I, the issue of papal infallibility has been the underlying issue. The idea that a Pope is infallible in matters of Faith and Morals when he speaks ex cathedra, from the Chair of Peter, has been so narrowly defined that it actually should not distract us from the Pope's primary role, to be shepherd to the world's Catholics, but it often does. That the Holy Father has only spoken infallibly once since Vatican Council I seems not to matter when people begin debating.

St. Peter gets it right, however. Pope's, as all leaders, ought first be examples to others, not domineering leaders. This might also be said of parents, grandparents, and everyday adult Catholics. Our primary call is to live the Gospel transparently in such a way that others might come to know and love Christ and follow a Gospel path. Our is first a religion of persuasiveness and example, not of proselytizing and the manipulation of power.

Today, pray for Pope Francis.

What do you need from a Christian leader?