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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Palm Sunday

"They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them. The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: 'Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" Mt 21:8-9

Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem is festive, big and frightening all at once. For a local healer and rabbi like to Jesus to accept the adulation of the crowd was dangerous. There is little doubt that Jesus knew he was in trouble with the leaders of the Jewish community who now had evidence that Jesus was not correcting those who were hailing him as Messiah. It would not be long before they hauled him before Pilate demanding that Jesus be put to death for the sin of idolatry. All of this makes Palm Sunday a schizoid kind of feast.

One moment we are shouting with the crowds welcoming Jesus into the holy city, and just a short while later, we are witnessing his trial and condemnation. The church offers us these confusing scenes on Palm Sunday for an important reason. Things rarely are as they seem. It was difficult for Jesus' disciples to understand that Jesus would suffer and die in his role as Messiah, and it is difficult for us. Though we all know we have grown through suffering, and sometimes even found our true identity, when we are suffering, growth in faith seems far away. That is why we have Holy Week each year. We need to remember how far God is willing to go for us. That God would send his son makes sense. That the Lord would have to suffer does not until we realize that God will do anything to convince us of his love.

Today, pray to hear the power of God's love for us throughout Holy Week.

What about Holy Week most speaks to your spiritual heart?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Easter

"Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough?" 1 Cor 5: 6b

Easter is such a big and glorious feast that it can be difficult to get our minds and spirits around it, but St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians helps. When Paul reminds us that a "little dough" can leaven the entire loaf, he helps us break Easter into bite size pieces of bread that we can appreciate and enjoy a little at a time.

Easter is first of all about God's fidelity to his people. Fidelity is the most basic of virtues in all our lives. Only when someone has been devastatingly unfaithful to us or God do we realize how destructive relationships can be and some people, unfortunately, have been hurt so badly in  painful and abusive marriages, they choose never to trust others again.

When we read and reflect upon the history of our salvation, we realize that God never abandons his people, never seems to hold a grudge. Though the patriarchs, kings and prophets of Israel regularly fail to live the Torah with integrity and joy, God keeps loving the Jewish people.

More important, our theology asserts that God cannot do otherwise. Hence, the gift of Jesus as ultimate expression of God's love. Jesus is God incarnate who lives among us, suffers, dies and is raised up so that we might know of God's unconditional and total love for us. Alleluia! He is risen and the promise of our own resurrection lies before us.

Today, rejoice that with the little yeast of our good works, God blesses all people.

Who has helped you the most to live in joy and expectation?

St Joseph, Husband

"When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home." Mt 1:24a

There are many ways to wake up. Sometimes, it is simple. Our bodies tell us to pay attention. We have a headache that will not go away or we discover a skin growth that looks strange. Our bodies are telling us to pay attention and take action. At other times, especially when we take time to relax and reflect, an idea that has been percolating in our minds and hearts, takes shape. We read about AIDS in Africa or the plight of refugee children in Syria, and we start searching the Internet for places and organizations that are addressing these vital concerns. Waking up to the challenge of acting on the Gospel is important for our own salvation and the good of others.

Joseph, the husband of Mary, troubled by his young wife's pregnancy, wakes up. Not wanting her to be stoned, he decides to divorce her quietly. In this way, Mary will have other chances to marry and build a family. But then Joseph has a dream and when he wakes up, he knows that God wants him to marry Mary despite his misgivings. That he listens and acts upon the message he receives is critical for Joseph's salvation and ours.

When Joseph allows the "dream word" to take root in him, he abandons his own instincts about Mary and welcomes her into his life. Not only did this act protect Mary, it legitimized Jesus in the eyes of the Jewish community and makes Joseph a model for everyone in the church. When we are open to God's voice, no matter how it comes to us, we make God's desire for the world possible.

Waking up to the immensity of God's love for us, while sometimes very challenging, is a gift that keeps on giving. Not only does it empower us  personally to live more freely and gratefully, it urges us to tell others the Good News of God's desire to love them more deeply an totally.

Today when you wake up, pause and let God speak a liberating word to you.

Have there been moments in your life that changed the course of your faith?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Holding our Tongue

“I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me?” Jn 10:32

The drama in John's gospel as we approach Holy Week is building. Everyday people are drawn to Jesus, but the Jewish leaders "pick up rocks to stone Jesus," and as we all know there are many kinds of rocks with which we can hurt others.

Sometimes it as simple as a friend or family member ignoring or turning away from us when we are in need that feels like a rock to the heart. At other times, we undermine or call into question the good will of another by our silence or our unwillingness to defend them. But whenever we pick up rocks and throw them at others, we are not living the Gospel.

Thank God, there are also a thousand different ways to put down the rocks we have picked up to defend ourselves. A young friar who has worked a twelve step program for a many years had a series of three questions to help him discern when he must say something in a trying situation. He would ask himself whether something needed to be said, whether he was the person to speak and, finally, whether something needed to be said at that very moment. If the answer was no to any of these questions, he would hold his tongue, and his reluctance to hurl a verbal stone provided him with many moments of peace and reconciliation.

Today, ask God to let you see someone with whom you are struggling as God sees them.

What kind of rocks are the most difficult for you to endure?






Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Seeing God Everywhere

"If I should say that I do not know him, I would be like you a liar." Jn 8:55

There is a concept in law called willful blindness which suggests that we can be found guilty for refusing to see wrongdoing or for ignoring matters that are obvious to any reasonable person. In other words, if there is knowledge that you could have or should have but chose not to have, you are still responsible.

Jesus suggests that the Pharisees are being willfully blind in choosing not to recognize who he is or what he is doing for and with people. More, he warns them that they do this at their own peril.

The same is true for us. When we refuse to open our minds or hearts to the overwhelming desire of God to draw close to us, we deny who God is. Jesus is the new and eternal covenant, the one who "cuts" a deal with us, the one who promises never to abandon us, to always forgive us and to search us out when we re lost. His life, suffering, death and resurrection say all this and more. We can only be grateful.

Today, tell the truth. God is near.

Why do we sometimes deny the unconditional love of God?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Letting God be God

“If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and am here; I did not come on my own, but he sent me.” Jn 8:42

Jesus is our model for everything in life, but never more so than when he reminds us that he is never alone, that his father is with him always. We may not always feel the presence of God, especially when we are worried or fretting about matters we cannot control, but we must keep acting as if God is with us. The great saints in every religious tradition teach this consistently.

Ghandi counselled his followers not think of prayer as the work of the old or the weak, but as an act of submission to God and the food that strengthens us along the way. Rooted in this conviction, he writes: "Nothing is so aggravating as calmness." Committed to non violence, Ghandi knew he would be tempted to act aggressively, to abandon calmness, especially in defense of the poor and voiceless, but he reminds us, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent."

Jesus does not fight the Jewish leaders or the Roman authorities who are committed to putting him to death, nor does he allow his followers to act violently in his defense. When Peter cuts off the ear of the high priest's servant, Jesus demands that Peter put his sword away because violence will only beget violence. That he must "drink the cup" of suffering is clear to him, and it should be clear to us. We can only endure unjust suffering if we remember always to call upon the One who has gifted us with faith and  demanded that we love our enemies.

Today, allow yourself to sit quietly surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses. (Heb 12:1)

What spiritual practices help you remember that God is always near?



Monday, March 14, 2016

Stooping Down to Help

"O Lord, hear my prayer and let my cry come to you." Ps 102.2

For centuries the church has charged its leaders and people with praying the psalms on a daily basis and with good reason. The psalms are songs and hymns that console and challenge us everyday to transformation. They lift us up and send us forth; they knock us down and set us straight, and in all of this the psalms assure us that if we wait, listen and ask for help, God will stoop toward us and listen to our cry.

Committed Christians have known this forever. The Gospel is hard work and demands a steady hand but when we stop and listen God is never far away. Carlo Caretto, a well known Italian activist and writer, found himself exhausted, confused and lost in the Roman church. Not sure how he could survive in a church which he loved and despised at the same time, Caretto left Italy for North Africa to join Charles de Foucauld and the Little Brothers of Jesus where he found a group of men who were willing to pray and reflect for long hours before they acted.

The little brothers changed his life. They taught him patience and silence and introduced him to a faith path that helped him find God in places he had never before visited. When finally Caretto returned to Italy he was a different man. Quiet and reflective but still full of zeal. Caretto became a spokesperson for the power of prayer and the role of lay people in the church. Indeed, he discovered the God who stooped toward him in his need and listened to his cries.

Today, stoop towards someone in need with compassion and a listening heart.

Has anyone bent down to help you when you are in need of understanding and acceptance?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Be a Light

"I am the Light of the World." Jn 8:12

Every year I have an opportunity to spend time with the Capuchin postulants of North America, who are always a remarkably diverse group of young men. Some are Hispanic, others Asian, still others are Middle Eastern or Caucasian. The light of Christ is very bright indeed and these young men are not putting their lights under a bushel basket.

The gospel today reminds us that like Christ, we must be lights in the world, bringing healing and hope to the world. Gathering with such a diverse group of committed and joyful young men is always a wonderful reminder that God continues to do God's work even in a church as hurt and broken as ours.

Being a light in the world is simple, but often difficult. It means discerning when to speak or be quiet in difficult circumstances. It means doing the right thing even when it is unpopular. It means remembering that it is not our own light but Christ's that we put on the mountain top so that all can see.

Today, be a light to others.

What or who brings the light of Christ into your life?