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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Widows

"A man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother and she was a widow." Lk 7:12

Compassion is a hallmark of the Gospel. Over and over, Jesus reaches out with mercy and kindness to those threatened with the loss of their identity, livelihood and voice. The widow he encounters whose only son has died is a powerful example of this. The vast majority of women at the time of Jesus, though honored and loved in their roles as wife and mother, lost everything if they were widowed and childless. Dependent on her husband's family for her survival, since it was her son who died, the widow has almost nowhere to turn.

It is true that a younger woman might seek a new husband, but most widows found themselves unsupported and lost. Jesus knew this and steps into the situation, seemingly without hesitation. A woman was in great need. He saw it. He saw her and responded with compassion.

The lesson for us is unmistakable. We must keep our eyes and ears open to and for all those without a voice, the poor, the ridiculed, the ignored and voiceless. For some this might mean finding a way to visit older people without families in their own neighborhood. For others, it might mean serving people with AIDS, especially those who have already been ostracized as drug addicts or homosexuals. While this is a tall order for most, the lesson Jesus teaches in reaching out to the widow whose only son has died is unavoidable. Those most in need, most deserve our love.

Today, show compassion to someone who expects nothing from you.

Who are the people in your life most in need of compassion?


Friday, June 3, 2016

Immaculate Heart of Mary

"Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety." Lk. 2:48

The honesty of Mary's response to Jesus' staying behind in Jerusalem to converse with the teachers in the temple tells us much about prayer. Sometimes only worried and troubled thoughts come to us when we look at the world, our church and families.

The horror of Isis slaughtering Christians, the ongoing effects of the sexual abuse scandal, and the failure of many to raise their families with faith and religious practice leave us speechless, and like Mary we are filled with great anxiety. Unable to escape these realities, we often seek outlets that free us from our obsessions, but do little to acknowledge the helplessness we feel. Mary's response can guide us.

When  we learn to make our anxiety our prayer, everything changes. Though the anxiety does not leave us, it throws us speechless into the heart of God, and this very act becomes our prayer. Confused and hurt, we join Mary in asking Jesus, "Why have you done this to us?" Even in posing the question, we realize that while God has done nothing to us directly, acknowledging our helplessness frees us to accept the sovereignty of God in all matters, and teaches us to live with unanswered questions.

Today, with Mary, make your anxiety your prayer.

What does your prayer sound like when you feel lost, anxious and helpless?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Sacred Heart of Jesus

"I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest, says the Lord GOD. The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal." Ez 34:14

More than anything else the feast of the Sacred Heart is an antidote, a response to the theology and spirituality of 16th and 17th century Calvinism and Jansenism that denigrated all creation and condemned most of the human family to eternal punishment. How movements like this emerge is never easy to understand, but they clearly need a strong response from the church rooted in scripture and the best of the Catholic tradition. The Feast of the Sacred Heart is the church's rejoinder.

Insisting that the heart of Jesus has no limits and wants all people to be saved, the liturgy invites us to reflect on the powerful image of God as a shepherd who yearns to find us when we are lost, help us when are hurt and heal us when we are sick. What more could we ask of God?

Although the feast of the Sacred Heart was slow to find full church approval, it was everyday people who drove it. So many believers, overwhelmed by a world that was fast becoming unbearably complex and oppressive, believers embraced the feast of the Sacred Heart which offered them hope no matter how difficult their lives might be. It can continue to offer this same consolation in the 21st century. Everyone wants to believe in a God that seeks them out and embraces them with his heart.

Today, open your heart to someone lost.

How do you understand God's love for you?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Knowing and Loving God

"You are not far from the reign of God."  Mk 12:34

The scribe in today's gospel, unlike many other leaders in the Jewish community into which Jesus was born, seems very open to listening to the Lord. In fact, after Jesus answers his question about  the first and most important commandment of the law, he repeats Jesus' response almost word for word. Then Jesus says to him and all his listeners: "You are not far from the reign of God."

Knowing which is the first and most important commandment of the law is not enough to be considered a disciple of Jesus. If we really accept that loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves is fundamental to the Good News, then we must live these commandments. In fact, to be a disciple means to be transformed by the truth of Jesus' word, and to change our lives to reflect our new conviction.

All of us know that exercising is important for good health, but unless we actually walk vigorously, or swim or workout, knowing that good health depends of exercise does us no good. The same is true for the gospel. If we believe that to be poor in spirit, meek, and hungry for justice is foundational to Jesus' message, then we must act on these beliefs. We must live humbly and do justice. It is that simple.

Today, pick one of the beatitudes (Mt 5) and live it.

What are your biggest obstacles to loving God and neighbor?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

St Justin, Martyr

"For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord." 2 Tim 1: 7-8

No one would suggest that St Justin's love wasn't intense. A philosopher who loved the work of Plato, he was determined to use philosophy as a path to know Christ, and teach the faith with expansive hope. Unafraid to challenge the Roman Senate and Emperor, he begged (some might say demanded) that the Christian life and mission be taken seriously, insisting that even if the Emperor decided to kill him, he could not hurt him since he was protected by the truth. Eventually, his commitment to his faith led to his death by martyrdom.

It is clear in the gospels that Jesus wants little to do with those who are lukewarm. Rather, his message and his life demand extraordinary faith in God and a commitment to a transparent life of service to those most in need. Rooted in the belief that God never abandons his people, even when they worship other gods, the Gospel paints God as a Father waiting for his errant children to return to him, and insists that we find a way to accompany one another despite the cost.

Today, let your love be intense.

What keeps you from loving God and neighbor intensely?

Monday, May 30, 2016

Visitation of Mary

"Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!" Zep 3:14


The Visitation of Mary is another of the gospel scenes that has fascinated and challenged Christians forever. A young woman, newly pregnant, visits her newly pregnant older relative, and spends three months with her.

What was their first meeting like? How did they spend most days? What kinds of conversations did they have? Because we have no answers to these questions, we supply the ones our reflection and prayer generate. This is good, something all of us ought to do regularly with the mysteries of faith. 

How we imagine Mary and Elizabeth together not only gives us insight into their relationship, it tells us much about where we are in life and faith. Are we joyful about being "pregnant" with the living God? Are we anxious to let others know about how being the "bearer of Good News" affects us and changes our life on a daily basis? 

Listening to and reading the reflections of newly pregnant women teaches us that everything changes in a woman's life when she knows she is pregnant. Not only do her eating habits change, she becomes very conscious of getting extra rest when possible, and is more careful driving a car. Simply put, a pregnant woman starts to live, not solely for herself but for the child she is carrying, and in this she teaches us one of the most fundamental truths of the Gospel. 

Believers in Jesus, knowing they have been saved, live for others, and while this attitude and conversion is tested everyday, there is no doubt about our call. We are disciples challenged to announce Good News by the way we live for others.

Today, visit someone struggling with life, even in your own home.

What have been the joys of being Christian in your life?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Celebrating Difference

"The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Mk 122:11

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?