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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Women's Contributions to the Church

"Some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources." Lk 8:2-3

In the United States, at least, women have almost always carried the burden of keeping our parishes organized, welcoming an functioning smoothly. Where would our parishes be without the women who lead and teach catechetics, organize celebrations and picnics, and make sure the parish is active in reaching out to the poor and needy? This is not to say that men haven't played key roles in the church, but it is women upon whom falls the daily and weekly tasks that make a parish live and go. They are its face.

It seems St Paul benefited from the same kind of help from the women of his day. In Luke's Gospel, which scholars suggest tells Paul's story, Mary, Joanna, and Susanna were not only faithful disciples of Jesus, they were also generous in their support of Paul' missionary journeys.  Wouldn't it be good to know more about them? Unfortunately, in the ancient world, and too often in our world, women's voices are rarely heard, and their stories seldom told. We should work hard to change that.

Pope Francis continues to move the church in this direction by encouraging what he called,
The indispensable contribution of women in society, in particular with their sensitivity and intuition toward the other, the weak and the unprotected." He also noted that "many women share some pastoral responsibilities with priests in looking after persons, families and groups" and he said he had hoped that "the spaces for a more diffuse and incisive presence in the church be expanded."
Today,  pray for a woman you know who has been generous but under appreciated in her service to the church.

What steps can and should the church take to highlight the contributions of women to our faith communities?

Friday, June 10, 2016

St Barnabas

"When Barnabas arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith." Acts 11:22

It is often obvious when someone is "filled with the Holy Spirit." They are calm and internally quiet. They listen and respond with few words. They are joyful about their faith and they are unafraid to announce the Gospel in season and out.

That the early church chose to tell us that Barnabas was filled with the Spirit and faith tells us much about him from the perspective of spirituality but little about his personality. A companion of St Paul, we know he returned to Jerusalem with Paul to try to settle the dispute about what rites of the Jewish faith Gentiles would have to accept and celebrate. This could not have been an easy task, but Barnabas had living experience of Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus and his testimony, even without words, would have been powerful.  Barnabas could tell the Jerusalem community there was no doubt that the Gentiles were coming to Jesus and the Gospel with a deep faith and hope. More, they were trying to live in love with one another as a sign of their new consecration.

There are moments in all our lives when we have to stand up for others, even when our friends and family oppose them. Because our experience tells us that no one should be reduced to his or her faults, like Barnabas, we can remind anyone who will listen that we have seen and been impressed with the willingness of those being challenged to live with as much integrity as possible, and this can make an enormous difference in the lives of those for whom we speak.

Today, ask the Spirit to fill you with faith.

What makes you think someone is full of the Holy Spirit?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Slowing Down

“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by.” 1 Kgs 19:11

Finding God is everywhere is possible, even easy at times, as long as we are willing to let God lead us, but most North Americans are so busy that they often fail to hear, much less, accept God's invitation. Worried, like Martha in the Gospel of of Luke (10:38-42) about too many details, we miss the forest for the trees.

We need to learn to slow down everyday and notice God's finger everywhere. When we fail to breathe the morning air deeply, stretch and look around at what nature is presenting each day, we miss the God hidden in all of creation. When we keep walking when a family member, colleague or friend has a question for us, we tell them without words that we are not prepared to listen deeply to them. When people become objects that we manipulate for our own pleasure or power, we fail to notice God within them and in our relationships.

The prophet Elijah teaches us this lesson powerfully. When God told Elijah to go outside and wait for God who would be passing by, the prophet obeyed and discovered God, not in a fierce wind, an earthquake or a fire, but in the tiny whispering sound. Unless we are willing to let God speak to us in God's voice, we will rush past the God who is everywhere beckoning us, often in a whisper, to come closer.

Today, slow down for ten minutes and see what God says.

Where are the most ordinary places you hear God's voice?



Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Reconciliation

"If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift." Mt 5 23-24

The healing of broken relationships in families, parishes and religious communities is one of the most important tasks each of us faces. Every society and every church knows the devastating effects of separations that hurt not only those directly involved, but everyone touched by those who are at odds.

In Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve step programs, the fourth and fifth steps which encourage addicts to search their hearts and admit their wrongs to God, themselves and another person are essential for sobriety and a renewed life. When these steps are not taken, everyone suffers, sometimes to death, and while making amends (Step 8) is not always successful, it is absolutely necessary for anyone who wants to begin a new life each day.

The gospel today is very demanding in this regard and a good reminder that while living the Good News of Jesus is challenging, it is also freeing. When we harbor grudges against others our spirits are too cluttered to see with God's eyes. Only when we ask for the courage to let go of anything that keeps us from God and our faith communities can we hope to witness to the Gospel with all its power to heal and renew.

Today, acknowledge your faults.

How do you seek reconciliation in your life?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Jesus, the Fullness of the Law

"Jesus said to his disciples: 'Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.'" Mt 5:17

Jesus must have been terribly confusing to the leaders of the Jews. Forever insisting that he wants only to live the Law and fulfill it, at the same time, he seems to break the law regularly. What were the Pharisees to do? If they did not challenge and condemn him, they would lose their own authority. If they did reject his teachings, they would lose the power they had over ordinary people. Their quandary, like ours, led them into impossible situations. More concerned with their own position in the community than with their role of instructing the people of God, they don't listen deeply to the Lord. Neither do we!

A life of faith is not something we put on or off at will. Neither can it be reduced to obeying legitimate authorities. Faith demands reflection, prayer and conversation with others seeking to know and follow God's law, all of which takes time away from other necessary duties in life. Too often, hoping for a simple and quick solution to complex questions, we avoid the hard work of following the Lord, and either put our foot in our mouth or kick ourselves in the shins.

It is important to remember the lesson of the Pharisees. While we can, and sometimes must, criticize church and state, it is only through reflection, prayer and honest conversation that God's will emerges.

Today, pray for the prophets in our world who remind us to live the Gospel fully.

How do you discern God's will in your life?

Monday, June 6, 2016

Being a Light for Others

"You are the light of the world." Mt 5:15

Today we have an opportunity to reflect on one of the most accessible images in the entire gospel. The word Light appears almost 100 times in the New Testament. Not only are we encouraged to light a lamp and put it someplace so that others can see, the gospel also calls Jesus the light of the world and reminds us that John the Baptist was the light who prepared the world for Jesus' coming. 

Electricity has become so natural and so accessible to life as we know it that we often take it for granted. A couple of years ago, after Hurricane Irene swept through the Northeast of the United States, millions of people were left without electricity. However, almost everyone with whom I spoke simply said we have no light. Living without light was not only difficult, for some it was dangerous. Not having light, especially at night, made life for the elderly and disabled dangerous. Not able to see where they were going or get out of their homes easily, they felt frightened and trapped. 

We can be light for one another simply by standing near those in need. We do not have to do anything. We have only to let the light Christ which enlightens our life, shine on those beside whom we stand. Could anything be more simple?

Today, let your light shine on others by walking with them in spirit but saying nothing.

Who do you allow to walk with you in faith?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Beatitudes

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Mt 5:2

One cannot say too often or emphasize too much that the beatitudes are a template, a frame with which to understand all of Jesus' preaching. Very few commentators would suggest that Jesus actually spoke all of these truths at one time and in one place. Rather, the beatitudes are a compilation of Jesus' preaching which were recorded in a form that made them easy to memorize.

Without a printing press or a written form that would allow easy distribution of the sayings and teachings of Jesus, the first Christians memorized Jesus' teaching and repeated them often for their own well being and to announce the Gospel. While many contemporary believers still do this, it can be a dangerous practice.

When we reduce the teaching of the New Testament to a few memorized sayings, we risk creating a "bumper sticker" faith and a community that repeats catch phrases out of context and with little regard for the culture out of which they emerged. When we do this, we impose our cultural lens on a text, and use the scriptures to reinforce our own opinions rather than learn more about how God spoke at a particular time to a particular people.

Today, read all of chapter five in Matthew's Gospel.

What practice has helped you develop a real love for the Bible?