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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Emptying Ourselves for the Sake of God's Reign

"Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head."

Jesus continually surprises his disciples. Just as they get comfortable with the direction he is taking, he turns a corner and turns their world upside down. When someone from the crowd, exultant and full of himself, proclaims that he will follow Jesus anywhere, Jesus reminds him that he has no place to lay his head. Is the fellow from the crowd willing to become a nomad and follow Jesus into  the wilderness? What a challenge?

In claiming his identity as a pilgrim and an itinerant preacher, Jesus promises us that like the God of the Hebrew scriptures he will follow his flock anywhere and everywhere. Though he makes few demands, he is always imploring us to live like him, without family or wealth, but full of hope and compassion. God will guide us and care for us, he insists, but we have to trust. The emptiness of having nothing in Christ is a fullness beyond compare. Clinging to nothing, we have everything. The faith to believe this is the test we all face.

Today, empty yourself of everything that gets in the way of loving God and neighbor.

Have you known the glory of feeling rich even when you have nothing?

Friday, June 24, 2016

Humility the Ground of Truth

"The centurion said in reply, 'Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” Mt 8: 7-8

Most humble people have been humbled. Born into wealth or privilege, circumstances conspired against them and they lost everything. The proud complain or curse God; the humble realize that everything they had was a gift and not something they earned or deserved. The proud do almost anything to reclaim what they believe is theirs by divine right. The humble echo the Japanese proverb: When my house burned down, I could finally see the sunrise.

Remarkably, the centurion in the today's Gospel is not asking Jesus to help him but to heal his servant, and Jesus, obviously moved, is willing to respond to the centurion's request. But the centurion becomes an icon of humility for the ages when he acknowledges Jesus' power to heal without touch or physical presence. Not wanting Jesus to risk the condemnation of the rabbis for entering his house, the centurion asks Jesus only to speak a word of healing.

Humility is a good place to begin Advent. Aware that Christ's coming among us as a human child is pure gift, the believer kneels in adoration and admits how often he or she has taken this gift for granted. Ironically, this kind of humility raises us up.

Today, be grateful for all of life no matter how humbling.

What keeps you from humbly acknowledging your weaknesses?


Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Birth of John the Baptist

"The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name. He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm." Is 49: 1-2

The word picture of John the Baptist created by the evangelist Luke is both charming and challenging. Clear thinking, focused, lean and a little mean, John was not afraid to say what he was thinking to anyone, even if it put his life in danger. The Baptist is a traditional hero who both knows and accepts himself. Acknowledging that he is unworthy to untie the sandal strap of the Lord, John insists he is not the Messiah. Both honest and transparent, John's reward for his goodness will be a gruesome death.

John the Baptist is also the first to recognize Jesus when he leaps in his mother's womb as the newly pregnant Mary approaches his childhood home. Excited by the arrival of his Messiah, John senses even before his birth that his visitor will change everything about his life, and in this he becomes an example for every Christian.

John is the forerunner of Jesus, the one who will prepare his way and so must we in our culture, country and time.  John's insistence that "He must increase, and I must decrease," (John 3:30) will become a mantra for Christians throughout the ages.

Today, be yourself. Don't try to be God.

What most challenges you in the life of John the Baptist?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Lord is our Rock

"Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock." Mt 7:24

What is the rock upon which we are to build our lives? God's fidelity is a good place to start. Though it seems natural to think about a sound financial footing and doing what we can do assure ourselves of good health, these are not the rocks about which Matthew speaks. God's living word must be the foundation of our lives, and God's word is true, lasting and clear.

When we listen and act on God's word, Matthew assures us that we are building on rock, not sand, but the struggle continues. At times, we interpret God's word in ways that do a disservice to the power of the word. When the gospel tells us to ask for whatever we want and need it will be given to us, we have to be cautious. Jesus is not frivolous. We cannot pray for a new car and expect it to be delivered the next day. Rather, the scripture demands that we pray for the strength to do whatever it is that will foster God's reign. When we pray to be strengthened for this role, we can be sure of a response.

Today, ask God to sustain you along the path of faith.

What gifts has God given you when you asked for help?




Tuesday, June 21, 2016

We are Known by our Fruits

"A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.” Mt 7: 19-20

Every person has faults, makes mistakes and loses focus. To do anything else would not be human, but we must never measure our life only by our failures; we must also celebrate its fruits. Jesus is clear about this, and though we sometimes are tempted to dismiss the good we have done, we need to listen to his guidance.

In 12 step spirituality, like Alcoholics Anonymous, program people are encouraged to work through the twelve steps and make a searching and fearless inventory of themselves (4th step). For those who do this with a sponsor, it is also important not just to acknowledge one's faults but to record one's successes as well. For most addicts it is easier to list their faults than to name their strengths, and I often think this is true for all of us. Looking at ourselves with the eyes of those who have always loved us despite our weaknesses can be a startling exercise and revelation. 

It is very clear in the scriptures that God is always willing to look past our sins and focus on our gifts, and this is true throughout the Bible. Very few people would forgive David his lust for Bathesheba and his willingness to put her husband Uriah in a position where he would surely be killed. But God does. Even more remarkable is the story of the forgiving father who embraces his younger son who has squandered his inheritance. God wants us to succeed and be reborn.

Today, accept the good God has done through you.

When was the last time you took the opportunity to praise someone for their good qualities?


Monday, June 20, 2016

St Aloysius Gonzaga

"Enter through the narrow gate."


St Paul  often brags about his weakness, and for those especially who have been humbled in any way, his boast is a consolation. Weakness can be a strength if it leads us to the acceptance of our faults and weaknesses and encourages us to work with others whose strengths make up for our failings.

There is a temptation for some who recognize a serious weakness to seek out others who struggle in the same way they do, and this is almost always a mistake. While we console one another, we also subtly suggest that there is nothing we can do or anyway we can change, and this results in a kind of stagnation. The recognition and acceptance of weakness only becomes a strength when we enter more deeply into the life of the faith community and depend for strength on our oneness in Christ.

Aloysius Gonzaga is a good example of someone who recognized that despite his family's wealth and desire for him to seek power over others, he could only fulfill his destiny by renouncing his family's affluence and join the Jesuits in the pursuit of God. Freed by the Society of Jesus to honor God totally, Aloysius plunged into the care of plague victims only to succumb himself to the disease.

Today, embrace your weakness. Cling to the body of Christ.

Which of your weaknesses most disturbs you?



Sunday, June 19, 2016

Not Judging

"Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned." Lk 6:37

Judging the motives of others is natural, but dangerous. Someone acts in a way that makes no sense to us and we immediately interpret it. In this election year we might find ourselves saying, Donald Trump will say anything to get elected or Hilary Clinton is trying to hide her wealth. We often base these judgments on one thing we heard on the news or our political prejudices. To this point, this kind of thinking and judging is normal and necessary. Not exploring our judgments and conclusions, and dismissing another person or political position completely based on very little evidence, is where we get ourselves in trouble with the Gospel.

Jesus was always being judged. Those threatened by his message tried to convince others that he only wanted to wrest power from the Pharisees and Sadducees, and exalt himself as a prophet and healer. It was very difficult for his enemies, and for us, to encounter a totally other centered person. Jesus came to announce the Good News of his Father. He wanted to remind us that we are saved and have only to turn to God in faith to receive this great gift. The gratuitousness of his goodness was too much to accept, even though it was only a fulfillment of what God had promised the Jews long before.

Judging without facts in order to undermine the goodness or motives of others for our gain is a sin, one which we should pray to be freed from this Lent. When indeed we encounter someone who apparently is manipulating others for his or her own gain our obligation is to confront them, not to destroy their person or reputation.

Today, judge others with God's compassion.

How have you confronted your own tendency to doubt others integrity?