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Saturday, August 6, 2016

Getting Ready for the Master's Return

“Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks." Lk 12 35-36

Getting ready for a lifestyle change can be both unnerving and exciting. Seventeen young men recently entered the Capuchin novitiate in California. Reading their names, I immediately started praying for them. While I am sure they are excited, I also know they will have some butterflies, especially if they have never lived in the mountains or the desert.

Praying helped me remember that whenever I have the privilege of helping someone ready themselves for marriage, many of the same concerns emerge. Has the couple spent enough time learning about one another? Do they have good communication skills? And most important for believers, are the thinking of marriage as a faith commitment, an opportunity to grow in the love of God through marriage?

These questions, and the answers they imply, when altered slightly are good ones for the candidates to our Order. Life doesn't happen in a day, but unfolds a day at a time. Taking enough time to focus of goals rather than accomplishments makes it possible for religious life and marriage to be a wonderful time of transformation and hope.

Today, thank God for those who helped you make difficult transitions in your life.

What most helps you make transitions in your faith life?


Friday, August 5, 2016

Transfiguration

"While he was praying Jesus' face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white." Lk 9:29

Change is necessary in all our lives, but always implies a struggle. Because we are comfortable in a particular circumstance despite its difficulties, we often choose to make excuses for not changing. Friends of mine, older now and needing to think about moving to a smaller home or condo, express a thousand reasons for staying exactly where they are. Despite the fact that their home presents some physical dangers for older people, they prefer to adjust and be careful not to hurt themselves rather than move, and while all of their friends understand their reluctance, it does make us wonder.

Jesus experienced resistance in his apostles as he headed for Jerusalem, the seat of Jewish life and power. His followers, delighted by their master's healing power and message of liberation for the poor, wanted to stay in the Northern part of Palestine and go from town to town gathering new disciples, thinking they would strengthen their hand when eventually they would arrive in Jerusalem. But Jesus would have none of it.

Determined to move towards Jerusalem, and his death, Jesus reveals himself to his disciples on the mountain of the Transfiguration. Showing himself as the successor to Moses and Elijah, Jesus lets his friends know that he is more than they think and more than they bargained for. He is the Messiah of God, and his message and purpose go far beyond the liberation of the Jewish nation from Roman domination. Though it will be frightening and confusing, if Jesus' disciples want to continue to follow him, they must accompany him to Jerusalem and all that it implies. So must we.

Today, let the Lord show himself to you as he is.

What are your most challenging resistances to change?


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Denying Oneself

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Mt 16:24-25

The essence of Jesus' message is other centeredness, a virtue that is both difficult and dangerous. It is difficult because it demands that we think of others first, even when they haven't earned our attention or concern, but Jesus is clear when he tells us that it is the sick who need a physician, not the healthy. The gospel demands patience, consistency and compassion, but when the other person ignores our outstretched hand or pushes us away, we can be easily discouraged.

Other centeredness is also dangerous. Too often wanting to please others or being afraid of disappointing them, we worry more about our goodness than the other's need. Anxious to "fix" the sick as a way of proving our fidelity to God, we ignore others in need, even members of our own family. Having a good "soul friend" can help us avoid this danger. All of us need someone to show us how to let go of our pride and will in order to let God do God's work.

Today, pray for the gift of discernment to do God's will not your own.

When is it most difficult for you to be other centered?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

St John Vianney

"Strive for unity, for there is nothing better. Help all, as the Lord also helps you; suffer all in love (indeed, you are doing this). Pray unceasingly. Beg for wisdom greater than you already have, be watchful and keep the spirit from slumbering. Speak to each person individually, just like God himself, and like a perfect champion bear the infirmities of all. The greater the toil, the greater the gain." St Ignatius of Antioch to Bishop Polycarp 1st century C.E.
The sentiments of Ignatius of Antioch challenge all of us called to leadership in the church, and whether we experience it actively or not, we are all called to leadership. The documents of the Second Vatican Council are clear about this. So is Jesus. We are called to be servants. We are, like Jesus, to kneel and wash the feet of others and to discern how best we can help build the reign of God on earth.  As Thomas Sweetser, S.J. and Carol Holden argue, Christian leaders need to develop skills in "information gathering, decision making, community building, conflict management, and evaluation," (Cf Sweetser and Holden) if we hope to empower everyone around us to live and function well in the 21st century church.

There is no doubt that St John Vianney did this in his life. More than anything else he listened and responded to people where they were, and while he did this in the confessional, we all need to learn this art if we want to help others take their rightful place in a church that increasingly depends of lay leadership for its survival.

Today, listen to someone without defensiveness or feeling pressured to answer?

Who or what has been most helpful to you in your understanding and call to leadership?


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Steadfastness

“Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Mt 15:27

When we read about the disparity of wealth in the United States, most of us can feel very powerless. Hearing that 10% of the American people control 75% of the wealth is disconcerting and discouraging. What power does the average person have to help change our country's policies? In 2014, for instance, 268 members of congress were millionaires and their net worth was 9 times that of the average American. Why would congress want to address the economic danger of wealth disparity? Often depressed by their powerlessness, the poor lose heart and the will to work for change. 

The Canaanite woman in today's gospel who asks Jesus to free her daughter of a demon is a remarkable example of someone who, despite overwhelming odds. refuses to be put off by Jesus' insistence that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Far from allowing herself to be distracted by the rejection of Jesus and his disciples, she continues to advocate for her daughter. That she compares herself to a dog eating scraps from its master's table finally gets Jesus to look at her and acknowledge her faith. 

Giving into discouragement or despair is not an option for Christians when they advocate for the poor. No matter the cost, believers must continue to follow the example of the Canaanite woman and work together with other people of faith for a just life for all in our society and around the world. (Charity in Truth)While we might not be successful all the time, the justice of our cause will surely move the hearts and minds of other believers to work for a society that refuses to allow some to live in destitution while others hoard resources.

Today, ask he Lord to teach you how to help the poor.

What aspects of life make you feel most powerless?

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Portiuncula of St Francis of Assisi

“See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.” Ps 64:69

Sometimes the psalms startle and stop us. Because they are prayer songs which we often recite by rote like a litany or the rosary, we can forget that they contain countless images that help us understand God, our faith and ourselves better. When Psalm 64 reminds us that God sees us in our lowliness and hears our confusion and upset, the scripture helps us remember that God draws closer to us when we are suffering. It is not that God will take away our pain. Rather, God will walk, stand or sit with us as we endure and eventually embrace the trials that come to all in life.

A friar friend, Tom Murphy, who died two years ago, was a shining example of this. Tom spent the majority of his ministerial life as a hospital chaplain. Not one to wait to be called to the bed of a sick person, Tom walked the halls of the hospital and nursing home where he served. Like St Francis of Assis, Tom sought out those who were struggling the most. He always had time to sit down, listen and pray with those who felt desperately alone. And because Tom was bilingual, he was also able to attend to the large Latino population of the hospital and nursing home with a special tenderness. 

Tom did all this while enduring his own demons. His mental illness not only did not deter him from walking with the sick, it made him more compassionate. Tom, and so many others like him, remind us that God will not only not abandon us in our confusion, God will will seek us out and assure us we are not alone.

Today, seek out someone who is sick and listen.

Who or what most helps you when you are wrestling with life?





Sunday, July 31, 2016

Being the Body of Christ

“This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages
and buy food for themselves.” Mt 14:14

Fear is a powerful and dangerous motivator, so strong at times it can overwhelm our good judgment and cause us to harm ourselves and others. When a mother can't afford to feed a child, she might do almost anything to find food. Anyone who has lived among the very poor knows this. Women everywhere have sold themselves to support their children, and fathers have stolen money and goods for the same purpose.

We don't know how fearful the disciples were when Jesus told them to feed the hungry themselves, but they immediately resist his command to feed those who are following him. Afraid, perhaps, that they would not have enough for themselves, they try to reason with Jesus, but the Lord will have none of it. Jesus insists that there is always enough if we take not what we want to feel comfortable, but what we need to stay alive and healthy. Sharing the goods of the earth is a foundational Gospel principle.

People should not have to live in fear for their next meal, but millions still do and it should offend every Christian to reflect upon this. If Catholics reduce the Eucharist to mass or adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, they do a disservice to Jesus command to "give them some food yourselves." (Lk 9:13)

Today, enjoy the Eucharist and feed someone who is hungry.

How do you understand Jesus' command to be the Body of Christ?