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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Following Jesus in Love and Service

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life." Jn 14:6

Relationships are the key to a gospel life. Without relationships rooted in faith there is no Good News. Though Thomas claims not to know the way, it is only because he has misunderstood Jesus, thinking the Lord is talking about a place to which he is going when he reminds his friends that they know the way. In fact, Jesus is the way. It is only in and through our relationship with him and one another in faith that we witness to God's saving love alive in us.

Most of us, thank God, know this truth intimately. From our earliest years we have been blessed with guides, mentors and soul friends, people who not only instructed us in the formal aspects of faith by teaching us our daily prayers like the Our Father and the Hail Mary, but also witnessed to faith by how they cared for others and reached out to the needy. Today, when we think of them, we are more grateful for the way they lived faith and loved us despite our weaknesses than the catechism lessons they taught us.

Today, pause to remember those who blessed you with unconditional love.

From whom did you learn how to honor God and serve others?


Friday, August 19, 2016

Living what we Preach

"They preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them." Mt 23:4-5

Most of us preach from time to time, even if don't intend to. Listen to someone go on about the soccer played by Barcelona or Manchester United. Convinced there is only one right way to play the game, soccer preachers will bore you for as long as you are able to take it. In the United States, there are baseball fans who either bemoan or exalt their team in conversations or monologues that seem never ending. But it is priests who can be the hardest preachers to listen to, especially if they are encouraging or demanding a kind of behavior that they rarely practice.

Jesus had a lot to say about preachers, most of it harsh and dismissive. He was especially disenchanted with the Pharisees and Sadducees who have may have been fine fellows, but seemed unable not to interpret the law in ways that led everyday Jews into guilt and shame without changing their own lives.

Although transformation is clearly the goal of every religious tradition, unless we practice our faith with conviction and joy, our preaching will do little good. Who wants to listen to anyone who is more interested in evangelizing others than in living the Gospel themselves?

Today, make a review of your faith life and ask God for the integrity to live its challenges with delight.

Whose commitment to faith has most formed you in your own religious practice?


Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Greatest Commandment

"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" Mt 22:36

One of the tasks of the great Rabbis was to reduce the entire law and prophets to as few words as possible without losing the power and love of the entire Torah. Jesus’ response to the question: which commandment in the law is the greatest is unique in two ways. First, no other rabbi suggests that love of God and love of neighbor are equally important because love of God is not enough by itself, but neither is love of neighbor sufficient by itself. Prior to Jesus, the rabbis talked about certain prescriptions of the law as heavy or light. Love of neighbor, while important, was considered light, while love of God was considered heavy. Jesus tells his listeners that both love of God and love of neighbor are heavy, that is, vitally important aspects of the Good news as he interprets it.

Jesus also challenges the traditional rabbinic understanding of neighbor. The rabbis taught that while all Israelites deserved love as neighbors, those outside the covenant only merited compassion. Jesus rejects this understanding and  insists that the Torah demands that Jews love everyone as their neighbor. The good news is for all. There are no outsiders in God's love and this remains the challenge for believers today. How we live this command will determine how others understand the Gospel.

Today, ask God for the gift of knowing deep in your heart that God is always with you.

Do you believe and act in a way that convinces others that love of God and love of neighbor are equally important?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Wedding Garment

"My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?" Mt 22:12

The gospel about the street person who accepts an invitation to a wedding but does not bother to wear a wedding garment is always puzzling. Why would an king, angry and disillusioned with friends and tribes people who refused to come to his son's wedding, dismiss someone who accepts his invitation for a seemingly innocuous fault? There are as many answers to this question as there are people posing it.

Some suggest that the man without a wedding garment represents the Jewish leaders who refused even to entertain the idea that God would act outside of their authority or understanding. In this case, pride gets in the way of integirty. Most of us have been in this situation ourselves more than a few times.

Others cite the ancient custom that everyone who came to a wedding was given something to wear, making it clear that anyone without a wedding garment was openly dismissive of the king's generosity. But the interpretation that is most intriguing proposes that the man without the wedding garment  is resisting an interior conversion. Unless we accept God's call to change our lives and proclaim the good news, we have no right to come to the wedding. Not wearing a wedding garment is a sign of arrogance that condemns us.

Today, listen for the master's call to the wedding and find a wedding garment!

What makes you reluctant to accept God's invitation to the wedding feast?



Tuesday, August 16, 2016

All is Gift

"‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’....Are you envious because I am generous?’" Mt 20:16a

Upon first reading Matthew's parable about the laborers who worked only an hour and received a full days wage, we are puzzled. Trained to believe that when we work hard we will receive our reward, Jesus' story turns our expectations upside down, and that is the point. The parable is not about the workers at all. It is about God and God's generosity, and its purpose is twofold: to remind us that God is good beyond our imagination and to challenge us to live more generously than we have in the past.

No matter how hard we try to understand God's greatness, the scriptures keep reminding us that God and God's graciousness have no parallels in human life, and while it is helpful to think of metaphors and similes that open up our understanding, they will always fail to capture the fullness of God's goodness. Most of us have gazed at a sunrise, sunset, the ocean or a majestic mountain and been unable to describe what we experience. The grandeur and power of nature defies description, and  the love of God's is even more impossible to label or name. Only awe and silence seem a proper and fitting response.

What we can and must do is accept God's challenge to live lives of limitless generosity and learn how to spend the love we have been given with humility and delight. While a tall order, even this is possible with God's help.

Today, give someone something they have not deserved or earned.

Do you  have a favorite way or story to desribe God's generosity/




Monday, August 15, 2016

The Last shall be First

"Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Mt 19:30

Coming as it does at the end of Jesus' teaching about the danger of wealth and the disciples' questions about their reward, the challenge not to seek the first place in anything is an important Gospel lesson. Jesus is clear when he warns his followers not to worry about the issues that can so easily consume them. Whether they struggle for financial security or want assurances that the path they are following is a good one, Jesus' disciples must remember that God's promise to them is not first about this world, but about the next.

At the same time, we need to be careful when interpreting this passage. Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus used their modest wealth, knowledge of the law and religious authority as weapons to frighten and intimidate the underclass, and more than anything else, Jesus condemned this behavior. The purpose of the Law was to assure believers that God was their companion and guide and they had nothing to fear from any civil power, even their oppressors, if they lived the law with joy.

For Christians, the call is direct. Jesus, as the fulfillment of the law, is the one who must be at the center of our lives. Nothing we can gain in the world can substitute for this relationship. As long as we are willing to enter into the mystery of God's love in Christ and submit ourselves to him, we have nothing to fear.

Today, remember who you are before God and be grateful for your faith.

Which spiritual practices help you counter your pride?





Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Assumption of Mary

"A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth." Rev 12: 1-2

In recent years it is clear to me that the worst thing we can do to Sts Francis and Clare is to rob them of their humanity, and unfortunately many of their biographers do just this. The same is true of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Anxious to tame a strong, courageous woman, we make her in our image rather than God's, and when we do this, we strip her of her greatness and power. Listening to the Magnificat can help us avoid this travesty.

When Mary cries: "The Lord has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty," she reminds us to be humble and remember that there is only one God. Our task is not to control the world but to serve those most in need, and Mary demonstrates this early in John's gospel when she demands that Jesus help a young newly married couple who are running out of wine. Not only does Jesus respond, he makes enough wine to quench the thirst of an entire village.

The feast of the Assumption is the culmination of Mary's journey. Faithful her entire life to the Lord to whom she gave birth, she is exalted for living her life with absolute integrity, for suffering, for enduring, for celebrating all that God is. Mary is a model for us, not because she lacks passion or humanity, but because she listened to God despite the cost to her reputation and standing in the community. Mary feared nothing because she knew she was living a life of faith and love for all. More important, if we listen, she continues to teach us these lessons today.

Today, ask God to help you live the Gospel despite the cost.

What about Mary most moves you to live the Gospel without fear?