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Saturday, November 26, 2016

The First Sunday of Advent

"But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh."

Sometimes we watch too closely, pay attention to too many details and get ourselves in trouble.  Not only to do we miss the forest for the trees, we get increasingly anxious about things we can’t control.  Parents sending their children to school for the first time often do this, and it can happen to me when to help a friend work his way through a troubling or difficult personal situation.  Both situations, while understandable and for some unavoidable, remind us of something wise people have said for a long time: Look but don’t stare.

The prophet Isaiah reminds us not to worry too much about what we have or don't have. Rather, the Prophet suggests that God will be more helpful to the Israelites by helping them remain faithful to the covenant. “Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” I can only imagine God smiling at Isaiah's intervention.

Today, imitate God by looking at yourself and others without staring.

What situations cause you to obsess about matters you cannot control?

Friday, November 25, 2016

No Excuses

"Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” Lk 21:36

Today is the last day of the liturgical year and a good time to make a simple review of our faith life. Four actions ought to mark the life of a faith filled Catholic and we can reflect on them through a series of questions. Have we been faithful to God and the community of believers by gathering regular for prayer and worship, especially on Sundays? Have we taken time to reflect on the mysteries of faith, especially as they are articulated in Scripture? Have we celebrated God's gifts with joy and gratitude? Have we served others as if they were Christ? 

Coming together regularly, studying and praying about God's care for us and serving those most in need are visible signs that God matters in our lives and that we want to witness to God's mercy before others. For most of us the only way we preach is through our actions. We can talk about faith all day, but if we never act on it, we are, as Paul reminds us, noisy gongs and a clanging cymbals. We make a lot of noise but don't do anything for others but annoy them.

Today, be honest with yourself and God. Make no excuses for your faults. Ask to begin again.

Which dimension of our faith life most attracts and empowers you?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Giving Away the Gift of Faith

“Consider the fig tree and all the other trees. When their buds burst open, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near." Lk 21:29

At the time of Jesus, Palestine was an arid land with little water and shallow soil. Farmers had to use their resources carefully. Because they could not afford to allow fruit bearing plants or trees that did not produce a good crop to litter the land, they became a ready example for Jesus to teach.

All of us must bear fruit. Given faith as a free gift, we need to spend it freely for the good of others. Faith is not something that merely calls us to personal holiness. It is a treasure intended to help others know God and the Good News of Jesus. Only when we live faith in a transparent way does it bear the fruit intended by God.

Today, reach out for someone who is lost.

What keeps you from producing fruit for all to eat?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving Day

“Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Lk 17:18

The feast of Thanksgiving is a time to return to the God who has so often healed us, to pause and remember all those who God has given us as companions in faith, who have accepted our faults and lifted up our strengths.  Honestly, if any of us began to name all of these people today, the list would stretch around the world. Today let us sing alleluia for friends and enemies who showed us God's face even when we were distracted by self absorption or lost in self pity.

We also thank God today for allowing us to play a small role in the healing of others.  Broken families, shattered marriages, lonely teenagers, desperate older people and the mentally ill, to name just a few, have all been given to us as gifts. Today we thank God especially for never thinking that the healing relationships we have been privileged to share with the lost have been our doing.  Most of the time the only thing we had to give others was time itself, and to our surprise, that was more than enough.

Today, find a quiet place to breathe in gratitude for all God has given you and breathe out hope to those who find life an overwhelming burden.

Who or what forces you to your needs in gratitude?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

God's Words not Ours

"Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking." Lk 21:14

Jesus makes a pretty big promise to his disciples, assuring them, even though they lack education or in many cases the ability to read of write, that the Holy Spirit will teach them what to say. While this might be the occasion for some of us to think we don't have to prepare a homily or a presentation on faith, there is no basis for this kind of thinking. Jesus is referring to those times when we are attacked unexpectedly and without provocation, not to the ordinary diligence we need to use to present our faith clearly and with passion.

Rather, the Lord wants us to trust in the Spirit of God to guide, direct, and challenge us everyday, and to realize that this is an essential dimension of our faith and its practice. Without this trust, we can only rely on ourselves or expert opinion, and no matter how knowledgeable we or our advisors might be, our insight will be insufficient.

Today, consciously commit yourself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Have you experienced the Holy Spirit's strength and direction in your life?

Monday, November 21, 2016

St Cecilia

When I was a boy, I had a summer friend who loved music. An accomplised piano player, he introduced me to the art of listening, and it is to him I dedicate this blog entry.

"O God, I will sing a new song to you; with a ten stringed lyre I will chant your praise. Ps 44:9"

St Cecilia is almost always portrayed with a musical instrument in her hands. Sometimes it is a viola or a flute; at other times she is seated at an organ, all because she is said to have heard beautiful music when she was forced to marry a pagan. From a simple incident without a firm historical foundation, Cecilia is honored as the patron of liturgical music. Clearly, what keeps Cecilia's memory alive is the power of music that fills us with hope and joy, and helps deepen the faith that is the ground of our lives.

When I was a boy there was a wonderful choir in my home parish, and although as a child I did not always appreciate the beautiful music they made, my spirit remembers the pride of the adults who sang in the choir and the joy of those who listened. At Christmas, our choir's  ministry was even richer since the men's and women's choirs combined at Midnight mass and at the principal mass of Christmas morning.  Our devoted choir was a sign that our parish was committed to God and was willing to sacrifice many hours of practice to help lift our hearts through music and song.

Perhaps Henry David Thoreau said it best. "When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest." Music not only reminds us how important our bodies and senses are in an incarnational spirituality, it helps us to express a love that is beyond words. 

Today, pray for all those music ministers who remind us with St Augustine that we pray twice when we sing. 

What kind of music transports you beyond yourself?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Presentation of Mary

"He noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins...this poor widow...has offered her whole livelihood." Lk: 21: 2-4

How could a woman without any means of support let go of the little she had to honor God? For us humans it seems impossible, but nothing is impossible for God. God's grace enabled the poor widow, who had lost everything of value to her, to cast her lot with the God who had always been faithful to her despite her struggles.

Too often we think of the the total abandonment of the widow as an exception, but we should not. The Gospel promises us that God is all powerful and will take care of us, if only we trust God in every circumstance.  This does not mean that we shouldn't be prudent with what we do have, but it does mean we should not cling so tightly to our possessions, our health, and our property that we strangle the grace of God that is meant to free us.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our mother, said yes to God despite the risk to her own reputation and today's feast encourages us to follow her example. Saying yes to life however it unfolds is the best evidence we can offer others that God is always within and among us.

Today, made a simple examination of conscience.  Are you clinging to someone or something that does belong to you?

What do you think of the widow who gives her last two coins to the temple?