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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Freedom from Fear

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them." Mt 11 4-5

Although tradition tells us that John the Baptist and Jesus were related, the scripture also seems to suggest that, for a time at least, John was unsure of Jesus' identity. Why else would he have sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the "one who is to come?" Jesus' response is clear. He assures John that he is the one spoken of by Isaiah the prophet and Jesus' answer sets the tone for his entire mission and ministry. He will be a healer who does justice, and it is his commitment to justice that will lead to his death.

John the Baptist, like Jesus, believed that the Jewish leaders had failed the poor and he was not afraid to voice his displeasure both in his preaching and lifestyle. John was a hermit who lived in the desert. His preaching attracted large crowds from among the poor because he spoke to their hearts and defended their rights, but when he attacked Herod for his marriage to Herodias, the wife of his half brother Philip, John was a marked man.

Both John and Jesus remind us that speaking the truth, despite its consequences, is an essential element of embracing the Good News. This is not to say, as Pope Francis reminds us, that we should be strident and overly focused on one or the other issue. Rather, we need to read the signs of the times and speak up on behalf of those whose lives are most threatened.

Today, ask the Lord to free you from the fear of speaking truth to power.

Have you known a John the Baptist? What attracted you to him/her?



Friday, December 9, 2016

Gratitude for Friends

 "Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved." Ps 80

Hearing the voice of someone you can trust is a very comforting sound, especially if you are in a difficult or new situation. The first time I traveled to Bolivia I got off the plane after 15 hours of travel, looked around and could not find a familiar face, but after collecting my baggage, I heard the friar I was intending to visit call my name. Although I was far from New York and very tired, I felt at home.

Most of us have had people in our lives who seem able to hear us on a level that both sustains and challenges us. Gifted with the ability not to speak too quickly or forcefully, friends like this help us understand ourselves and the God who seems silent but always has a message. Although we often resist their insights, eventually we let go and trust the God who speaks through them.

Today, be grateful for the people in your life who help you hear God's voice.

Whose voice was most important to your growth as a person?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

God's Lavishness

“To what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.’" Mt 11: 16-17

All of us enjoy something for nothing. Walking the streets of New York City, there are often salespeople offering new varieties of sports drinks or chocolate to passersby, and it is the rare person who doesn't take the "gift," even if they don't want it or need it. It's free, our unconscious says, take it! Because the distributors of these handouts hope that a percentage of the people who take them will enjoy the taste and become regular buyers of their products, they risk losing a good part of of their inventory in order to lay a foundation for big gains in the future.

Unfortunately, in this kind of environment, we can also get to a point where we think we deserve certain "perks," or fringe benefits even if we don't work for them. Like children who set the dinner table expecting to receive an extra portion of potatoes, we hope everyone recognizes our goodness and rewards us, but Jesus challenges this notion. The gift of faith is entirely free. We did not earn it. We cannot enhance it. We can only receive it with gratitude and give it away. More important, when we share God's gifts with others without expecting a return, the gift itself increases.

Today, put aside your expectations and let God treat you lavishly.

What expectations of God and others most get in the way of your living your faith more deeply?



Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Immaculate Conception

"Hail full of grace. The Lord is with you!"

Eugene Peterson, a scripture scholar seeking to help people who either cannot access the power of the Greek text of Luke's Gospel or have read the scriptures so often that they have  grown bored, offers us a different view of Gabriel's greeting to Mary.
Good morning! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, Beautiful inside and out! God be with you.
While some might be confused, unnerved or upset by Peterson's translation, there should be little doubt that his translation forces us to enter Mary's world in a very different way, and this can only be good. Like so many other saints, Mary's uniqueness and importance to believers has often been lost by the trappings of sanctity with which a particular culture or spirituality adorn her. Reducing her to a young frightened girl or portraying her in a manner that strips her of her humanity and femininity cheats believers of meeting the powerful woman she was. First acknowledging her fears, then questioning the angel's announcement, Mary helps us identify in faith with every person asked to assume a new responsibility, especially one for which we feel unprepared.

Only after Mary experiences fear and asks questions is she able to do what all of us must do, say yes to God. As we struggle to put aside the fears and confusion that come to all of us, we have Mary as companion, guide and mentor. Fear, Mary teaches us, is natural and necessary and wrestling God is sometimes inevitable, but if we listen deeply like Mary, we can be sure that God will show us the path to freedom and a deepened faith.

Today, re-imagine Mary's role in your spiritual life.

What stories of Mary most embolden you to live your faith with passion?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

St Ambrose

"No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: 'This is the way; walk in it.'” Is 30 20-21

St Ambrose is one of those fascinating characters who populated the early church. Known for his keen political sense and theological caution, he tried to act as mediator in Milan when it was divided between its Arian proponents and the hierarchy of the Catholic church.

Arius proposed that Jesus, because he was created by God the Father, was less than the Father, and Catholics argued that Father, Son and Spirit although distinct persons, were one God, coequal and coeternal. The battle became fierce and when Ambrose tried to help the two sides reconcile, the people, not wanting bloodshed, called for him to be bishop.

Ambrose reacted strongly. Not yet baptized, he wanted no part of the church hierarchy. Only after the Emperor Gratian encouraged him to accept the call to leadership did he seek baptism and ordination, becoming one of the most important figures in the early church. Learned in philosophy and rhetoric, Ambrose impressed St Augustine with his oratory and insight. More important, he was unafraid to confront those, even emperors, who ignored the Gospel while claiming to be Christian.

Today, be a reconciler.

Who do you most admire for their wisdom and savvy?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Comforting the Lost

"Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service has ended, that her guilt is expiated." Is 40 1-2

When I was a boy, I remember my mother talking about a friend of mine saying: Trouble always finds that boy. I wasn't sure exactly what she meant, but I did know that "Billy" seemed always to be under suspicion. Either because he started a fight or stole some penny candies from the corner store, our parents warned us not to befriend him. It must have been a lonely time for Billy. Although he was a good ball player, he was rarely chosen first when we picked teams for a game, and seemed always to be walking home from school alone.

How to appeal to those rejected by our society and invite others who have chosen a dark and destructive path to know the Lord is always the task of believers. Because Jesus challenges us to see with his eyes, we need always to try to look past what isolates sinners from society in order to find that core part of them that is anxious for redemption and life in a community. While we might often fail in our endeavors, we can never stop trying.

Today, have a conversation with someone who seems lost.

Who has brought you comfort when you were troubled?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Help of Friends

"They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying." Mk 2:3-4

Where would we be without friends? A paralyzed man who hears about Jesus has no way to see or visit the Lord unless friends help him. Though Jesus is  surrounded by needy people, the paralytic's friends are not deterred. They go up on the roof, dig through it and lower their friend in front of Jesus. It is really an amazing scene which the scribes cannot spoil with the mumbling about Jesus not having the power to forgive sins. So anxious not to lose their teaching role in the society, the scribes think nothing about the paralytic while the man's friends think of nothing else. Who doesn't yearn for friends like this?

The twelfth century monk and writer, Aelred of Rievaulx, says it this way:
No medicine is more valuable, none more efficacious, none better suited to the cure of all our temporal ills than a friend to whom we may turn for consolation in time of trouble, and with whom we may share our happiness in time of joy. ― Aelred of Rievaulx Spiritual Friendship
Today, be gracious and accept the help of your friends.

To which friends are you most grateful?