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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Third Sunday of Easter

"It happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him." lk 24:14

The story of the two disciples who meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus seems always to lift our spirits. Listening to Jesus disciples, who are dispirited and upset but clinging to a shred of hope because some of their women friends reported that Jesus' tomb was empty, we find it easy to identify with them. Though the women insist that Jesus is alive, the disciples Jesus encounters seem reluctant to believe again, perhaps not wanting to risk further disillusionment.

Most of us have wandered away from or become confused on our own faith journeys. Sometimes we get lazy, take the Lord's goodness for granted, and forget that faith is hard work. At other times, like the Emmaus disciples, we doubt, especially in the face of serious problems, and that is when we must return to the basics of our faith.

We must practice faith daily through prayer, especially the breaking of the bread through which we recognizer Jesus, and good works. Otherwise, the questions we face will overwhelm us, and like the Emmaus disciples, we will be unable to recognize Jesus when he is right in front of us.

Today, break bread with someone who is hungry and discover Jesus again.

What are your most difficult hurdles on your faith journey?

Friday, April 28, 2017

St Catherne of Sienna

"They saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they began to be afraid. But he said to them, 'It is I. Do not be afraid.'" Jn 6:20

Catherine of Sienna, unlikely doctor of the church, is one of those saints who challenges all our unexamined assumptions about wisdom, education and sanctity. The 25th child of parents who lost most of their children to early death, Catherine, though uneducated, became one of the most important writers of the 14th century. Her letters and mystical writings remind us to keep Christ close despite the cost.

In a letter to her spiritual spiritual director she writes: "You should not wish to turn your head because of the thorns of so many persecutions, for he is indeed mad who would abandon the rose for fear of its thorns." (Letters) Though unsaid here, it is clear that Catherine was able to ignore those who persecuted her because she knew that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, was her guide and protector and having the rose was more important than the thorns that tore at her life.

The Easter scriptures are forever reminding us that the Gospel, though liberating and empowering, is too difficult to live without the strength of an Advocate, someone who stands behind us, encourages us and assures us that God is with us no matter how heavy the burdens we might have to carry.

Today, be an advocate for someone who seems lost.

Have you ever experienced the strength and support of the Holy Spirit in your life?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Feed the Hungry

"When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, 'Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?'” Jn 6:5

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 asked them where they would get food to feed everyone who was following them, but Philip reminded Jesus that even with two hundred days wages they could not feed everyone. Afraid, perhaps, that they would not have enough for themselves, the disciples try to dissuade him from responding tho the hungry, 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.

The Gospels demand we pray about all this. 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. When Jesus tells his disciples to "have the people recline," he is telling us to do the same. Only when we share what we have with those in need do we experience the full power of the Gospel.

Today, feed someone who is hungry.

How do you understand Jesus' command to respond to those who present themselves to us for help?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Proclaiming Jesus Despite the Cost

"We must obey God rather than men." Acts 5:29

All of us have experienced times and people about whom we feel compelled to speak. When Moses saw a burning bush, approached it and learned that God wanted to speak to him, he had to tell other about his experience. Elijah hears God, not in a strong wind or an earthquake, but in a tiny whisper, and realizes in the middle of his fear, that God is calling him. He cannot resist. Again, when Isaiah, hearing God wonder who to send, responds: Here I am, send me!

The great figures of the Hebrew bible announce God's presence and love whenever they encounter it, and so does Jesus. Not only does the Lord speak of God, he is God's Word enfleshed, the one about whom we cannot be silent, and this is the essence of the 5th chapter of Acts of the Apostles. Peter and John become models for all the apostles and disciples. No longer does it matter that they abandoned Jesus in his greatest need. Forgiven and empowered by the Holy Spirit, they become, despite great personal danger, proclaimers of the Word.

The Easter season must animate us in the same way. Acknowledging and celebrating God's glory within, around and among us, we announce God's love to whomever will listen. Ignoring those who resist, we go everywhere in His name proclaiming the Good News of our salvation.

Today, let your joy speak to others of God's presence within you and among us.

What experiences of God have you had about which you cannot be silent?


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Caring for the Poor

"The Lord hears the cry of the poor." Ps 34

The early church struggled mightily with its relationship to the Gentiles. Not sure whether Jesus wanted them to impose the entire Torah on newly converted Gentiles, the apostles and disciples were deeply divided. After 14 years of insisting that there was no need for Gentiles to observe the entire Torah, Paul was anxious to settle the matter. His letter to the Gentles (Acts 21:25) is one of his many responses. Reminding his readers that there was a matter more fundamental than circumcision or dietary laws, Paul highlights the concern every Christian should have.

Unless the first Christians attended to the needs of the poor, the message of Jesus would fall on deaf ears. With the contemporary church struggling with diminishing attendance, and the continued fallout from the sexual abuse crisis, Catholics need to remember, no matter what divides them, if they remain attentive to and responsive to the poor, the Gospel will continue to be preached and God's reign built. Nothing is more important.

Today, let go of arguments. Care for the poor.

How do you settle disagreements in your family?

Monday, April 24, 2017

St Mark, Evangelist

"Clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another." 1 Peter 5:5

Commentaries on the scriptures are full of midrash, a homiletic method of biblical explanation that fills in the gaps that the text does not reveal directly. There is a Mirash about the miracle at Cana which concerns Mark, whose feast we celebrate today. Legend has it that he was one of the servants who filled the six stone water jars with water. When Jesus changed the water to wine, Mark was especially moved by Jesus' power and compassion, and it was at Cana that he decided to follow Jesus as a disciple.

Though we cannot "prove" any of these stories through the lens of history as we record it today, we can be sure that something stirred the hearts of those who encountered Jesus to follow him and risk their lives to proclaim the good news he was preaching.  The same is true for us. Very few conversions that last are built on intellect alone. Only when our hearts are moved does the truth of the Gospel change us forever.

Today, think about the experiences of faith you have had and be grateful?

What stories of conversion most impacted your faith life?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Born Again

"How can a man once grown old be born again?" Jn 3:4

For many who have tried to live a life of faith, the answer to Nicodemus' question is not that difficult. Most of us have been reborn many times. For some it is a movement in the church, like Cursillo or Marriage Encounter, that lifts their spirits and opens their hearts to a deepening of their faith. For others, it is the baptism or the marriage of a child. For some, it is the death of a young person or parent that at first troubles them greatly, but then forces them to reevaluate their lives and make a fundamental option for faith.

Young people willing to give themselves over to God's plan are often the occasion of a rebirth for me. For more than twenty years I have been associated with the Maryknoll Mission Association of the Faithful, (MMAF) a group of lay people committed to living the Gospel all over the world by reaching out to the poor and distressed in the developing world. These Missioners are extraordinary people of faith who suspend their lives and careers in order to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Teaching them is always a renewal for me. I almost never leave a class with them when I am not energized by God's spirit living in and among them. Indeed, I am reborn.

Today, ask the Lord to give you a rebirth, and do not ask how this is to happen.

Have you been reborn in faith? Has your rebirth endured?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Divine Mercy Sunday

"Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, 'We have seen the Lord.' But he said to them, 'Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.'” Jn 20: 27-29

We wonder about Thomas. Is he "all of us," full of doubts that inhibit our relationship with God and most of the people in our lives? Is he our stubborn younger brother or sister who was spoiled as a baby and still resists change not to his or her liking? Was Jesus annoyed with Thomas for not listening to the other disciples who assured him the Lord had risen?

None of these questions is answered definitively in today's Gospel. What we can be sure of is that Jesus addresses Thomas' doubts and reminds him that others, who will not have the joy of seeing Jesus in the flesh, but who believe anyway, are blessed. That's us, at least most of the time. Born into faith filled families, most of us treasure the gift of faith, practice it and accept both its limitations and its delights. We know that faith is not intended to free us from every trial, hurt and confusion, but we also believe that faith will sustain us even at those times when life makes no sense, or we must endure suffering and loss.

The mercy of God, we learn, is always available to us no matter how often we take faith for granted or turn away from its teachings. With Thomas, we open our eyes to the work of the Lord all around us and realize how blind we have been. Even as we look, God's mercy is at work.

Today, offer mercy like God, freely and without exception.

How have you experienced God's mercy when you were struggling?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Easter Saturday

"It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard." Acts 4:19

When "ordinary" (Act 4:13) people begin to act in ways we don't expect, we look for easy explanations. Perhaps they have been prompted to speak by others, or maybe they have had an experience that will sustain them for a while, but will soon dissipate. That they may have been strengthened by the Holy Spirit is often the last possibility we consider. When we do this we risk ignoring God's work in those from whom we expect nothing, and that is exactly what happened to the Jewish leaders in the Acts of the Apostles.

Full of the Holy Spirit, the disciples of Jesus, despite being warned by the Sanhedrin not to speak about Jesus or claim to speak in his name, cannot be quiet, and because of this expose themselves to danger. In every way the disciples' actions are remarkable. Filled with fear just a few days before the death of Jesus, they are now able to speak and act in ways that demand attention. The Jewish leaders are alarmed and try to silence them, but nothing works.

Easter's promises often do this to us. Convinced finally that God will always be with us, our fear subsides and we find the courage to speak clearly about what God has done in us despite the consequences. The early martyrs, including all the apostles, Thomas Becket, Oscar Romero, Maximilian Kolbe, Edith Stein, Jean Donovan, Maura Clarke and thousands of others bear witness to this reality. When the good news of God's justice and freedom is threatened, especially for "ordinary" people and the poor, we must speak out and accept the consequences.

Today, ask God to free you from the fear that inhibits your ability to speak Good News.

Have you known someone who risked everything to live the gospel?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Easter Friday

"Simon Peter said to them, 'I am going fishing.' They said to him, 'We also will come with you'." Jn 21:3

All the disciples, it seems, try to return to what they know after the death of Jesus. Whether they were discouraged, confused or upset is not clear. Today's gospel tells the story of Peter and his friends "going fishing." Though fishing for sport and relaxation were not really options in the ancient world, Peter's words remind me of times I've gone fishing to clear my mind, relax my spirit and day dream. I often tell people that I go fishing, not catching, not because I never catch a fish, but because sitting quietly on the at the edge of a stream or lake is one of the most relaxing things I can do.

Whatever the case for Peter and his friends, when Jesus appears to them after they had spent the night catching nothing, he enters their lives again in the most ordinary of ways. He has a charcoal fire going on the shore and asks them to bring some of the fish to him so he can prepare breakfast. Then he gives them bread and fish and they cannot help but recognize him as the same Lord who took a few fish and loaves of bread and fed everyone who was hungry. Even though he has been raised up, he reminds his disciples that his mission is the same and so is theirs. They are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and visit the imprisoned. They need not fear or be confused. Though their ordinary lives will be difficult, they will endure because he is with them. Is it any different for us?

Today, do the ordinary tasks of your life with purpose and hope.

When have you experienced God's presence in the everyday events of your life?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Easter Thursday

"In the same instant you died and were born again; the saving water was both your tomb and your mother." The Jerusalem Catecheses

At the beginning of the 4th century, the church was faced with a huge catechetical task. The Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, and thousands of Romans wanted to be baptized. Whether their motives were pure is beside the point. The church had to catechize adults in large numbers for the first time.

The sermons and instructions of St. Cyril of Jerusalem are a marvelous tool in this regard. Written for adults as a way to help them understand and enter the mystery of faith, they are full of evocative images and metaphors. Today, in the office of readings, Cyril reminds his students not to think of the death to which Baptism calls us as a tomb, but as a womb in which we are being readied for new life in Christ. By dying to that which keeps us from God and God's love by plunging into the waters of baptism, we break through the waters of death into new life in Christ.

As the church moves more deeply into the 21st century, we have a similar task. How to help Christians make sense of the virtual world of the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and so much more? Without a catechesis about the social media, we will fail to help people make sense of the world in which they live and risk becoming a dinosaur. While we know that the church espouses enduring values, unless they are articulated in a way that makes sense to the people of this generation, we will lose them to the glitter of the world.

Today, ask yourself what you are doing to understand your faith more deeply.

How do you think the church ought to use technology to announce the Good News?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Easter Wednesday

"I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you." Acts 3:6

Easter is not just about receiving with joy the promise of eternal life. It is about giving it away. Peter's response to the man crippled from birth is a perfect example of this. Not worried about what he doesn't have, Peter gives what he does have, and this ought to be the model for every believer. Some have the financial ability to help others. Some have time to give. Others can pray, but all of us have to give something.

Several years before my mother died she wanted to talk about her living situation. Because many people has lost their jobs and homes and she was living in a home with two extra small bedrooms she was guilty about having so much while others were suffering. Mom asked whether I thought she should offer the extra bedrooms to some homeless people. Stunned by her generosity, I also reacted strongly against the proposal. A woman of 85 living alone should not open her home to strangers, but what should she do? More important, what should we do, not just with our surplus, but with our substance.

Today, think of your gifts and share them.

Has anyone ever stunned you with their kindness when you expected nothing?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter Tuesday

"Woman, why are you weeping?" Jn 20:13

Encountering Mary Magdalene weeping outside of Jesus' tomb does not surprise us. Grieving is a natural and necessary part of every life, especially as we grow older. As family members and friends die, we feel the deep loss of not having the people upon whom we relied and with whom we journeyed by our side, and Mary Magdalene is no exception.

Twice Mary is asked why she is weeping, and we wonder if she is annoyed or surprised by the question. Doesn't everyone know that her Lord has died?  She answers the angels politely enough by telling them that someone has taken Jesus' body, but only when Jesus calls her by name does Mary lift her head in recognition. Hearing the voice of the one who had turned her life around and taught her the Good News is enough to break through her grief and fill her with hope

Easter is God's promise that the death we fear and wrestle with is not the end. Our life will go on in a form we know not, but which faith assures us will be full of joy and delight. Sensing  God's presence in the midst of our grieving or remembering the faces and lives of those who have gone before us is God's way of reminding us that we will never be alone and that someday we will know this promise in its fullness.

Today, weep for a loss but listen for God's love in the midst of your grief.

How do you imagine heaven?







Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Monday

"Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed." Mt 28:8

An older translation of Matthew 28:8 told us that the two Mary's were "half overjoyed, half fearful,"  as they hurried away from the tomb. Like young people newly admitted to a prestigious college, the two women are full of hope and foreboding at the same time. Their dreams have been fulfilled and now they have to live them.

In fact, this is the challenge every Christian faces when the reality of the Resurrection dawns upon us. Even though there is no reason to be afraid, we tremble. Working harder at being a Christian is not the answer, because we cannot earn salvation. It is a pure gift. Asking to be more grateful each day for God's eternal love is the only appropriate response to the Resurrection, and for most of us it is easier to give than receive.

The purity and unconditional nature of God's gift to us in Jesus' resurrection is too much to absorb. We stand naked before God in our failure and sin, and God loves us more than ever. It is only when we turn away from God in shame that we lose sight of God's love. While God stands before us with open arms and heart inviting us to an eternal embrace, we lower our eyes in the self absorbed fear that our sin is bigger than God's love, and in the process, deny God's healing power.

Today, ask God to remove your fear so you can linger in gratitude.

Have you ever known anyone who took time to be grateful every day?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Sunday

"Brothers and sisters: Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough?...Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." I Cor  5: 6b,8

The primary symbols of Easter, the Christ candle and the new waters that remind us our baptism, remain the focus on our paschal celebrations, as they should. But yeast, which is an irritant, also plays a prominent role, and not just because when activated in flour is makes bread rise, but because it reminds us that a fully engaged Gospel life makes a difference in society. Believers, like yeast, are not simply passive receivers of Good News, but doers of the word whose gratitude expresses itself in works of justice and charity.

Active Christians are like yeast. Their good works can motivate, and at times agitate others. While this might be uncomfortable for some, the hard sayings of Jesus, like loving our enemies, are an integral part of the Gospel. In the long run, a soft Christianity does no one much good. Easter is a time to rejoice and recommit ourselves to a full Gospel life.

Today, take time to rejoice for the gift of faith.

Who has been yeast in your life?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Holy Saturday

"Let there be light." Gen 1:3

Living without light for long periods of time impacts us in powerful and negative ways. We feel isolated and paranoid. We see and hear things that are not there, and we find it almost impossible to know what time of day or night it is. Forced to go within, we are faced with a terrible emptiness, especially if we have lived our entire lives in the external world.

Recent studies about people living in solitary confinement for long periods of time reinforce these notions. Many people who isolated, even from other prisoners, suffer from severe mental illness and take their own lives. The thought of living without the light of conversation, simple friendship and external stimulus is simply too much to take.

The Easter Vigil reminds us of this in the most basic of ways. God, Genesis teaches us, made light for us and for our delight. God made everything for our joy and peace. God wants us to live in light and be light for others. More, God sent the Christ as a light to all nations so that we might proclaim God's love in this most fundamental of ways. The light has come, Easter proclaims, and nothing and no one will ever be able to drag us into eternal darkness. God's light is forever. Nothing says this more clearly than Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

Today, be an Easter light for someone living in darkness.

Who has been Easter light for you?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Good Friday

"Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth." Is 53:7

Silence is an essential spiritual practice for anyone wanting to enter more deeply into the mystery of God's love for us in Jesus. Taking fifteen minutes once or twice a day to sit in the middle of life as it unfolds without saying anything or trying to understand, we give ourselves to God without explanation or expectation and we do this in memory of the Christ who lived and hung upon the the cross for us. When we choose to be quiet like this, inside and out, we usually see more clearly, but not necessarily understand more of God's plan. Rather, in silence we make ourselves available to God for whatever God intends. This kind of abandonment is difficult but necessary, especially during the Sacred Triduum.

Good Friday is a good time to look quietly upon the cross, or in the words of St Clare of Assisi, to gaze upon the God who gave his life for us. There are no words to adequately articulate this mystery, and although we try, there is no making sense of God's incredible sacrifice. God wants to be near us for eternity and so does the unthinkable. God dwells among us, suffers and dies so that we might know more completely the depth of his love. We could never imagine this, nor would we want God to die. Death is Jesus' choice, not to exalt suffering for itself, but to submit himself to his Father's will for our salvation. 

Today, find fifteen or twenty minutes to be quiet with God. There is no need to say anything.



How difficult is it for you to sit quietly in the presence of God?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Holy Thursday

"Brothers and sisters: I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, 'This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.'” 1 Cor 11: 23-24

Holy Thursday is a wonder filled day of overwhelming fullness and hope. Not only does the Lord wash the feet of his disciples, he also breaks bread with them and reminds them to do the same for one another and for the world. It is all too much for us to absorb.

Depending upon the culture from which we come, it is like having a meal with our closest friends. The table is beautifully set, the foods are simple but elegant, and the gestures touch our hearts in places we often avoid. God is among us breaking down every barrier that separates us not only from one another but from creation itself. There is a fullness and depth to today's scriptures and liturgy that washes away our doubts and despair, and reminds us that the new Covenant is Jesus promises more than we could ever imagine.

God is with us; God is among us; God is waiting for us to turn again with hope renewed to the gifts he has presented to us in all that is. Every time we break bread with others, every time we offer ourselves to one another in service, we are reminded of the Last Supper and are challenged to live with the conviction that life has meaning beyond that which we can see or understand.

Today, breathe in the gift of the Eucharist and rejoice.

How can we proclaim the power of Christ washing feet and giving us his own Body and Blood to eat and share?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Power of Words

"The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, That I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them." Is 50:4

It is always difficult to know what to say to people who are suffering. Sometimes words get in the way, are empty or miss the point entirely. All of us have cringed at wakes and funerals hearing people try to offer comforting words but failing miserably. While we feel for them and are glad they tried, we sometimes wish they said nothing.

On the other hand, the speeches and sermons of people like Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King continue to echo the power and importance of carefully crafted words even in a digital age. Who can listen to Dr King's I have a Dream speech and not be moved?

Although we have no recordings of the Prophet Isaiah's words, that he understands how to rouse the weary is clear. Committed to the God he knows from personal experience, Isaiah assures the Israelites that God pleads their cause, looks past their faults and wants to be close to them, even when they turn away from God. Every time we read Isaiah our spirits are lifted with hope and new dreams, a perfect beginning to Holy Week.

Today, speak a simple word of comfort to someone suffering.

Whose words most move you to help others?


Monday, April 10, 2017

Betraying Jesus

"Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, 'Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.'” Jn 13:21

There are moments throughout the Gospel of John especially that remind us of Jesus' full humanity. Learning of Lazarus' death, he weeps, and more than once John tells us that Jesus was troubled. That he was at table with friends and disciples when his feelings bubble up, makes his situation even more difficult. Meals are supposed to be times of relaxation and rest, especially when we are eating at the end of a day, not a time to wonder about betrayal.

The Protestant reformer John Calvin sums it up this way, “Christ has put on our feelings along with our flesh,” and in doing so the Lord assures us that we are never alone. At the same time, there are situations when we don't want hear about Jesus' feelings. Troubled ourselves, we want Jesus to rescue, not accompany, us. Disappointed, we breathe deeply and wonder where the Gospel is taking us.

Holy Week is leading all of us to Jerusalem and it will not be easy. We must confront our own demons and fears, and admit to the times we have turned away from the Lord, betrayed him and ourselves, by letting our selfishness rule our decision making. In the end, however, Jesus will look past all our shortcomings if we have the courage to ask forgiveness and begin again.

Today, ask to begin the journey again.

What most troubles you about your faith life?




Sunday, April 9, 2017

Anointing

"We gave him the power to die; he will give us the power to live." St. Augustine, Office of Readings

St Augustine often offers us rich food for thought and prayer. In today's Office of Readings, he insists that we should have no shame over the death of Jesus. Rather, he says, "it should be our greatest hope," since we cannot gain eternal life by our own efforts. Life forever in God is a pure gift, such that we can never fully appreciate or understand. How is it that God would want to live with us forever? It can only be that God sees in us what he has created, not the mess we sometimes make of our lives.

Surely this was true of Mary in today's Gospel. No matter what she thought of herself, her willingness to use expensive oil to anoint Jesus's feet and dry them with her hair was a powerful sign of her gratitude and devotion to Jesus. That Judas would criticize Mary and Jesus' disciples for this act of kindness and love, while understandable, is shallow and self serving. Would it not be better for all of us to see with Mary's eyes the torment of the Lord as he prepares himself for death? Wouldn't it be better for us to look at the poor in the same way? Rather than judge and condemn those with nothing, we need to put ourselves in their shoes and see with Jesus' eyes and heart.

Today, ask God to calm your spirit and open your eyes to all those who suffer.

Who has most impressed you with their faith in the face of suffering and death?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Palm Sunday

“Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He said in reply, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” Lk 19:40

On occasion, when we find ourselves in a cynical or sad mood, we refer with some disdain to A&P Catholics, those who celebrate with us only on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday because they get something free to take home!  How awful of us to judge, especially at the beginning of the holiest week of the church year. Shouldn't we be glad that our sisters and brothers in Christ want to express their faith publicly? Shouldn't we trust that God will take their gestures of belonging and use them as seeds that have only to be watered to grow into something wonderful and transforming for them and all they know and meet?

Because Jesus' disciples were proud to be associated with him, they spoke enthusiastically of his influence and spread his message of hope to everyone they met, but like most new believers their actions sometimes seemed shallow and showy. Accordingly, the leaders of the Jewish community tell Jesus to control his followers actions more carefully, but Jesus refuses, knowing that his disciples needed to speak of their transformation and belief, even if it appeared overdone, in order to test their own commitment and publicly honor him.

Holy Week is upon us, a time of great joy and hope, and one that demands we, like Jesus' first disciples, be more publicly committed to living the mysteries of faith. If this means we risk seeming too religious for some people's taste, so be it. If we don't live our faith publicly, how will the Good News be proclaimed?

Today, wave a palm of hope for someone who seems lost.

What do you think is the best way to express your faith publicly?


Friday, April 7, 2017

God Alone is our Guide

"The Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock." Jer 31:10d

In recent years in the United States, many people, especially parents, work very hard to support their children by praising them for the simplest tasks. A quick look at Facebook will confirm this. A recent post read: Congratulations to my amazing son who graduated from kindergarten today. Again, a big hug to my wonderful daughter as she continues to change the world.  Although these remarks are innocent and heartfelt, one wonders whether they tell the whole story.

In Luke's beatitudes, Jesus warns his listeners to take everything said about them with a grain of salt. Though parents may not be trying to manipulate their children or make up for a hurt they caused, words of praise can fill our heads and hearts with a fullness that is not of God or good for us. Life is about conversion, not basking in the empty praise of others but being grateful for the gift of each. Overwhelming praise, when taken too seriously, can compromise our ability to see or tell the truth and trap us in a world of make believe. When this happens our baptismal call to be priest, prophet and king gets lost in the muck of dishonesty about ourselves and others.

Today, ask Go for the gift of honesty with yourselves and others.

Do you want help to see the truth in yourself and address it?



Thursday, April 6, 2017

Singing for Joy

"Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord." Jer 20:12

Jesus wants us to be a people of joy, and he wants this for us no matter how heavy our burdens might be. Though the Lord is clear, it is also difficult to embrace and proclaim his message. Jesus promises us that his father will be the source of our joy by living in us despite our faults, but most of the time we want more. We want to be free of worries and struggles, and not to obsess about issues and situations that feel overwhelming, but this is the crux of our difficulty.

Joy in Christ is not about feeling better or more secure. To be a people of joy is a decision we must make on a daily basis, but we can only do this with faith. Our society often presents happiness and joy in unreal terms and fills us with expectations that are not of God. Eating whatever we want when we want, dressing well, having our own homes and cars might appear to make us happy, but this kind of joy never lasts. It is a mirage.

Authentic joy in Jesus is relational. The only real happiness is a consequence of opening ourselves to love and offering love to others, not because they deserve it, but because Jesus commands it. When we do this, everything changes. Our lives are not reduced to our accomplishments, our wealth, our importance in the society or church, but are measured solely by our willingness to be vulnerable to the love and transformation Jesus ask us to embrace.

Today, offer someone a joyful smile for the sake of the Gospel.

What kind of joy do you desire?



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Knowing God

"If I should say that I do not know him, I would be like you a liar." Jn 8:55

There is a concept in law called willful blindness which suggests that we can be found guilty for refusing to see wrongdoing or for ignoring matters that are obvious to any reasonable person. In other words, if there is knowledge that you could have or should have but chose not to have, you are still responsible.

Jesus suggests that the Pharisees are being willfully blind in choosing not to recognize who he is or what he is doing for and with people. More, he warns them that they do this at their own peril.

The same is true for us. When we refuse to open our minds or hearts to the overwhelming desire of God to draw close to us, we deny who God is. Jesus is the new and eternal covenant, the one who "cuts" a deal with us, the one who promises never to abandon us, to always forgive us and to search us out when we re lost. His life, suffering, death and resurrection say all this and more. We can only be grateful.

Today, tell the truth. God is near.

Why do we sometimes deny the unconditional love of God?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Standing in the Truth

"You should know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up.”  Dn 3:18

The remarkable story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego always lifts my spirit. Thrown into a raging fire because they refused to to worship King Nebuchadnezzar's God or the golden statue he made, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego assure the king that their God will protect and save them even if he allows them to die in the fire. 

That they are protected from the fire, while spectacular, is almost incidental because they are living the simple truth that saints have always insisted upon. They serve God, pray and care for the needy, not to be successful, but to be faithful. It is the failure to live faith in this way that condemns the servant in today's gospel who, after being forgiven a large debt, refuses to forgive his fellow servant in a small matter.

God protects, God forgives and God sets us free over and over to begin again. Made in God's image, we are to save one another from the "fire" of shame that reduces people to objects of need, rather than subjects of our compassion. If God is compassionate, understanding and accepting, so must we have hearts of kindness and mercy

Today, offer someone who cannot repay you an ear of compassion.

Has anyone ever stood with you in suffering without judgment?

Monday, April 3, 2017

Surrounded by God

"Jesus said: 'The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.'” Jn 8:30

Jesus is our model for everything in life, but never more so than when he reminds us that he is never alone, that his father is with him always. We may not always feel the presence of God, especially when we are worried or fretting about matters we cannot control, but we must keep acting as if God is with us. The great saints in every religious tradition teach this consistently.

Ghandi counselled his followers not think of prayer as the work of the old or the weak, but as an act of submission to God and the food that strengthens us along the way. Rooted in this conviction, he writes: "Nothing is so aggravating as calmness." Committed to non violence, Ghandi knew he would be tempted to act aggressively, to abandon calmness, especially in defense of the poor and voiceless, but he reminds us, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent."

Jesus does not fight the Jewish leaders or the Roman authorities who are committed to putting him to death, nor does he allow his followers to act violently in his defense. When Peter cuts off the ear of the high priest's servant, Jesus demands that Peter put his sword away because violence will only beget violence. That he must "drink the cup" of suffering is clear to him, and it should be clear to us. We can only endure unjust suffering if we remember always to call upon the One who has gifted us with faith and  demanded that we love our enemies.

Today, allow yourself to sit quietly surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses. (Heb 12:1)

What spiritual practices help you remember that God is always near?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Authentic Mercy

"Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle." Jn 8:3

When Jesus challenges the Jewish leaders who caught a woman in adultery to cast the first stone if they were without sin, their options were few. Theirs was not an authentic righteousness. More concerned with trapping Jesus than with justice for the woman, they were considered "malicious witnesses," who, if they acted, would have been liable, according to the Rabbis, to the same punishment given to the woman. Afraid for their lives, they walked away, not because they wanted to do justice but because they were fearful of the stoning they deserved.

Then and now, Jesus demands authentic justice for all. While sin and crime sometimes demand serious punishment, more often than not, those seeking justice do not have pure motives. Wanting vengeance because they lose money or a loved one to death, they demand capital punishment, all the while ignoring or denying their own sins and crimes. Hurt and anger get in the path of mercy, but theirs is not a Gospel response. Jesus demands that we look at our own sin every time we are tempted to condemn others.

Today, ask to be forgiven for your sins.

How do you understand Gospel mercy?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Jesus Weeps

"When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, 'Where have you laid him?' They said to him, 'Sir, come and see.' And Jesus wept." Jn 11: 33-35

The raising of Lazarus from the dead is confusing at best and impossible at worst. If Jesus is such a good friend of Lazarus and knows Lazarus is sick, why does he wait two days before going to him? It seems to most of us that Jesus' delay is unnecessary, even cruel. No wonder Lazarus' sisters complain when Jesus finally appears in Bethany. Convinced Jesus was the Messiah, Martha and Mary wonder aloud to Jesus: If you had been hear, our brother would not have died. Are they accusing Jesus of not caring about them or Lazarus?

The story of Lazarus is curious for other reasons as well. Jean Vanier, the founder of the L'Arche community, a group that works and lives with persons who have intellectual and other disabilities, thinks there is evidence in the scripture that Lazarus was disabled. The Greek word used to describe Lazarus' sickness is asthenes  and can be translated without strength or feeble. Moreover, the gospel calls Martha not Lazarus the head of the household, further suggesting that Lazarus' illness or disability made it impossible for him as a man to take responsibility for his family home.

In any case, when Jesus finally speaks with Martha, she and those grieving with her are weeping. Distraught and upset by his friends' sorrow, Jesus weeps and proceeds, even though Lazarus has been in the tomb four days to raise him from the dead. Jesus' power over death calls us to a new level of faith. We must trust the Lord no matter how sick or disabled we might be and how often he seems to be absent, because he is Lord of the living and the dead.

Today, don't be afraid to weep about your own unbelief. Submit yourself to the Lord and ask him to raise you up.

In what ways are you drawn to the humanity of Jesus?

Friday, March 31, 2017

God, Our Refuge

O, Lord, my God, in you I take my refuge." Ps 7

Who or what is your refuge? As children, most of us found protection in our parents and teachers. Realizing our vulnerability, our elders watched out for and over us, making sure that we did not place ourselves at undue risk. While these safeguards are necessary and helpful, at some point, as we enter adulthood, we are forced to find our own places of refuge.

Some find solace and safety in nature. No matter what happens to upset us, we can go outdoors, dig in a garden or take a walk on the beach and find peace. Others seek out friends for a conversation when they are troubled, but in the end, as believers in Jesus Christ, our only lasting peace is in God.

Furthermore, if our refuge is the Christ, the one sent by God to fulfill the Covenants made with Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, then we must spend time with Christ is prayer, study, celebration and service of those most in need. Otherwise, we build on sand!

Today, take some to rest in Christ as our ultimate refuge and hope.

What does it mean to you to confess Jesus Christ?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Enduring Life's Heartaches

"The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves." Ps 34:19

It is remarkable how often the scriptures remind us that God draws near to us at the most difficult times of our life. Like a good friend, God often appears when we least expect it and accompanies us through the dark nights of disappointment and illness. At the same time, God does not rescue or fix us. Rather, God stays close but does not invade our lives.

There are few people in the world who have not had their hearts broken more than once. Sometimes it is the loss of a friend or the death of a parent, spouse or child. All of us respond to situations like this, but it is the smaller heartbreaks that we often miss. Not having a child call on our birthday or watching a grandchild drink too much, get sloppy and vulgar are times when we want to turn away and feel sorry for ourselves but God asks more of us.

When we are crushed in spirit we are often tempted to speed up and get away from uncomfortable situations, but we need to slow down and let God be with us. Remember how the prophet Elijah, full of fear after preaching God's word and warning, tried to run away from his new enemies and asked God to take his life because he was no better than his ancestors.  But an angel tapped Elijah on the shoulder, offered him something to eat and gave him the strength to travel for 40 days and nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. After arriving at Horeb another angel appeared to him and told him that God was about to pass by and he should wait to hear God's voice. Expecting God to be loud, Elijah discovered that God was not in the wind, the fire or the earthquake but in a tiny whisper. Assured of God's love, Elijah knew God's strength would protect and guide him.

Today, listen for God's voice however it comes.

How has God protected you when you were full of fear and heartbreak?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Intimacy with God

"Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying, “Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with such great power and with so strong a hand?" Ex 32:11

Moses' intimacy with God amazes us. Never afraid to negotiate with God, even and especially when the Jews turn away from God after being freed from the oppression of the Egyptians, Moses keeps reminding God of his promises to never abandon his people. Sure of God's mercy, Moses challenges God to act with compassion even when the Jews build a molten calf and worship it. Remarkably, despite the idolatry of the Jewish people, God listens.

The listening God we encounter in the scripture is anxious for us to repent and renew ourselves, and as Moses demonstrates, seems only too ready to respond when we ask for help. Intimacy with God will get us everywhere. When, no matter how dark life feels or how disturbed we are by the direction our life has taken, we pray, listen and take time for God, God will hear and respond to us in ways we could never imagine. Lent reminds to pray, fast and give alms. Any of these penances demonstrates our desire for God and will surely get a response.

Today, imagine God rushing out to meet you in the dark.

What have been your experiences of God's enfolding love?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Responding to Enemies

"'My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.' For this reason they tried all the more to kill him,
because he not only broke the sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God." Jn 5:17

All of us have people in our lives who get under our skin.  Almost anything they say makes us defensive and resistive. Though we cannot easily articulate what it is that disturbs us about the other person, it is very real and disabling. Often enough the person who annoys us at every turn is a mirror image of ourselves. If we find ourselves talking too much and not listening carefully enough to others, we resent it when others prattle on and seem not to hear the opinions of others.

Jesus has a ready answer to his detractors. Just as he relies on his Father for guidance and support, so must we give ourselves into God's hands and not allow our own faults or the foibles of others to bother us unnecessarily. Come to me, he insists, don't be afraid. I will be your guide and protection; I will make your burdens much lighter but you must let me help. Stop trying to figure out what it is about yourself or others that bothers you. It is a waste of time and fruitless. Place my yoke around your shoulders and walk the path to which I direct you. In me, everything is possible.

Today, pray for someone who annoys you.

What is the heaviest burden the Gospel asks you to carry?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Do you want to be Well?

"Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me." Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your mat, and walk." Jn 5: 7-8

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Central America for the first time. I was excited about the trip and anxious for it to begin, but after a few weeks I was ready to come home. My body reacted against the water. Even though I was careful to drink only water that had been boiled for twenty minutes, I got sick and could not stay hydrated or keep food down. Ever since I have prayed and worked for people in the developing world to have clean water. Water is essential to every form of life, but impure water kills. Even today 400 children die in the developing world every hour. (1) Working for clean water around the world is an act of justice that Christians need to support.

Today's scripture texts are all about water. Ezekiel has a vision about water flowing from the temple until it becomes a river that supports and nourishes every living creature. God wants us to live, the scripture reminds us, and to have clean water that sustains us. The gospel is about the waters to which the man sick for 38 years was unable to reach. Remarkably, Jesus asks him, "Do you want to be well?"

This is a question we all need to ask. If God makes us well it is not simply for our own healing. God heals us to go out in an other centered way to announce the Good News of our ultimate healing. The sick man who Jesus heals must now walk towards others, and reconcile with those who failed to help him reach the water for 38 years. This is no easy task. Letting go of our hurt so that the waters of Baptism can cleanse us anew is a great challenge.

Today, ask God to heal you for his work.

Have you ever been healed by the compassion and understanding of others?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Older Believers

"Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, who was near death." Jn 4:46

For the last few years I have been talking with and listening to older people, most of whom are open, honest and enjoyable conversation partners. When leading parish missions, I have encountered mostly retirees who have the time to make a parish mission and are anxious to review their lives by making serious attempts at growing in prayer and faith. Neither defensive nor overly anxious, they are funny and fun to be with, and that is the point. We have many committed seniors in our church but I wonder whether we are taking adequate advantage of their learning, wisdom and passion.

Calling seniors passionate might surprise some readers, but it is exactly this that I experience. Anxious to pass on their faith, the older people I meet wonder just how they might do this most effectively. They pray, they listen, they serve as Eucharistic ministers in nursing homes and hospitals, they drive friends and neighbors to doctors appointments, they visit the sick and the imprisoned, and they do all of this because it is the right thing to do. Occasionally guilty because they failed to find time earlier in life to live their faith more dynamically, they know now they are disciples of Jesus Christ and are anxious to do more. Why do we fail to hear them or see them? Are older believers invisible in the church in North America much like immigrants and uneducated? How can we change this?

Today, ask someone who is older what their faith means to them.

Have you ever gained new insights and hope from listening to older people?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Anointing

"Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed David in the presence of his brothers." 16 Sam 13

Anointing people for service and leadership is an ancient ritual that religious traditions use to designate men and women as spokespersons for the entire community. In ancient Israel, priests, prophets and kings were all anointed, so too were some of the objects used for worship. In the book of Numbers we learn of Moses’ obligation to anoint the altar, the Ark of the Covenant, the lamp stand and all the temple furnishings.  In this way, people and objects, having been dedicated to the Lord in a special way, are initiated into a ministry not for their own good but for the salvation of all.

Near his death, Jesus challenges his first disciples and all of us to follow him as a servant with a new "anointing" by washing the feet of others.  Jesus does not want his disciples to be known by their power over others, but by their service of those most in need, thus proclaiming a new freedom and hope for all who are held captive by their faults, sins, gender, state in life, class, poverty, ethnicity and culture.  In other words, leading through service breaks down all the barriers that separate us from one another.

Today, remember your own anointing at Baptism and Confirmation.

Who are the people who wash the feet the neediest in our day?

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Annunciation of the Lord

“"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.' But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.'" Lk 1 29-20


When the unexpected comes, it often unnerves us. News of a close friend's sickness or the failure of a marriage we admired leaves us speechless and wondering what happened. In our busyness did we miss something important? Were we too self absorbed to notice the struggles others were having? 

The evangelist Luke paints a picture of Mary that emphasizes both her fear and her faith, a stance that encourages us not to be afraid of the unexpected, but to acknowledge our fear and pray for faith at the same time. We should not assume that Mary understood everything that was happening to her when Gabriel tells her not to be afraid. She was human, like all of us, and fear would have been a natural response to such a bold request, but Luke also wants us to celebrate Mary's faith that let's go and accepts her new role.

Responding to God at times of crisis is made more possible when we develop a spiritual life on a daily basis. Praying and reflecting about God's life among us in word and sacrament, and celebrating and serving those forgotten or ignored makes is possible to prepare ourselves for life as it comes. If we want to have Mary's honesty and humility, we must practice our faith every day.

Today, listen for the voice of God embedded in every thing you do and everyone you meet.

What about Mary's life calls you to live your faith more deeply?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Everyday Holiness

"You are not far from the Kingdom of God." Mk 12:34

When one of the scribes is able to appreciate Jesus' wisdom and agree with the Lord that to love God completely and our neighbors as ourselves is the essence of the law, Jesus tells him that he is not far from the reign of God. It seems like a strange compliment, until we realize that while the scribes were likely to know the law and prophets well, they were often more interested in getting the law "right" than living the law well. 

A while ago, I was speaking with a priest friend about the saints we have known, almost all of whom were lay people. Not incidentally, the people we both knew were not scholars, but parents, husbands and wives, grandparents and even some children. What they shared in common was their fidelity in the face of very long odds. They had faced sickness, death, and poverty with courage and honesty. They did not whine about how God had dealt them a poor hand, but were grateful for the God who had accompanied them in their struggles. 

Today, ask God to help you know and live the law of Christ more deeply.

Who is the holiest person you know? Why?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Listening with and Open Heart

"If today you hear God's voice, harden not your hearts." (Ps 95)

All of us have hard hearts from time to time, and while it is understandable, it hurts others, especially those close to us. Just as important it hurts us. When are hearts are hard we let nothing and no one in, and we pay for it. While we can hear others on the most superficial of levels, it is almost impossible to respond to friends and family with compassion and understanding. We are so wrapped up in our struggles that we ignore the needs of everyone around us.

It often surprises us, especially after a period of hard heartedness, that God never stopped listening to us and urging us to transformation. Neither do our closest friends abandon us when we fail to respond to them.  They may take a step away from us in order to protect themselves, but they do not abandon us, and it is then that we realize what true friendship is. When our hearts do soften, it is good to remember, especially when friends fail to respond to us, that their hearts might be hard for a little while, and our only task is to wait with patience as God waits for us.

Today, ask God to soften your heart.

What or Who most often hardens your heart?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Handing on the Faith

"However, take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children's children." Dt 4: 9

The word tradition is from the Latin verb tradere, which means to hand over. It is an important word for Catholics because we insist that there are two fonts of revelation, scripture and tradition. Scripture alone, without an official commentary, can easily be misunderstood. At the same time, the less than careful use of tradition can become oppressive. Scripture and tradition are the two fountains out of which our faith flows.

Furthermore, when we read the scripture in concert with our Tradition, we should always remember that God's revelation is intended to set us free, not bind us up. Our Jewish brothers and sisters often say that the Talmud, or the commentary on the Bible, is like a fence. The intent of the commentary is to protect the integrity of the word in much the same way that our Constitution protects the vision of the founding fathers. Tradition lets us know we are on the right path, but it is more like a compass than a map that we hand onto our children to guide and console them. In the light of our Tradition, they are challenged to become the living word of God by embodying the best of who we are as Catholics, and discover ever new ways to proclaim God's Good News in the changing world within which we all find ourselves.

Today, be the tradition. Be transparent in your love for Jesus Christ.

Who was your most important teacher about matters of faith?

Monday, March 20, 2017

God's Patience

"Be patient with me and I will pay you back in full."

God's patience is ours for the asking. Almost unbelievable to those of us with little patience, God is waiting for us to ask for help, and today's scripture is a powerful example of this. A debtor, and aren't we all debtors, asks his master to be patient with him. Moved with pity, perhaps because of his awareness that he too is a debtor, the master forgives his servant completely, asking for no payment whatsoever, but the servant does not understand the depth of his master's compassion. Rather than follow the example of his master, when the servant  who has been forgiven is asked to forgive another servant in debt to him, he refuses and puts him in prison. When the master of both servants hears of this he is outraged and punishes the unforgiving servant severely.

This entire story, we must remember, emerges from Peter's question about how deep and often he must forgive a brother who sins against him. When Peter suggests that seven times might be adequate, which after all was much more generous than the teaching of the Rabbis, the Lord pushes him beyond his own limited sense of God's mercy and tells him that forgiveness should never be withheld, even from our enemies.

This is a hard saying, especially when we have been badly hurt by a friend, a parent, a spouse or a lover. To think that we must act towards those who hurt us like God acts towards us seems impossible, but it is clearly the message of Jesus.

Today, forgive someone even if they fail to ask forgiveness.

What holds you back from forgiving others?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

St Joseph the Worker

"My sheep hear my voice." Jn 10:27

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.

Shepherds in the ancient world did that for their sheep. Most shepherd's had a different whistle or sound for each of their sheep and when the sheep heard their master's whistle, they followed him. He was their guardian and would lead them to fertile pastures where they could eat and drink.

St Joseph was like that for Jesus. It should not be difficult for us to imagine Jesus, even as an infant, turning and smiling when he heard Joseph's voice, and it would have been Joseph's voice in his early years that would have instructed Jesus in the ways of the world and at work. Today as we celebrate St. Joseph the Worker, let us pray that workers around the world will find their voice and hear the voice of the church in their quest for safe and productive work places, and just wages.

Today, pray for a friend whose greeting you cherish.

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

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Tbe Power of Thirst

"In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses, saying, "Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?" Ex 17: 3.

Do you ever wonder how the friends of Moses felt? Were they angry, confused, hurt?  After all, it was Moses who led them out of Egypt, a place where, though they were slaves, they lived reasonably well.  Somehow it all seems unfair.  In the twentieth chapter of the book of Numbers, Moses is upset with God. He and his people, having wandered in the desert for forty years, are thirsty again. God hears Moses' cry and tells him to speak to the rock when he and the people are thirsty, but Moses challenges God and strikes the rock twice.

Is Moses being punished for striking the rock rather than speaking to it as God told him?  Or is his fault deeper than this? Prophets like Moses are charged to speak and do exactly what God commands. No more and no less.  Moses fails God and his people by acting out of his anger and dismay.  Though Moses' punishment seems harsh, the text can be the occasion for a good question or two. Do we lash out at one another or speak behind others backs when we are hurt or confused? Or do we pray for the grace to seek God's path for us and a just solution through open and honest conversation?

Today, ask for the grace to let go of any hurt or resentment we might be carrying against a friend, a family member or even an enemy.

How do you respond to others when you are angry?

Friday, March 17, 2017

Throwing Our Sins into the Sea

"Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance; Who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency, And will again have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt? You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins." Mi 7:18-19

Almost every child learns how to skip rocks across a pond or a lake. With practice we might even manage to make the stone skip six or seven times, but eventually the stone sinks into the water and disappears, and even the best of divers would be hard pressed to find it. The stone which has disappeared, Micah suggests, is like our sins and guilt. God throws them into the sea where they disappear, and even God does not want to find them, but the same cannot always be said for us.

The challenge of the spiritual life is to let go, not just of our possessions and power, but of our sins and guilt. When we cling to anything, even our guilt, we get in God's way. Opening ourselves to God's example, we need to imagine ourselves throwing our sins into the sea. Only those who are too proud think they have to keep asking forgiveness for sins God has dismissed.

Further, when we accept God's forgiveness, our task is simple. We need to forgive anyone who has hurt or sinned against us, and this will the sign that God's desire to forgive us must be shared with all people, especially those who struggle to accept themselves.

Today, turn your back on your guilt and look at others with forgiving eyes.

Whose forgiveness of you has helped turn your life around?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

St Patrick

"The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same." Confession of St Patrick

It should never surprise us how much our earliest experiences in life impact our adult years. When St Patrick, only 16 years old and much like Sudanese and Afghan boys today, was forced into slavery in Ireland, everything changed. Unlike some, however, Patrick's heart, despite the suffering he endured, was touched by the Irish people and after his escape from his captors, he yearned to return to Ireland as a missionary.

Though the church in Ireland is suffering great losses these days, in part because of the sexual abuse by priests and religious in the 20th century, we should not ignore the great work of Ireland's missionaries who went all over the world in the name of the Good News. Fired by the memory of St Patrick's, missionary women and men let go of their homeland and culture to be inserted in churches in North America, Africa and Asia in dizzying numbers, and their influence will continue to be felt for generations to come.

We honor Patrick today, and all those fearless missionaries like him, whose faith was such that they could not be silent about how God has transformed their lives. Listen to the Saints words:
Christ shield me this day: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every person who thinks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me. The Breastplate of St. Patrick
Today, ask God to send you to someone without faith.

How have you been impacted the zeal of St Patrick and the Irish missionaries?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Lazarus

“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day." Lk 16:19

Purple is not only the liturgical color of Lent, it is also the color of royalty. The evangelist tell us that though the rich man, like the priests, dresses in purple and fine linen, he has no name. Is Jesus using code language to challenge his antagonists? We do not know, but it is even more interesting that the poor man, Lazarus, who the rich man never even notices, has a name, an identity and becomes the key figure in the parable.

Lazarus reminds people of every generation, social class, race and culture that it is not our accomplishments or wealth that lead us to God, but our humility and love of all creation which save us. Jesus expresses this bluntly. "It’s terribly hard for rich people to get into the kingdom of heaven! In fact, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God’s kingdom." (Mt 19 23-24) When wealth blinds us to God's will and others' need, we are from the reign of God. Only a change of heart can help us.

Today, pray for anyone you may have dismissed because of their weakness, race or poverty.

How do you understand Jesus when he says that it is terribly hard for rich people to get into heaven?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Service

"Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mt 20:28

When the mother of James and John asked Jesus to put her two sons as authority figures on his right and left, she is only doing what seemed natural. Wanting her sons to succeed, to move up in the world and to be a part of Jesus' entourage, she reminds us of the father of St. Francis who so wanted his son to succeed that he outfitted him in the finest clothes in order to give him every opportunity to impress others and grow wealthy and powerful.



That the mother of James and John and the father of St. Francis get it all wrong should not surprise us since we have all misunderstood the Gospel from time to time. Their only concern and ours ought to be to listen more deeply to the Lord and change our ways.

Service of others is the hallmark of the Gospel, not wealth nor power over others, and authentic Gospel service means trying to make ourselves prayerfully and unconditionally available to God in order to build God's reign not our comfort or influence.

Today, ask God to know how to serve others with dignity and charity.

What are your biggest blocks to serving others freely?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Doing Good

"Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow." Is 1:16

Justice is a common theme in the bible, and while it is proposed as a good in itself, it is also a foundational way to evaluate our lives. As the Catholic church was planted in American soil, it built schools, hospitals, orphanages and so much more. It also began to send missionaries around the world. It was a proud and strong church. Bishops, and sometimes even pastors, could call local civic officials and exert their influence. Young Catholics began to take their place on planning and school boards, and in local, state and national legislatures. While this is the natural path that so many ethnic and cultural groups take in the United States, it can also be very dangerous.

When power becomes a good in itself, justice takes a back seat and institutions like the church become arrogant and self protective. Choosing to look the other way at the sexual sins of its clergy against children, and taking for granted the trust of the people, some bishops sent offending priests to new parishes where they abused more children. How awful! "Make justice your aim: redress the wronged," Isaiah shouts, and his challenge must be ours if we are ever to help heal the abused, and reclaim the trust of the people.

Today, ask pardon for ignoring the gospel demand to live a just life.

Have you been the victim of injustice? Have you been unjust to others?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

God's Mercy

"O LORD, we are shamefaced, like our kings, our princes, and our fathers, for having sinned against you. But yours, O Lord, our God, are compassion and forgiveness!" Dn 9:8-9

The heartfelt confession of Daniel demands our attention because Daniel does not excuse or try to explain away his sins and faults nor the sins of his people. Acknowledging and accepting his guilt and the guilt of the nation, he asks God's pardon, but expects nothing. He knows that if God acts on behalf of his chosen people it will be a totally gratuitous gift, and his confession and honesty are rewarded. While God punishes the people, he also promises to relent so that Jerusalem will be restored to the glory God intended.

The theme of God's justice and mercy is a constant one during Lent. If God, who sees everything, chooses to forgive, so must we. No matter the sin against us, if we are to act like God towards those who hurt and abuse us, we must forgive. This does not mean we must put ourselves in harms's way. Rather, it means we should let go of any harsh judgments we may have made against those who sinned against us and begin again. We may not be able to repair the  damage done to us or our families, but we need always to love others as God loves us. Moving on with out lives, despite its sorrows and pain, is essential if the life of the Spirit is to be known in the world.

Today, forgive someone who has sinned against you.

What is most difficult in offering others God's mercy?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Transfiguration

"Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them." Mt 17:1

Conversion is a slow process. We need many reminders that we are God's people and that God is always with us. Like almost anything else we learn in life, we "get faith" for a while and then lose it. Because daily life often confuses and challenges us with questions about suffering, death, poverty and hunger, we forget who we are, and seasons like Lent are necessary to help us return to the "straight and narrow" path of Jesus.

Today the transfiguration of Jesus is like a Lent for the apostles. Jesus has been slowly letting the apostles know who he is, and today he makes it absolutely clear that he is the fulfillment of the prophets. One might say that it is the "baptism" of the apostles. Because the apostles now know that Jesus is God's son, even if they cannot yet put their minds completely around the revelation, they have new responsibilities. God is readying them for their mission, and while their obligation to announce Good News will be delayed, they will soon be God's messengers and message.

Our own faith life and Lenten journey are similar. We have moments of pristine clarity and insight, and then the fog returns and we can hardly see where we are going. Not being afraid of this process is the key to completing our pilgrimage. Conversion lasts our entire life and while we might lose our way, God never loses sight of us.

Today, try to remember a moment of transfiguration, when you knew exactly who you were.

What has been your experience of conversion into Christ?

Friday, March 10, 2017

Love your Enemies

“You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." Mt 5:43

Very little in the Gospel can shock and startle us like the phrase "love your enemies." Unfortunately, because we have heard it so often, it sometimes washes over us like another bit of information, and fails to stop us in our tracks or make us think.

Loving our enemies is hard work. It means turning our world upside down, letting go of hurt and beginning again. It does not mean we should be soft or weak. In fact, loving our enemies can make us very strong if only we have the courage to ask God to show us a path towards authentic reconciliation, especially if our enemies are in our own family.

Jesus made many enemies because he continually challenged the power of the Jewish leaders of his day. More upsetting to some, he also demanded that everyone study and reinterpret the Torah. The Law, as Jesus lived it, was intended to lead people closer to God and the service of God's people. Though it might bind and irritate its followers at times, it only did this because it demanded great sacrifice and the acceptance of God's leadership and plan in the lives of the faithful. The Gospel does the same thing.

Today, ask for the strength to love one enemy.

What stops you from loving your enemies?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Be Reconciled

"If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift." Mt 5:23

One of the fundamental questions asked of every school of spirituality is where it begins? Ignatian spirituality, for instance, begins with personal and world sin. Only after a person has confronted his or her complicity in making the world a harsher place and community through selfishness, pride, lust and arrogance, does the pilgrim join the journey of Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. It is a natural and understandable place to begin, but it is not the only place.

Franciscan spirituality begins by reminding the pilgrim to stand in awe and wonder before the greatness and goodness of God, and only after celebrating the glory of God in all creation does it ask believers to face their sin. It is a different path with the same goal, to know, appreciate and enter the mystery of God's unconditional love. For Franciscans, only the strength and assurance they gain from seeing God's presence in all creation makes it possible for them to face the awfulness of their own ingratitude.

Jesus' reminder to his disciples seems to take this second path. God is more intent on rejoicing in our conversion and willingness to be reconciled with our sisters and brothers than in than in taking pleasure from our death through sin. God wants to celebrate who we are when we turn to him, not to turn from us in disgust. How wonderful God is!

Today, take a deep breath and ask God what you must do to be in God.

Where does your heart lead you in beginning again your spiritual journey?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Living with Darknes

"Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish, had recourse to the LORD...Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand." Est 12:14

Darkness of spirit can be immobilizing. Inundated with problems or memories that emerge every time we open our eyes, there is no place to go. Friends with cancer often spoke of their illness in this manner. Each day they would wake, hoping for a shift in how they felt physically and emotionally, but there was only nausea and darkness. 

Remarkably, the call of Lent is to allow God to take us into this kind of darkness so that we might be cleansed and able to see again, even in a darkness "one can feel." Though our faith tells us that God is in the darkness with us, and Jesus in the desert experienced this, it is awful, frightening and disturbing. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta told her spiritual director that this kind of darkness followed her for years. While those who knew her could never have suspected this terrible kind of trial, it was real and suffocating, and led her to the edge of unbelief.

When periods of darkness like this come upon us, we must stay still. As the poet, Jessica Powers wrote, "God sits on a chair of darkness in my soul...I sit at His feet, a child in the dark beside Him." God does not make the darkness go away, but sits with us in it. Is that enough?

Today, try not to hide. Give yourself to God as you are.



How do you live with the darkness that comes to you?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Sackcloth

"Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God." Jon 3:8

Sometimes there is a line in the scriptures that both amuses and startles us. The book of Jonah tells us that when the King of Nineveh heard Jonah's warning that his huge city would be destroyed unless he repented, he not only put on sackcloth and sat in ashes, he ordered the cattle to be dressed in sackcloth as well. Even as I write I am trying to picture the scene. The text suggests, however, that Jonah was neither impressed nor moved by the king's show of repentance. Jonah didn't want the people of Nineveh to repent. He wanted them punished, but God was impressed, which is all that matters.

God knows our hearts, and while most of us are not inclined to make a show of our repentance and dress our animals in sackcloth, we can be sure that when we turn to God with sincerity and sorrow, God hears our cry. Perhaps even more important, God hears the cries of our enemies, and the challenge to rejoice in their repentance is before us everyday.

Today, pray for someone you don't like.

What does it take for you to let go and let God direct your life?

Monday, March 6, 2017

Babbling at Prayer

"In praying, do not babble." Mt 6:7

Especially when we are anxious, there is a temptation to use too many words in prayer as if the more we speak the easier it will be for God to hear us and conform to our will. This happens to all of us from time to time and we should not let it bother us inordinately, but it is important to practice silence.

Traditionally, Babel, as described in the book of Genesis, is God's punishment of those who are trying to shape a world that could reach into the skies and and make them like God. When God disperses the people and they develop their own languages, the unity that God desires as a way to offer him praise is lost.

The apostles often babbled. Peter is especially guilty of this. Often he pretends that he understands Jesus' needs more than the other apostles, and regularly puts his foot in his mouth. (Mt 16:22) Only at Pentecost, when Peter and the apostles submit themselves to God totally, are all the people of the world able to understand them when they speak in the power of the Spirit. The same can be true for us.

Today, be quiet at prayer. Sit in the silence of God's presence.

Why is it so difficult to be quiet at prayer?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Our Call to Holiness

"'The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the whole assembly of the children of Israel and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.'" Lv 19:1

The universal call to holiness is an important Catholic doctrine. In the fifth chapter of Lumen Gentium we read, "Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness." (LG)

For many older Catholics this teaching may sound strange, even wrong. As Catholics who grew up and learned their catechism in the middle of the 20th century, we learned that bishops, priests and nuns were called to holiness, but we rarely heard of our own call. The Second Vatican Council tried to change this, but old ideas die slowly.

It should not surprise us that it is difficult to change, but it should not discourage us. Over time, we can learn and grow, but we must be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. A good place to start is reading the scriptures of the day. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/ and setting aside a few minutes of quiet and reflection to pray about them. All of this allows the Spirit to do God's work in us, and opens us to new possibilities and the holiness to which all of us are called.

Today, read the Gospel of the day slowly and savor it.

What inhibits your call to holiness?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Desert Epiphanies

"Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil." Mt 4:1

Twice in Matthew gospel there is an Epiphany, a moment of enlightenment and clarity. for Jesus and all of us, his followers. The first occurs as Jesus emerges from the waters of the Jordan and hears God's words, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This is an Epiphany of a kind we all enjoy and seek. It is an affirmation, a light come to us from afar, a confirmation of our identity as God's child.

The second Epiphany is very different. Jesus is in the desert, the place of terrible cold at night and unbearable heat during the day, and he remains there for forty days and nights. This is a dark Epiphany, a time of affirmation surely, but accomplished in the shadows. Though Jesus is ministered to by angels, he is also among wild beasts. His life is being threatened and his integrity is being challenged. Today's Epiphany is daunting, one which most of us would rather avoid.

The challenge of the Gospel is clear. When we can allow God to be God and look for God in the dusty and suffocating corners of life, we are acknowledging that we are made in God's image. God is not made in ours. While we know that suffering is not something we seek in itself, we also know we cannot avoid suffering altogether. Every life is full of light and dark. Knowing that God is always with us, even when we cannot understand God's ways, is the key to our faith. The road to Easter joy must go through Calvary.

Today, return to an unhealed place within your heart and let God be with you.

Recount a time when you discovered God in the "desert."

Friday, March 3, 2017

Not Judging

"Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus said to them in reply, "Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do." Lk 5:31

When the leaders of the Jewish community challenged Jesus about eating with tax collectors, his answer was clear and straightforward. While acknowledging that tax collectors were sick, he reminded his listeners that sick people need help. Implied, of course, is that if we deny our own sinfulness we are like the fellow who sees the splinter in everyone else's eye but ignores the beam in his own. If the Pharisees did not want to admit their own faults, they would have no need of God's help. Our first spiritual task is always to acknowledge our own faults, ask for God's mercy and accept it with joy when it comes.

In biblical times, tax collectors were hated. Not only were most of them Jews who worked for the Roman occupiers, they often charged more than necessary if they thought they could get away with it. More often than not, therefore, they would prey on the poor and the illiterate who were unable to calculate their own taxes. Men who took advantage of the poor were despised by Jesus, but if they showed a willingness to let go of their evil ways, Jesus, the merciful physician, would heal them.

Today, imagine yourself sitting quietly at your own "tax collectors table," and ask for help.

When are you most likely to judge others?

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Fasting

"This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own." Is 58: 6-7

It did not take the church long to place before us a telling and important reminder about our Lenten practices. Fasting is not a subtle way to lose weight. Neither it is a practice to give us personal satisfaction or assure us that we are close to God. Fasting, and every other Lenten practice, has only one purpose, to draw us into the heart of God for God's purposes, and its value will be known by its fruits.

Are we more just, are we more open to the stories of those who struggle with life and life's most basic demands? Are we slower to judge others? Are we content being God's servants? God's yoke, as Jesus reminds us, is easy. When an ox goes in a straight path, it does not even know it is saddled with a yoke. It simply goes where it is directed. Though a harsh image, imagining God putting the yoke of the gospel around us at Baptism can help us not to struggle against any correction or instruction we receive.

Today, yoke yourself to God and let God lead you.



What is your most difficult "yoke?"

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Carrying our Crosses

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." Lk 9:23

Crosses come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, none of them easy but all of them real and important. Some carry a paralyzing fear, others an impenetrable darkness. Still others suffer addictions that terrorize them and their families, but most of us have simpler, if not less heavy, crosses. We talk or eat too much, we don't listen to our friends or God and we wonder whether our lives have impacted anyone or anything. These are heavy crosses indeed.

Following Jesus means accepting who we are, what we've done and what we have failed to do, while at the same time praying to be free of our self absorption and fear. Knowing the Lord will guide and lead us to places, situations and people that will allow him to be known and loved makes this possible and desirable.

Discipleship, Lent teaches us, is not first of all about doing penance or growing in faith, but about following Jesus. The Lord is more concerned about our willingness to repent and begin again each day than about our faults. When our humility deepens we begin to realize that Jesus can even use our weaknesses for the good of others and the announcement of the Gospel.

Today, carry the first cross you encounter without grumbling.

What are your most difficult crosses?









Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Ash Wednesday

"Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God." Jl 2:13

Repentance or conversion, to which the church calls us as Lent begins, is really quite simple. We are to stop worrying about our troubles, our self image, our wealth, our health and everything else that distracts us from God.

Lent is a time to turn to God again. We are to think about what God wants of us and from us. We are to ask for insight to know God's will and the faith to do it. It is as if we have been sitting looking out a window, which might be very lovely and relaxing, but is not what God is asking of us. God is asking us to look at God and return to our belief in the Good News. Conversion is an English translation of the Greek word, metanoia which simple means to turn back or to turn around. Admitting we are lost in our own fantasies or struggles is the first step. Turning away from them to God is the beginning of our ongoing conversion.

Today ask God to call your name so that you might turn to God again.

Share a moment of conversion that you experienced.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Expectations for Disciples

"Peter began to say to Jesus, 'We have given up everything and followed you.'" Mk 10:28

It is natural to complain from time to time about the treatment we receive from God, and it is good to express this in prayer. Unless we learn how to speak of our disappointment to God as if to a good friend, and to search more deeply within ourselves and our relationships for a fuller understanding and acceptance of our own faults and gifts, we will never really know the depths of God's love.

More often than not, our hurts and complaints about life and our relationships are reflections of unmet expectations. We expect our friends and God to be there when we need them in ways we understand or determine, and often we want our friends and God to take away our suffering and free us from ourselves as if my magic. In truth, this is not good for us, nor is it good when we try to do it for others. Real friends accompany and support, they don't try to fix us. Neither does God, because in our struggle to pray through life with faith, we learn who we really are and hope returns.

Today, try not to complain. Be grateful for those who walk with you in faith.

How do you manage your unmet expectations of God?