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Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Day, Mary, Mother of God

"The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child." Lk 2:16-17

Every year the church begins the New Year by holding up Mary, the Mother of God, as a model for believers everywhere. Mary, as mother, is first of all present to Jesus, something that is more difficult than it seems. Being present to another does mean we try to fix or help them, but serve them. Like a good waitperson in a restaurant who does not hover or keep asking how your food is, she makes you feel comfortable. His or her only purpose is to help you enjoy your dining experience Mary is like this for Jesus and us.

Servants also know their place. This is not to say they should be willing to be treated poorly or abused, but because they understand their role, they realize and accept that their purpose is to make space for the other, to encourage, empower, "The and highlight anything about the person or country they are serving that is good, admirable and trustworthy.

Christians do well to remember Mary's lessons. When we realize that our primary task is to witness to the truth and transforming power of the Christ, we never have to be center of attention, we listen more than we speak, and we live faith as a verb: an action, and a lifestyle, that invites others to live for others. We do this more naturally and simply when we are grateful for the great gift our our faith and our salvation.

Today, serve someone with joy.

Do you have a special devotion to Mary? Why?

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Holy Family

"Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another." Col 3:12

The Holy Family is sometimes held up as a model for all but for the wrong reasons. If we allow ourselves to idealize their life together as one of blissful peace and happiness, we cheat them and ourselves of finding in them a compass for our everyday lives. In fact, the scriptures offer evidence that Jesus regularly confused his parents. He stayed behind in Jerusalem without telling his parents, and initially refused to help the young couple at Cana, who because of poor planning, were running out of wine for their wedding. Mark's gospel goes further and suggests Jesus' family thought he was out of his mind. (3:21). Everything was not sweetness and light!

The Holy Family is important for contemporary Christians when we allow their experience as family to shape our attitudes towards one another and the world. When, as Paul reminds us, we put on compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness, especially towards people in our own families, we witness to the saving work of Christ in and for us and remind all that we are the Body of Christ.

Today, listen in your family twice as much as you speak.

What are the greatest challenges contemporary families face in living the Gospel?

Friday, December 29, 2017

Facing our Resistance

"Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Jn 2:15

Spiritual directors often speak of "resistances" to God's action in our lives.  Sometimes it is unresolved conflicts from the past that seem to block our submitting ourselves to God.  At other times, it is too much work , too much television or too much time in front of the computer. Part of my work, for instance, demands that I spend time reflecting on the daily scriptures, researching areas with which I am not familiar and actually writing this blog or a homily, but the computer cannot be my life. 

Unless we take sufficient quiet time to remember God's enduring presence all around us, what we read, study and write will be like dry straw. Lacking a certain spirit, it will be unable to sustain us or help lift people to God and urge them to live for God and do God's work. Knowing who we are and what our priorities need to be is the foundation of an honest spiritual journey.

Today, ask God to help you recognize your addictions.

How do you manage your resistances and anxieties?

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Recognizing the Christ

"Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:"Lord, now let your servant go in peace;your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel." Lk 2: 27-32

Waiting for someone you have never met is anxiety producing. Whether we are at a bus station or an airport, we scan the faces of the people who are exiting and wonder if they are the one we are to meet. Simeon, who Luke implies is an old man, waits each day until finally Mary and Joseph arrive to present their first born son for consecration in the temple, and when he sees the Christ, he does not hesitate. Simeon knows this is the One promised of old and sings for joy.

The question presented to us is the gospel is clear. Do we recognize the Christ among us? Do we take time to search the faces of the poor, the forgotten, the ignored and the despised in order to remind them they are the beloved of God, the chosen ones?  Saints of every age have reminded us of this obligation. Mother Teresa said it this way, "Every person you meet is Christ in disguise."

Today, expect to be surprised by Christ.

Has someone from whom you expected little revealed to you the face of Christ in an entirely new way?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Holy Innocents

"When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under."

Any sane person would keep a distance from a man capable of killing his wife, his brother and the husbands of his sisters. Herod, the king of Judea, was such a person. When the astrologers from the East came to his door, he disingenuously tried to convince them to return to him after they found "the newborn king of the Jews" so that he, too, could worship the child.

No Jew, knowing of Herod's total disregard for anyone or anything that threatened his power, would have believed the King, but Herod was hopeful that the travelers would not know his reputation and bring him information about the new born baby. Anxious to act quickly, it is clear that Herod would not hesitate to murder the child but Joseph, the one who seems always willing to listen to his dreams, takes Jesus and his mother and flees to Egypt. Long a place of Hebrew slavery Egypt would soon become the country from which Jesus, the new Moses, would return to set his people free.

Joseph's dream is intended for all of us. There will be times when we will have to flee those aspects of our society that are dismissive of the poor and needy in order to preserve our faith. When any country, no matter how often it proclaims freedom for all, suggests that unborn children, the poor, the aged and the crippled are expendable, we need to go to a place where we can pray, discern and plan how best to respond as People of the Good News. 

Today, gaze upon a child and praise God.

Who have you known who has been willing to sacrifice everything for their faith? 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

St John, Apostle and Evangelist

"We are writing this so that our joy may be complete." 1 Jn 1:4

Bickering, rigidity and unfettered competition can drain the life out of any community which is precisely what was happening in the community to which St John was writing his first letter. Struggling to understand how Jesus could be both fully God and fully human, some believers dismissed the mystery altogether by proposing that Jesus was not really human but only God in a human disguise.

John takes a different tack. Trying to help the community see that the mystery of the incarnation could never be reduced to words, John encourages them to put aside their disagreements and serve others on behalf of the Gospel.  In this way, he assured them, they would begin to appreciate more deeply the mystery of God's presence in the world as they saw its "truth" living in those they served.

This simple lesson is still true today. There are times that we get stuck inside our heads, especially when we are trying to convince others that our insights and opinions are correct and important. Perhaps if we followed St John's advice to help the needy when we are in turmoil, we might reach a more peaceful place. Care for those most in need often settles our spirits in ways we could never have imagined or articulated and brings us a kind of joy beyond words.

Today serve someone in need. Your joy will be overwhelming.

Has service of those in need ever brought you joy?

Monday, December 25, 2017

St Stephen

"Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people...but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke." Acts 6:8,9

The reasons we reject others are many. Sometimes we don't like or trust the person. At other times, their message annoys or upsets us, and unfortunately, there are some who reject others because of race, ethnicity, culture or sexual orientation. Although most of us have been raised with the bromide, Don't judge a book by its cover, we all have our prejudices.

Stephen was rejected simply because he was preaching the salvation of Jesus Christ, a message that frightened traditional religious types who used their power to control others' lives. When Stephen's wisdom and spirit began to sway people towards Christ and away from the synagogue, his fate was sealed. Some scholars believe that Stephen had attended and worshiped at the synagogue in which he was preaching, making his sin even greater. To draw others away from the Talmud was bad enough but to do it to one's neighbors and friends was a much worse offense.

Putting Stephen's feast on the day after Christmas is no accident. The church wants believers to know there is a cost to following the babe of Bethlehem. The joy we feel at Christmas must be tempered by the challenge of every day faith, and though Stephen's witness leads to his death, he dies with gratitude and hope.

Today, be grateful for those who live and speak our faith with power no matter the cost.

Have you ever been attacked or rejected because of your religious faith?

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas, The Nativity of the Lord

"She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Mt 1:21

For most believers, Christmas is a delight, a wondrous celebration of faith and family, but for some, Christmas is a terrible burden. Because expectations for Christmas are so great, we can try too hard to please God and others, and get in the way of God's plan. Only when we learn to slow down, listen, and respond rather than react to every situation, can we hope to know and live God's plan for us and the people we love.

When we take a few moments to reflect on the first Christmas, we realize both Mary and Joseph had to stay very centered as they traveled and waited for the birth of Jesus. Away from their families and without the security of a place to stay, they had to rely on a kind inn owner to find them a place for their child to be born. While the insecurity must have been very trying for them, they endured. Strengthened by Mary's yes to the angel, and Joseph's dream, they trusted that God would lead them where they needed to be to fulfill Jesus' destiny.

When we let God lead, everything changes. We understand, and more importantly accept, that no one lives on his or her own terms, and God will guide us if only we accept God's path. Mary and Joseph teach us this important and powerful lesson and Christmas is our opportunity to follow their example.

Today, give God permission to lead you.

What hurdles must you cross to celebrate Christmas with joy?

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

"The LORD is with you." (2 Sam 7:3)

The 7th Chapter of II Samuel has always moved my heart.  David's relationship with God, even when he speaks to God through Nathan the Prophet, is so natural, so honest and open that it offers us a model for our own prayer.

Caught up with his duties as King, David suddenly realizes that in his hurry to defend and build up the faith of his people, he has forgotten to build a permanent and beautiful place for the Ark of the Covenant.  Even though Nathan assures him that he has nothing to worry about, David knows that he has forgotten something very important and God knows it, too. Nathan, in a dream that same night, is reminded that God has always been a companion to the Jewish people who were nomads for so long. God, like the people themselves, lived in a tent, a dwelling easily dismantled and moved to a new place when their goats and sheep needed new grazing land.

More important, God was happy to move, to be with his people, to assure them that the covenant he made with them would endure forever no matter where they wandered. Though shocking to Nathan, God insists that he does not need a lavish and permanent dwelling place, but is content to be among his people wherever they are. Nothing has changed. God accompanies us wherever we go, as Servant, Shepherd and Guide.

Today, pray to be a worthy tent for God.

What image of God most helps you walk a path of faith?

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Birth of John the Baptist

His mother replied: "He will be called John." But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name." Lk I:59

What's in a name?  In the ancient world, everything. Names were given to children by their fathers to honor his ancestors and elders. Mothers had no role in this ritual, but Elizabeth does. Only when Zechariah writes the name John on a tablet is his "mouth opened and his tongue freed." Clearly, Elizabeth's child John would play an important role in salvation history. John, whose name means God is gracious, would usher in a new order and a new way of being in the world.

Unlike so many, John would have no doubts about his role. He knew he was not the Messiah, despite the desire of so many who accepted his baptism. Rather, his entire life would consist in pointing to Jesus, and announcing the coming of the Messiah. Admitting that he was not worthy to untie Jesus' sandal strap and that he needed to decrease and Christ increase, John becomes a symbol for every Christian.

Our task as believers is not to posture or pretend that we are important, but to be grateful for the name Christian, and recognize Christ in every person and prepare others to receive his Good News. Accepting that we are God's children gives every Christian an identity that is empowering forever. We need not have any fear about who we are or what we are to do. Like John, we are to point to Christ as Redeemer and hope for all humankind.

Today, help someone find Christ.

What are the biggest obstacles we face in announcing the Good News?

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Mary, Mary, Mary

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."  Lk 1:46
The Venerable Bede, an 8th Century monk, in an attempt to help us understand the depth of Mary's gratitude, expands St Luke's language:
The Lord has exalted me by a gift so great, so unheard of, that language is useless to describe it; and the depths of love in my heart can scarcely grasp it. I offer then all the powers of my soul in praise and thanksgiving. (Universalis)
These days as we creep ever closer to Christmas, the church cannot get enough of Mary. Full of anticipation, Mary sings but knows that words and music, no matter how beautiful, cannot express her joy at being the mother of Jesus. She can only offer thanks, and we would do well to follow her example.

Thanksgiving is the ground and base of Christian spirituality. If we do not practice Thanksgiving, we will never understand the Eucharist or fully appreciate God's total and persistent love of us. Only when we live gratefully for each day of life and faith are we able to proclaim the Good News unequivocally and completely.

Today, imagine where you would be without the love of God.

What are you most grateful for?



Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Pilgrimage

Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Lk 1:39

The notion that the spiritual life is a journey and a pilgrimage is an important one in the Judeo Christian tradition. Believers are always on the way and reaching for something else. So is God. God seeks us out. God desires us, and Mary learns the lesson of pilgrimage early. Almost as soon as she says yes to being the mother of the Messiah, she leaves her home and travels to be with Elizabeth, and her visit is not a drop in but a three month stay. What she will learn about Elizabeth and herself will shape her life and ours.

If God is always seeking us and surrounding us with love, why should we be afraid? Mary's fear faded fast when she allowed the the Spirit to enter her. So should ours, and in the end, as long as we do not turn away from the journey, we have nothing to fear.

Today, take one step towards God and see how God responds.

What parts of your journey have most filled you with joy?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Mary's Challenge to Us

"Hail, full of grace. The Lord is with you." Lk 1:28

The annunciation has been painted and and sculpted almost as often as the Pieta and with good reason. The annunciation thrills us. Mary's shyness, questions and reluctance to welcome the angel help us believe in her and in ourselves, especially when we are anxious, fearful and resistive.


Andrea Del Sarto (1526) paints Gabriel as a pleading angel, not someone especially sure of his role, but determined to complete his mission. One wonders if the artist, aware of the reformation exploding in Germany, was challenging the church to its own reformation. Mary, looking anxious and confused, but ready to say Yes, challenges the church then and now to change for the sake of God's dream for the world.

Today, say yes with Mary to anything God asks. Don't ask questions.

What has been the most difficult request God has made of you?

Monday, December 18, 2017

From Suffering to Joy

"His wife was barren and had borne no children." (Jg 13:3)

Barrenness is a particularly difficult burden to bear, and in the ancient world it was often seen as a punishment for sin.    For Jewish women not to have children meant they had no identity, no value, and no blessing from God.  Zorah's wife in today's passage from Judges isn't even named. How great then the joy of both women when, in their old age, God blesses them with children whose role in salvation history will forever help believers to appreciate the greatness of God who blesses us when we least expect it.

In these last days of Advent, the same is true of us.  Our role in the ongoing story of God's love for the world, while sometimes muddy and confusing, is radically important to God.  God wants to speak through us, to announce good news, not only through the strengths and gifts we each have, but through our willingness to endure weakness and suffering for the sake of building God's reign.

Today ask God to "fertilize" your heart, which so often seems barren, with the the hope only God can give.

Has God ever turned your suffering into joy?


Sunday, December 17, 2017

Do Not be Afraid

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home."

Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., one of the most important and respected theologians of the 20th century, said that it would not be rash to reduce the entire Gospel to a phrase we often find the Bible: Be not afraid. Reminding all who believe that they have already been saved, Schillebeeckx insists there is no theological reason to fear because God has come in the flesh and promised to live with us forever.

What must have Joseph felt when Mary told him she was pregnant? Though betrothed, they had not lived together. He could not have been the father of her child, but in a dream, which he trusts, God tells him not to be afraid. No matter how others might look at or ridicule him, he should welcome Mary to his house, and with his yes his life and ours change. Overcoming his fears and confusion, Joseph becomes a model for us in times of doubt. God is near to him and will help him through his darkness. God is also near to us and this reality is what we celebrate and proclaim so loudly at Christmas.

Today,  put aside fear. Put on love.

What fears continue to haunt you on your faith journey?

Saturday, December 16, 2017

John the Baptist

"There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie."

The word picture of John the Baptist created by the evangelists is both charming and challenging. Clear thinking, focused, lean and a little mean, John was not afraid to say what he was thinking to anyone, even if it put his life in danger. The Baptist is a traditional hero who both knows and accepts himself. Acknowledging that he is unworthy to untie the sandal strap of the Lord, John insists he is not the Messiah. Both honest and transparent, John's reward for his goodness will be a gruesome death.

John the Baptist is also the first to recognize Jesus when he leaps in his mother's womb as the newly pregnant Mary approaches his childhood home. Excited by the arrival of his Messiah, John senses even before his birth that his visitor will change everything about his life, and in this he becomes an example for every Christian.

John is the forerunner of Jesus, the one who will prepare his way and so must we in our culture, country and time.  John's insistence that "He must increase, and I must decrease," (John 3:30) will become a mantra for Christians throughout the ages.

Today, be yourself. Don't try to be God.

What most challenges you in the life of John the Baptist?

Friday, December 15, 2017

Elijah and John the Baptist

"In those days, like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah whose words were as a flaming furnace.' Sir 48:1

Although unnerving, it is always good to attend to people who come into our lives "with fire." These are the people who challenge and sometimes upset us. They remind us not to take life and its delights for granted, and to avoid God's condemnation by changing now. Not all of these figures are religious, but many are, and when we fail to listen to them our lives get even more confused.

Both Elijah and John the Baptist unnerved and upset their contemporaries. Prophets often do that. Elijah's words were like "a flaming furnace," consuming those who had turned away from God, but warming those who had lived according to the law and prophets despite being in exile.

John the Baptist consoled his disciples with a baptism of forgiveness, but unhinged others who wanted to hold onto a power that was not theirs. Drunk, Herod promises his daughter anything she wants, but when Salome asks for John's head, Herod realizes he has committed himself to a path that will lead to his own destruction.

As we prepare ourselves during Advent to say yes to God at Christmas, it is better to listen and reform our lives now. Otherwise, our yes will be hollow and our Christmas flat. The joy that Christmas holds will be replaced by empty gift giving and our spirits will know that a deeper reform is necessary if we hope to enjoy the fullness of Christmas' promises.

Today, fast for a few hours in order to appreciate the great gift of food.

What most helps you to reform your life?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Be Faithful like a River

"If you would hearken to my commandments, your prosperity would be like a river, and your vindication like the waves of the sea; Your descendants would be like the sand, and those born of your stock like its grains." Is 48:18

Rivers are fascinating bodies of water. Some flow fast and hard. Others meander through fields slowly and methodically. Isaiah knows this and uses the river as a way to speak of God's graciousness. Whether with fierce power or gentle kindness, God will reward those who live the spirit of the law. More, God will grow the righteous like the sands of the sea and spread their glory over the entire earth.

Faithfulness, the most basic way God tells us who God is, is the great challenge of the Gospel. We must be faithful, not only to God, but like God, to all God's people. Indeed, we must be faithful to creation itself, which Pope Francis reminds us is our sister. Fidelity is not simply a function or series of actions, but a way of life, an attitude, and it is our attitudes that almost always need reform and renewal.

Today, change your attitude towards your adversaries and be faithful to someone who you dislike for the sake of the Gospel.

Who most challenges you with his or her fidelity to God despite the consequences?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

St John of the Cross

"The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness." Ps 145.1

St John of the Cross was a very young man when St Teresa of Avila saw qualities in him he could never have seen himself. Bright and insightful, an artist and song writer, above all John was drawn to the mystical path in the spiritual life and was not afraid of the dark night to which he was called. Teresa knew John was different and although she was thirty years older than John, she wrote, "He was so good that I, at least, could have learned much more from him than he from me."

John of the Cross was destined to be like Elijah the prophet, a fire and a flaming furnace of God's love. When he died at 49 he had helped found, despite enormous opposition from his own Carmelite brothers, many monasteries of discalced Carmelites who led an intense life of prayer and penance while also being hugely effective apostolic ministers, writers and preachers. The poet, Jessica Powers, shortly before she entered the Carmelites herself, wrote of John's books:
Out of what door that came ajar in heaven
       drifted this starry manna down to me,
       to the dilated mouth both hunger given
       and all satiety?
       Who bore at midnight to my very dwelling
       the gift of this imperishable food?
       my famished spirit with its fragrance filling,
       its savor certitude.
       The mind and heart ask, and the soul replies
       what store is heaped on these bare shelves of mine?
       The crumbs of the immortal delicacies
       fall with precise design.
       Mercy grows tall with the least heart enlightened,
       and I, so long a fosterling of night,
       here feast upon immeasurably sweetened
       wafers of light.
Today, ask God to let you see with God's own eyes.

What keeps you from a more intense prayer life?



Tuesday, December 12, 2017

St Lucy

They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles' wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint." Is 40:3

Sometimes the church is accused of exalting virginity as a virtue and forgetting that marriage is a sacrament that celebrates human and sexual intimacy as spiritual practices. While an overemphasis on celibacy can happen, it does not have to be this way. St. Lucy, about whom we know little except that she refused to renounce her faith when a fellow she refused to marry "accused" her of being a Christian, is a good example.

Chastity was not just a personal virtue for Lucy but a social one. When she opted for celibacy rather than marriage, she renounced pleasure as an end in itself and proclaimed a God whose love promises us happiness forever, not just in this life.

Lucy's determination to to give herself totally to God in imitation of Jesus has profound implications for our life today. No doubt Lucy had to endure the taunts of young friends who thought her foolish to renounce marriage for faith, but Lucy knew what she was doing. The culture around her in 4th century was dotted with 40 room villas that exalted pleasure for itself. That Lucy rejected this life and lifestyle challenges us still at the beginning of the 21st century when our own country is sprinkled with 40 room McMansions, replete 10 baths for a family of four. Maybe Lucy wasn't so crazy after all.

Today, take a moment to reflect on your own values in a over sized culture that exalts wealth for its own sake.

What woman do you most admire and why?

Monday, December 11, 2017

Our Lady of Guadalupe

A careful, meditation on the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is very revealing. Mary appears as a shy, pregnant, peasant woman with bare feet.  Her hands are folded in petition like ours would be in the presence of God and an angel holds her up as an icon of devotion.

Every time I look at this image I think of the hundreds of young women I have met in the developing world. Often too timid to look in your eye, they speak softly and always with respect. More important, they answer questions directly and with few words. These women amaze me not only because many of them have good educations and have contributed to their communities with great generosity, but because they do everything without drawing attention to themselves. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a woman from the developing world who identifies totally with those she has come to address and lift up, but she also challenges us not to take ourselves too seriously. She is a disciple of her own son and as such reminds us to follow him with humility and passion. Together, her image suggests, we are held up by angels, making our cause great and our voice important.

Today, walk humbly before the Lord and ask for guidance.

Has a quiet, unselfconscious woman ever touched your heart?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Fear Not

"Be strong, Fear not." Is 35:4

Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., one of the most important and respected theologians of the 20th century, said that it would not be rash to reduce the entire Gospel to three words Jesus said often: Be not afraid. Reminding all who believe that they have already been saved, Schillebeeckx insists there is no theological reason to fear because God has come in the flesh and promised to live with us forever.

This is not to say we won't feel fear when we are in physical danger, but the deeper fears about the after life and God's concern for every person should have no place in the life of those who believe in Jesus Christ. While we will have doubts and will regularly turn away from this basic truth, Jesus' coming among us in human form is God's promise that we we can always return to God's heart where every fear will be washed away.

What must have Joseph felt when Mary told him she was pregnant? Though betrothed, they had not lived together. He could not have been the father of her child, but in a dream, which he trusts, God tells him not to be afraid. No matter how others might look at or ridicule him, he should welcome Mary to his house, and with his yes his life and ours change. Overcoming his fears and confusion, Joseph becomes a model for us in times of doubt. God is near to him and will help him through his darkness. God is also near to us and this reality is what we celebrate and proclaim so loudly at Christmas.

Today,  put aside fear. Put on love.

What fears continue to haunt you on your faith journey?


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Spiritual comfort Food

"Comfort, give comfort to my people." Is 40:1

Prophets are fascinating people. Like all good leaders they warn us about dangerous paths we might be taking or reprove us when we fail to live up to our values, but they can also be incredibly gentle and consoling. The 40th chapter of Isaiah is like this.

When the Jewish nation was in exile. many forgot who they were and to whom they belonged.  Others found ways to compromise with their captors as a way of staying alive, but were neglecting their religious obligations. Isaiah knew all this and decided that honey works much better than vinegar when people are lost and in pain.  Isaiah reminds his listeners that soon they will be home, among their friends and families and will be free to worship in Jerusalem. Don't worry, he seems to be saying, God is near and, "Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care."

Advent's scriptures are often like spiritual comfort food for me. Just as a big bowl of coffee ice cream can transport me back to childhood vacations with my family in Westport, Ma, Advent fills me with warmth and hope. As life was once simple and rich, so it will be again.  As we prepare to celebrate the Lord's birth, we are reminded that Christmas is not about the gifts we give and receive, but the incredible promise of God not to leave us orphans nor abandon us when we are in exile.

Today, comfort someone who seems lost.

What or who helps you remember the comforting power of God?

Friday, December 8, 2017

Passionate about the Gospel

"At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd." Mt 9:36

Sheep are usually considered obedient and passive animals. They travel in flocks and rarely wander off by themselves, but when they do the shepherd seeks them out and directs them back to the flock. The notion that Christ is our Good Shepherd is powerful when viewed through the lens of someone finding us when we are lost, but dangerous if we think we are are called to be asleep or overly compliant in our discipleship.

In an interview with an Argentinian news agency in 2011, Pope Francis warned priests not to fall into patterns that reinforce passivity among God's people.
“We priests tend to clericalize the laity.We do not realize it, but it is as if we infect them with our own disease. And the laity — not all, but many — ask us on their knees to clericalize them, because it is more comfortable to be an altar server than the protagonist of a lay path. We cannot fall into that trap —it is a sinful complicity.”(Pope Francis)
Both clergy and laity need to be clear about their goals. Compliance is not a Gospel value. Passion for the Word is, and behaviors that reduce our call to live the Gospel without zeal have no place in an adult Christian's life.

Today, seek out the lost.

What keeps you from living the gospel with passion?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Baptism of the Lord

"A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench." Is 42:3

The images of John the Baptist that emerge in the gospels can sometimes be off putting. Like many prophets before him, John is direct and uncompromising, making him difficult to listen to, but this is not the case when John speaks of Jesus. John's humility about his own role and his assurance that Jesus is the Messiah lifts us up and sends us forth in hope.

Jesus, Isaiah and John remind us, has not come into the world to destroy it, but to assure all those listening, especially the poor, that his task is to heal the bruised reed and keep alive the flame of faith, but only if we accept his word and allow his power to transform us.

As Jesus begins his public ministry by having John baptize him, it is clear that he will risk anything so that his message from his Father will be clear and transparent. Jesus is among us to announce Good News, but his message will be difficult for those who want to cling to power, wealth and worldly prestige. Jesus wants to set us free from the domination of all systems that fail to create a just world. This message will be his downfall and our salvation.

Today, put aside your fears of being broken and weak. Our God heals.

Is it time to begin again your own ministry of service and freedom?

The Immaculate Conception

"The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it." Gen 3:13

Why do we blame others so easily when we are embarrassed or ashamed?  Uncomfortable and confused, we try to get out from under the microscope to bargain for time and examine why exactly we do this. Of course, there are any number of answers, all of which can teach us about ourselves, but at root we look for scapegoats in order to escape the consequences of our actions.

Countries and churches do this as well. Our own Catholic church was guilty of this fault when the sexual abuse scandal first surfaced. We blamed psychologists and psychiatrists who gave our leaders bad advice when they suggested abusing priests could safely return to ministry. We deflected attention from ourselves by reminding everyone that the worst sexual abuse offenders were family members, not priests, which is, of course, beside the point.

Honestly facing our failures and sins is made much easier when we have Mary, the Immaculate Conception, as our intercessor. This feast celebrates that Mary, without from sin from the first moment of her conception, is always free to pay undivided attention to us, her children. Free of self absorption, she reaches out for all those who look to deny their sin or turn away from their guilt, by inviting us to honesty and integrity, to admit our wrongs, and reach out in compassion for others.

Today, acknowledge one sin and ask for the grace to face its consequences.

How do you practice honesty and integrity in your life?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Asking God for Bread

"The all ate and were satisfied." Mk 6:43

Knowing who you are and to whom you belong is a foundational first step on the road to spiritual health.  Every adult believer has struggled mightily at times with their identity as Christians and Catholics. Sometimes it is a particular belief or practice that makes us uncomfortable or leaves us full of doubt, and this is especially true when we are struggling with other issues in our life. When a marriage collapses or a parent nears death, we can wrestle with the teaching of the church or its beliefs and practices. Why can't I remarry, some ask?  Doesn't God want me to be happy? Or why is my mother suffering so?  Doesn't God care?

It is at times like this that that we need to remember that God wants to feed us,  but we must present ourselves to him as hungry.  When we are able to remember that God is in love with us, and is our companion through every dark forest or imposing mountain climb, we are able to put aside the particular stumbling blocks along the way and eat the food he offers us.

If we remember that to ask God for help everyday, not just when we are need, God will give us the faith to live with the questions and burdens which have no easy answer. That God is with us in the middle of the doubt, fear and anger is the promise upon which we rely.  God is here. God lives within us and among us. God is enough.

Today, ask God to help you live with the questions you face.

What does it take for you to be satisfied?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Dreaming with God

"On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, The web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever." Is 25 7-8

Isaiah promises us that someday God will unite all peoples, that nations now at war, or who hate one another culturally or tribally will have the veil that separates them lifted. It is a wonderful and powerful promise, one that seems too good to be true.

Nevertheless, most of us have known healing in our lives that we could never have expected. Whether it was a long and painful separation from a parent, sibling or friend, something or someone intervened and made that which seemed beyond imagination happen. St Monica followed her son from North Africa to Italy all the while praying for him and hoping that God would move St Augustine's heart and help him to turn from his sinful life. Monica could not be sure when or if God's grace would change her son's lifestyle, but her faith would not let her stop trying and eventually she got her miracle.

Today, let yourself dream God's dream of unity for and among all people.

What have been the biggest miracles in your life?








Monday, December 4, 2017

New Shoots from old Stumps

"A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse." Is 11:1

When Isaiah promises that a new shoot will come from the stump of Jesse, he reminds all believers that God can make something extraordinary from nothing. At the same time, the prophet is not speaking about a miracle in a classic sense. Rather,  Isaiah wants us to remember what happens often in the natural world. There are trees with so much inner life that even when they seem dead, we can take one of their broken branches, stick it in the ground, water it often and before long  it takes root and becomes a young  tree.

Clearly, a branch of Jesse’s tree, even when it seems dead and lifeless after its exile in Babylon, is stronger than we think. God will plant it again so that his faithful followers might have life and believe in his promises.

The challenge to believe that God wants to do something great and new in us, even when we are tired and feeling ragged, is upifting. God’s love is enduring and, like a broken  branch, stronger than we can imagine. We have only to plant and water it and it will take us to Christmas.

Plant a good deed in someone’s heart and let God do the rest.

Are there “miracles” in nature that remind you of God’s love?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Starting Over

"They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again." Is 2:4

Starting over is never easy, but often unavoidable. Ask any Puerto Rican trying to rebuild his or her life after the recent hurricane or an alcoholic who has had a slip. Acknowledging one's powerlessness over nature or alcohol and committing oneself again to live a day at a time, while painful and frightening, is absolutely necessary, and the only way out of chaos.

The same is true for Christians. No matter how far we fall or how often we turn away from the Lord, we can always begin again, and Advent is the perfect time to try. As we begin a new liturgical year, the church reminds us that God always welcomes his people to renew their faith by focusing on the great of gift of Jesus at Christmas. More important we are challenged to give birth to the Christ in our daily lives, and this is no small task. As the years since Christ lived on earth fade, it becomes more crucial for believers to live the Gospel and allow Christ to be born through their actions and prayer. But we must be patient.

Today, pray for patience with oneself and others.

What areas of your faith life are the most difficult to begin again?





Saturday, December 2, 2017

First Sunday of Advent

"No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him. Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!" Is 64:3

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

The prophet Isaiah asks God not to stare at his people and punish them. Rather, the Prophet suggests that God could have been more forceful in helping the Israelites remain faithful to the covenant. “Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” I can only imagine God smiling at Isaiah's intervention.

But Isaiah doesn't give up. Rather, while acknowledging the sins of the people, and admitting that they deserve condemnation, he also reminds God that God is the potter and the people are the clay.  Surely, God must know that no potter ever discards her clay.  Rather, she reworks it and shapes it into something new.  That is what Advent is all about, asking God to reshape and mold us into heralds of the Great King.

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

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

Friday, December 1, 2017

Last Days

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Fig Trees

"Consider the fig tree and all the other trees" Lk 21:29

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

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

Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk committed to the silence of the Cistercian life, insisted that anyone who sought entry into the monastery to escape the world did not have a vocation. Even, perhaps especially, monks dedicated to silence must bear fruit by being attentive to all believers in order to bring the concerns of God's people before God in prayer.

Today,  reach out for someone lost.

What keeps you from producing fruit for all to eat?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Preaching with our Lives

"How can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?" Rom 10: 14-15

Too often we reduce the ministry of preaching to the ordained or those specially trained to proclaim and interpret God's Word for retreats and day of prayer, and people who preach the word formally ought to be well trained. There should be no doubt of this in the United States. More than any other aspect of church life, poor preaching is cited as the primary reason that people stop attending church on Sunday's. Close behind preaching is a lack of warmth and welcome in our parishes, and this is the "preaching" that we should look at very closely as foundational to the ministry of Jesus.

Most people are not called to preach the Word of God formally, but all are called to "preach" with their lives. When we spend our time, talent and treasure for others, we preach loudly about our values, and often people ask about this. Why, they say, do Bill or Barbara, Juan or Minh spend so much time volunteering in soup kitchens, hospitals or homeless shelters? And the answer is faith. Because Jesus sends us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned, we preach when we offer anyone solace, comfort, food or drink, and we should never underestimate the value and power of these actions. If all we do is preach the word formally, but fail to live the Gospel, the faith will be empty and shallow.

Pope Francis has insisted on this: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” The message for Catholics is unmistakable. "Preach" the Gospel with your lives. Get dirty doing it and the message of Jesus will be be heard as a transforming promise, not a sterile set of rules.

Today, do something simple for God.

What keeps us from "getting dirty" in our efforts to proclaim the Gospel?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Relying of God

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 27, 2017

Praise God at all Times

"All you hosts of the Lord, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever." Dn 3:61

Knowing or grasping God completely is impossible, but we must keep trying, and the scriptures offer us any number of images of God all of which can help at different times in our lives. The book of Deuteronomy reminds us praise and exalt God at all times,  and to remember that God is a healer, someone who is anxious to be with us and make us whole. No matter how broken our life might feel, God's compassion and kindness will triumph over the darkness if only we let God be God.

At the same time, no matter how hard we try, there are times when God's healing seems far away. A friend has recently been diagnosed with cancer of the bone and the doctors are not yet sure how much the cancer has spread. Living with this kind of uncertainty is trying at best, and depressing at worst. When news of our own frailty or the serious illness of friends emerges, it strikes us like a hammer, and our spirits are often numb as we try to process what is happening,

The simplest response we can make to times of struggle and confusion is usually the best. Ask for the grace to accept whatever is happening in your life and you can be sure, no matter how weak your prayer might feel, that it is what God ask of each of us. If we only thank God when we are feeling good about ourselves or our families, if we only praise God when life is going according to our plans, our faith will be unable to navigate the turbulent waters of doubt. God is merciful. God is kind. God understands and wants only to be close to us at all times, no matter where we are.

Today, ask God to let you know how close God is.

What images of God help you most to live life honestly as it happens?


Sunday, November 26, 2017

How much is Enough

"For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she (this poor widow), from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood." Mk 12:44

There are two things in today’s gospel that move me and remind me that the gospel is about transformation, not just information. No doubt I have said this before, but I often worry that Catholics don’t think of themselves as disciples. Discipleship, they say, is too high an honor, and with a false sense of humility, suggest that they do not deserve such a title. Nothing could be further from the truth. We don't deserve or gain discipleship. It is a free gift from God who has called all of us to discipleship through baptism. We are to speak and live the good news with integrity, honesty and conviction. Jesus’ response to the widowed mother in today's gospel is a perfect example for us to follow. 

Widows were in real danger in the world of Jesus. They rarely owned property, were often illiterate and had to rely on their eldest son for sustenance and a place to live. The widow in today's Gospel ignores these dangers. More intent on giving God her whole self, she offers everything she has to the Temple and God. Her generosity never fails to impress us. I wonder if anyone at the time, besides Jesus, even noticed.

There are so many people in our world who follow the Gospel not to be noticed but to give God all they have. Their example of selflessness challenges us not to worry so much about our security, but to trust that God will never abandon us even when we have nothing.

Today, give someone of your substance and do not count the cost.

What keeps you from being more generous with your time or resources?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Christ the King

"Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me." Mt 25 34-36

It is always good to revisit St Peter Chrysologus (5th century) and his wisdom. He writes:
Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.
When we pray and fast without giving alms or showing mercy, we cannot hear the overwhelming power of Jesus' message in today's Gospel. Teaching ourselves to respond naturally and spontaneously to the hungry, thirsty, sick and imprisoned is at the heart of Jesus' message.

Sometimes, however, we are too busy or cynical to live Jesus teaching instinctively. It is not for us to judge whether a hungry person is hungry because they have not tried to find work or wasted their resources on gambling or drinking. Even if this be true, the person is still hungry and the Gospels of Lent will demand we ask to see those in need with the compassion of God.

Today, do a good deed without thinking. Just do it.

How often do you reach out spontaneously for the hungry and sick?









Friday, November 24, 2017

The mistreatment of Widows

"Teacher, you have answered well." Lk 20:40

Jesus always answers well, but sometimes his answers were dangerous. Never consumed with his own welfare, but unfailingly ready to protect and give voice to the poor and forgotten, Jesus speaks up despite the risk to his person and position. In many ways this is the reason for his suffering and death, and when we refused to let his antagonists use a widow as a chip to trap him, he refused to take the bait. In fact, in another place, he holds up a widow as an icon of generosity.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Mt 12: 41-44
Widows had no standing in the ancient world, and their lot was even worse if they had no sons. Ignored and forgotten by most, the woman about whom Jesus speaks remains faithful and generous, a fact that shamed the Jewish leaders and anyone else who reduced a person's value to property and wealth. Whenever we speak up on behalf of the voiceless, we follow Jesus.

Today, listen to someone who you usually ignore.

Who are the people in your neighborhood to whom no one listens?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Saint Andrew Dung-Lac, Priest, and Companions, Martyrs

"We praise your glorious name, O Lord our God." Chronicles 1:29

Viet Nam has often been a difficult country and culture for Catholics, especially during the 19th and 20th centuries. Between 1820 and 1900 more than 100,000 Catholics were martyred for their faith, and the persecution continued in the 20th century when Catholics living in the northern part of Viet Nam had to abandon family and possessions and flee to the south in order to escape oppression or imprisonment.

Although we know very little about St Andrew, there are multiple testimonies about Catholics of his generation who were forced to renounce their faith and step on crucifixes to demonstrate their total lack of respect for the sacrifice of Jesus.  In the end, Andrew was beheaded for the crime of being a parish priest.

Reading about the Vietnamese martyrs reminds us of other people who have been persecuted, not because of some heinous crime, but for being who they are. Jews, especially in the Holocaust, blacks in the United States, homosexuals everywhere, and women whose voice is ignored or discarded simply because they are women.

Today, pray for anyone persecuted for their faith or identity.

How would you respond to religious persecution?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving Day

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

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

We also thank God today for allowing us to play a small role in the healing of others.  Broken families, shattered marriages, lonely teenagers, desperate older people and the mentally ill, to name just a few, have all been given to us as gifts. Today we thank God especially for never thinking that the healing relationships we have been privileged to share with the lost have been our doing.  Most of the time the only thing we had to give others was time itself, and to our surprise, that was more than enough.  Though most of us could never have imagined the path God would set us upon, today we acknowledge that all is grace, all is gratitude, and all is rooted in the unconditional love of God because, in truth: Those we have served have given us more than we could ever give them.

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

Who or what forces you to your needs in gratitude?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

St Cecilia

"Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full." Ps 17

St Cecilia, whose feast we celebrate today, is almost always portrayed with a musical instrument in her hands. Sometimes it is a viola or a flute; at other times she is seated at an organ, all because she is said to have heard beautiful music when she was forced to marry a pagan. Amazing really.  From a simple incident without a firm historical foundation, Cecilia is honored as the patron of liturgical music. Clearly, it is not Cecilia's demonstrated holiness that keeps her memory alive, although I have no doubt she was deeply committed to God, but the power of music that fills us with hope and joy, and helps deepen the faith that is the ground of our lives.

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

Today, take a moment to celebrate all those music ministers who remind us with St Augustine that we pray twice when we sing. 

Does music help you pray?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Presentation of Mary

Although there is no historical evidence that Mary was presented by her parents for Temple service when she was only three years old, the feast of the Presentation of Mary has deep roots in the Eastern church. Desirous of helping the faithful understand that even as a child Mary was dedicated to God, the church tells us that Mary spent nine years in the Temple before she was promised to Joseph, and readied herself to become the Theotokos, the Mother of God.

Image result for presentation of mary

Although there is a powerful message in Mary's presentation, the art that emerged to help us understand this mystery is heart rending. How could a couple who had been childless let go of their daughter at such a young age? Would God this of them or anyone? When we see Anne's face in the depiction of the event we wonder what it must have been like for her see Mary walk into the temple. Did she worry, fret, wonder what might be next for her? While there are no answers to these questions, one truth emerges. God will always be near. No matter what we might have to suffer, God will be our companion. St Anne knew this. Mary knew this. We know this.

Today, pray for the courage to face whatever difficulties you encounter with faith.

How do you face unanswerable questions?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Please!

"Lord, please let me see." Lk 18:41

Sometimes the gospel stories seem stark, and lack detail. This makes sense of course when one remembers that only a few people in Jesus' time were literate, and the intention of the gospels was not to write a biography of Jesus but to announce him as Messiah, son of God and savior of the world. Details were not important in a written form. The story teller could elaborate and fill the text with passion and power. for those who could not read

But the Gospels are not always stark. When the blind man today says "please," we stumble upon an important detail and a telling moment. Not only is the request polite, it pleads with Jesus to look upon a man who is an outcast from his own family and community. Condemned to a life of begging and isolation, the blind man, like Moses, (Ex 33) begs Jesus for help, and becomes an example for all.

Jesus often reminds us that because we have eyes does not mean that we really see. Only those who see with the heart will experience the fullness of the revelation. The blind man, even before he is healed, sees and knows the Lord as Messiah and so approaches him politely, but with hope and confidence. The Messiah's task is to open the eyes of all to the wonders of God's enduring care and love for the world, and because the blind man remembers this, he is healed.

Our task is the same. If we want to see, we must first acknowledge God as creator and redeemer. Only then will we know the Messiah in our hearts.

Today, open your eyes again to the wonder of the created world.

When are you most blind?

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Sharing our Talents

"To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one-- to each according to his ability." Mt 25:15

That everyone has a talent is probably self evident to most of us, and oftentimes we are very grateful for the talents of a friend who can tweak a computer, fix a faucet or sit with us when we are lost.  While the talent might not seem very important to them, when we are in need, the talents of generous friends are a precious gifts.

What is not self evident, however, is that our talents, in a gospel context, are not for ourselves.  Each of us has been gifted by God for the sake of others.  We are part of a community, we are the body of Christ, and as a community of faith we can only be ourselves and function well when all the parts are playing their proper role.  We do not need a hand to be a foot, or an ear to be a mouth.  We need each part of the body to be itself for the good of the whole.

The gospel today reminds us that there is no reason to fear.  God is with us, will protect us and demands that we give away our talents no matter anxious we might be about having enough for ourselves.  Some reading the gospel today are people with multiple talents.  If, however, they use those talents only to satisfy their own needs for power or security, they condemn themselves.  While Jesus uses the person with one talent, who buries it for fear he will lose it, to challenge us to go beyond our fears, all of us, no matter how poor or wealthy, must guard against greed. Not only our property and our money, but our ideas, our creativity, our lives only make sense in a gospel setting when they are handed over for the good of all people and all nations.

Today, rejoice in your talent. Then give it away to whomever needs it.

Who has shared her or his talents with you when you were most in need?


Friday, November 17, 2017

Persistence

"Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?" Lk 18:7

Persistence in prayer is an important Christian virtue. Jesus reminds us of this more than once, and the widow who pesters the local judge to help her attain justice is only the most dramatic example of this. In St Matthew's Gospel Jesus tells his disciples to "Watch and pray always, lest you enter into temptation," and (26:41) St Paul echoes Jesus' call to pray always in first Thessalonians. "Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances."

Praying always can seem like an impossible challenge. For most, when we try to pray, distractions fill our minds and hearts almost as soon as we begin. Even when we pray the rosary or other devotional prayers, we find ourselves thinking about everything but the prayer! Just the same, our willingness to put everything and everyone in God's hands each day is a very powerful prayer although it is often difficult to manage. Trusting God completely is something most of us aspire to, but rarely accomplish. That is why the practice of prayer is so important.

Getting in the habit of saying the Jesus prayer, Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner helps many. Others, especially those helped by 12 step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous use the serenity prayer often. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Repeating both or either of these prayers regularly will help any well-intentioned believer create a space in their lives for God to be God which is, after all is said, the purpose of all prayer.

Today, choose a simple prayer and repeat it throughout the day.

What is your favorite prayer?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

St Elizabeth of Hungary

"While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me." Lk 18 4-5

While it is difficult to imagine St. Elizabeth of Hungary, like the demanding widow in Luke's gospel, threatening to hit someone, it is not hard to see her pushing God on behalf of the poor and the needy. Married at fourteen, she led a simple life and had three children before her husband, Louis, died in battle. Making sure her children were well cared for, she committed herself to a life of total service and fed hundreds of people everyday until her own death at twenty four.

Renowned for her care of the needy, Elizabeth so unnerved her husband's family that they evicted her from the palace, an act that only emboldened her. She joined the secular Franciscan order, lived a prayerful and austere life, and was so popular during her lifetime that she was canonized four years after her death. Like the widow of the gospel Elizabeth's life keeps bothering us as we hear Christ's call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

Today, speak up on behalf of someone in real need.

How do you react to people who agitate for change?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Suffering

"First, he must suffer greatly." Lk 17:25

Rejection is always painful whether it comes from a superior, a coworker or a family member. Usually we become defensive and angry even if we saw the rejection coming for a long time. We also struggle to understand it and put it in a category that protects us from further harm. But rejection comes to everyone in life and unless we learn to accept it for what it is, we will struggle with it more than necessary.

The Apostles and disciples find it almost impossible to understand, much less accept, what Jesus is saying. The Lord has been a successful preacher. People follow him from place to place and his promise to set them free reminds them of God's promise through Moses to the Jews in Egypt. While they might not have thought of Jesus as the new Moses, neither did they expect him to suffer greatly and be rejected. No doubt they resisted his message for fear that they too would undergo the same trials.

Although the call to discipleship involves suffering, we do not have to be afraid. The Lord promises to accompany his disciples until the end of time. As long as we stay close to the Lord through prayer, service and worship, there is nothing to fear.

Today, listen without fear even to difficult messages.

What has been your best response to suffering



Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Being Grateful

"Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?" Lk 17:18

Communicable and deadly diseases always frighten us. Before anyone knew that HIV/AIDS could not caught by a sneeze or sharing a soft drink, there was immense fear in people about something they did not know. Even after it became clear that AIDS could only be spread by the exchange of body fluids through sexual contact, needle sharing and the very rare blood transfusion, people were very much afraid. Something as toxic as AIDS scares us and the same was true in the ancient world regarding leprosy.

That Jesus listened to the desperate pleading of the leper s and allowed him to draw near is remarkable. Jesus knew that by associating with the leper he became unclean himself, but it did not matter. The lepers were suffering not just from the disease but from the isolation imposed on him and all lepers. Lepers had to tear their clothes and call out "unclean" whenever anyone approached them. What a terrible punishment; what an awful life, but the leper who calls to Jesus for help ignores the teaching of rabbis and so does Jesus.

There is a leper in all of us. We obsess about our sins, want no one to see as we really are and even try to hide from God. That the society and church sometimes shun us is not the deepest pain. Too often we isolate ourselves through useless guilt. Only when we remember that we have been cleansed once and for all through baptism and forgiven over and over by Christ's redeeming love, are we really free. When this happens we cannot remain quiet. We must find our voice and announce the Good News. God wants us to draw near and desires to set us free. We have only to ask for help and healing will come.

Today, tell someone you have been made clean by the love of God.

What is your leprosy?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Dark and Difficult Times

"The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them." (Wis 3:1)

Remembering the dead is a sweet sorrow. Because we have made and been blessed with good friends, we are grateful, but miss them all the more when they die. We can't talk with, see or depend upon them in the same way we have in the past. In a very real sense, we are like children lost in a mall, turning this way and that hoping to spot our parents. More unnerving still, a certain level of depression is natural and necessary in order to grieve fully. Unless we allow ourselves to feel the hurt and loss of death, we will not be able to find the light for the next part of our journey.

There are no easy answers, but there is a simple response. Danish mystic and former Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold, writing in his now famous journal, Markings, says it simply and compassionately, "Life only demands from you the strength you possess. Only one feat is possible - not to have run away."

Not running away when life becomes difficult, painful and confusing, though difficult, is an essential task for every Christian. To stay in the moment and learn to welcome what comes our way is possible when we remember that Christ is always near and did not run away from his own misery and suffering. The memory of his suffering and death becomes the ground upon which we build our hope.

Today take time to be grateful for all those, now dead, with whom you have walked in life.

Have you learned how not to run away from the dark and difficult times in life?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

St Frances Xavier Cabrini

“Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?" Lk 17:18

Two things marked the early life of Mother Cabrini. She was frail and sickly as a child and only four of her 10 siblings survived adolescence, but neither situation shuttered her imagination. When her father would read to his children about the great men and women who left their homelands to go around the world as missionaries, Frances dreamed of joining them. Frances' faith was bigger than her weakness.

Faithful to her parents until their death, Frances helped them on their farm and went to school, but soon after their death she began to explore a religious vocation. Rejected at first because of her poor health, Frances persevered and soon the local bishop asked her to found a new congregation of religious women. Sure that Frances' efforts would benefit the local church, the bishop was excited by Frances' new congregation, but Frances had bigger ideas. Soon after making vows, she added the name Xavier to Frances, after the famous Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier, and went to Rome to establish a convent. Soon after, still hoping to go the Orient as a missionary, Frances was asked to help Italian immigrants in the United States. Resistant, she asked the Pope Leo XIII for help in discernment, and the Pope assured her that she should go West to the United States, and from this point her life exploded with activity and zeal.

St Frances Xavier Cabrini was a brilliant organizer and administrator. She founded 68 missions and, though she hated ocean travel, crossing the Atlantic more than thirty times. Her work took her to New York, South America, Chicago and New Orleans, and all of this with failing health. A woman of our times, Frances Xavier continues to inspire women and men of the 21st century with passion and zeal.

Today, pray for the young to accept the call to discipleship.

What do you think are the most important tasks of the 21st century church?




Saturday, November 11, 2017

Foolishness

"Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out." Mt 25:8

The unprepared virgins whose oil has run out are labelled foolish, a word that can be confusing in the New Testament. Paul wants to be seen as a fool for Christ and encourages his companions to be the same. Anxious to be dismissed for the sake of the Gospel, Paul stands out among his contemporaries as a man willing to be ridiculed for the right reason.

The virgins in the Gospel, however, are not seeking attention but only hoping to avoid embarrassment and shame. They knew that bridegrooms, feted  and praised in the week before their weddings, would linger long into the night at parties in their honor. Their foolishness was not a sign of their fidelity to a a cause or person, but a sign of laziness or sloth. They could have prepared themselves for a long night, but did not, and now risk the harsh judgement of their peers.

Each day we are faced with the challenge of discerning how best to announce the Good News. Some days our silence and willingness to listen to others' complaints or problems is a Gospel stance. At other times, we need to search for a way to express our upset, confusion and anger at the lack of justice too many face when they have little money or power in the society. Speaking up on behalf of the poor can be a prophetic action on our part, especially when others are disparaging the poor as lazy or indolent. Authentic Christians know that to be a fool for the sake of the Gospel is a gift.

Today, be foolish in your love for God.

What most frightens you about being considered a fool for Christ?

Friday, November 10, 2017

St Martin of Tours

"I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." Lk 16:9

Two incidents in the life of St Martin of Tours, both recorded by his disciple and biographer, Sulpicius Severus, capture our attention. In the first, Martin meets an almost naked beggar outside the city of Amiens in present day France. Moved by the man's desperate need, Martin cuts his own cloak in half and gives it to the beggar. That night, in a dream, Martin sees Jesus dressed in the cloak he had given the beggar and hears Jesus say: "This is Martin, the unbaptized one, who has clad me." Sulpicius says that after the dream Martin "rushed to be baptized."

The second story is about Martin's "conscientious objection." Conscripted into the Roman army against his will at 15 , Martin was discharged 8 years later after refusing a bonus given to soldiers on the eve of battle. Severus quotes Martin's response to his commanding officer. "I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight."(1) Imprisoned for his refusal to take up arms, Martin offers to stand unarmed at the front of the troops as they ready themselves for battle, but when the two armies forged a peace, his gesture was never needed and Martin was discharged from the army. These stories were so compelling in the early church that Martin became and remains one of our church's most popular saints.

Today, let go of a worn out thought that troubles you. Let go of resentment against someone long dead. Let go.

How do you manage difficulties in your life?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

St Leo the Great

"I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me." Phil 4:13

St Leo the Great, better known to most as the Pope whose eloquence convinced Attila the Hun not to destroy Rome, must have had a big dose of the strength St. Paul talks about in today's his letter to the Phillipians. An authentic relationship with Christ can do this. When we enter the mystery of the Jesus as truly God and truly human, his power becomes ours and enables us to live in ways we could never imagine.

The conviction that Christ acts in and through us is the foundation of our call to discipleship. When we humbly acknowledge and accept that our own gifts, no matter how many they might be, are inadequate for the work of salvation, everything changes. Not only are we freer when we rely on the Lord for the strength we need to live the Gospel in a powerful way, we are more effective. It is always astounding to meet people whose faith is so deep that they draw us into God's love by the way they speak, act and live. The challenge, of course, is to be one of those people.

St Leo's faith was such that, while on a mission to Gaul, he was elected by the people to be bishop of Rome and Pope. It was everyday people who recognized in Leo the kind of faith they knew was necessary to direct the church at a very turbulent time. Leo not only effectively moved the church to recognize the importance of Rome as the seat of church authority, he did it peacefully, an effort that effectively won for him the title Great.

Today, ask God for the strength to live your baptismal vocation with peace and power.

What believers do you think of as Great/

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

"Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh."

One of the wonderful images in the Book of Revelation is the flowing river about which Ezekiel also speaks. Watering and washing every bit of land through which it flows, the river helps every thing along its banks to grow strong. Fruit trees will produce large amounts of nourishment for all every month, and every kind of fish will grow strong and multiply in its waters.

The river, of course, is the water of life that flows to all from the restored temple and it will bring new life and hope to all who enter it, which is the point. We must enter the waters of baptism, drown and be raised up again in Christ if we hope to live the Gospel. This is not an easy journey or notion. To die to self so that Christ might live is the heart of the Gospel but is not something we do intuitively. We must learn to die from those who have gone before us in faith, especially the martyrs, and that is where the Lateran Basilica leads us.

St John Lateran is the basilica of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. First among all Rome's church's, it is dedicated to St John the Baptist who lost his head for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, and reminds us that the most fundamental work of the church is to witness to Christ crucified and raised up for the sake of all. John the Baptist never forgot that his mission was to make straight the way of the Lord. Willing to die for this privilege, John the Baptist continues to remind us of our role. When we make the way of the Lord straight people can find their way into the mystery of God's love.

Today, pray for the grace never to forget God's enduring love for all.

What do you most value about the church, the people of God?




Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Hating Parents

“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."

The use of the word hate in this translation is always troubling. How can anyone, especially those raised in communal cultures that so value relationships over personal accomplishment, hate family members? And is it possible to hate one's own life? Clearly, Jesus is demanding that we let nothing get in the way of doing the right thing, all the time. If for instance, as it might have been for the earliest Christians, your parents refuse to speak with you, shun you or consider you unclean if you will not reject the person and message of Jesus, you must be willing to let go of your parents despite the terrible cost.

This teaching might be easier to understand if we use a different example. Suppose someone promises you a million dollars if you are willing to lie about a candidate for office in order to get their family member elected as mayor or congressperson. While at times we might be slow to answer, especially if we are in deep financial need, we would not lie despite the "rewards." Jesus demands the same from his disciples. Unless his followers are willing to acknowledge how much faith in Jesus matters, despite the consequences, they cannot be his disciples, and faith continues to make these kinds of demands on us in the 21st century.

Racist, sexist and other bullying language and behavior, used repeatedly, must be addressed by Christians in the public sphere. Dismissive and vulgar remarks about entire cultures and religions must also confronted. Otherwise, our silence will be taken for agreement and Jesus' inclusive attitude towards all who are willing to hear, accept and live the Good News will be implicitly denied.

Today, do the right thing despite the cost.

Has your faith ever been the occasion for confronting evil?

Monday, November 6, 2017

We are the Body of Christ

"We, though many, are one Body in Christ." Rom 12:5

Often I find myself praying in gratitude for the people I have met along the way, especially people who could easily have walked away from faith because their journey was so difficult. Many of these people are the cornerstones of our parishes and faith communities, but many others are from the developing world where their contact with parishes as we know them is limited. Strong in their faith, these powerful and committed believers continue to study, reflect and celebrate the mysteries of faith despite their poverty. They are, for me, contemporary heroes who I not only admire but try to emulate.

St Paul regularly boasts about the believers who came to faith through his ministry. Never claiming them for himself, but for Christ, Paul reminds them that they "have the mind of Christ," and it will sustain them. Knowing how difficult it is to live their faith when few support them, Paul holds up the glory of their witness to Christ as an example for all to follow.

Today, boast about someone others ignore.

What helps you endure in faith on a daily basis?

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Invite the poor, the crippled

"When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you." Lk  14:14

Luke's Gospel demands that we never forget who we are or where we came from. Addressed primarily to Gentiles seeking to know and believe in Jesus, Luke wanted his readers to know the fullness of the gospel, and though the message was not easy, it surely attracted those in the Gentile world who had little power, money or influence.

Luke's gospel, however, was not just for Gentiles. It's message helped all the powerless: the sick, women, the poor and cripples to believe that they were invited to the "banquet of God." No one, even the rich, would be excluded who committed him or herself to a Gospel life, but herein lies the problem. If we feel no need for anything or anyone because we can care physically for ourselves without the help of others, we tend to forget how dependent we are on one another and God for all our gifts.

Only when we regularly reflect on our mortality, and accept the limitations of life no matter how fortunate we might be, do we realize how blessed we are in God. More important, we realize that we must not exclude those less fortunate, but invite them to share intimately at our plentiful tables.

Today, remember who you are and ask for the gift of humility.

Who or what has taught you best about living a grateful life?

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Avoiding Phariseeism

“The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen." Mt 23: 1-3

Years ago I heard the story of a mother who told her troubled son that they only way he would get out of his own way and heal would be to do something for others. She encouraged him to work in a soup kitchen, or a community closet in order to get close to those in terrible need, and her advice worked. Experiencing the gratitude of those who no longer could help themselves, the young man began to realize how "rich" he was. Soon after beginning his volunteer work, he returned to school, graduated with honors, and now has a career teaching others while continuing to feed the hungry.

When any of us, committed to Jesus' message to feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, and clothe the naked, fails to do anything in this regard, we run the risk of being labelled Pharisees. Furthermore, it is not enough to give an occasional or even a large donation to a charity that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked or visits the sick. We must get our hands dirty.

Today, don't just encourage others to be compassionate, do something concrete for someone in need.

What has been your experience of direct service to and with the poor?

Friday, November 3, 2017

St Charles Borremeo

"The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable." Rom 11:29

God loves us. That is God's gift to us. But God's love is not a promise that we will never suffer or feel lost and alone. When we say that God loves us we mean that his gift, as St Paul reminds us, is irrevocable. God will never take it back, never stop loving us, and in this promise we have hope, strength and the assurance that God is near even and especially when we suffer.

God's call is also irrevocable and this can be both empowering and terrifying. God calls all of us to discipleship, and discerning what that is can be the task of a lifetime. In my own case, like many other young men of my generation, I felt strongly I was being called to be a Capuchin priest. Motivated by so many of the Capuchin priests I knew as a boy to be active, engaged and committed to the needy, God used that natural attraction to lure me into vows and priesthood. Being a friar, though important, was a distant second to being  a priest.

Thirty years ago, however, in a frightening twist of grace, it became clear that God wanted to work in the Capuchins in ways we could never have foreseen. Without devaluing the call to be priest, the church challenged the Capuchins to reclaim the charisms of their founder, and all the friars to listen to God and not simply follow our own best instincts or needs. Remarkably, this shift is cited by a majority of our young friars as the reason they were drawn to the Capuchins. When we reclaimed the dream of St Francis to form a community of brothers whose love for one another as they traveled from place to place to preach the Gospel would be their most important way of announcing Good News, everything changed. God does write straight on crooked lines.

Today, ask God to renew the vocation to which you have been called.

Who or what has been most influential in helping you listen more deeply to the Gospel?st 
Charles