Follow Br Jack by Email

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Birth of John the Baptist

"The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name. He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm." Is 49: 1-2

The word picture of John the Baptist created by the evangelist Luke 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?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart

"You are a people sacred to the LORD, your God; he has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people peculiarly his own." Dt 7:6

The feast of the Sacred Heart reminds us that we are embodied, that our faith celebrates not just the salvation of our souls, but our entire person. Like the feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, the feast of the Sacred Heart counters any tendency in the Christian community to forget the God sent his son among us as a fully human person and through him reminded us that God wants to be us with us body and soul forever. How our resurrected bodies might look is not the issue. That we will be with God in our bodies is.

The scriptures are forever reminding us of this, but in a world where so many live in large cities, we can forget the importance of creation, all of which manifests the glory and face of God in marvelous ways. The Canticle of Daniel even reminds creation itself to praise and bless the Lord. Listen:
Sun and moon, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Stars of heaven, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Every shower and dew, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. All you winds, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Fire and heat, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Dew and rain, bless the Lord, praise and exalt him above all forever.
Today's feast calls us to come closer to the heart of Jesus where we will find mercy, consolation and hope. What else could we desire.

Whose loving heart has most formed you in faith?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Lord's Prayer

"Our Father who are in heaven, hallowed be they name." Mt 6:9

For believers, the first task each day is to acknowledge God and God's place in our lives. The Lord's Prayer both helps us remember this fundamental stance and teaches us how to do it. More often than not, most of us are ready to tell God our story, enumerate our needs and ask for help, but the Our Father reminds us that for the believer recognizing our dependence on God must always be first desire and duty.

Muslims, though using a different name for God, take a very similar stance when they pray the Shahada, "There is no God but God, and Mohammad is the Prophet." Some Muslim scholars suggest that when Muslims pray they are seeking the same blessings that Catholics desire and experience in the Eucharist. Learning to bow our heads at the name of God is another way of accepting God's presence and power in our lives, and is something that would help believers to live more fully in the presence of God.

It is so easy in a world full of information and internet web access to think of ourselves in powerful terms. After all, we can ask Mr Google almost anything and receive 100 million possible answers within two or three seconds. Doesn't this indicate the growing control we have over the world as we know it?  While we do have access to more information than we could every process or interpret, knowledge without gratitude for the One who is all knowing does the believer little good.

Today, say the Lord's Prayer slowly and reverently.

If you, like the Apostles, could ask Jesus how to pray what would you expect him to teach you?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Avoiding the Spotlight

"Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may seem them." Mt 6:1

Being seen is often important for celebrities. Living in the New York area, there are always reports about actors, business people and athletes at this or that event, with photographers recording their every move and word. Although many claim not to enjoy this part of celebrity, I am not so sure. Without all the photos, radio and TV appearances, their name and image would slip from public consciousness and their fame, which is already fleeting, might disappear completely. Celebrities need a kind of notoriety to get work and demand high salaries.

This is not the way Jesus envisions the lives of his disciples. In fact, he is clear: Do not let your right hand know what your left is doing. Don't prance about in public in order to be noticed. Do the right thing for the right reason, not to be seen but to promote God's reign.

Today, avoid the spotlight.

Whose life of simple, transparent faith most moves you to live the Gospel without concern for personal gain?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Doing Justice, Loving our Enemies

"Love your enemies." Mt 5:44

Doing justice is rarely pretty or without agitation for the just person and the society in which she lives. Insisting that everyone has a right to life, food, housing, education, medical care and speech will always upset some, especially if the just person speaks on behalf of people in prisons or others who we blithely say should be deprived of their human rights because of a crime.  While it might be necessary to imprison people for serious offenses against the society, we must never forget that they are human persons, beloved by God and worthy of our respect.

God promises never to forget our just actions, despite the cost to us or our faith communities. Doing what is right no matter how difficult the circumstances is always a challenge, but one we must accept if we are to claim God as our unconditionally loving Lord.

Today, ask God for the eyes to see your enemies with God's eyes.

Have you experienced God's love as unconditional?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

All is Gift

"We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain." 2 Cor 5:1

All that is, is for us. Our first task is to stand in awe and gratitude before the God who loves us so. Too often we take for granted the wonders of creation. Trapped in teeming cities or lost in the wilderness, we scratch and claw competitively for our little piece of creation. What a shame. Clearly, the earth can produce enough food for all to eat, but too often we lack a commitment to share it.

St Francis of Assisi offers us a wonderful example of this in his treatment of lepers. Fearful of contracting leprosy which in the 13th century was thought to be contagious, Francis and his contemporaries avoided lepers and isolated them socially. Relegated to the margins of every town and village, lepers were instructed to ring a bell or call out "unclean" if anyone came too close to them.

After God graced Francis with the courage to confront his fears and kiss a leper, everything changed. Francis so identified with lepers that he lived among them on the outskirts of Assisi, and went about proclaiming God's special love for the voiceless and forgotten. His message of peace and the dignity of every creature not only moved the people of his day, it continues to challenge us to see all creation as God's gift.

Today, pray for and speak with a "leper" in your world.

How do you understand and appreciate all creation as a gift of God?


Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Body of the Lord

"Do not forget the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt,...and fed you in the desert with manna, a food unknown to your fathers." Dt 8: 14b, 15

Nourishing food is as necessary for the spirit as it is for the body. When we do not have access to good and fresh food, our bodies become more vulnerable to illness and our souls have little to satisfy them. How insightful and natural for Jesus to give himself to us as food that recognizes the importance of our bodies and our souls.

The feast of Corpus Christi further reminds us that we are the Body of Christ, living food for all, and while none of us has to be the entire body, we must cooperate with all the members of Christ's body to help create a world where all eat and all have the freedom to pray and worship. Whether we are called to be an eye, a foot or an ear, each of us has a particular role, and when we live it well, everyone benefits. Corpus Christi is a good day to remember never to take food for granted and to celebrate the great gift of God's invitation to be his body in the world.

Today, be food for someone who is hungry.

Have you had the privilege of feeding others with food and/or faith?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Let your Yes mean Yes, and your No mean No

"Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the Evil One.” Mt 5:37

Although it is important to speak carefully and clearly about important matters, we have to avoid becoming disingenuous. Too often, trying to be politically correct, we verbally dance around troubling social issues. More concerned with not making a mistake of offending others, we say nothing, which often results in the needs of the poor being ignored or neglected. People who come to the United States from countries and continents where English is not the first language are especially vulnerable to our failure not to speak clearly about the rights of people to eat, have decent schools, and get adequate medical care.

A few years ago, a woman approached me and asked whether I knew her. I hemmed and hawed a little bit, and then said no, I didn't think so. When she told me that she lived across the street, I was deeply embarrassed. I didn't know her, even though she was at mass every Sunday, because she spoke very little English. A doctor and a woman who wanted to help other parishioners, she was invisible to me.

Jesus asks us to be honest. In my case, it would have been better had I simply said, no, I don't know you, and accepted the consequences. Only when we acknowledge our weaknesses do we have the freedom to correct them and say yes to doing Christ's work in every circumstance.

Today, let your yes be yes and your no, no.

How do you avoid being disingenuous? 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Violence towards Women

"Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Mt 5:28

Reconciliation, especially between and among family members, is critical not only for the people involved but for everyone.  When we realize that one in every four women in the United States suffers domestic violence in her lifetime, and boys who witness violence in their homes are twice as likely to abuse their own partners, (NCADV) we know how important reconciliation is.

Moreover, the cost of domestic violence is enormous. More than four billion dollars is spent in medical and mental health visits as a result of domestic violence and we can only guess at its ongoing effects since most cases go unreported to civil or medical personnel. When Jesus tells his disciples not to look at woman lustfully, he is speaking to us as well.

Lust is a sin against justice. When we look at others as if they are objects, we strip them of their humanity and we need to seek reconcilation. The gospel is clear in this regard. It is an act of violence to look at and treat others as objects.

Today, ask God to help you look at yourself with honesty and integrity.

Who has helped you  be honest about your own actions for the sake of community and the Gospel?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

We Preach Christ Jesus

"For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus." 2 Cor 4:5

All of us have obligations. Parents must impart values to their children, not simply in word, but in action. Friends need to be honest with friends, especially when someone is acting in a self destructive way. And all of us must try to be supportive of one another as people of the earth. The kind of competitiveness that drives us to destroy other peoples and nations hurts everyone and can only lead to further violence.

St Paul reminds us that our biggest and most important obligation is to preach the Gospel. Paul, of course, preached it in word and became the single most important voice of the early church. Announcing the Good News in what today is Rome, Turkey, Greece, Syria and Cyprus, Paul took his obligation seriously to go to the end of the earth and tell everyone he met about what Jesus had done for him. Just as important, Paul's interpretation of the Gospel, articulated in his letters, became the ground upon which the early church built a theology and that continues to serve us well.

It is important, from time to time to review our obligations, not just to family and society, but to the challenge of preaching the Good News with our lives. If we can honestly tell ourselves and God that we are trying to be disciples of Jesus, nothing much else matters.

Today, ask yourself how God wants you to preach the Gospel?

Who preaches the Gospel in a way that helps you live it??

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Spirit Gives Life

"Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us; rather, our qualification comes from God, who has indeed qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life." 2 Cor 3:5-5

Sometimes St Paul gets it just right. Although it is difficult for us to remember that all we have is a gift, the Gospel clearly calls us to this attitude and stance, and Paul insists that although he has spent years studying the Torah, his knowledge pales in comparison to the gift he received from God to know and believe in Jesus. Only after admitting that he not only ignored the message of the Gospel, but actively worked against it, does Paul realize the gift of the new Covenant in Jesus is beyond anything he could have imagined.

More, when Paul rejects a life that only adheres to the letter of the Law, which he insisted upon as a rabbi, he opens himself and his followers to following the Spirit of the law, and this frees him to know a God of infinite love and mercy who is active in his life. To get to this place of freedom in the Spirit, Paul had to encourage Christians to actively discern God's will, not simply submit to it as if it were a demanding King. Believers must listen, reflect carefully and pray deeply to know God and God's will for us in Jesus.

It is often easier for some Christians to obey the church's teaching authority blindly than to probe and discern carefully what it is the Bishops are saying when they teach. Every adult knows that it his or her responsibility to weigh and sift through many options in life in order to live well. How much more important this is as we search for a way to live the Gospel authentically and completely. Careful attention to and prayerful reflection upon what is happening in the world is an essential element of knowing how to follow Christ in all the circumstances of our lives.

Today, ask God to show you the Spirit of the Law in your discernment.

What is most difficult for you in interpreting the Gospel in our times?

Monday, June 12, 2017

St Anthony of Padua

"Keep me safe O God, you are my hope." Ps 16

For most of our best known saints there is a moment that defines their lives. St Anthony had two. The first happened when he witnessed the funeral procession of the first Franciscan martyrs. Because he had served them as guest master for the Augustinians as they prepared to leave Portugal for Africa, he was convinced their death was a sign from God to leave the Augustinians and join the Franciscans in order to take up their mission in converting the Moors. When his health would not allow him this privilege, he accepted his limitations and moved to Italy where he committed himself to a life of prayer, study, and simple living, a lifestyle that led him to his second defining moment.

Called to be a substitute preacher at an ordination when no one else was prepared to speak, he was expected by everyone to stumble and stammer, but his eloquence and learning stunned his hearers. His life as a renowned preacher had begun and it would lead him to be the first theology teacher in the Franciscan reform, a remarkable turnabout for a community that so deeply distrusted theology. It was Anthony's great sanctity that convinced  St Francis that Anthony could both teach theology and holiness at the same time.

Today, let God lead you in a path of God's choosing.

What moments in your faith life have been life defining?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Beatitudes

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Mt 5:2

One cannot say too often or emphasize too much that the beatitudes are a template, a frame with which to understand all of Jesus' preaching. Very few commentators would suggest that Jesus actually spoke all of these truths at one time and in one place. Rather, the beatitudes are a compilation of Jesus' preaching which was recorded in a form that made them easy to memorize.

Without a printing press or a written form that would allow easy distribution of the sayings and teachings of Jesus, the first Christians memorized Jesus' teaching and repeated them often for their own well being and to announce the Gospel. While many contemporary believers still do this, it can be a dangerous practice.

When we reduce the teaching of the New Testament to a few memorized sayings, we risk creating a "bumper sticker" faith and a community that repeats catch phrases out of context and with little regard for the culture out of which they emerged. When we do this, we impose our cultural lens on a text, and use the scriptures to reinforce our own opinions rather than learn more about how God spoke at a particular time to a particular people.

Today, read all of chapter five in Matthew's Gospel.

What practice has helped you develop a real love for the Bible?

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Trinity Sunday

"Affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint." Rom 5: 3-4

To lose hope in the world, one's family or the church is a terrible burden. The loss of hope is marked by an inner darkness and doubts about the meaning of life. Does it make sense to work for the good of all? Can any institution: country, family, church, ever get out of its own way and create an environment that fosters the common good?

Hard questions like these are natural these days in the United States. Our Congress seems unable to find a path of compromise about vital social issues, leaving the poor and needy, struggling even more for a piece of the American dream. Our families are in disarray. Almost half the children born in the United States are born to unmarried mothers. The church is also floundering. In Northeast United States, most parishes have relatively few young worshippers and can't seem to find the money to hire a youth minister. Even those that have the financial ability to support young people are not sure what they expect from the program or the young.

We are indeed, as Paul suggests, afflicted and need to work together in Christ to endure because it is only in endurance that hope flourishes and new life emerges. Trust in God during times of trial is essential for a healthy families and churches, and the feast of the Holy Trinity reminds us that God is a relationship of persons in unity for the sake of all. God is love and calls us to endure, celebrate, hope and create a dream of a world and church that works together so that all people can eat and all nations live in harmony.

Today, celebrate the relationships God has given you for your growth and faith.

What spiritual practices most help you to endure in the face of affliction?

Friday, June 9, 2017

Watching Widows

"He noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins." Mk 12:42

Any society, especially any local church or parish, that becomes too concerned with maintaining its internal life will slowly die if it fails to notice and reach out to the needy. As we near the end of another liturgical year we are reminded of this simple truth over and over. All our spiritual practices, especially prayer, while at  first blush appearing to be about our inner life, are in fact about making our salvation known to others.

No matter how often we say it or reemphasize it, the Gospel is a gift that must be given away. While it is a rule of life and a guide for how to negotiate life's difficulties, it's primary purpose is to announce the saving work of Jesus by doing justice, redressing wrongs, and listening to the cry of the poor. These behaviors allow God to do God's work.

Though it can be difficult and agitational for those who demean the efforts of the poor on their own behalf, doing justice is always convincing. When Christians feed the hungry and care for the poor in the name of Jesus, their actions speak much louder than their words.

Today, decide to help someone in need without them knowing it.

Whose work on behalf of the poor do you most admire?

Thursday, June 8, 2017

God's Freedom

The LORD gives sight to the blind.
The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; 
The LORD loves the just. 
The LORD protects strangers. Ps 146

Freedom is the most precious gift of the sons and daughters of God, but because most of us have experienced political freedom in North America, we rarely appreciate fully the freedom God gives us.  Only when we have been trapped inside a foreign country or considered as less than human as the Jews of old were in Egypt and Babylon, can we begin to understand the precious gift of freedom that God gives us, not only in our national lives as citizens of a democracy, but spiritually.

When God sets God's people free it is not a license to do anything we like, but a privilege that we have to live and celebrate with joy.  The freedom of the sons and daughter of God  is rooted in God's promise always to be our ground, our heart, a mother who holds us in the palm of her hand and a father who, like a shepherd, watches over us at every turn. Because God claims us as God's own we are free from fear.  God's love is everlasting and can never be taken from us.

At the same time, most people are afraid of true, spiritual  freedom.  It is easier to ask what the rules are in any society or church and follow them than it is to use our imaginations to craft a life with God that announces good news with every step we take.  Authentic freedom is the gift of knowing that God is not so much worried about our mistakes as God wants us to spend our freedom as disciples to help create a world of justice for all.

Today, acccept God's freedom as a gift and treasure it.

How do you understand the freedom Jesus promises?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Tobiah's Prayer

"Tobiah arose from bed and said to his wife, 'My love, get up. Let us pray and beg our Lord to have mercy on us and to grant us deliverance.'”

For believers prayer is always necessary and essential, because it is prayer that allows us to acknowledge our dependence on God for all that is, both the good and painful.  Only when we commit ourselves to God without reserve are we able to understand more deeply that faith is a gift that will always sustain us, even when we are not sure where we are going or what God intends for us.

When Tobiah is told that Sarah will be his wife, he is also warned that Sarah had been married seven times and each of her husbands had died of their wedding night. What a burden? Who  would want to marry a woman so ill fated, and what of Sarah?  Would she be willing to give herself in marriage to Tobiah without reserve? How would she process the grief of seven dead husbands? 

For Tobiah and Sarah, the answer lies in prayer. When Sarah's parents leave the bedroom prepared for the young couple, Tobiah gets up from the marriage bed and invites his new wife to pray with him that God will deliver them from their struggles and have mercy on them. Their example continues to inspire readers even today.

Today, pray for someone who is struggling to understand loss.

What drives you to prayer?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Silly Arguments

"God is not God of the dead, but of the living," Mk 12:27

The implications of this passage are broad and important. Knowing that we will live forever ought to be freeing, unless of course we are stuck in guilt or shame. In that case, living forever feels like hell, literally, but this is not Jesus' intent. Reminding his listeners and us that we will live forever is a reminder to let go of guilt and to put aside shame for the sake of others. Our task is to announce this good news despite the difficulties we encounter. Wherever we are stuck, whether in anger, confusion, anxiety or darkness, we must pray for the faith to see all these emotions as self absorbing and destructive of community and the church. Our self concern blocks our ability to be for others.

When the Sadducees, who denied the Resurrection, tried to trap Jesus in a silly argument about which of a woman's seven husbands will be her husband in the afterlife, Jesus refuses to take the bait. The Sadducees are stuck trying to be right and use logic to reinforce their argument, but Jesus insists that the after life is not about marrying or giving in marriage, but in accepting the gift of living with God forever. Failing to appreciate this free gift of God, the Sadducees walked away thinking they won the argument while the crowd who listened to Jesus drew even closer to him.

Not infrequently, we are like the Sadducees. Insisting that we are right in an argument in order to win, we jeopardize our relationship with both friends and foes, making it very difficult to find common ground in the next go round. Without a relationship, even simple conversations become problematic and awkward. and that is what happens to the Sadducees. Embarrassed and confused by Jesus they look for other opportunities to prove their point and lose any chance to hear the transforming word of God. Unless we listen to the Lord with an open spirit, the same can happen to us.

Today, ask God for the gift of listening with an open heart.

When has your pride interfered with your ability to hear the truth

Monday, June 5, 2017

Tobit's Pride

"So she retorted: 'Where are your charitable deeds now? Where are your virtuous acts? See! Your true character is finally showing itself!'” Tb 2:14

Stress can make us say terrible things. Tobit, newly blind and no doubt feeling trapped and confused by his inability to see, hears a goat bleating and asks his wife where it came from. Hannah tells him that the goat was a bonus from her employers for her weaving, but Tobit refuses to believe her and tells her to return it to its rightful owner. Finally, Hannah responds angrily and asks Tobit where all his charity has gone.

How often when we are upset we look for a scapegoat, a situation or a person to blame for how we are feeling. Uncomfortable with ourselves, we even attack others, deflecting attention from our disquiet and allowing ourselves not to pay attention to whatever is troubling us. When Tobit attacks Hannah, he undermines all his good works, until he recognizes his sin and begins to weep and pray, asking God not to punish him for his cruelty to Hannah.

Acceptance of whatever we are asked to carry in life is the path to reconciliation with whomever or whatever we blame, and is the ground of renewal both for individuals and communities. Tobit's prayer should be ours whenever we lose our focus and begin to blame others.

Today, ask forgiveness from someone you have offended.

What burdens are most difficult for you to carry?



Sunday, June 4, 2017

St Boniface

"A great uproar occurred, and some scribes belonging to the Pharisee party stood up and sharply argued, 'We find nothing wrong with this man. Suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?'” Acts 23:9

Being a missionary has always been difficult. One must leave the comfort and security of a culture, family and religious system that one knows, and enter a totally different world asking God to show you the path to integration and transformation. The best missionaries have always been the most attentive listeners, people who sense the goodness of the people to whom they have been sent. Knowing they are called, like St Paul, to discover the God who is already present in every culture and people, women and men missionaries live in gratitude and awe because of the God they encounter in the people to whom they have been sent.

St Boniface knew these challenges in spades. Sent to the German church that had lost its way, Boniface had to minister with compassion to an uneducated clergy and a community that was more interested in its own interpretation of the Gospel than the word preached by Jesus. Preaching reform and renewal, Boniface's influence was deep because he not only called people to reexamine their values, he also established houses of prayer throughout Germany. The church only prospers when it builds its catechesis and worship on a foundation of prayer.

Today, pray for those who face a daily martyrdom in their own homes.

Have you experienced faith in another cultural context? What was it like?

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Pentecost

"Suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them." Acts 2:2

The winds of Pentecost are cleansing, empowering and renewing. Freed of the limitations of the Old Law, the Gospel assures believers that the Spirit of God will be their guide and strength. What might have made the first disciples anxious before the Spirit's coming upon them, now is a tool of rebirth, something that becomes their strength. Remembering that Jesus told them many times not to be afraid, the Apostles and disciples trusted the fire of the Spirit's power to be their gateway to a rekindled faith life.

Likewise, lifted up by the fire of God's love, we are sent into the world as a challenge to others to let go of the empty values of wealth and power over others for our own satisfaction. Rather, we offer the peace of God that we give freely to those seeking a new way of life. Simple and without conditions, God's love is open to all who are willing to be possessed by God's spirit and root themselves in the commitment to share all God's gifts with all people.

Today, let the fire of the Spirit tell you how to live in Christ.

Have you ever been "blown away" by faith and its promises?

Friday, June 2, 2017

St Charles Lwanga and Companions

"They seized him, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent them another servant. And that one they beat over the head and treated shamefully." Mk 12: 3-4

Charles Lwanga, a catechist who refused to renounce his faith even after seeing many of his Ugandan companions martyred, reminds us again of the power of God's grace. Despite being lured by King Mwanga into the royal court and promised real power over others, Charles would not deny  his faith. More, even after he was condemned to die, he continued to urge others to follow Christ.

Although it is sometimes forgotten or ignored by Catholics, Charles was killed along with nine Anglican young men who might not be called martyrs but certainly gave their lives for the Gospel, and deserved to be honored for their sacrifice. Although Charles is revered in Africa and throughout the world for his willingness to die for his beliefs, his life is also a good reminder to work together with other Christians for a just world. While we might disagree about how to speak of the Eucharist or the role of the Holy Father, we surely do agree about what it means to serve and cling God in the face of persecution.

Today, accept whatever suffering comes to you because of your commitment to the Gospel.

What do you most admire in people willing to give their lives for the faith?



Thursday, June 1, 2017

Jesus Challenges Peter

“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” 
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep." Jn 21 15-21

Who wouldn't be distressed if a friend and colleague questioned you over and over again about your loyalty and love? It is unnerving and upsetting, to say the least, when someone you trust seems to doubt your integrity. That Peter is troubled is not the point, however. Jesus is asking Peter not simply to be his friend, but to love him unconditionally just as Jesus loves Peter, which is another matter altogether.

When you read it plainly and openly, the Gospel is very demanding. Jesus challenges us to love one another, even our enemies, in the same way God loves him and us. It is a daunting task, but one we can complete with God's grace. While the Gospel is impossible when we think we must live it alone, it becomes a joy when we enter it with God and all the saints who have ever proclaimed God's name.

Today, ask for the grace to love God unconditionally.

Have you known the unconditional love of God in difficult circumstances?





Wednesday, May 31, 2017

St Justin, Martyr

"I thank the Lord and I praise him. I bless the name of the Lord." Sir 51:12

Justin, Martyr must have been a great help to his contemporaries. A philosopher who found the Gospel to be compelling and true, he was an apologist, someone whose intelligence and insight allowed him both to explain and defend the teachings of Jesus, even in the face of persecution.

People like Justin are prized in every age, especially by those committed to a Gospel life but who feel inadequate to defend their choices themselves. Apologists free us from trying to comprehend something that in the end is a mystery by assuring us that our commitments are rooted in something more real than our own needs.

Of course, Justin is not honored today solely because he was a good or insightful teacher and mentor to the early Christian community. We prize Justin's memory because his commitment to the Lord was so deep and lasting, he was willing to die for it, and while all of us hope for this kind of faith, few of us have it. Justin's faith was more than careful reasoning and deep inquiry. It was his way of being in the world and being saved. So it is for all of us when we submit to the gift of faith.

Today, thank God for the inestimable gift of faith.

What aspect or teaching of the Gospel is most difficult for you to understand or accept?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Visitation of Mary

"Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!" Zep 3:14


The Visitation of Mary is another of the gospel scenes that has fascinated and challenged Christians forever. A young woman, newly pregnant, visits her newly pregnant older relative, and spends three months with her.

What was their first meeting like? How did they spend most days? What kinds of conversations did they have? Because we have no answers to these questions, we supply the ones our reflection and prayer generate. This is good, something all of us ought to do regularly with the mysteries of faith. 

How we imagine Mary and Elizabeth together not only gives us insight into their relationship, it tells us much about where we are in life and faith. Are we joyful about being "pregnant" with the living God? Are we anxious to let others know about how being the "bearer of Good News" affects us and changes our life on a daily basis? 

Listening to and reading the reflections of newly pregnant women teaches us that everything changes in a woman's life when she knows she is pregnant. Not only do her eating habits change, she becomes very conscious of getting extra rest when possible, and is more careful driving a car. Simply put, a pregnant woman starts to live, not solely for herself but for the child she is carrying, and in this she teaches us one of the most fundamental truths of the Gospel. 

Believers in Jesus, knowing they have been saved, live for others, and while this attitude and conversion is tested everyday, there is no doubt about our call. We are disciples challenged to announce Good News by the way we live for others.

Today, visit someone struggling with life, even in your own home.

What have been the joys of being Christian in your life?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Recognizing God's Strength in Others

"Gorify me, Father." Jn 17:5

Early in my ministry as a priest, I met an older man who was helping his wife die.  It was not an easy task. His wife had a form of cancer with external sores that had a terrible odor.  Nevertheless, everyday he visited her in the hospital, gave her a big kiss and asked how her night was.  Though his wife could not answer easily, she always smiled softly and thanked him for coming.  After watching this simple but profound drama, I asked the man to step into the hallway with me. I wanted to ask him how he was doing and tell him how much I admired his sacrifice.  Looking at me a little strangely, he said, “It’s no sacrifice, Father. We have been married for 47 years, and although I was not always the best husband, my wife always supported me, always encouraged me. Coming here each day is a privilege I would not want to miss.”

My older friend was suffering and rejoicing, just like Jesu.s  He would have done anything to help his wife and ease her suffering, but he knew there was little he could do.  Staying with her, helping bathe and feed her each day, though difficult, was something he properly called a privilege.  This is the kind of suffering most of us can never avoid.  It comes to us as an ordinary part of life, and faith tells us to respond in love.

Jesus, ready to return to his Father, asks God to recognize his work of suffering on earth and that is exactly what I do in prayer when I ask God to remember people like my older friend who lived the Gospel in such a basic and vital way.

Today, ask God to glorfy your work for others.

Who do you admire for their willingness to suffer for others without complaint?


Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Holy Spirit

"We have never even heard there is a Holy Spirit." Acts 19:2

For many years, one of our friars from Australia conducted a little contest with our novices, asking them to name the the six states of his homeland. With a twinkle in his eye, he reminded the novices that he had already given them a hint, knowing full well that the majority would not know there were six states in Australia, much less be able to name them.

I always enjoyed hearing about this exercise because it is true about so much of the world. How many countries in Africa? How many in Europe or South America? There is so much about the physical world we don't know. Why should we be surprised that the disciples in Ephesus tell St Paul that they have never even heard of the Holy Spirit. In truth, most Catholics know little about the Holy Spirit even today, and too many do not realize how vital the Spirit is to their daily lives.

This is all the more serious when we realize that it is the promise and gift of the Holy Spirit that sustained the earliest Christians after Jesus ascended into heaven. For the first community of believers the Holy Spirit was strong, palpable and very real. It was the Holy Spirit that allowed them to let go of their fears, proclaim the Good News and go to the ends of the earth baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today, pray to the Holy Spirit for strength to live and announce the Gospel.

Has the Holy Spirit ever been active in your life? If so, how did you respond?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Praying with Jesus for Others

"I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them." Jn 17:11

How can we accompany family members during a divorce? What do you say to a hard working friend who, because she cannot pay her mortgage, has lost her home? How do you tell an older friend that he can no longer drive? In fact, there is no good or easy way to tell someone that their life and lifestyle must change radically.

Although they did not realize it at the time they were called to follow him, Jesus' disciples were faced with the daunting prospect of continuing to live the gospel that had captured their spirits without the props they had come to rely upon. For years, the disciples had accompanied Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, no doubt expecting that someday he would march triumphantly into the holy city. That this would not be the case was clear but painful. Jesus' disciples would have to rely on his prayer for them as fuel for their new journey. So do we.

Today, pray for someone who feels completely alone and abandoned.

What sustains you in your faith?

Friday, May 26, 2017

The importance of Friends

"I have told you this in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures but I will tell you clearly about the Father." Jn 16:25

How can we accompany family members during a divorce? What do you say to a hard working friend who, because she cannot pay her mortgage, has lost her home? How do you tell an older friend that he can no longer drive? In fact, there is no good or easy way to tell someone that their life and lifestyle must change radically.

Although they did not realize it at the time they were called to follow him, Jesus' disciples were faced with the daunting prospect of continuing to live the gospel that had captured their spirits without the props they had come to rely upon. For years, the disciples had accompanied Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, no doubt expecting that someday he would march triumphantly into the holy city. That this would not be the case was something that Jesus spoke of in metaphors which his disciples often misunderstood.

Although Jesus had been rejected by the people of his home town, (Jn 4:44) most continued to follow him unreservedly. No longer using figures of speech, especially when he spoke of his own flesh as food for their journey after he died, (Jn 6:48-59) Jesus was trying to prepare his disciples for life without him, and it was too much for many. Making sense of suffering often does that to us. When life does not unfold in clear and understandable patterns of our own design, we often seek another path. Will you? Will we?

Today, pray for a friend who you often take for granted.

 Has anyone ever tried to speak with you about your life and lifestyle? How did you react?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

St Philip Neri

"Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves." Phil 2:3

St Philip, a gregarious, funny, and well respected man was committed to humility as essential value for the Oratorians, the society of Apostolic life which he helped found in the sixteenth century. Begun in a church that was sharply divided by the Protestant Reformation, the Oratory invited men to come, to see, to study, reflect and pray without defensiveness about the sins of the church. Instead, the Oratorians were committed to being quiet cells of prayer and hope in a church that had lost its way and needed serious internal reformation. 

Rather than insist upon harsh physical mortification like many other new religious congregations founded after the Protestant Reformation, Philip encouraged the Oratorians to practice spiritual mortification as a way to refocus the church's energies towards God rather than social acceptance. One story about Philip in this regard says it all. After hearing one of his brother priest's give a well received homily, he ordered him to give it again six times in a row so that people would think he had only one sermon.  

Though Philip's action might seem cruel to some, many of my brother Capuchins tease one another that the best homilists among us have only three distinct sermons, and most of us have one! At the same time, we acknowledge that the one thought or one homily, rooted in God's power to save rather than our eloquence, helps people more than all our insights.

Today, pray for the gift of humor as you admit your faults.

Has anyone's humor ever helped you take the next step on your spiritual journey?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Ascension

"Make every effort to preserve the unity which has the spirit as its origin and peace as its binding force." Acts 4:2

How to remain alert and aware to the truths of faith is always a great challenge. As Catholics we profess that the Lord is with us, even on a day when we celebrate his leaving. The same challenge lies before families when one member moves a great distance away, or for the families of soldiers when their father, mother, son or daughter is sent to a part of the world where violence and war are erupting on a daily basis. Trying to remember them when they are not at the breakfast table each day is difficult.

In many ways, this was the situation the disciples of Jesus had to face when he ascended to his Father in heaven. They knew he had promised to be with them always, but they missed the comfort of seeing him and listening to his wisdom on a daily basis. They knew they had to carry on, but they were not sure how they would do this. That he promised them the Holy Spirit as a guide and mentor was helpful, but different.

Because we are faced with these same struggles, the church encourages us to create rituals at home and in our families to keep alive the memory of Jesus. We place crucifixes, statutes and images of saints in our homes, not to demonstrate our piety, but to remind ourselves that we are not alone. We gather around our home tables, not simply to eat, but to be grateful for the food we eat and the faith we share. Doing something each day to remind ourselves that God is among us is essential to our faith growth and our hope.

Today, light a candle of hope in your room or home and pause to remember the Light of all Nations.

What practices most help you to remember God's promise to be with us always?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

An Unknown God

"To and unknown God." Acts 17:23

Ancient peoples knew that to name God was dangerous, even sacrilege. Naming someone can imply a certain control over the one named and that can never be the case with God. God, by definition, is beyond names. Absolute mystery, God sends Jesus to us so that we can know we are loved unconditionally, not to empower us to name God.

When St Paul speaks with the Athenians about what he sees as he moves about the Areopagus, he wants to honor their religious spirit, and assure them that the unknown God they have not named has in fact been revealed in Jesus Christ. Paul's readiness to acknowledge the quest and yearning of the Greeks is important for us to remember when we proclaim the glory of God is Jesus. Because people come to God in ways we cannot fathom, only praise, we should be careful to guard against a narrow, limiting and rigid spirit in our tradition. God will be God for us and search us out even when we live in darkness.

Today, pray for all those who searching for God in every religious tradition.

How has your own faith evolved and grown as an adult?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Closed Doors

"About midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose." Acts 16: 25-26

Jailers at the time of Jesus were frequently retired army officers who would have learned how to guard prisoners and take no chances. In Acts, therefore, when the doors flew open in the jail after the earthquake, the jailer presumed all the prisoners had escaped, and was beside himself. According to Roman law, because he had failed in his duties, he would have been liable for the same punishment imposed on the Paul and Silas.

But God had a different plan. Paul and Silas, perhaps knowing the jailer's fate for letting them escape, stayed in the jail, instructed the jailer and his family in faith and baptized them. What a turn of events! Though the jailer would lose his job, he gained the kind of faith that would allow him a freedom to face whatever punishment the authorities might exact of him.

While the stories of faith in Acts might not be repeated exactly in our lives, there will be many small miracles. Doors of hurt, confusion and resentment will fly open if only we allow the Lord to free us and send us in mission to all in need. We may have to change our lives in ways we never imagined, but God will be the strength we need to do whatever he requires.

Today, open a door of forgiveness to someone struggling with faith.

What closed doors imprison you?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Being a Voice for Others

“When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me. And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning." Jn 15:26

Having someone to help us, especially when we are trying to discern how to tackle serious and important questions, is always a benefit, and this is true for individuals as well as groups. Pastors, for instance, are glad to have others help with the administration and financial concerns of their parishes, and more importantly, they are grateful to have a parish council work with them to sift through the many questions that emerge about the direction and life of the parish as a whole.

Jesus promises us that the help he will give us will always be available. The Spirit of God, who Jesus calls an Advocate (Latin for helper or voice) will be among us to strengthen and direct us for the sake of the Gospel. We can rely on this Spirit always and proclaim this as the basis for our faith and hope. Our Advocate will also send us as advocates to others seeking to know God more intimately.

The call to be advocates, to speak on behalf of others who are voiceless, is a clear demand of the Gospel, but we must be careful to avoid the arrogance of presuming we know what others want or need. While the Gospel makes it clear that walking with and uncovering the deep human concerns of others, especially about human rights, is an essential element of discipleship, we must learn to speak with not for those whose voice is rarely heard.

Today, thank God for the Spirit as Helper and Voice.

Have you had the privilege of speaking with and on behalf of others who were voiceless?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Orphans

"I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you." Jn 14:18

More than once, I have heard people whose parents had recently died say that they felt like orphans. Not until my mother died did I understand what they meant. There is a kind of hole in life when one's parents die. More than a feeling of loss, there is a sense of emptiness. The people upon whom we depended, not to make decisions for us, but to help us discern important steps in life, were no longer with us and we wondered where and to whom we might go.

Jesus, though preparing us for his return to his Father, promises us that we will not be orphans, that we will not be alone, that His Spirit will continue to guide and help us. At the time of Jesus, family was the primary lens through which people understood their role in life, but Jesus wanted his followers to remember that he was redefining their understanding of family. No longer would we be bound only to the rituals and practices of the families and religious traditions into which we were born, but animated by Jesus' Spirit, to the family and body of Christ, making it impossible to be orphans!

Today, pray for those who feel totally without family of any kind.

Have you ever felt like an orphan in the church?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Hate

"If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first." Jn 15:18

Hate is a strong word which most of avoid. It never seems like a word or an emotion that builds life within or among us. All of us have read of people who so hated themselves because of some serious fault that they took their own lives, and while we know this makes no sense, we understand it. More important, we hear of families and nations who hate one another, and avoid contact with those they hate at all costs. Even thought of the hated one brings deep distress.

Jesus was hated by the leaders of his own society because he challenged their interpretations of the law and their haughtiness towards the poor. Imagine what it was like for the leaders when he looked at them and insisted: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!"  Enraged and threatened, the Pharisees plotted to kill him because he told the truth. The gospel is intended "to bring glad tidings to the poor... to proclaim liberty to captives...and to let the oppressed go free," (Lk 4:18) not to "lay heavy burdens" on their shoulders while doing nothing to help them. (Mt. 23:4)

Today,  ask yourself whether you are laying "heavy burdens" on others without being willing to help.

Who has been an inspiration to you because of their efforts on behalf of the poor?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Called

"It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you." Jn 15:16

Being chosen for an important task is both exhilarating and frightening. As a young boy I was chosen to be the catcher on our baseball team, and while I was proud and excited, I was also very anxious. If I didn't catch the balls thrown to me, the other teams' runners would be able to advance a base, and the pressure to do my task only increased as I got older. Sometimes we feel this same pressure in our ministerial lives, and while understandable, it is not of Jesus.

Jesus is not speaking about tasks or ministries, but relationships. He wants us to be responsible in our love for one another. When he reminds his disciples that he chose them, he wants them to be assured of his care and his strength in this most fundamental of Christian duties. He will be our strong arm. He will give us the divine energy to live the gospel in our love for one another. Unless we remember to rely on him in all things, we lose focus, and believe that everything is up to us. This unhealthy attitude leads only to anxiety and fear.

Today, rely on the Lord for life and love.

What does it take to remain united to Christ in difficult circumstances?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Importance of Joy

“I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” Jn 15:11

Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said, “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers.” A friar friend, gently prodding a group of clergy, once asked them to bow their heads, screw up their faces and pray. Only a few participants smiled until the end of the prayer when my friend suggested that if they were happy they ought to inform their face.

It can be difficult to smile, relax and enjoy others when we are troubled or in the middle of a debate like the early church we learn about in Acts of the Apostles. Not sure how best to fold the gentile community into the church, the Apostles struggled with one another. Paul saw things one way; James another and it is clear that everyone was trying to convince the others of their point of view. Being right often kills joy and rather than proclaiming the Good News of Jesus, we act like a group of children after losing a ballgame. 

Today, smile at someone randomly.

Who helps you express the joy you feel as a disciple of Jesus

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Disputes

"But some from the party of the Pharisees who had become believers stood up and said, 'It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Mosaic law.'" Acts 15: 5

Disputes in families and church communities are natural and necessary, but often painful. The early church struggled with how new converts might be faithful to the first Covenant and also be baptized into the new Covenant in Jesus Christ. Converts from Pharisaic Judaism were especially troubled with how gentile converts would fulfill the Torah with regard to circumcision and the dietary laws, leading Paul and Barnabas to bring this struggle to the elders in the hope that some compromise that would satisfy everyone might be reached.

Healthy compromise is hard to come by, but always worth the struggle. One has only to look at the diversity in the Catholic church in the United States to understand this. Folks at the extreme margins of left and right have a difficult time being heard even though they have important things to say. We are, after all, a church of tradition. We respect and honor what has gone before us, but we are also a church that must find ways to announce the Good News to a new generation of believers. Unless we can find ways to incorporate the essentials of our catholic tradition into contemporary life, we will lose our identity and dreams. Reliance on the Holy Spirit alive in the church helped the first Christians. It can do the same for us.

Today, listen quietly and from your heart to someone with whom you disagree.

How do you resolve disputes in your family and parish?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Overcoming Fear

"Jesus said to his disciples: 'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.'" Jn 14:27

When we read about the life of Jesus' first disciples, especially after Pentecost, we realize that following Jesus was no cheap grace. The price of discipleship was high. Many would lose their lives through martyrdom, and many others turned away from Jesus because of their fear.

Fear can be a very difficult emotion with which to deal. Sometimes paralyzing, and always uncomfortable, we often choose to ignore or deny it rather than realize that fear in the face of danger is necessary, and for the Christian, a means of transformation. Acts of the Apostles tells us that Paul was stoned so badly in Iconium that his persecutors thought he was dead, but in fact he lived, left that town and continued to announce the Good News despite its cost.

Jesus acknowledges and addresses the fear in his followers and promises them they will have his peace as a companion, but we should not be naive about this. The peace of Jesus is the ground upon which we build our faith, but it is often tested, and does not guarantee that we will be free of a fear that can paralyze us. Jesus will experience his own fear during the terrible night of his scourging and on the cross, but gives his life to his Father freely and powerfully. When we stay close to him, he assures us we will have the same strength to face our fears as he had during his agony.

Today, be with your fears and do not turn away from the trials of faith.

What about faith has helped you live with your fears and anxieties?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Remembering who we Are

"Why are you doing this? We are of the same nature as you, human beings. We proclaim to you good news that you should turn from these idols to the living God." Acts 14:15

Sts. Paul and Barnabas led something of a schizoid life. Hated and attacked both by Jews and Gentiles in Iconium, Paul and Barnabas, in order to escape being stoned, fled to Lystra and Derbe, but when they arrived there they were given names of the Greek gods because people wanted to worship them as miracle workers. In both circumstances, Barnabas and Paul knew they could not abandon the path God had set before them. They had to continue to preach the Gospel of Jesus and insist they were neither devils nor Gods, but instruments commissioned by Jesus to announce the Good News.

Knowing who we are as Christians is vital both for our own spirituality and the life of the church. If, at times, our passion for the Gospel overwhelms our good and common sense, we will appear to others as extremists who want only to convince others of our opinions, not the truth of Jesus. When Paul and Barnabas reacted strongly to stop those who were trying to worship them, they were living the faith. Their actions reminded everyone that they were about Jesus, not themselves.

Today, remember who you are and offer another person some simple service in Gods'd name.

Whose humble faith most convinced you to live more simply so that Christ might increase and you decrease? (John 3:30)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Vocation

"They chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism." Acts 6:5

Acts of Apostles tells us why the Apostles chose Stephen to help them in the mission of Jesus. Stephen was "filled with faith and the Holy Spirit," but it simply names the others. Why did the Apostles choose Philip, Prochorus, Nicamor, Timn, Parmenas and Nicholas? Why we have we been chosen as disciples?

Every person has gifts, many of which are hard to see and appreciate. When someone is a good listener, we appreciate their ability to sit quietly and pay attention to us without being distracted, but we can also be frustrated when they choose not to have an opinion about our concerns. Others have the ability to articulate matters carefully and succinctly, but can also make us wonder if life is as transparent and easy as their words seem to make it.

No doubt Philip, Prochorus, Nicamor, Timn, Parmenas and Nicholas had gifts that benefited the community, but we should not expect them or our friends to have answers to every problem. Rather, we pray to be grateful for the uniqueness of what each person brings to us, and seek to make our gifts available to others. Doing this regularly will us find and celebrate our vocation.

Today, pray to hear God's daily call to live the Gospel as a gift for others.

Have you discovered gifts in others that you never knew were there?

Friday, May 12, 2017

God our Refuge

"Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you." Jn 15:13

Who or what is your refuge? As children, most of us sought 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 who assures us that whatever we ask in his name will be given to us.

Listening to Pope Francis over the last few years, I am struck by his insistence that we "confess" Jesus Christ if we want to be authentically Christian. While we honor and celebrate all people who seek the good of others through Non governmental organizations (NGO's,) foundations and other charitable agencies, Christians must be rooted in Christ as disciples if we want to proclaim the fullness of the Good News.

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

What does it mean to you to confess Jesus Christ?


Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Way, The Truth, The Life

"Master, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?" Jesus said to him. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." Jn 14:6

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Humility

"When Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, he said to them: 'Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.'" Jn 13:16

When Jesus assumed the posture of a slave and washed the feet of his apostles, he startled them and us. That we ought to be kind to one another and welcoming to all, even our enemies, is clear, but that we should kneel down and wash others' feet made no sense at the time of Jesus and continues to feel alien to us. While we might offer someone access to a bathroom to refresh themselves, the idea of washing their feet would never occur to us.

In Jesus' day washing feet was common, but it was done by women and foreign slaves. Heads of household would never wash feet, and although many of the great figures of the Hebrew bible offered kind service to their friends and family, Jesus' willingness to stoop to wash his disciples feet signalled a new kind of leadership and a radical view of God.  Jesus' challenge was clear. We must see ourselves as less in order that God can be more.

Today, think about the God in others, not your own power or prestige.

Who taught you most about a life of Christian service?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

God so loved the World

"I did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world." Jn 12:47

Jesus must have been terribly confusing to the leaders of the Jews. Forever insisting that he wants only to live the Law and fulfill it, at the same time, he seems to break the law regularly. What were the Pharisees to do? If they did not challenge and condemn him, they would lose their own authority. If they did reject his teachings, they would lose the power they had over ordinary people. Their quandary, like ours, led them into impossible situations. More concerned with their own position in the community than with their role of instructing the people of God, they don't listen deeply to the Lord. Neither do we!

A life of faith is not something we put on or off at will. Neither can it be reduced to obeying legitimate authorities. Faith demands reflection, prayer and conversation with others seeking to know and follow God's law, all of which takes time away from other necessary duties in life. Too often, hoping for a simple and quick solution to complex questions, we avoid the hard work of following the Lord, and either put our foot in our mouth or kick ourselves in the shins.

It is important to remember the lesson of the Pharisees. While we can, and sometimes must, criticize church and state, it is only through reflection, prayer and honest conversation that God's will emerges.

Today, pray for the prophets in our world who remind us to live the Gospel fully.

How do you discern God's will in your life?

Monday, May 8, 2017

Jesus and His Father

"The Father and I are one." Jn 10:30

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."

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, May 7, 2017

Good Shepherds

"Jesus said: 'I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.'" Jn 10:11

God as our good shepherd has always been an attractive, inviting and empowering notion for believers. In the ancient world from which this image comes, shepherds were the underclass. Although they had no voice in the society, they played critically important roles, especially for the poor. Because the poor could not afford their own sheep pens, shepherds were hired to look over the sheep of many families in a common pen throughout the night, and  while they were able to rest, they could not sleep since it was their task to protect the sheep from predators. In order to do this effectively, shepherds would lie down across the opening of the sheep pen in order to protect the sheep entrusted to them. That the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament remind us that God and Jesus are shepherds, willing to give their lives for their sheep, is both comforting and challenging.

Parents are natural shepherds, willing to protect their children from anything and anyone who might threaten them. Parents almost always do this without personal concern or fear. They know it is their duty, especially in the first years of life, and would have it no other way. These days, because people are living so much longer, children often become parents to their parents, and it is these "children" caring for their parents who show us a new face of God's unconditional love. Every time I visit a hospital or nursing home and encounter people feeding and clothing their parents of a daily basis, I am moved and strengthened by their generosity and unselfishness. Theirs is a heavy burden, but like Good Shepherds, they do it graciously and compassionately.

Today, thank someone who has been a Good Shepherd to you.

What is your most helpful image of God?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Jesus, the Gate

"I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture." Jn 10:9

Gates are important for shepherds, ranchers and dairy farmers. Not only do they protect live stock from predators, they also provide a safe haven for the animals themselves. Jesus calls himself a gate because he wants to protect us and give us a sense of security in his Father's love. He also wants us not to be afraid to offer others a safe place in God's house, and this becomes the task of every person committed to the Gospel.

When we realize how much God wants to protect and guide us, we are humbled. Looking past our faults and sins, God keeps giving us examples of faith to assure us that we, too, can strive to live the Gospel fully. The two Popes canonized last week illustrate this. John XXIII told us to "see everything, overlook a great deal, and correct a little." John Paul II reminded to be in solidarity with the poor despite the cost, and to help create a peaceful world rooted in justice. Both men were gates whose lives encourage us to do the same in our generation.

Today, protect someone's reputation because it is the right thing to do.

Who has been a gate of faith for you?

Friday, May 5, 2017

Lasting Discipleship

"Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, 'Do you also want to leave?'” Jn 6:67

When friends are not who we thought them to be, especially if they speak poorly of us, we are disappointed and disillusioned.  We might even be tempted to end our friendship, or at the very least step away from it for a while. Shock does that to us. Unsure of someone else, we also wonder how we missed something important about them. Were we so needy that we failed to realize that our relationship was not as secure or as deep as we imagined?

John's gospel reminds us that not all of Jesus' disciples remained true to him. Confused by his teaching about his body being real food and upset by his failure to be they Messiah they wanted and expected, more than a few abandoned him and his teaching, but Jesus did not reject them or us. Although the Lord wonders aloud whether any of the apostles also want to leave, the apostles, led by Peter, remain faithful even though they do not understand everything the Lord is teaching.

Discipleship, like friendship, is built not on completely understanding the other, but on trusting that the relationship is authentic and rooted in God's love and the truth of the Gospel. Because we know that God is faithful, we can trust that whatever God teaches is for our good and glory of God. Trusting God is the root of our faith and faithfulness.

Today,  ask not for understanding but acceptance.

How do you manage the loss of a friendship?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Conversion is a Lifetime Challenge

"Saul, Saul, why are your persecuting me?" Acts 22:7

Almost everyone has a conversion experience or three. Struggling for an identity or reflecting on the scriptures, there is a moment that stops us and reminds us who we are. Though it is not always life changing, it can be.

For St Paul, who thought of himself as among the most observant of Jews, it surely was. Blinded by a great light on his way to Damascus to continue his persecution of Christians, he heard a voice telling him, "I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting." (Acts 22:8) Unable to see because of the great light, his companions led him into Damascus where Ananias healed him of his blindness and told him to return to Jerusalem and be baptized. Not long afterwards God told Paul to leave Jerusalem and go to the Gentiles among whom he would find his life's mission.

While it appears that for St Paul the memory of his dramatic conversion was all he ever needed, we can be sure that this is not true. While all who open themselves to the power of the Holy Spirit will be led more deeply into Christ and into mission, there will be moments of disabling doubt and confusion when we will wrestle with God and with life. Only after we lose the battle to be in charge of our own lives and throw ourselves again at God's feet and ask for mercy, will we find the path to the next stage of our journey. Indeed, God has a mission for all, but it is God's mission, not ours.

Today ask God to send you again on his mission, not yours.

How can each of us continue to be converted in Christ?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Ongoing Education in the Faith

“'Do you understand what you are reading?' He replied, 'How can I, unless someone instructs me?'” Acts 8:31

Unfortunately, in a Twitter world where all communication is limited to 140 characters, too many believers cling to or focus on one phrase from the Gospel and use it as a lens for their spiritual lives. Doing this almost always leads to misunderstanding and confusion.  The New Testament cannot be fairly read or understood when we remove it from its own cultural context and setting.

An example might help. Luke (10: 38-42) tells us that when Jesus visited the home of Mary and Martha, Mary sat at his feet and Martha, busy about all the preparations for his visit, complained that Mary was not helping and wanted Jesus to correct her. Instead, Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part.

Over the years, many commentators suggest that Luke was writing about the so called active and contemplative life, but contemporary cultural insight helps us realize that sitting at a rabbi's feet was the role of men called to the rabbinate. Martha is angry because Mary is assuming a role to which she could not aspire. A woman's place was in the background helping with the ordinary chores, but Jesus challenges this stereotype, not just among men and women, but what it meant to be a rabbi. Teachers and leaders had to be servants, not privileged operatives with power over others.

The Ethiopian eunuch reading the scriptures alone knew he needed help and asked Philip to instruct him There should be little doubt that Philip responded to this seeker's request using all the information and skill he had. Blessed with so much wonderful scholarship and insight, we ought to follow Philip's example in the 21st century.

Today, pick up a Catholic study bible and read the introduction to one of the Gospels.

Who or what most helped you to understand the scriptures more deeply?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Sts Philip and James

"Have I been with you for so long a time and still you do not know me, Philip? Jn 14:9

Sometimes it is amazing to acknowledge how little we know about ourselves and others with whom we live even after many years together. In part, this is a result of the culture of individualism and privacy that so pervades U.S. culture, but it is more than that. Too often, busy about so many things, we fail to spend time, even waste time, with ourselves, our families and God.

Being with others is rarely revealing all at once. Only time spent listening to others with our hearts over the course of many years affords us real knowledge of the other. Learning to waste time with God  and others each day, despite its frustrations, will allow us to know and love God and the people with whom we live more deeply. More important, it affords God the opportunity to tell us more about God.

It is a small, but significant, comfort to know that even the apostles suffered from spiritual “blindness" and "deafness.” Philip does not know the Lord after years spent with him, but perhaps after the Lord’s correction, Philip will listen more to Jesus’ teaching about who is and from whom he comes.

Today, take five minutes to be quiet. Do not worry about distractions.

Who most impresses you with their ability to be quiet and listen?

Monday, May 1, 2017

St Athanasius

"He gave them bread from heaven to east." Jn 6:31

It is difficult to imagine what it must have been like for Christians at the beginning of the fourth century. For three centuries they had been persecuted. Welcome neither in Jerusalem's synagogues nor Rome's temples, they hid in the catacombs or died in the Coliseum, but within fifty years of the conversion of Constantine, Christianity became the state religion and anyone who sought office in the Roman empire had first to be baptized.

St Athanasius was about 20 yrs old when Constantine first professed faith in Jesus and led a tumultuous life. Exiled five times from his see in Alexandria, he continued to defend the divinity of Jesus in a world that wanted compromise at any price, and held up St. Anthony of Egypt and his simple life as a model for all Christians. That he remained faithful to the most basic teachings of Christianity despite great personal suffering makes his life a challenge for believers everywhere.

The struggle to live a faith based life at the beginning of the 21st century is great. With the explosion of  the newly emerging social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, there is enormous competition for our attention. How the practice and life of faith fits into all of this is unclear, but with Athanasius we can recommit ourselves to live simply and transparently as witnesses to God's love for us in Jesus Christ.

Today, be grateful for anything and anyone who reminds you of God's love for us in Jesus

Who most impresses you with their simple life of faith?



Sunday, April 30, 2017

Christ our Food

"Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life." Jn 6:27

The apostles and disciples were full of passion after Easter. So filled with the hope of God's reign changing everything, nothing could stop them in going from place to place despite the danger to themselves and their families. They had heard the good news and been transformed by it. Passionately, they move onward and upward, working for the food that would endure forever. Convinced the reign of God and Jesus' return was very near, they worked tirelessly for the sake of the Gospel, but soon enough the tired and faltered.

The same thing happens to us. When we are young, we can be passionate about changing the world, raising a family, building a career, and cleaning the environment. Our passion drives us and seems unstoppable. Even though we often fail, we get up, move on, and search for new ways to live authentically, but being passionate also comes at a high cost. When passion becomes rushing, a change is in order. We must learn to harness our passion, listen to our bodies and discern how best to move forward as disciples. Only when we allow God to do God's work and direct our lives can we hope to be free from the constant need to perform and succeed that derails so many.

Today, be passionate about being alive.

Whose passion for the good and for God most changed you?

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?