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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Do not be Afraid of those who Kill the Body

“Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows." Lk 12:7

The disciples were drawn to Jesus for many reasons. He spoke to their hearts. He addressed them with dignity. He was a healer and prophet. He spoke with power. But they were also cautious and afraid. When Jesus spoke to and about the Pharisees he was dangerous. Because the Pharisees were able to intercede for them and help them with a meal or clean clothes, the poor were not going to bite the hand that fed them. That is why today’s gospel from Luke is so telling.

Luke tells us that there are so many people trying to get close to Jesus that some are being trampled. No doubt Jesus’ disciples were impressed and hopeful. The prophet they were following was popular and powerful. More important, he was a rabbi who cared about them, but his warning about not being swayed by the leaven of the Pharisees had to make them very anxious. No doubt some moved to the background where they might escape the wrath of the Pharisees if necessary. Jesus’ suggestion that some of them might die as a result of following him was not what they wanted to hear. But others heard him at a deeper level. Rather than retreat, they moved closer to him where there was no reason to be afraid. Since they were worth more than many sparrows, God would protect them, guide them and strengthen them when they were threatened.

Being willing to hear Jesus’ word today is no different. There will be times when we want to fade into the background, afraid that we might lose the little we have. Jesus’ assurance that we should not fear those who can kill the body but not the soul will fall on deaf ears. When we feel threatened it is natural to retreat, but we should resist. Allowing ourselves to feel the fear will help dissipate it. More important, when we ask the Lord to enter the fear with us, we will sense a kind of companionship that is empowering and helpful.

Today, ask God for the faith to believe in your own worth and not to let your fear get in the way of a deeper relationship with the Lord.

Do you believe that God cares about you and all people personally?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Saints John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, Companions and Martyrs

"Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord." Ps 130:1

One of the most difficult situations every missionary faces is learning the nuances of another language. Knowing the idiomatic expressions, the intonations and the humor of other languages requires a life long effort, and even then most people never lose the accent from their fist language. Nevertheless, Jesus tells his disciples not to worry about what to say, that the Holy Spirit will teach you. Good advice, even today.

When John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and their companions came to the New World they knew very little about it, and undoubtedly did things that frightened the Native Americans they encountered. Rene Goupil was killed for tracing the sign of the Cross on a child's forehead, and we will never know how the Native Americans interpreted his gesture. Could they have believed Rene was harming the child? Were the missionaries able to communicate their dreams and purpose? We trust that their intent was always good, but some of what they said and did was misinterpreted, and that is a good lesson for us.

Knowing the culture into which one is inserted, even while living in the United States, is vital for good and lasting relationships. While none of us want to make seriously egregious mistakes when speaking and living with people from different cultures, it is bound to happen, and this can lead either to a deepened appreciation for one another or create fissures between and among us that are very hard to heal. For those who desire a deeper relationship and not a lasting break, it is vital to listen deeply and ask the Lord for the words that will help us articulate the power of the Gospel in a way others can understand.

Today, listen to someone from another culture or race and say nothing.

Have you ever had to ask God for the words to speak the Gospel?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

St Luke, Evangelist

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest." Lk 10:2

St Luke is credited with writing Acts of the Apostles as well as the Gospel, in all  more than 25% of the New Testament. Sometimes called the Gospel of St Paul because Luke often traveled with Paul and was his disciple, Luke wrote primarily for Gentiles. Not as concerned as Matthew's gospel with demonstrating that Jesus was a Jew and the new Moses, Luke writes about the poor, women, the sick and the underclass, assuring the Gentiles that the Gospel of Jesus was intended for all people, not just the Jews.

How we proclaim Jesus to people from different cultures, nations and races is critical to inserting the Gospel into places it has never been heard. We know this not only because so many believers before us lived the Good News with passion, but also by their mistakes. If Christianity is proclaimed primarily as a religion of the West, especially the European West with all of its cultural symbols and rituals, it will never become the Good News about which Luke wrote.

We need to remember this lesson as 21st century disciples. As nations around the world find their own identity, they need to know that the Gospel will marry with their culture without destroying it, and the Christianity they embrace can celebrate the great mysteries of faith in a way that makes cultural sense to them. Knowing this will free those new to the Gospel to hear and embrace, in their own cultural context, the freedom that Jesus promises to all.

Today, ask St Luke for the grace to know how to speak the Gospel to all those struggling with faith.

What do you think missionaries in the 21st century ought to emphasize about the Gospel?

Monday, October 16, 2017

St Ignatius of Antioch

""Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil. You fools!" Lk 11:38

One of the great qualities of saints is that they don’t bring attention to themselves. St. Ignatius of Antioch is a wonderful example of this. Famous for telling his followers, "I am Christ's wheat and shall be ground by the teeth of the beasts so that I may become Christ's pure bread,” Ignatius begged his friends not to stop his martyrdom. So confident that the Lord would protect him, the saint knew the strength he received from God would be a sign to others of God’s unconditional love. At the same time, as one reads further in Ignatius' letter, there is a hesitancy, a moment of fear perhaps. He says, "If then I should beg you to intervene on my behalf, do not believe what I say. Believe instead what I am now writing to you now."

Most of us, while admiring Ignatius’ faith, would be more likely to tell our friends to ignore our craziness in seeking martyrdom and write it off as the dream of a madman. Because we are afraid of the unknown and more concerned with the life we have and know, even if it is full of pain and confusion, we hesitate thinking about and asking God for the grace of a peaceful death, much less a martyr’s death. Amazingly, we often cling to the little we have rather than remember God’s mercy and throw ourselves upon him. Ignatius' example challenges us to reexamine our priorities

Today, ask for the humility to let God be God and to trust that God's grace will be enough even when we face death.

Are you prepared to die?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Listening to Jesus today

"At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here." Mt 12:40

When Jonah walked through Nineveh calling the people to repentance, the response was almost immediate. The king instructed everyone, even the animals, to join him in responding to Jonah's prophecy. Together they put on sackcloth and sat in ashes hoping that God would accept their acts of penitence and free them from destruction.

The scriptures are forever reminding us that God always listens and responds to our heartfelt cries. Not only does God lobby Moses to approach Pharaoh and demand the enslaved Hebrews be set free, God also listens to the cries of the poor who he reminds us are always close to him. It should not surprise us, then, that Jesus would be born of poor parents, and like Jonah, would go towards Jerusalem announcing God's desire for our conversion and transformation.

We need to learn to walk with Jonah and Jesus, and respond to their cry.  Unless we commit ourselves to repent of our sins, our selfishness, our failure to recognize a world bigger than the United States, our desire for a kind of security in things, and money and power that only God can give, we risk admiring Jesus' pronouncements but failing to live them.

Today, listen closely and without fear for Jesus' call to conversion.

What does it mean to you to listen and respond to Jesus in the 21st century?


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Wedding Garments

"The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son." (Mt 22:2)

It is always amazing to note how often the Bible uses the setting of a meal to help us understand God’s care for us. Both  Isaiah and Matthew tell of a grand banquet that God has prepared, but it is important to note that there were two distinct kinds of feasts in the ancient world. The first, known as a ceremonial feast, would have been something a local political leader might host by inviting people to the anniversary of his ascension to power, or the wedding of one of his children. Everything would be provided for his guests, even a wedding garment if they had none. Guests had only to enjoy themselves and be grateful.

The second was known as a ritual feast. A king or local tetrarch might host a festive gathering when his son came of age or entered the military. This kind of feast signaled a transformation in someone’s life, a time when new expectations were thrust upon the one being celebrated, a time to rejoice but also to change, which is the point of the text.

Do we accept God’s mantle of love, God's wedding garment, that calls us to let go of sin and self centeredness  in order to live a life of gratitude and service? If we fail to be grateful, we align ourselves with the man who chooses to come to the wedding banquet, but is not willing to change. In fact, we condemn ourselves. It is not God’s generosity that is lacking, it is our unwillingness to accept ourselves as God sees us and live in gratitude.

Pray today to see yourself as God sees you, a person of great dignity and value. Pray too to see others as God seems them.

Does gratitude for God's gifts mark your life?

Friday, October 13, 2017

Putting aside Religious Arrogance

"Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it." Lk 11:28

There are some who might get upset with this passage from Luke. When a woman in the crowd seems to praise Jesus’ mother saying, "Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed," Jesus reacts. A person’s life is not of value, he says, because of her parents or relatives, but by her willingness to listen and live the good news.

The Jesus of the gospels would never disparage his own mother’s goodness, but he would and does use the words of an anonymous woman in the crowd to remind his listeners that being born a Jew guarantees nothing. Were he alive today, he might well say that being born a Catholic means little unless one lives one’s religious faith and tradition.

Jesus was trying to remind his Jewish brothers and sisters that they were not better than others simply because of their religious clothing, roots or heritage. Rather, he wanted them to live their faith with integrity and a deep sense of justice not by lording it over others but by always remembering their own slavery in Egypt and their times of exile from the Promised Land.

Today ask God for the grace to go beyond the essentials of religious practice.

Have you had experiences that helped you appreciate the great gift of religious faith?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Faith is not about Survival

"The day of the Lord is near." Jl 1:15

The instinct to survive is strong. Very few people when facing the end of their life let go without a struggle. Although we see friends and family wrestle with cancer and wonder why they are willing to try almost any treatment, the fear of the unknown can overwhelm the best of intentions. In our everyday lives, we are urged to diet, exercise and relax regularly in order to live more healthily, and while this is understandable and good, we can become obsessed with preserving our lives and forget the challenge of the Gospel to welcome the stranger.

As the letter to Hebrews reminds us, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Heb 13:2 The book of Leviticus is even clearer. "You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." Lev 19:34

Today, give some time you don't have to help someone struggling to survive.

What do you think our faith demands of us with regard to welcoming the stranger?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Asking for Help

"Ask and you shall receive." Lk 11:9

Most of us are too proud to ask others for help, except in the simplest matters. Determined to hold onto our independence for as long as possible, we miss some of the great delights of life. When we allow others to help us, everything changes. We realize that it is o.k. not to know certain things, not to be in charge, to be in charge.

More important, we often empower others when we ask for their insight or help. This is especially true with our children. I remember well when my parents asked me to help them with their finances. Although I had not had much experience in financial matters, there were plenty of friends who were more than capable, and they were only too happy to help me and my parents.

The Gospel today is reminding us to ask for help, to acknowledge our weakness and dependence, asserting all the while that God is waiting for our request and anxious to come to our aid, and while we might not always receive exactly what we think we need or want, the Lord will always be present to us as guide and companion. The 13th century Persian poet, Rumi, says it this way: "The door we are knocking on opens from the inside."

Today, knock of God's door just to tell him you are near.

What makes it difficult for you to ask for help?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Unresolved Anger

“But the LORD asked (Jonah), "Have you reason to be angry?"

God’s question to Jonah is stark, direct and demanding. It could be addressed to any of us. Put another way, God says: Are you angry with me for forgiving people? Have you been so hurt by another’s sin that you cannot, will not let go? Clearly, Jonah did not expect the people of Nineveh to listen to him or God when he walked through their city demanding repentance. When they listen and repent, he wonders about their sincerity. His caution is such that he will not allow himself near those who sin or the God who forgives. How awful, but how ordinary

Unresolved anger can be a terrible cancer in our families, churches and world. Although understandable, Jonah’s anger is unacceptable. Jonah holds onto the awful memory of the armies of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, destroying Jerusalem. As long he clings to his anger, he cannot imagine anyone, even God, forgiving. Unfortunately, when this kind of anger takes root in us and remains unaddressed in our families and churches it becomes like a resistant weed that we tear off on the surface, but fail to dig deeper to remove the roots.Think, for instance, about the rage some continue to hold against Muslims everywhere because of ISIS or Al-Qaeda.

Today ask God not just to free you from the entanglement and twisted thinking that is the result of unresolved anger, ask to be free of the buried memories that slowly kill us a day at a time.

What about our faith helps you let go of anger?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Jonah's Dilemna

"Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed." Jon 3:4

Jonah's challenge is both similar and very different from the apostle's. Jonah must walk through Niniveh and remind its citizens that unless they reform, their entire city will be destroyed. In this aspect of his ministry Jonah is a forerunner of the apostles, but Jonah is reluctant to assume his new role. In fact, he hopes he fails. His dislike of the Ninivehites is deep. He does not want them to reform and hopes that God will destroy them.

The apostles, on the other hand, while no doubt having their own prejudices, are not reluctant at all to follow Jesus, even though they do not know the fullness of their mission. Jesus' personality and power draw them like fresh water in the desert. They do not hesitate leaving their boats and their families to follow the one who promises a new reign and a new world order.

There is a bit of Jonah and the apostles in all of us. Because no one can escape hurt, especially broken relationships and friendships, like Jonah, we sometimes harbor and hold onto painful memories that cling to us like an ink stain on a new shirt. We scrub and launder the shirt over and over, but the stain remains. Though we know we have no choice but to find a new shirt, we cling to what seemed so clean and fresh but is now ruined. Unless we change shirts, we will be unable to begin again.

Today, listen for God calling your name.

How does the Gospel help you let go?

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Good Samaritan

"But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight." Lk 10:33

The story of the good Samaritan is one of the most well known and powerful stories in the Gospels, and for good reason. Samaritans were hated by the Jews. Accused of being syncretists, people who mixed religious traditions for their own self centered purposes, Samaritans also built their own temple to which non observant Jews were welcomed in contradiction to Jewish law.

If some of this sounds familiar, it should. Too many people label others in ways that not only challenge their belief systems, but denigrate their persons, and Jesus will have none of it. The Good Samaritan, he reminds us, not only risks his own life by responding to the fellow who has been robbed, he brings him to an inn so that he can rest and recover from the attack. We know nothing else about this particular Samaritan. Whether he worshiped in the  "false" temple on Mt Gerazim in Samaria and therefore was judged unclean by the Jews was irrelevant. That he stopped and aided someone in need is Jesus' only concern.

Today, help someone in need.

What aspect of the story of the Good Samaritan most moves you?

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Anxiety

"Have no anxiety at all." Phil 4:6

Terror comes to us all. Sometimes it takes the form of a new illness or anxiety. At other times, we are deeply troubled by the sickness of a spouse, friend or child, especially when the doctors seem unable to diagnose the problem. When this happens, we tend to breathe more shallowly and our insides get frantic with worry and concern. Worse, it is often difficult to sleep or rest well when we are overwhelmed with a life threatening situation.

Jesus continually assures his disciples that he is always alert and will always be with them, but he does not promise a carefree life. Rather, he insists that the Good News is so good that they need not fear even death itself, a great challenge for the disciples and us.



Today, ask the Lord to assure you he is near.

Do you have a prayer that helps you when you are anxious?

Friday, October 6, 2017

Our Lady of the Rosary

“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.”  
(Lk 10:27)

Learning to pray by rote is important. Repetition allows the substance of the prayer to seep slowly into our psyches and souls, and repetitive prayer like the rosary teaches us that we do not have always to be conscious of every word we speak to God, but we do have to be faithful. 

Archbishop Fulton Sheen, one of the most dramatic and effective preachers of the twentieth century and now a candidate for canonization, one wrote:
"The rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men (and women); it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the rosary is beyond description." (History of Rosary)
It does not matter if we are blind, simple or old as long as we keep praying as best we can, and the rosary is a wonderful way to do this.

Today, say a decade of the rosary with an open spirit.

What are your best experiences of repetitive prayer?

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Doing Justice

"Justice is with the Lord our God." Bar 1:15

Being just and doing justice is an essential element of the Christian vocation. At the end of the 19th century, when the world was changing more rapidly than anyone could understand or accept, and workers were being used and abused by the newly emerging assembly line technology which left them exhausted at the end of a working day, the church, under the leadership of Pope Leo XIII wrote,
"Justice, therefore, demands that the interests of the working classes should be carefully watched over by the administration, so that they who contribute so largely to the advantage of the community may themselves share in the benefits which they create – that being housed, clothed, and bodily fit, they may find their life less hard and more endurable. (Rerum Novarum # 34)
In a world in which too many people, without work and the dignity work can offer the worker, are hungry, thirsty and naked, Jesus' command to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, becomes increasingly important,(Mt 25:32-46) and our obligation to do justice gratefully an even more powerful sign of God's love for all. When we live a just life, everything and everyone changes. Not only do we practice the Gospel in everyday life, we witness to others the joy we experience in being Good News.

Today, be grateful for the food and work you have.

How do you think justice should proceed in the world?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

God's Harvest

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Mt 9:38

Too often this passage is reduced to a commentary on religious or priestly vocations, and that is a shame. It is clear to anyone who reads the scriptures regularly that Jesus is much more concerned with all people hearing the Good News and living it than with reforming the lives of the community's leaders. While a hierarchy will develop in Christianity over time, the role of leaders is not first to govern, but to create an environment that frees people to enter the mysteries of faith.

At the same time, Jesus is concerned that so few people seem ready to risk their lives to follow the Gospel. Most of us have an attitude that suggests we should leave well enough alone, but this stance does not advance our own lives or the lives of the community. Jesus invites us to make monumental changes in life, and while this prospect is daunting, we need to ask for the faith to pray with Jesus to make us laborers who are willing to stretch our imaginations and dreams to conform to Jesus' vision.

The Gospel really is Good News, although its demands may not always feel comfortable. Jesus challenges his followers to look again at the poor, the broken, the sick and all that is in it in order to see with God's eyes. All that God creates is good and beautiful, and its fruits belong to all as a gift from God. Our only task is to share its bounty with all people in order that all might know God's justice, have God's peace and believe that its wonders are a promise of  another Kingdom

Today, be one of God's laborers.

Whose efforts on behalf of the Gospel most moved you to belief in God?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

St Francis of Assisi

"Brothers, let us begin, for up to now we have done nothing." St Francis as he neared death

The name Francis is in the forefront of the news these days, especially in the United States. Humble, honest, and unafraid to speak his mind, the Holy Father has captivated the imagination of many around the world and is using his new prominence to speak out on behalf of the voiceless: the poor, refugees, the sick and creation itself . Calling the church to return to its foundations, Pope Francis is living up to his name. When asked why he chose the name Francis, he was clear, “The poor, the poor." 

St Francis of Assisi not only thought about the poor, he became poor and like so many great saints he allowed God to turn his life upside down. Urged as a boy to be a soldier and fight for Assisi, Francis listened, went to war against the neighboring town of Perugia, but then heard God's call to let go of his warring ways and live the Gospel without compromise. Like the 3rd century martyr, St Maximilian, who said "I am a solder of Christ, I cannot fight," Francis fought not for dominance over his neighbors but for Gospel purity. Wanting to live so poorly that he and his brothers would have nothing to defend, he directed the friars to own nothing and possess nothing, eventually convincing the Roman hierarchy to approve their way of life. Francis' example continues to inspire thousands of women and men today.

Today, live simply so that others can live.

What should be our response to the poor?

Monday, October 2, 2017

Refusing to be Vengeful

"On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they (the Samaritans) would not welcome him....When the disciples James and John saw this they asked,
"Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?''' Lk 9 51,55

Few passages in the Gospel tell us more about the radical demands of the Gospel than Jesus' refusal to condemn the Samaritans. The laws of hospitality which the rabbis taught were strict. Because Israel was a desert land populated by nomads, travelers and strangers had to be welcomed. By Torah law the Samaritans should have welcomed Jesus and his disciples. But because the rabbis condemned Samaritans, the Samaritans wanted nothing to do with Jesus. Even though the prophet Isaiah reminds his readers to feed the hungry lavishly, the Samaritans, hurt and angry by the failure of the authorities to accept them, reject Jesus and his disciples. Still, Jesus will not condemn them.

Clearly, Jesus' demand that we love our enemies interprets the Torah in a much more radical way and pushes Christians even further. It is one thing to welcome strangers and offer them a bit of bread, it is another altogether to love those who attack you or with whom you have been at war. If God's love for us is going to be announced clearly and dramatically, then Christians have to go the extra mile and let go of our resentments and desire for vengeance in order that God can be known.

Today, love someone who has hurt you.

Who has lived the Gospel most powerfully for you?



Sunday, October 1, 2017

Guardian Angels

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” Mt 18:10

Most of us work diligently not to despise anyone or anything, trying always to think of all creation as a gift from God. Nevertheless, we slip, we sin, we fail. In recent days, the actions of our Congress have led many to despise the intransigence of those we have elected to serve, but whose behavior too often seems self protective and rigid. Because we so need our representatives to remember all the people of this nation, especially the poor, we expect them to have the comprehensive and inclusive view of what a stoppage in government service might mean for the neediest of our citizens.

When Jesus wants his disciples and opponents to understand fully his attitude towards them and his expectations of them, he reminds them to look at children as icons of humility. Children, he insists, can teach all what it means to understand greatness. We are not called to dominate or manipulate others, but to serve one another like children and slaves, and to be innocent, vulnerable and alert to everything and everyone around us, especially the poor.

Today, remember that there are angels around us to protect us.

How do you counter arrogance in yourself and others?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Reconciliation

"But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, he does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed." Ex 18:26

The healing of broken relationships in families, parishes and religious communities is one of the most important tasks each of us faces. Every society and every church knows the devastating effects of separations that hurt not only those directly involved, but everyone touched by those who are at odds.

In Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve step programs, the fourth and fifth steps which encourage addicts to search their hearts and admit their wrongs to God, themselves and another person are essential for sobriety and a renewed life. When these steps are not taken, everyone suffers, sometimes to death, and while making amends (Step 8) is not always successful, it is absolutely necessary for anyone who wants to begin a new life each day.

Ezekiel makes this very plain. When we turn back to God and to those we have harmed by our wickedness, life in God will be renewed and hope restored.

Today, acknowledge your faults.

How do you seek reconciliation in your life?

Friday, September 29, 2017

St Jerome, Doctor of the Church

"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." St. Jerome

St Jerome is one of the most important scripture scholars in the history of the church. His translation of the bible into Latin, completed in the 4th century, was the basis of every translation into modern languages until the middle of the 20th century. His brilliance and discipline were such that he was able to produce not only a translation of the bible that continues to be a resource for contemporary students of scripture, he also wrote dozens of commentaries on the bible, and more than a hundred letters.

This being said, Jerome was a volatile, tempestuous and driven man. Reading a few of his letters makes you glad you were not in his sights. Jerome lived at a time and in a church that badly needed reform and his answer was a rigid asceticism. In what many consider his most famous letter, he warns St. Eustochium about every possible threat to her virginity while also acknowledging that even when he went to the desert to escape the insanity of the Rome of his day, he was tormented by fantasies of Roman dancing girls.

Jerome because is a powerful example of how God works with us as we are and uses even our faults for the good of others. Jerome’s life reminds us that when we submit ourselves to God, great things happen, and that God and history remember all the good Jerome did and underplay his shortcomings. What a wonderful lesson for us.

Today, ask for forgiveness of your sins, but don’t forget to be grateful for the gifts God has given you.

Have you experienced God dismissing your faults but using your strengths?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sts Michael, Gabriel, Raphael

"War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail." Rev 12 7-8

Although it is easy to forget it in our information saturated culture, messengers are important. In many parts of the world, there are women and men who write letters for those in their families or villages who are illiterate, and many of them try not just to communicate a message in a literal way, but seek to put tone and feeling into their writing. In more recent times, messengers carry important letters from business to business to make sure the letter arrives safely and without delay.

In the ancient world, angels were messengers. Their primary task was to speak on behalf of God to people God wanted to address directly. Gabriel comes to Mary asking her to be the mother of God's son and Michael reminds the church that God will always guard us, and Raphael assures us that God will be our guide.

All of us are called to be angels to one another. Not only are we challenged to speak the Good News to others, we must be the Good News, and this happens every time we let the word of God live in and through us. While this is always simple, it is never easy, but everything is possible when we trust in God.

Today, be an angel to someone starving for a word of comfort.

Who has been an angel of God to you?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Fear and Doubt

"Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was greatly perplexed because some were saying, 'John has been raised from the dead.' " Lk 9:7

Fear and doubt are ordinary and necessary experiences in life, especially for people of faith. Only those who refuse to think about the mysteries of faith, or live in denial about the struggles with which faith presents us believe they will never be afraid or have doubts.  From St Thomas, the Apostle, to Blessed Mother Teresa, the great figures in our faith tradition had doubts with which they had to struggle continually.

In the Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day, in describing the struggles of her baptism in the Catholic church, says it this way:
One part of my mind stood at one side and kept saying, ‘What are you doing? Are you sure of yourself? What kind of an affectation is this? What act is this you are going through? Are you trying to induce emotion, bring about faith, partake of the opiate of the people?’ I felt like a hypocrite if I got down on my knees, and shuddered at the thought of anyone seeing me…
Today, ask not to be afraid of your doubts. God can lead you through them into new hope.

What are your biggest faith struggles?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

St Vincent de Paul

"It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them." St Vincent de Paul (1)

St Vincent de Paul has always been one of my favorite saints. His words are clear, direct and uncompromising. Two of his more noteworthy sayings are: “Extend mercy towards others, so that there can be no one in need whom you meet without helping. For what hope is there for us if God should withdraw His mercy from us?” And, "Make it a practice to judge persons and things in the most favorable light at all times and under all circumstances."

But no saying of Vincent has impacted me more than his demand that we love the poor, not just feed them. In truth, one can only know the power of this directive by experiencing it. Of all the ministries to which I have been called, it is my encounters with the poor that have been most life changing.

“Charlie”, a fellow I came to know at the Shattuck Hospital in Boston,  loved the men and women with whom he spent his final days and his last effort was to agitate the administration of the hospital to put a handicapped ramp to the smoking gazebo outside the hospital, the only place where patients were allowed to smoke. Although not a smoker himself, Charlie realized that most of the disabled at the Shattuck had very few pleasures of any kind, and because he loved them he wanted them to have access to the place where others socialized and enjoyed themselves. Though St Vincent de Paul may have preferred that "Charlie" advocate for something other than smoking privileges, I am sure he would have been proud of him.

Today, ask God for the grace of merciful eyes and a forgiving heart.

How do you think you can love and serve the poor?

Monday, September 25, 2017

We are the family of Jesus

"My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it." Lk 8:21

We are the family of Jesus. It is that simple and that clear. It is also important. While some might be unnerved when Jesus stretches his followers to think of anyone who listens to and tries to live God's word as his family, it is not a rejection of his own family.

Jesus loved his mother and family deeply. That he wanted everyone listening to him with an open heart to see themselves as his brothers and sisters did not diminish his respect for and love of his immediate family, but was a way to break down the artificial and unnecessary barriers between and among people.

Jesus' love for all people is a lesson for us. We are called to love everyone as He did. We are not free to reject anyone for reasons of race, religion, culture or ethnicity. While it is obvious that there are some people who will be more difficult to love than others, if we want to call ourselves Christians, we must put aside every prejudice to love as Jesus did.

Today, love someone to whom you are not attracted.

What kind of people are most difficult for you to love?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Being a Light for Others

“No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.” (Lk 8:16)

Today we have an opportunity to reflect on one of the most accessible images in the entire gospel. The word Light appears almost 100 times in the New Testament. Not only are we encouraged to light a lamp and put it someplace so that others can see, the gospel also calls Jesus the light of the world and reminds us that John the Baptist was the light who prepared the world for Jesus' coming.

Electricity has become so natural and so accessible to life as we know it that we often take it for granted. Recently, I was preaching at a convent that was without electricity for several days. Living without light, especially for the older sisters, was not only difficult, it was dangerous. Not able to see where they were going or get out of their rooms easily, they felt frightened and trapped. When Jesus tells his contemporaries to light a light and put in on a lampstand so that people can see, anyone who has lived without light for a few days knows exactly what he meant.

Today, take a moment to thank God for all those who have been light for you, especially when the dark threatened to overwhelm you.

How can you be a light for others today?

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Staying in the Day

"Seek the LORD while he may be found, call him while he is near." (Is 55:6)

Staying in the day, staying in the moment is an important spiritual practice. Being alert to everything happening around us, without trying to control or manipulate our environment is a contemplative exercise that can serve us well in everyday life. More important, if we fail to pay attention to each day, we run the risk of getting trapped in the past or day dreaming about the future, an activity that diminishes our acceptance of each day and often damages our relationships. 

Today’s first reading from Isaiah is strong in this regard, reminding us to seek the Lord now, to call upon the Lord now while he is near. Most of us, because we are easily distracted, miss opportunities for intimacy and new hope. There’s a story, allegedly about St Bernard of Clairvaux, but told in many religious traditions, that makes this point well. St Bernard was riding his horse one day and was stopped by a farmer. “I envy you,” the farmer said, “for being able to ride that beautiful horse and say your prayers. It’s a lot easier than my lot in life. I have to work so much there is no time for prayer.” Bernard paused and said, “Prayer is hard work. But if you really think it is easier to pray than work, I’ll make you a deal. If you can pray the Our Father once without distraction, I will give you my horse.” The farmer smiled, assured Bernard that it would be easy for him, and began. “Our Father who art in heaven….Do I get the saddle, too.”

Many think that a life of prayer and reflection would be easy, especially if they lived in a monastery and had four or five periods of prayer together each day. In fact, prayer is hard work as St. Bernard insisted. Learning to let go of all of our distractions is the first step in attending to what is happening right in front of us and the foundation of a healthy prayer life.

Today, pray the Our Father slowly and don't worry about being distracted.

From whom did you learn to pray faithfully?

Friday, September 22, 2017

St Padre Pio

“No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light." Lk 8:16

What must we do when our inner demons urge us not to display the light God has given us? This is no idle question, but a deep struggle of conscience that many saints have had to face in their lives. The doctor of the church, St. Hildegaard of Bingen, very much wanted to ignore the dreams and visions she had from an early age, but her confessors and spiritual directors, convinced of their value, insisted that she share them. Eventually they reached St Bernard of Clairvaux, the great founder of the Cistercians, who brought then to Pope Eugenius III. When Eugenius read them, he knew they were a gift from God that would enlighten many peoples hearts with the power of the Gospel.

Padre Pio is another saint who struggled mightily with the gifts God gave him. Blessed with the Stigmata, Pio was frightened when first presented with the gift of Jesus' wounds appearing in his own body. Writing to his friend, Padre Benedetto, Pio told the priest that when he first received the Stigmata he thought he was dying, and would have died had not God intervened. Worried about the reaction of others, Pio asked God to take the outward sign of the Stigmata from him. Willing to endure the pain of the wounds, he did not want to face the questions and doubts of his confreres and superiors about their authenticity.

With both saints, there was no choice. God wanted to speak and be a light in the world through them. Neither Hildegaard nor Pio was permitted to extinguish their light or avoid public scrutiny. More important, while not as dramatic, none of us are free to let the light of God shining in and through us be extinguished. Rather, our lives of faith are designed to be a guide for others seeking to know God's Good News.

Today, let your light, no matter how weak, shine for God's glory.

What most troubles or unnerves you about being God's light in the world?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Women in the Church

"Some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources." Lk 8:2-3

In the United States, at least, women have almost always carried the burden of keeping our parishes organized, welcoming an functioning smoothly. Where would our parishes be without the women who lead and teach catechetics, organize celebrations and picnics, and make sure the parish is active in reaching out to the poor and needy? This is not to say that men haven't played key roles in the church, but it is women upon whom falls the daily and weekly tasks that make a parish live and go. They are its face.

It seems St Paul benefited from the same kind of help from the women of his day. In Luke's Gospel, which scholars suggest tells Paul's story, Mary, Joanna, and Susanna were not only faithful disciples of Jesus, they were also generous in their support of Paul' missionary journeys.  Wouldn't it be good to know more about them? Unfortunately, in the ancient world, and too often in our world, women's voices are rarely heard, and their stories seldom told. We should work hard to change that.

Pope Francis continues to move the church in this direction by encouraging what he called,
The indispensable contribution of women in society, in particular with their sensitivity and intuition toward the other, the weak and the unprotected." He also noted that "many women share some pastoral responsibilities with priests in looking after persons, families and groups" and he said he had hoped that "the spaces for a more diffuse and incisive presence in the church be expanded."
Today,  pray for a woman you know who has been generous but under appreciated in her service to the church.

What steps can and should the church take to highlight the contributions of women to our faith communities?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

St Matthew, Apostle

"Follow me." Mt 9:10

Matthew must have been amazed and delighted when Jesus called him to follow. Amazed because he was a tax collector, a man despised for what he did and who he was. Tax collectors were most often Jews who worked for the Romans. Upfront, they would pay the Romans the taxes of those from who they collected taxes and then charge Jews whatever they could, and this would often be exorbitant and excruciating.

Matthew also would have been delighted. Here was Jesus, a prominent Jew and rabbi, calling him, accepting him, sitting down at table with him when everyone else in the community was shunning him. Matthew knew that he was being given a second chance and he was anxious to take it.

The message of the gospel is clear. All of us will get a second chance and it is up to us to take it, to follow the Lord and let go of behaviors and practices that oppose God's law and God's desire for us. As long as we are willing to admit that we are in need of a physician, the Lord will come to us like a doctor who sees only that we are in need. The Lord wants to heal us. How wonderful.

Today, acknowledge your weakness.

Who looked at you with love when you could not accept or love yourself?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Saints Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest, and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, and Companions, Martyrs

"Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources." Lk 8:2-3

Of the 98 Korean martyrs who Blessed John Paul II canonized in 1984, more than half were lay women, among them Anna Park Agi. Abandoned in prison by her husband and son who could not endure the torture imposed on them, Anna was steadfast. Even when her husband and son visited her, imploring her to remember her children and family, Anna refused to renounce her faith and begged her son and husband to return to the faith even if it meant a new imprisonment.

Women like Anna, even if they are not as well known or celebrated as Andrew Kim and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, who wrote and preached publicly in defense of the faith, continue to offer us a great challenge. How many people, especially women without the freedom to peach, continue to offer us an example of fidelity and courage despite the limitations imposed on them by the society and the church!

Today, thank of and pray in gratitude for a woman who has encouraged you in faith.

Who are the people without loud voices to whom you need to listen more?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Holiness for All

"Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money." 1 Tim 3: 2-3

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

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

It should not surprise us that it is difficult to change, but it should not discourage us. Over time, we can learn and grow, but we must be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. A good place to start is reading the lectionary each day, or taking a course in Adult Religious education. Most important is to set aside a few minutes of quiet, reflection and prayer each day. All of this allows the Spirit to do God's work in us, and opens us to new possibilities and the holiness to which all of us are called.

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

What inhibits your call to holiness?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Real Humility

"The centurion sent friends to tell him, 'Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof. Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you; but say the word and let my servant be healed.'" Lk 7 6-7

Most humble people have been humbled. Born into wealth or privilege, circumstances conspired against them and they lost everything. The proud complain or curse God; the humble realize that everything they had was a gift and not something they earned or deserved. The proud do almost anything to reclaim what they believe is theirs by divine right. The humble echo the Japanese proverb: When my house burned down, I could finally see the sunrise.

Remarkably, the centurion in the today's Gospel is not asking Jesus to help him but to heal his servant, and Jesus, obviously moved, is willing to respond to the centurion's request. But the centurion becomes an icon of humility for the ages when he acknowledges Jesus' power to heal without touch or physical presence. Not wanting Jesus to risk the condemnation of the rabbis for entering his house, the centurion asks Jesus only to speak a word of healing.

Today, be grateful for all of life no matter how humbling.

What keeps you from humbly acknowledging your weaknesses?

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Offering and Accepting Forgiveness

"Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?" Mt 18:21

The Gospel has always been clear. While believers are called to follow Jesus and enter deeply into the mystery of God's love, following Jesus without loving our brothers and sisters is empty. Only the full response to all in love is sufficient, and while we all fail at this command as often as we succeed, our success is not the goal. Rather, our willingness to step beyond our small circle of friends and to love everyone as brothers and sisters in Christ is the true test of our faith.

The saints never doubted this. Although many of them had harsh tempers, they knew that their faults needed to be addressed. They did not try to defend their poor behavior but asked God for the faith to see all people with new eyes. St Jerome, to whom we owe the first translation into the Latin Vulgate, a feat that made the scriptures available to everyday people, was notorious for his temper. At the same time, especially after his vitriolic and judgmental pen got him into trouble, he writes about his great remorse, and it was his sorrow and repentance that earned him the title saint. The same can be true for us.

Today, pray for someone from whom you have been separated.

How important is forgiveness and reconciliation in your faith life?

Friday, September 15, 2017

St Cornelius and Cyprian

“He deserves to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.” Lk 7: 4-5

Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian were friends, and when the church was under enormous pressure in the third century, their friendship became an important tool for reconciliation and healing. When Novatian insisted that anyone who denied faith, along with murderers and adulterers, could not be reconciled under any circumstances, Cyprian interceded with his friend Pope Cornelius, and Novatian's position was condemned. The fragile nascent church, with only 50,000 believers and 50 priests, was sustained because of the friendship of Cornelius and Cyprian.

Not infrequently, like Cyprian and Cornelius, we do things for friends who ask a favor on their own or their family's behalf. It is not difficult to be gracious, especially when the request is something we do easily or naturally. Jesus is able to hear and respond to the request of the Jewish elders to heal the centurion's sick slave because they asked him to do something as a friend of the Jewish nation.  In the long run, however, while loyalty and friendship captured Jesus' attention, it was the faith of the centurion that moved Jesus to act. 

Not wanting to trouble Jesus with a visit to his home and being very aware of the differences between them, the centurion insists that he is not worthy of Jesus' care. When the centurion further suggests that a word from Jesus will be enough to heal his slave, Jesus uses the centurion's faith to teach the Jews saying, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Faith, like the centurion's, and friendship and faith, like Cyprian and Cornelius shared, can forge a church of great power and strength.

Today, be grateful for a faith filled friend.

How can a friendship, strengthened by faith, help us live the Gospel more powerfully?





Thursday, September 14, 2017

Our Lady of Sorrows

“Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” Jn 19:25

In the Office of Readings today, St Bernard of Clairvaux, writing in the 12th century, calls Mary “a martyr in spirit,” because of her compassion, never abandoning her son even on the cross. Bernard writes: “Perhaps someone will say: “Had she not known before that he would not die?” Undoubtedly. “Did she not expect him to rise again at once?” Surely. “And still she grieved over her crucified Son?” Intensely. Who are you and what is the source of your wisdom that you are more surprised at the compassion of Mary than at the passion of Mary’s Son? For if he could die in body, could she not die with him in spirit? He died in body through a love greater than anyone had known. She died in spirit through a love unlike any other since his.”(1)

Standing with others in their suffering, not taking it away, not offering empty words of consolation, not trying to understand it, is a kind of death, a martyrdom. Helplessness is often the price of compassion and Mary, the mother of Jesus and our mother, helps us learn this vital Christian virtue.

Today, perhaps as you gaze at a crucifix, try to stand in solidarity and compassion with all those suffering alone.

Who stands by you compassionately when you are struggling or lost?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Exaltation of the Cross

"God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." Jn 3:13

The cross of Jesus Christ, as St Paul says, is a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness for Gentiles, (1 Cor 1:23) but the believer continues to hold the cross high, to exalt it, as a sign of God's unconditional love for us. Never easy to understand or to penetrate its mystery, the cross remains for those who believe a book of life, or as St Francis said, the only book we will ever need.

How we read the book of the cross is fundamental to our growth in faith. How, for instance, do we understand or interpret suffering? How should we approach death and dying? What can we expect from God when we carry our own crosses? Martin Luther King, speaking of what he labels unmerited suffering, writes, "Recognizing the necessity for suffering I have tried to make of it a virtue. If only to save myself from bitterness, I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation which now obtains." (MLK)

We should never be turned away from a full Gospel life because it makes others uncomfortable and us suffer. Many younger friends of mine have been discouraged by their friends and families when they decided to leave the United States to minister to the poor overseas. "There are plenty of poor people here in the U.S.," they are told, and, "Why do you have to be so radical in your convictions?" Hearing this, these young people suffer, but often enough, when they read the cross of Jesus, they are comforted, especially when they hear him say: "Take my yoke upon you, for I am gentle and humble of heart." (Mt 11:29)

Today, ask God for the grace not to be afraid of the cross.

What about living a Gospel life causes you the most suffering?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

St John Chrysostom

"I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry." 1 Tim 1:12

Considered the greatest preacher in the early church, St John Chrysostom is also sharply and justly criticized for his antisemitic homilies.(1) His legacy provides us with an opportunity to pray and write about the importance, power and danger of preaching today.

Since the close of the Second Vatican Council, which mandated the use of the vernacular in the liturgy, preaching in the Roman Catholic Church has become increasingly important. Encouraged to offer a brief homily each day and to root them in the sacred texts preachers, many priests try to do this, but with mixed results. North Americans want both an insightful and brief homily even on Sunday's, and while this is understandable, it risks missing the primary teaching of the Second Vatican Council which reminds us the Eucharist is the source and summit of Catholic life.

When preaching, no matter how lively, profound and articulate, pushes the liturgy of the Eucharist to the background, it needs to be reexamined. Good Catholic preaching ought to break open the sacred scripture, attend to what is happening in society and the world, and lead seamlessly into the breaking of the bread. When the liturgy is planned carefully with the preacher, something wonderful and exciting can happen, but when preaching overwhelms the listener and fails to remember that we are a people of word and sacrament, it fails as Eucharistic preaching.

Today, pray for preachers.

Have you ever heard preaching that helps you enter the liturgy of Eucharist more fully?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Called by Name

"When he came down from the mountain, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose twelve." Lk 6:13

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. When the Apostles heard Jesus invitation to follow him, they knew who they were and who they were called to be.

The same was true for St Paul when he was blinded by a great light and 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.

Jesus calls each of us by name. Are we listening? Will we ask for the faith to respond?

Today, thank someone who increased your faith?

Do you think you have an obligation to invite others to follow Jesus and the Gospel?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sabbath Healing

"The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the sabbath." Lk 6:7

Jesus regularly broke the Sabbath, and we wonder why. He was an observant Jew. He wanted to fulfill the law, not destroy it or supplant it. Why then would he heal on the Sabbath? The answer seems almost too simple. The Pharisees were not interested in the observance of the law, but in catching Jesus in opposition to it. If they could demonstrate that Jesus had no respect for the law, they would win the battle for power and honor. Like so many of us, they wanted to win, they wanted to be right.

Jewish law about the Sabbath, although strict, was not rigid then or now. Mati Goldstein, commander of the Jewish rescue-mission to 2010 Haiti earthquake, said, “We did everything to save lives, despite Shabbat . People asked, ‘Why are you here? There are no Jews here,’ but we are here because the Torah orders us to save lives…We are desecrating Shabbat with pride…” 

Clearly, Jews today and the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, knew that the law commanded them to help save lives. Jesus also knew this and challenged the Pharisees with an interpretation of the law that they should have known. When people suffer, we need to respond. It is that simple.

Today, treat someone with compassion even if it is inconvenient.

How do you practice Sabbath?

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Healing Relationships

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you." Mt 18:15

Sometimes the Gospel offers us very practical advice. In Matthew's Gospel, the evangelist reminds his readers that Jesus wanted us to heal broken relationships without resorting to public accusations or allegations especially of a personal kind. When we attack one another and try to make it appear that we not assaulting the person, but the person's ideas, we sin and this offense must be addressed, but quietly.

Conversations about difficult matters should always begin in private. In this way, we can be sure that we are honestly seeking to have an authentic relationship with our conversation partners and not simply trying to be right and win an argument. If convincing someone that their opinion is unfounded is more important than hearing them with an open spirit, we are not living the Gospel.

The book of Proverbs reminds us: "Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs," (10:12) and it is the loving person who remembers to seek out those with whom they struggle in order to seek a path of healing.

Today, listen to someone with whom you disagree twice as long as normally would.

Have you been successful in healing a relationship by speaking with the other in private?


Friday, September 8, 2017

St Peter Claver

"We must speak to them with our hands before we try to speak to them with our lips." St. Peter Claver

The feast of St. Peter Claver is one I always enjoy celebrating, first because Fr. Peter Claver Eich was my vocation director.  That Fr. Peter Claver was also a great athlete did not hurt his invitation to me to consider becoming a Capuchin.  But even more important, St Peter Claver attracted me because of his heroic life and the service he offered to slaves in what today is Cartegena, Columbia. Leaving his home in Spain, never to return, St Peter Claver's bold spirit captured my youthful imagination and spoke to me of possibilities that I did not want to consider.  After all, I fancied myself as an athlete, and in the words of an early basketball coach, would someday “make a difference at center court.”  Never mind that I was 5’ 9” and slow.  I understood basketball from the inside and dreamed of playing professionally.

The story of St. Peter Claver’s life made me reconsider my priorities and forced me to think beyond sports to a world of religious heroism.  Here was a man who spent almost forty years on the docks of Cartagena waiting to care for slaves who had been so badly treated on their journey from Africa that one third of them died in transit.  As soon as the slaves landed, Peter would rush to them with medicine, food and (dare I say it) tobacco.  As he himself said, "We must speak to them with our hands before we try to speak to them with our lips."(1)

What a powerful sentiment!  That we must speak to people with our hands before we announce the gospel to them remains powerful advice.

Today, offer someone a helping hand.

Whose physical love and compassion moved you to be more response to others?


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Nativity of Mary

"Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means 'God is with us.'" Mt 1:23

Birthday's are festive times, and although Mary probably didn't celebrate hers like 21st century Americans, we ought to celebrate it with real joy. Mary is the one who’s "yes" to the angel and God made possible the entrance of Jesus into history and her birthday might be a time for us to light a few candles to remember her life and her sorrows.

There are few saints who teach us more about accepting and celebrating life as it unfolds than Mary. Apparently content with her life, especially after she was promised in marriage to Joseph, her life turned upside down when she was still a young girl. A visit from an angel invited her to know God in a more intimate way than anyone before her, but this knowledge came at a great price. She would be talked about and ridiculed, forced to flee her country and family, and when she was free to return to Palestine after Herod's death, she would be faced with the awful burden of watching her son suffer and die as a common criminal.

No wonder we want to celebrate her birthday. Mary's nativity invites us to trust that even that which appears and feels like an overwhelming sorrow, will be transformed by God into hope for all peoples and all nations. Happy birthday, Mary. Thank you for showing us the path to hope in darkness.

Today, ask God for the grace to embrace whatever comes your way.

What it is about Mary that most moves you to say yes to God's path for you?

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Loving God more Deeply

" Jesus said: 'Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.'"

Often, when I was involved in community organizing, we would say that we had a broad influence in the community and had developed leaders in many churches and congregations, but we did not have sufficient depth. In other words, we could have influence in a particular issue but probably did not have the kind of power that would last. Those with power were not likely to ask our opinion or be concerned with our position. They would not have to worry about us unless we put down deeper roots and became a more integral part of the community’s consciousness.

Jesus seems to be suggesting the same to his disciples. Because God’s love is deep, not just broad, we need to go into "deeper waters." God does not just love us as his children, but as Bernard Lonergan, the great Canadian theologian reminds us, God is in love with us. God’s love is active, powerful and transforming. God’s love is total, complete, everlasting and gratuitous. We cannot earn God’s love. God is in love with us as we are and calls us to love others as he loves us. Being in love with someone means that you have not settled for a good companion in life but are seeking to make the love you experience the foundation of everything you are and do.

Today, love someone more deeply than you loved them yesterday.

Who changed your life by loving you more deeply?

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Simon's Mother in Law

"Simon's mother in law got up immediately and began waiting on them."

Many years ago on a trip to Honduras I had the privilege of visiting the Mesa Grande refugee camp where more than 30,000 Salvadorans were encamped. Despite being in a virtual prison the people were filled with joy as they built a community of faith and solidarity which sustained them as the waited to go "home."

One refugee story, told to me by priest friend who was ministering there, remains in my heart. Even though they were in grave danger, one community that he accompanied back to Salvador had taken the time to bury their church bell before fleeing, promising to ring it again when they returned from exile. Imagine their joy, he said, as they watched men from their village exit the buses, dig up the bell, hoist it to the tower and ring it in order to call everyone to a homecoming Eucharist.

How like Simon's mother in law! Cured, home again, she gets up and waits on others.

Today, pray in solidarity with the 40 million refugees in the world, more than 10 million of whom are hungry, sick and exposed to the elements.

What does "home" mean to you? How do you pass on your values to your children?

Monday, September 4, 2017

Learning from Everyone

"Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee. He taught them on the sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching because he spoke with authority." Lk 4:31

While very few would suggest that education is unimportant, it can be overrated. My own parents were bright and wise people who had little formal education, yet they were respected in my neighborhood. They worked hard, had a deep faith and understood life from the inside. Though they were rarely asked their opinion, they knew what they knew and were not afraid to ask for help. Like Jesus, when they spoke, they spoke with authority.

Jesus did not seem to worry much about the education of the the men he called to be his apostles, but the leaders of the Jewish people seemed to think this was a soft spot in the life of the new community. Anxious to stop Jesus' disciples from speaking about their Lord, they called them in and threatened them, only to have Peter and John insist that they had no choice but to speak of Jesus. Clearly, Peter and John were not worried about their lack of education and were not intimidated by threats from the Jewish leaders.

It is always good to take a few moments and ask ourselves to whom we are most likely to listen. Do the highly educated intimidate us into silence about important matters? Are we unwilling to speak of our faith to people of power and prestige in the community?

Today, take time to listen to someone you might otherwise ignore.

What most impresses you about the faith you witness everyday?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Perfectionism

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free." Lk 4:18

Like most Catholics born in the middle of the last century, I was schooled to believe that the best way to live a devout life was to get to mass as frequently as possible, and to confession every week. These religious practices, good in themselves, often led people of my generation to worry about trivial matters in a way that was out of proportion to the faults themselves. Worse, we often struggled every day to be better, not so much to honor God, but to "earn" our salvation. Unfortunately, while we became good practicing Catholics, our call to discipleship often got lost in the shadows of our compulsions. When the focus of the spiritual life becomes our personal holiness, union with God often takes a back seat.

Today's gospel reminds us that Jesus had a different perspective. God is not someone hovering over us, counting our sins, but a healer who wants to lay hands of hope on the blind and draw ever closer to the oppressed. When we accept the help of the divine physician everything changes. Facing our weakness and acknowledging our poverty allows us not to obsess about our faults like we once did, but to celebrate God's tender mercy. More important, admitting our sins each day reminds us to be humble and non judgmental, and to look at every person with God's compassionate eyes.

Today, accept your need for God and glory in God's desire to be with you in your poverty.

Do you obsess about being perfect? What has this to do with the Gospel?

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Get Behind me Satan

"Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."


Peter is one of my favorite gospel figures.  Anxious to help, sure of himself and committed to following the Lord, his impulsiveness often gets the best of him. On one occasion, he quickly answers Jesus' inquiry: Who do you say that  am?  The Christ, Peter says, the Messiah.  Unfortunately, while Peter's answer is correct, his understanding is lacking.  He wants Jesus to be a kind of military leader who drives the Romans out of Jerusalem and reclaims the Holy City for the chosen people.  More, if Jesus is an earthly king, he probably thinks that his own position as a disciple will afford him enhanced status among his peers.  


In today's gospel, Peter stands up again for the Lord as a defender and protector, but this time the Lord’s response is harsh.  “Get behind me, Satan. You are an obstacle to me.”  Although I have often prayed not to be an obstacle for others, especially to their faith life and journey,  I know that my quick tongue and harsh judgments have often hurt others.

That is why I think it is so very important to develop simple practices to accept our faults and address our  anxieties. Rather than strike out verbally, we need to work for reconciliation and healing.  My parents suggested a way to do this when  they told me never to make important decisions quickly, to sleep on them and if possible to wait a week or more before acting. Later, a 12 step friend told me: Things that are are urgent are rarely important, and things that are important are rarely urgent. Had I listened more closely to my parents and friend, I might have saved myself and others unnecessary hurt.


Today, try reading the scriptures not for insight but for transformation.  

What practices most root you in faith?


Friday, September 1, 2017

Using our Talents

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

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

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

Today, rejoice in your talent and share it with whomever needs it.

To whom are you most grateful for sharing their time and talents with you?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Fools for Christ

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

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

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

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

Today, be foolish in your love for God.

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Being Prepared

"You also must be prepared." Mt 24:44

Due diligence is an important quality in life. We ought to be prepared for whatever it is God wants of us. Preachers, for instance, should not presume or take advantage of God's promise to give us the words we need to confound our enemies or those who think differently than us about God or faith without adequate preparation. Reading, reflection and meditation on God's word are essential for anyone commissioned to proclaim God's word.

Everyday Christians, all of whom have a vocation or a call from God to live and speak Good News, must also prepare themselves by a faith filled life that values personal and communal prayer, spiritual reading, especially of the Bible, and good works of charity and justice. Pope St Clement says it this way, "There are many gates that stand open, but the gate of justice is the gateway of Christ."

Today, make a choice to live more simply for others.

How do you prepare your heart for the struggles that come with living your faith?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Facing our Resistance

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence."

It must have been shocking and upsetting for the Pharisees and scribes to hear Jesus assert that only that which comes from within defiles a person. In fact, it is difficult for most of us to hear the great challenge of Jesus to put aside our desire to control ourselves and others with a rigid interpretation of the law. Jesus insists that salvation is not about discipline alone, but about asking God to cleanse our hearts of jealousy, resentment and suspicion of others.

More important still is whether we are willing to help others worry less about how they appear and more about the integrity of their faith lives. St Jerome says it well, "I bid you not to tear your garments but rather to rend your hearts which are laden with sin. Like wine skins, unless they have been cut open, they will burst of their own accord."(St Jerome on Joel)

Most believers know the truth of the gospel from the "inside." They realize that what appears to be a faith filled life is empty unless it reflects an interior commitment to live without guile. When each of us admits that a life of ritual rigidity and lawful integrity is hardly good news, we will begin to announce the gospel as Jesus did.

Today, don't be afraid of an honest self examination.

How do you resist an unhealthy dependence on the law as a substitute for gospel living?

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Passion of John the Baptist

"He went off and beheaded John in the prison." Mk 6:27

Readers of John's gospel cannot help but wonder whether John the Baptist understood fully the import of his words about decreasing so the Christ could increase. Did he know he would die for the sake of the gospel? Surely he had enough time in prison to know that his prospects for a full life with Christ were small, and the evangelists remind us that it was John the Baptist's death that pushed Jesus to begin his public ministry.

When we are young and distant from the reality of our own death, it can be easy to make promises the depth of which we cannot really appreciate, but when we grow older, we know. If we are going to live the gospel with integrity there will be a price. The Good News might be good but it is not easy.
So many of us, sounding other centered, tell everyone that we are willing to endure whatever a gospel life brings, but we do not want to be a burden to others. How shallow these words can be upon reflection.  Allowing others to care for us as we would for them is essential to a fully human and gospel life. Not taking that care for granted is also important. Life must be accepted no matter what it brings.

Today, ask for the grace of accepting whatever God asks.

How do you explain the violence that emerges in the Gospel?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

St Augustine

"You have searched me and you know me, Lord." (Ps 139)

Augustine of Hippo wrestled with God for years. Resistant to anything or anyone who couldn't help him understand life as he experienced it, his life turned around when he met St Ambrose in Milan. A seminal thinker and writer, Ambrose got Augustine's attention through kindness and helped open his mind and heart to the Gospel by his brilliant preaching, but it was the voice of a child telling him to "take and read" that moved Augustine to read the thirteenth chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans. Hearing Paul tell his readers that the night was over and it was time to live decently moved Augustine towards baptism.

Best known for his Confessions, a work which the saint thought should be read aloud, Augustine remains one of the most controversial figures in the Christian West as well as one of its most accessible writers. St Thomas Aquinas, St Bonaventure, John Calvin and almost every theologian of note, relied heavily on Augustine in their theological and pastoral writings, but some of Augustine's writings, especially about the Jews and original sin, continue to trouble contemporary readers. Nonetheless, Augustine remains a figure of immense importance whose writing continues to inspire believers everywhere.

Writing about love, Augustine asks: "What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like."(Augustine) For Augustine, love is a verb not a noun. It is something that we must act upon and share. More important, it is not always something we feel but something we decide to live and involves all the senses. We must love what we see and hear and walk towards those most in need.

Today, live your faith by keeping your eyes and ears open to all.

What keeps you from acting upon the Gospel everyday?





Saturday, August 26, 2017

You are the Christ

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Mt 16:16

St Peter is often faulted for speaking too quickly and rashly, but in today's Gospel he answers for all of us, and his response sets a tone for Lent. If we are successful at nothing else during this penitential season, we need to reaffirm out commitment to the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

In a poignant moment, when Benedict XVI met with the Roman clergy a few days after announcing his resignation, the Sistine choir sang Palestrina's interpretation of this same passage from Matthew 16 as Benedict left the assembly, assuring him and us that the Gospel would always be a "rock" of safety for those who freely professed their faith, and that his role as Peter was shared with us all.

Is Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, for us? Can others see and experience our belief by the quality of our faith life? The teaching that comes from the Chair of Peter, no matter how strongly any Pope tries to exercise his authority, will be empty unless believers everywhere live the Gospel everyday and open themselves to every form of formation and growth.

Today, sit down and ask God to help you live and reflect upon the gospel with integrity and power.

How do you understand the authority Jesus gives Peter?

Friday, August 25, 2017

Unnecessary Burdens

"Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,but do not follow their example." Mt 23:3

Leadership in an individualistic society like the United States is very different from leadership in a communal society like Japan or Korea. It is important to reflect on this in light of today's scriptures. The society into which Jesus was born was communal like Japan. The word Wa in Japanese means peace, harmony and balance and one must never disturb the Wa of a family, town or country. Each person in a communal society works naturally for the common good, and more easily lets go of his or her individual wants and needs for the sake of the community.

When one reads the scripture, written primarily from and for a communal society, leadership is about reminding people of the values of the society. The Pharisees, who are too often denigrated and despised, try to impose their will on the community, but Jesus is adamant that this is not the role of leaders.  Today his words about the Pharisees are overwhelming.
Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen.
Whose example do you follow?

Today, do something for another without being seen.

What do you think are the most important qualities for a leader to have?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

"Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?" Mt 18:21

The Gospel has always been clear. While believers are called to follow Jesus and enter deeply into the mystery of God's love, following Jesus without loving our brothers and sisters is empty. Only the full response to all in love is sufficient, and while we all fail at this command as often as we succeed, our success is not the goal. Rather, our willingness to step beyond our small circle of friends and to love everyone as brothers and sisters in Christ is the true test of our faith.

The saints never doubted this. Although many of them had harsh tempers, they knew that their faults needed to be addressed. They did not try to defend their poor behavior but asked God for the faith to see all people with new eyes. St Jerome, to whom we owe the first translation into the Latin Vulgate, a feat that made the scriptures available to everyday people, was notorious for his temper. At the same time, especially after his vitriolic and judgmental pen got him into trouble, he writes about his great remorse, and it was his sorrow and repentance that earned him the title saint. The same is true for us.

Today, pray for someone from whom you have been separated.

How important has been forgiveness and reconciliation in your life?

The Greatest Commandment

"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" Mt 22:36

One of the tasks of the great Rabbis was to reduce the entire law and prophets to as few words as possible without losing the power and love of the entire Torah. Today’s gospel is Jesus’ response. In just a few words he sums up the entire law and prophets. Although other rabbis suggested answers similar to Jesus, Jesus is unique in two ways. First, no other rabbi suggests that love of God and love of neighbor are equally important. Love of God is not enough by itself. Neither is love of neighbor sufficient without love of God. Prior to Jesus, the rabbis talked about certain prescriptions of the law as heavy or light. Love of neighbor, while important, was considered light, while love of God was considered heavy. Jesus tells his listeners that both love of God and love of neighbor are heavy, that is, vitally important aspects of the good news.

Jesus also challenges the traditional rabbinic understanding of neighbor. The rabbis taught that other Israelites deserved our love as neighbors. Those outside the covenant deserved compassion but not love. Jesus rejects this understanding and makes his interpretation of the Torah overwhelmingly open.  The good news is for all. There are no outsiders In God's love, which remains the challenge for us today. Everyone has a right to our love as a neighbor, not just our compassion. How we live this command is the heart of the gospel.

Today, ask God for the gift of knowing deep in your heart that God is always with you. 

How would you share with others the Greatest Commandment?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

St Bartholomew

"Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him."  Jn 1:47

One of the most difficult challenges of contemporary life is transparency in our public lives.  Though everyone calls for it in politics, religion, and business, there seems to be little willingness to act. In recent years, however, Sean Cardinal O’Malley, OFM Cap., to the consternation of some, has regularly published a complete financial report on the website of the Archdiocese of Boston.  Anyone wanting to know how much money the Archdiocese received and how much it spent only needs an internet connection to find out.  In my view, this is not only laudable but necessary. We need to learn from leaders like Cardinal O'Malley how to be transparent in the public arena.

Unfortunately, however, because our society has become so litigious, we have learned a kind of political correctness that does not serve the political process or our personal lives very well. People are afraid to be transparent for fear it will be held against them.  The result, of course, is that everyone walks around looking over their shoulders and the power of the gospel gets lost in a sometimes disingenuous flood of words. 

St. Bartholomew, whose feast we celebrate today, ought to be the patron of those seeking to speak clearly and directly.  Jesus recognized Bartholomew as a man without duplicity. Some translations say he is without guile.  Bartholomew says what he thinks and is honest about what he hears and sees. We need to seek the virtue of guilelessness in our daily lives, to be transparent about what the gospel demands of us and be willing to suffer the consequences of standing behind our beliefs.   

Today we pray to and with Bartholomew that the Lord will help us grow in transparency and vulnerability, 

Are there people whose transparency moves and challenges you?