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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Images of God

"I will make you a light to the nations."  Is 49:6

Because it is impossible to adequately articulate who God is or how much God loves us, the bible reminds us to ask God to show us his glory, and uses images and metaphors to invite readers (and pray-ers) to empl0y their imaginations in trying to understand and enter the mystery of God's presence and love. The prophets even suggest God is like our husband or wife, a remarkable attempt to draw us closer to the God who promises never to abandon us.

Images like this can unnerve us, but that is not their intent. Rather, the prophets want to gently break down our easy, familiar categories of belief which can unwittingly lead us to take God and God's care for us for granted. When Isaiah speaks of God as our light or more demandingly, our husband or wife, he assures us that God, our light, is linked to us forever in a loving relationship of total commitment, even when we are in exile.

Today, ask God to slow you down in order to make Advent a time of conversion and new life.

What image of God most impacts your prayer life?

Friday, January 13, 2017

Spiritually Healthy

“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Mk 2:17

Jesus' answer to the Pharisees who are complaining about his eating with tax collectors and other sinners seems so obvious, we wonder how the Pharisees could be so blind and deaf. They must have known that the law not only allowed conversations with sinners but demanded it. Like us, the Pharisees often heard and saw they wanted to see and hear. Secure in their knowledge of the Torah and satisfied with their modest power, they wanted only to find something to criticize in Jesus' behavior in order not to listen to him.

However, when Jesus responds to their resistance and dullness, he teaches all of us. Change is always difficult, and it is easier to criticize someone than to search for their goodness and compassion. Jesus sees past the sins of the tax collectors. Inviting them to supper and building a relationship with them makes it possible for him eventually to speak with them about changing their lives and turning away from their sin. Rather than attack their profession, he sits at table with them in the hope that they will be able to see the error of their ways and change.

Today, praise someone whose behavior often irritates you.

Have you ever been changed by someone's kindness and understanding?



Thursday, January 12, 2017

True Friends

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

Where would we be without friends? A paralyzed man who hears about Jesus has no way to see or visit the Lord unless friends help him. Though Jesus is  surrounded by needy people, the paralytic's friends are not deterred. They go up on the roof, dig through it and lower their friend in front of Jesus. It is really an amazing scene which the scribes cannot spoil with the mumbling about Jesus not having the power to forgive sins. So anxious not to lose their teaching role in the society, the scribes think nothing about the paralytic while the man's friends think of nothing else. Who doesn't yearn for friends like this?
The twelfth century monk and writer, Aelred of Rievaulx, says it this way:
No medicine is more valuable, none more efficacious, none better suited to the cure of all our temporal ills than a friend to whom we may turn for consolation in time of trouble, and with whom we may share our happiness in time of joy. ― Aelred of Rievaulx Spiritual Friendship
There is a second lesson today. We must be good friends, not just by offering others help and companionship, but by accepting the compassion of friends. The paralyzed man allowed his friends to bring him to Jesus, and that is the key to his healing. Had he resisted, Jesus could not have helped him. We, too, must submit ourselves in gratitude to the gentle love of our friends.

Today, be gracious and accept the help of your friends.

To which friends are you most grateful?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Hiding with Christ

"The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, Jesus dismissed him at once. Then he said to him, 'See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.'” Mk 1:43

Not wanting to be the focus of people's adulation, Jesus hides from the people after curing the leper because he knew that flattery rarely led to imitation and discipleship.  Jesus wanted the Jewish leaders and the people who first listened to him to fall in love with his Father and commit themselves to God's will.

This was and is a hard lesson for us. It is natural to want security and answers to life's problems and concerns. We go to doctors to avoid and address health issues and financial advisers to help us invest our money wisely and safely, but Jesus did not come to promise us protection from life's every day trials but to accompany us on every journey. He is the new Covenant, the fullness of God's love, the one who will always be with us as a guide. We should not expect him to shield us from difficulty but to be a light in the darkness.

Today, pray to be aware of God's unconditional love and presence.

Who has been with you through every dark night?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Jesus the Healer

"Jesus approached, grasped the hand of Peter's mother in law, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them." Mk 1:30

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 offers us a different perspective. God is a healer who wants to lay hands of hope upon us and draw ever closer to us on our journey. When we, like Peter's mother in law, accept the help of the divine physician everything changes. Having confronted our weaknesses, we are freed of our compulsions and return to our daily work more energized and committed to the only one who can make us whole.

Today, who yourself to God as you really are and ask for healing.

What happens when we acknowledge our weaknesses and submit to God?

Monday, January 9, 2017

Unclean Spirits and Addiction

"In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit." Mk 1:23

No family is without its struggles and demons. Some live as best they can with addiction. Others wrestle with mental illness and abuse, and are forced, like the family of the man with the unclean spirit, to watch their loved ones bruise themselves beyond recognition. Staying calm and peaceful in situations like this can feel impossible and overwhelming.

In situations like this, it is often the people without the addiction or mental illness who most need Jesus' steadying hand. Only when we summon the faith to let go and hand ourselves over to the Lord for direction and healing, will we find the courage to accept the things we cannot change and seek the wisdom of God to know what is possible.

Jesus can be our healer, but we have to allow him to help us. When we wrestle with our own demons and shame without asking for help we are like people trying to hold back the tide. Getting some emotional distance from those we seek to help is sometimes our best strategy and gives us the distance to discern how to take the next best step for healing.

Today, pray for someone seeking to recover from addiction.

How do you handle the demons in your heart and family?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Baptism of the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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