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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Integrity

"If you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God." Mt 5: 23-24

Even as a boy, I loved this section of St Matthew's Gospel. Imagine what a nightmare it must have been for a poor person, making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the first and probably only time in his life, to stop, pray and realize that he is not in what his Jewish tradition would call right relationship. Perhaps his prayer unveiled an unresolved hurt or conflict or reminded him that had undermined another person's reputation. Whatever the situation, Jesus demands that anyone discovering his fault return home and reconcile with whomever he is at odds with before presenting his gift at the altar.

Theologians have often spoken of conscience as the still, small voice within that alerts us to our own dishonesty or sin, and demands we pay attention to it even if it might be impossible to formally heal the wound we have created. A tender (not to say scrupulous) conscience is a gift because it helps us pay more attention to others than ourselves, and helps us work towards a peace filled world. That Jesus insists we seek reconciliation before approaching the altar reminds us to strive to make the Eucharist a celebration of unity and healing, and a gathering of believers committed to renewing themselves in Christ.

Today, ask forgiveness from someone you have hurt.

What has helped you seek reconciliation even when you did not feel like it? 



Friday, February 10, 2017

There is always enough when we share

"Where can anyone get enough bread to satisfy them here in this deserted place?" Mk 8:4

Fear is a powerful and dangerous motivator, so strong at times it can overwhelm our good judgment and cause us to harm ourselves and others. When a mother can't afford to feed a child, she might do almost anything to find food. Anyone who has lived among the very poor knows this. Women everywhere have sold themselves to support their children, and fathers have stolen money and goods for the same purpose.

We don't know how fearful the disciples were when Jesus told them to feed the hungry themselves, but they immediately resist his command to feed those who are following him. Afraid, perhaps, that they would not have enough for themselves, they try to reason with Jesus, but the Lord will have none of it. Jesus insists that there is always enough if we take not what we want to feel comfortable, but what we need to stay alive and healthy. Sharing the goods of the earth is a foundational Gospel principle.

Today, enjoy the Eucharist and feed someone who is hungry.



How do you understand Jesus' command to be the Body of Christ?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

St Scholastica

“I asked a favor of you and you refused. I asked it of God and he granted it.” St. Gregory the Great

Every year the office of readings brings a smile to my face. St. Scholastica, the twin sister of St. Benedict, knowing her death was near, asked Benedict to stay the night at her convent and allow their conversation about spiritual concerns to continue. Benedict, unwilling to break the monastic rule forbidding monks to sleep outside the monastery, refused. Scholastica prays, asking God to intervene. Suddenly, a fierce thunder storm breaks out. Benedict, (I think with a hint of smile) asks his sister what she has done and she responds, “I asked a favor of you and you refused. I asked it of God and he granted it.” Three days later Scholastica died.

Prayer is not intended to change the course of human events, but sometimes it helps.  How important it is each day to stop, ask God to make us aware of his loving guidance and enter more deeply into his presence. Think about what happens to us each time we pause to remember the sick, the hungry, the homeless, the home bound, and those trapped inside countries at war. Prayer allows us, even forces us, to get outside out own worlds and concerns to allow the Spirit to lift us up, center us and strengthen us not to be afraid to let go of our own will and desires. Prayer may not cause a thunderstorm each day, but it lets God do God's work in and around us.

Today, don't be afraid to ask God to free you from rigid obligation and lead you into love.

How do you understand prayer/



Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Not giving up

“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” Mark 7:29



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

Even as Jesus listened to the desperate pleading of the Syrophoenician woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon, he tests her and insists that he has come as food for the Jews. But the woman is not deterred. Asking Jesus to think of her as a dog, she reminds him that even dogs can eat the scraps that fall from the master's table. When Jesus heals her daughter and frees her from the demons obsessing her, he challenged people then and now not to dismiss people because of their illness, sexual orientation, race or religious convictions.

Today, listen with your heart to someone from a different race or religion.

Do you know someone with the courage and fortitude of the Syrophoenician woman?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Understanding

"Are even you likewise without understanding?" Mk 7:18

To really understand someone else is hard work. It is not something that happens naturally for most of us because it demands we listen more than we speak. In fact, I often wonder whether people listening to us across cultures and languages, who must pay attention to every word and gesture we use, understand us better than those with whom we speak every day.

This seems be the case for those who opposed Jesus and struggled against his growing power, but it is also true for his closest followers. No matter how often Jesus spoke, acted, and responded to those most in need, it was difficult for those around him to fully appreciate what he was saying or who he was. Like the prophets before him, Jesus was forever demanding that his disciples review their lives and religious practices to determine if indeed the mystery of God's unconditional love was becoming the foundation of their lives. If it was, the law would take care of itself.  He demands no less of us.

Today, try to remember the last time you reviewed a religious practice or devotion in order to focus more clearly on union with God.

What or Who helps you understand the fullness of Jesus' Gospel message?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Focusing on the Strengths of Others

"This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts." Mk 7:6-7

In a world as fast faced as ours, it is difficult not to lose focus. With so many messages coming at us thousands of times a day, we find ourselves spouting platitudes rather than thoughtful responses. 
Because we all fall into the trap of saying things over and over, we have some compassion for the Pharisees in today's Gospel. Doing everything they could to trap Jesus with his own words and actions, the Pharisees find themselves looking for anything to discredit Jesus and his disciples. 

Eating without washing one's hands, while an important ritual for Jews, was hardly earth shaking. Unable, however, to find anything else about Jesus' behavior to undermine his growing power and popularity, the Pharisees fixate on the faults of Jesus' followers, not his amazing and compelling compassion for the broken.

Today, think of and pray for someone you dislike.

How do you counter your tendency to focus on another's faults and sins?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Companions of St Paul Miki

"May the Lord be glad in his works." Ps 104

Sometimes, when we celebrate a saint's liturgical feast day, we forget who the companions were. This is a shame because it cheats us from celebrating everyday people. The twenty six companions of St. Paul Miki included people, young and old, from ever walk of life.
The twenty-six martyrs of Japan were crucified on a hill, now known as the Holy Mountain, overlooking Nagasaki. Among them were priests, brothers and laymen, Franciscans, Jesuits and members of the Secular Franciscan Order; there were catechists, doctors, simple artisans and servants, old men and innocent children—all united in a common faith and love for Jesus and his church. (Catholic Culture)
The history of our church is replete with a wonderful variety of saints and blesseds, all of whom deserve our admiration. If only we knew the stories of more ordinary people, not just bishops, priests and religious, we would understand more deeply how important it is to ask God to make us saints right where we are.

Today, pray to one of the lay men and women Japanese martyrs.

What qualities do you look for in saintly people?