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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Jesus Weeps

"When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, 'Where have you laid him?' They said to him, 'Sir, come and see.' And Jesus wept." Jn 11: 33-35

The raising of Lazarus from the dead is confusing at best and impossible at worst. If Jesus is such a good friend of Lazarus and knows Lazarus is sick, why does he wait two days before going to him? It seems to most of us that Jesus' delay is unnecessary, even cruel. No wonder Lazarus' sisters complain when Jesus finally appears in Bethany. Convinced Jesus was the Messiah, Martha and Mary wonder aloud to Jesus: If you had been hear, our brother would not have died. Are they accusing Jesus of not caring about them or Lazarus?

The story of Lazarus is curious for other reasons as well. Jean Vanier, the founder of the L'Arche community, a group that works and lives with persons who have intellectual and other disabilities, thinks there is evidence in the scripture that Lazarus was disabled. The Greek word used to describe Lazarus' sickness is asthenes  and can be translated without strength or feeble. Moreover, the gospel calls Martha not Lazarus the head of the household, further suggesting that Lazarus' illness or disability made it impossible for him as a man to take responsibility for his family home.

In any case, when Jesus finally speaks with Martha, she and those grieving with her are weeping. Distraught and upset by his friends' sorrow, Jesus weeps and proceeds, even though Lazarus has been in the tomb four days to raise him from the dead. Jesus' power over death calls us to a new level of faith. We must trust the Lord no matter how sick or disabled we might be and how often he seems to be absent, because he is Lord of the living and the dead.

Today, don't be afraid to weep about your own unbelief. Submit yourself to the Lord and ask him to raise you up.

In what ways are you drawn to the humanity of Jesus?

Friday, March 31, 2017

God, Our Refuge

O, Lord, my God, in you I take my refuge." Ps 7

Who or what is your refuge? As children, most of us found protection in our parents and teachers. Realizing our vulnerability, our elders watched out for and over us, making sure that we did not place ourselves at undue risk. While these safeguards are necessary and helpful, at some point, as we enter adulthood, we are forced to find our own places of refuge.

Some find solace and safety in nature. No matter what happens to upset us, we can go outdoors, dig in a garden or take a walk on the beach and find peace. Others seek out friends for a conversation when they are troubled, but in the end, as believers in Jesus Christ, our only lasting peace is in God.

Furthermore, if our refuge is the Christ, the one sent by God to fulfill the Covenants made with Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, then we must spend time with Christ is prayer, study, celebration and service of those most in need. Otherwise, we build on sand!

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

What does it mean to you to confess Jesus Christ?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Enduring Life's Heartaches

"The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves." Ps 34:19

It is remarkable how often the scriptures remind us that God draws near to us at the most difficult times of our life. Like a good friend, God often appears when we least expect it and accompanies us through the dark nights of disappointment and illness. At the same time, God does not rescue or fix us. Rather, God stays close but does not invade our lives.

There are few people in the world who have not had their hearts broken more than once. Sometimes it is the loss of a friend or the death of a parent, spouse or child. All of us respond to situations like this, but it is the smaller heartbreaks that we often miss. Not having a child call on our birthday or watching a grandchild drink too much, get sloppy and vulgar are times when we want to turn away and feel sorry for ourselves but God asks more of us.

When we are crushed in spirit we are often tempted to speed up and get away from uncomfortable situations, but we need to slow down and let God be with us. Remember how the prophet Elijah, full of fear after preaching God's word and warning, tried to run away from his new enemies and asked God to take his life because he was no better than his ancestors.  But an angel tapped Elijah on the shoulder, offered him something to eat and gave him the strength to travel for 40 days and nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. After arriving at Horeb another angel appeared to him and told him that God was about to pass by and he should wait to hear God's voice. Expecting God to be loud, Elijah discovered that God was not in the wind, the fire or the earthquake but in a tiny whisper. Assured of God's love, Elijah knew God's strength would protect and guide him.

Today, listen for God's voice however it comes.

How has God protected you when you were full of fear and heartbreak?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Intimacy with God

"Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying, “Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with such great power and with so strong a hand?" Ex 32:11

Moses' intimacy with God amazes us. Never afraid to negotiate with God, even and especially when the Jews turn away from God after being freed from the oppression of the Egyptians, Moses keeps reminding God of his promises to never abandon his people. Sure of God's mercy, Moses challenges God to act with compassion even when the Jews build a molten calf and worship it. Remarkably, despite the idolatry of the Jewish people, God listens.

The listening God we encounter in the scripture is anxious for us to repent and renew ourselves, and as Moses demonstrates, seems only too ready to respond when we ask for help. Intimacy with God will get us everywhere. When, no matter how dark life feels or how disturbed we are by the direction our life has taken, we pray, listen and take time for God, God will hear and respond to us in ways we could never imagine. Lent reminds to pray, fast and give alms. Any of these penances demonstrates our desire for God and will surely get a response.

Today, imagine God rushing out to meet you in the dark.

What have been your experiences of God's enfolding love?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Responding to Enemies

"'My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.' For this reason they tried all the more to kill him,
because he not only broke the sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God." Jn 5:17

All of us have people in our lives who get under our skin.  Almost anything they say makes us defensive and resistive. Though we cannot easily articulate what it is that disturbs us about the other person, it is very real and disabling. Often enough the person who annoys us at every turn is a mirror image of ourselves. If we find ourselves talking too much and not listening carefully enough to others, we resent it when others prattle on and seem not to hear the opinions of others.

Jesus has a ready answer to his detractors. Just as he relies on his Father for guidance and support, so must we give ourselves into God's hands and not allow our own faults or the foibles of others to bother us unnecessarily. Come to me, he insists, don't be afraid. I will be your guide and protection; I will make your burdens much lighter but you must let me help. Stop trying to figure out what it is about yourself or others that bothers you. It is a waste of time and fruitless. Place my yoke around your shoulders and walk the path to which I direct you. In me, everything is possible.

Today, pray for someone who annoys you.

What is the heaviest burden the Gospel asks you to carry?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Do you want to be Well?

"Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me." Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your mat, and walk." Jn 5: 7-8

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Central America for the first time. I was excited about the trip and anxious for it to begin, but after a few weeks I was ready to come home. My body reacted against the water. Even though I was careful to drink only water that had been boiled for twenty minutes, I got sick and could not stay hydrated or keep food down. Ever since I have prayed and worked for people in the developing world to have clean water. Water is essential to every form of life, but impure water kills. Even today 400 children die in the developing world every hour. (1) Working for clean water around the world is an act of justice that Christians need to support.

Today's scripture texts are all about water. Ezekiel has a vision about water flowing from the temple until it becomes a river that supports and nourishes every living creature. God wants us to live, the scripture reminds us, and to have clean water that sustains us. The gospel is about the waters to which the man sick for 38 years was unable to reach. Remarkably, Jesus asks him, "Do you want to be well?"

This is a question we all need to ask. If God makes us well it is not simply for our own healing. God heals us to go out in an other centered way to announce the Good News of our ultimate healing. The sick man who Jesus heals must now walk towards others, and reconcile with those who failed to help him reach the water for 38 years. This is no easy task. Letting go of our hurt so that the waters of Baptism can cleanse us anew is a great challenge.

Today, ask God to heal you for his work.

Have you ever been healed by the compassion and understanding of others?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Older Believers

"Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, who was near death." Jn 4:46

For the last few years I have been talking with and listening to older people, most of whom are open, honest and enjoyable conversation partners. When leading parish missions, I have encountered mostly retirees who have the time to make a parish mission and are anxious to review their lives by making serious attempts at growing in prayer and faith. Neither defensive nor overly anxious, they are funny and fun to be with, and that is the point. We have many committed seniors in our church but I wonder whether we are taking adequate advantage of their learning, wisdom and passion.

Calling seniors passionate might surprise some readers, but it is exactly this that I experience. Anxious to pass on their faith, the older people I meet wonder just how they might do this most effectively. They pray, they listen, they serve as Eucharistic ministers in nursing homes and hospitals, they drive friends and neighbors to doctors appointments, they visit the sick and the imprisoned, and they do all of this because it is the right thing to do. Occasionally guilty because they failed to find time earlier in life to live their faith more dynamically, they know now they are disciples of Jesus Christ and are anxious to do more. Why do we fail to hear them or see them? Are older believers invisible in the church in North America much like immigrants and uneducated? How can we change this?

Today, ask someone who is older what their faith means to them.

Have you ever gained new insights and hope from listening to older people?