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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?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

God's Genrosity

"‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’....Are you envious because I am generous?’" Mt 20:16a

Upon first reading Matthew's parable about the laborers who worked only an hour and received a full days wage, we are puzzled. Trained to believe that when we work hard we will receive our reward, Jesus' story turns our expectations upside down, and that is the point. The parable is not about the workers at all. It is about God and God's generosity, and its purpose is twofold: to remind us that God is good beyond our imagination and to challenge us to live more generously than we have in the past.

No matter how hard we try to understand God's greatness, the scriptures keep reminding us that God and God's graciousness have no parallels in human life, and while it is helpful to think of metaphors and similes that open up our understanding, they will always fail to capture the fullness of God's goodness. Most of us have gazed at a sunrise, sunset, the ocean or a majestic mountain and been unable to describe what we experience. The grandeur and power of nature defies description, and  the love of God's is even more impossible to label or name. Only awe and silence seem a proper and fitting response.

What we can and must do is accept God's challenge to live lives of limitless generosity and learn how to spend the love we have been given with humility and delight. While a tall order, even this is possible with God's help.

Today, give someone something they have not deserved or earned.

Do you  have a favorite way or story to desribe God's generosity/

Monday, August 21, 2017

Queenship of Mary

"You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured." Ez 34:2-3

Ezekiel's condemnation of Israel's shepherds pulls no punches. The shepherds enjoy the fruits of their vocations, but care nothing for the sheep themselves. It is a sorry story, and one we have all known. As soon as we take for granted the simple gifts of food, shelter and family, we drift into an empty and shallow life that fails to acknowledge the glory of God each day.

Mary, on the other hand, is an icon of gratitude, a woman wrapped in grace whose every word and action in the scripture is other centered. Not only does she say yes to the angel's invitation to be the mother of Jesus despite having very few answers to her questions, she stands up for the young couple at Cana who have no wine and accompanies her son to his horrific death. Mary never forgets who she is and how much God loves her in the middle of her personal struggles. No wonder she is call Queen.

Today, shepherd those in your care. Don't worry about how much or little they produce.

Who has shepherded you without concern for themselves?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

St Pius X

"Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first." Mt 19:30

The ministry of the Pope, St. Pius X, is a good example of why the church is always in need of reform. Realizing that 19th century spirituality had disenfranchised many, especially children, from a full sacramental life, Pius X, in 1902, wrote: "The chief aim of our efforts must be that the frequent reception of the Eucharist may be everywhere revived among Catholic peoples....For the soul, like the body, needs frequent nourishment; and the holy Eucharist provides that food which is best adapted to the support of its life." (Mirae Caritatis)  The Eucharist, Pius reminded us, is real food and real drink. Our senses are the pathway to our souls. It is through them that we know the glory of God and God's love for us in a bodily way.

Today's gospel passage insists that those who are often last in our societies will be first because they recognize these truths more naturally. Never far from the earth and its riches, the poor and lowly never take food or simple shelter for granted. Rather, they treasure the gifts of the earth each day and eat and sleep with gratitude.

Today, be grateful for all you eat, especially the Eucharist.

What or who helps you to remember the nourishing and nurturing gifts of creation?