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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

Death with Dignity

"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep." 1 Thess 4:14

Every major religious tradition reminds us that we cannot escape death, and all our attempts to deny this simple reality lead us nowhere. St Paul admonishes those who waste too much time worrying about death.  "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (I Cor 15:57) That Jesus has already rescued and saved us from ultimate death is a fundamental teaching of our faith.

Islam also insists that while death is inevitable, so is resurrection, but in order to be ready, we must work to get close to God now. “Though we know death is certain, we have not prepared ourselves for it. Though we know paradise is definite, we have not worked for it...What are you waiting for? Death is the first visitor from the Almighty bringing good or evil tidings… so get closer to your Lord!”(Hamid al-Qasyirasi)

Mark Twain reminds us that the fear of death is really the fear of life. Those of us who are afraid to live, even though we are breathing, are moving quickly towards death. In fact, if we don't resolve and ask God to help us live fully, we are already dead because we miss so much of life.

While all of us fear death since we know so little about it and often lack faith, the scriptures are clear:
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

Today, meditate on your own death and pray to accept what feelings arise.

Who has taught you most about death and dying?

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?