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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Avoiding Phariseeism

“The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, 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." Mt 23: 1-3

Years ago I heard the story of a mother who told her troubled son that they only way he would get out of his own way and heal would be to do something for others. She encouraged him to work in a soup kitchen, or a community closet in order to get close to those in terrible need, and her advice worked. Experiencing the gratitude of those who no longer could help themselves, the young man began to realize how "rich" he was. Soon after beginning his volunteer work, he returned to school, graduated with honors, and now has a career teaching others while continuing to feed the hungry.

When any of us, committed to Jesus' message to feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, and clothe the naked, fails to do anything in this regard, we run the risk of being labelled Pharisees. Furthermore, it is not enough to give an occasional or even a large donation to a charity that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked or visits the sick. We must get our hands dirty.

Today, don't just encourage others to be compassionate, do something concrete for someone in need.

What has been your experience of direct service to and with the poor?

Friday, November 3, 2017

St Charles Borremeo

"The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable." Rom 11:29

God loves us. That is God's gift to us. But God's love is not a promise that we will never suffer or feel lost and alone. When we say that God loves us we mean that his gift, as St Paul reminds us, is irrevocable. God will never take it back, never stop loving us, and in this promise we have hope, strength and the assurance that God is near even and especially when we suffer.

God's call is also irrevocable and this can be both empowering and terrifying. God calls all of us to discipleship, and discerning what that is can be the task of a lifetime. In my own case, like many other young men of my generation, I felt strongly I was being called to be a Capuchin priest. Motivated by so many of the Capuchin priests I knew as a boy to be active, engaged and committed to the needy, God used that natural attraction to lure me into vows and priesthood. Being a friar, though important, was a distant second to being  a priest.

Thirty years ago, however, in a frightening twist of grace, it became clear that God wanted to work in the Capuchins in ways we could never have foreseen. Without devaluing the call to be priest, the church challenged the Capuchins to reclaim the charisms of their founder, and all the friars to listen to God and not simply follow our own best instincts or needs. Remarkably, this shift is cited by a majority of our young friars as the reason they were drawn to the Capuchins. When we reclaimed the dream of St Francis to form a community of brothers whose love for one another as they traveled from place to place to preach the Gospel would be their most important way of announcing Good News, everything changed. God does write straight on crooked lines.

Today, ask God to renew the vocation to which you have been called.

Who or what has been most influential in helping you listen more deeply to the Gospel?st 
Charles

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Living the Sabbath

"Jesus spoke to the scholars of the law and Pharisees in reply, asking, 'Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath or not?' But they kept silent; so he took the man and, after he had healed him, dismissed him." Lk 14 3-4

Jesus regularly broke the Sabbath, and we wonder why. He was an observant Jew. He wanted to fulfill the law, not destroy it or supplant it. Why then would he heal on the Sabbath? The answer seems almost too simple. The Pharisees were not interested in the observance of the law, but in catching Jesus in opposition to it. If they could demonstrate that Jesus had no respect for the law, they would win the battle for power and honor. Like so many of us, they wanted to win, they wanted to be right.

Jewish law about the Sabbath, although strict, was not rigid then or now. Mati Goldstein, commander of the Jewish rescue-mission to 2010 Haiti earthquake, said, “We did everything to save lives, despite Shabbat . People asked, ‘Why are you here? There are no Jews here,’ but we are here because the Torah orders us to save lives…We are desecrating Shabbat with pride…” 

Clearly, Jews today and the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, knew that the law commanded them to help save lives. Jesus also knew this and challenged the Pharisees with an interpretation of the law that they should have known. When people suffer, we need to respond. It is that simple.

Today, treat someone with compassion even if it is inconvenient.

How do you practice Sabbath?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

All Souls

"They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace." Wis 3: 2-3

In one of the Prefaces to the Eucharistic prayer when celebrating mass for the deceased, we read: "Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven." These words always bring me great comfort. Realizing, even as I pray these words for others, that I have allowed myself to slip into sloppy thinking when I forget that life as we know it now, no matter how rich or satisfying, is temporary. This is not to say we should not enjoy life as it unfolds, but that it is important to remember that life on earth is fleeting. 

Regularly, when trying to console a grieving family I remind them that though we can no longer see our family and friends who have died, faith assures us that they are alive and with us in a way no longer limited by the constraints of the flesh. 

I often experience this simple truth when I think about my Dad. If I happen to be driving to Newark Airport in New Jersey, I wave as I pass Sealand, the place where he worked for many years. A mail room worker, my dad traveled by public transportation most of his working life. Always grateful to have work, my father enjoyed his job and especially the people with whom he worked and the delight he felt touches me still. I know he is alive in Christ, and I believe I will see him again when my own life ends.

Today, "speak" with someone, now dead, who was especially important to you in life.

What do you think heaven will be like? 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

All Saints

“He went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.” Mt 5:1

Every year on the feast of all Saints we read about Jesus, the new Moses, who goes up the mountain to proclaim the fullness of the commandments. Something very new and very old is happening. While not abrogating the commandments as we know them, Jesus offers his followers a new way to fulfill them. Blessed are the poor, he commands, and those who mourn, who are meek and merciful, and are peacemakers.

While it will always be important to honor the one God, to keep the Sabbath, to honor our parents, and not to covet another’s wife or goods, how we live these values becomes central to the Christian life. No longer can we honor only those from our tribe or the keepers of the covenant. Now we have to be alert to those whose lives have been heavy with sorrow and grief, but who continue to remember not to exalt themselves, and live simply for the sake of God's reign.

Simple gestures, like sitting down when someone wants to speak with us, might not have the power of Jesus who sat in order to let his followers know that what he was about to say was important, but our willingness to stop and listen will assure those with whom we are talking that they are important. Isn't this what Jesus did all the time?

Today, ask yourself how expansive your love really is.

Who has made your feel important and how did they do this?


Monday, October 30, 2017

Learning to Pray as an Adult

"The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings." Rom 8:26

It is the rare adult believer who does not yearn to pray more deeply. As we age and review our life as it has unfolded, we realize that though God has always been present, we have too often taken God for granted. Sadly, changing this pattern is difficult. As St Paul reminds us, we don't know how. Frustrated, we sometimes return to prayers we learned as children, but soon realize these devotions no longer offer us the consolation we once experienced.  Our hearts want more.

The first and perhaps the most important task in learning to pray more naturally as adults is to practice silence. Learning to sit quietly and to let go of the busyness of our everyday lives, while fundamental to the spiritual life, can be unbearably difficult and confusing. For most, as soon as we begin our minds start to clamor and drift. Easily distracted by almost anything, we wonder if we will ever learn the simple skill of being quiet in the presence of God and all creation.

When, however, we endure our frustrations in learning how to stop thinking and analyzing, we should have little doubt or fear that God will hear us and draw near to us. Nevertheless, we may not feel God's closeness or experience the changes for which we yearn, but this should not overly concern us. Praying is about giving time to God without conditions and remembering that the Spirit is praying in and for us even when we feel nothing. Our fidelity is our prayer.

Today, sit quietly for 10 minutes. Try not to worry about what happens.



What are your favorite ways of praying?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Seeing Anew

"Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath. And a woman was there who for eighteen years had been crippled by a spirit; she was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect." Lk 13:10

Seeing or learning something new is always exciting but also needs careful reflection. Just because something is new does not mean it is important or transforming. In fact, newness can be a dangerous illusion. Shiny and bright does mean deep and lasting.

There should be little doubt that the Jewish authorities were not worried about Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. False prophets and healers were a dime a dozen and it was rarely difficult to undermine the authority and power of popular healers by challenging them regarding their knowledge of and commitment to the Torah.

Jesus was different. Not only did he know the Law, he lived its spirit in challenging ways, and a reading of the New Testament demonstrates this convincingly. Jesus was not trying to undermine the authority of the Jewish leaders, but wanted them to reform their lives, put aside their fear of the Roman authorities, and see in him God's presence and power. Only when the Jewish leaders refused to acknowledge their own sins did Jesus condemn them and call them "whitened sepulchers." (Mt 23:27)

Today, let yourself be amazed at the healing power of the Lord.

Has the Gospel enabled you to see more clearly what God desires of you?