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Saturday, December 16, 2017

John the Baptist

"There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie."

The word picture of John the Baptist created by the evangelists is both charming and challenging. Clear thinking, focused, lean and a little mean, John was not afraid to say what he was thinking to anyone, even if it put his life in danger. The Baptist is a traditional hero who both knows and accepts himself. Acknowledging that he is unworthy to untie the sandal strap of the Lord, John insists he is not the Messiah. Both honest and transparent, John's reward for his goodness will be a gruesome death.

John the Baptist is also the first to recognize Jesus when he leaps in his mother's womb as the newly pregnant Mary approaches his childhood home. Excited by the arrival of his Messiah, John senses even before his birth that his visitor will change everything about his life, and in this he becomes an example for every Christian.

John is the forerunner of Jesus, the one who will prepare his way and so must we in our culture, country and time.  John's insistence that "He must increase, and I must decrease," (John 3:30) will become a mantra for Christians throughout the ages.

Today, be yourself. Don't try to be God.

What most challenges you in the life of John the Baptist?

Friday, December 15, 2017

Elijah and John the Baptist

"In those days, like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah whose words were as a flaming furnace.' Sir 48:1

Although unnerving, it is always good to attend to people who come into our lives "with fire." These are the people who challenge and sometimes upset us. They remind us not to take life and its delights for granted, and to avoid God's condemnation by changing now. Not all of these figures are religious, but many are, and when we fail to listen to them our lives get even more confused.

Both Elijah and John the Baptist unnerved and upset their contemporaries. Prophets often do that. Elijah's words were like "a flaming furnace," consuming those who had turned away from God, but warming those who had lived according to the law and prophets despite being in exile.

John the Baptist consoled his disciples with a baptism of forgiveness, but unhinged others who wanted to hold onto a power that was not theirs. Drunk, Herod promises his daughter anything she wants, but when Salome asks for John's head, Herod realizes he has committed himself to a path that will lead to his own destruction.

As we prepare ourselves during Advent to say yes to God at Christmas, it is better to listen and reform our lives now. Otherwise, our yes will be hollow and our Christmas flat. The joy that Christmas holds will be replaced by empty gift giving and our spirits will know that a deeper reform is necessary if we hope to enjoy the fullness of Christmas' promises.

Today, fast for a few hours in order to appreciate the great gift of food.

What most helps you to reform your life?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Be Faithful like a River

"If you would hearken to my commandments, your prosperity would be like a river, and your vindication like the waves of the sea; Your descendants would be like the sand, and those born of your stock like its grains." Is 48:18

Rivers are fascinating bodies of water. Some flow fast and hard. Others meander through fields slowly and methodically. Isaiah knows this and uses the river as a way to speak of God's graciousness. Whether with fierce power or gentle kindness, God will reward those who live the spirit of the law. More, God will grow the righteous like the sands of the sea and spread their glory over the entire earth.

Faithfulness, the most basic way God tells us who God is, is the great challenge of the Gospel. We must be faithful, not only to God, but like God, to all God's people. Indeed, we must be faithful to creation itself, which Pope Francis reminds us is our sister. Fidelity is not simply a function or series of actions, but a way of life, an attitude, and it is our attitudes that almost always need reform and renewal.

Today, change your attitude towards your adversaries and be faithful to someone who you dislike for the sake of the Gospel.

Who most challenges you with his or her fidelity to God despite the consequences?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

St John of the Cross

"The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness." Ps 145.1

St John of the Cross was a very young man when St Teresa of Avila saw qualities in him he could never have seen himself. Bright and insightful, an artist and song writer, above all John was drawn to the mystical path in the spiritual life and was not afraid of the dark night to which he was called. Teresa knew John was different and although she was thirty years older than John, she wrote, "He was so good that I, at least, could have learned much more from him than he from me."

John of the Cross was destined to be like Elijah the prophet, a fire and a flaming furnace of God's love. When he died at 49 he had helped found, despite enormous opposition from his own Carmelite brothers, many monasteries of discalced Carmelites who led an intense life of prayer and penance while also being hugely effective apostolic ministers, writers and preachers. The poet, Jessica Powers, shortly before she entered the Carmelites herself, wrote of John's books:
Out of what door that came ajar in heaven
       drifted this starry manna down to me,
       to the dilated mouth both hunger given
       and all satiety?
       Who bore at midnight to my very dwelling
       the gift of this imperishable food?
       my famished spirit with its fragrance filling,
       its savor certitude.
       The mind and heart ask, and the soul replies
       what store is heaped on these bare shelves of mine?
       The crumbs of the immortal delicacies
       fall with precise design.
       Mercy grows tall with the least heart enlightened,
       and I, so long a fosterling of night,
       here feast upon immeasurably sweetened
       wafers of light.
Today, ask God to let you see with God's own eyes.

What keeps you from a more intense prayer life?



Tuesday, December 12, 2017

St Lucy

They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles' wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint." Is 40:3

Sometimes the church is accused of exalting virginity as a virtue and forgetting that marriage is a sacrament that celebrates human and sexual intimacy as spiritual practices. While an overemphasis on celibacy can happen, it does not have to be this way. St. Lucy, about whom we know little except that she refused to renounce her faith when a fellow she refused to marry "accused" her of being a Christian, is a good example.

Chastity was not just a personal virtue for Lucy but a social one. When she opted for celibacy rather than marriage, she renounced pleasure as an end in itself and proclaimed a God whose love promises us happiness forever, not just in this life.

Lucy's determination to to give herself totally to God in imitation of Jesus has profound implications for our life today. No doubt Lucy had to endure the taunts of young friends who thought her foolish to renounce marriage for faith, but Lucy knew what she was doing. The culture around her in 4th century was dotted with 40 room villas that exalted pleasure for itself. That Lucy rejected this life and lifestyle challenges us still at the beginning of the 21st century when our own country is sprinkled with 40 room McMansions, replete 10 baths for a family of four. Maybe Lucy wasn't so crazy after all.

Today, take a moment to reflect on your own values in a over sized culture that exalts wealth for its own sake.

What woman do you most admire and why?

Monday, December 11, 2017

Our Lady of Guadalupe

A careful, meditation on the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is very revealing. Mary appears as a shy, pregnant, peasant woman with bare feet.  Her hands are folded in petition like ours would be in the presence of God and an angel holds her up as an icon of devotion.

Every time I look at this image I think of the hundreds of young women I have met in the developing world. Often too timid to look in your eye, they speak softly and always with respect. More important, they answer questions directly and with few words. These women amaze me not only because many of them have good educations and have contributed to their communities with great generosity, but because they do everything without drawing attention to themselves. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a woman from the developing world who identifies totally with those she has come to address and lift up, but she also challenges us not to take ourselves too seriously. She is a disciple of her own son and as such reminds us to follow him with humility and passion. Together, her image suggests, we are held up by angels, making our cause great and our voice important.

Today, walk humbly before the Lord and ask for guidance.

Has a quiet, unselfconscious woman ever touched your heart?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Fear Not

"Be strong, Fear not." Is 35:4

Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., one of the most important and respected theologians of the 20th century, said that it would not be rash to reduce the entire Gospel to three words Jesus said often: Be not afraid. Reminding all who believe that they have already been saved, Schillebeeckx insists there is no theological reason to fear because God has come in the flesh and promised to live with us forever.

This is not to say we won't feel fear when we are in physical danger, but the deeper fears about the after life and God's concern for every person should have no place in the life of those who believe in Jesus Christ. While we will have doubts and will regularly turn away from this basic truth, Jesus' coming among us in human form is God's promise that we we can always return to God's heart where every fear will be washed away.

What must have Joseph felt when Mary told him she was pregnant? Though betrothed, they had not lived together. He could not have been the father of her child, but in a dream, which he trusts, God tells him not to be afraid. No matter how others might look at or ridicule him, he should welcome Mary to his house, and with his yes his life and ours change. Overcoming his fears and confusion, Joseph becomes a model for us in times of doubt. God is near to him and will help him through his darkness. God is also near to us and this reality is what we celebrate and proclaim so loudly at Christmas.

Today,  put aside fear. Put on love.

What fears continue to haunt you on your faith journey?