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Monday, December 31, 2018

Mary, Mother of God

"The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child." Lk 2:16-17

Every year the church begins the New Year by holding up Mary, the Mother of God, as a model for believers everywhere. Mary, as mother, is first of all present to Jesus, something that is more difficult than it seems. Being present to another does mean we try to fix or help them, but serve them. Like a good waitperson in a restaurant who does not hover or keep asking how your food is, she makes you feel comfortable. His or her only purpose is to help you enjoy your dining experience Mary is like this for Jesus and us.

Servants also know their place. This is not to say they should be willing to be treated poorly or abused, but because they understand their role, they realize and accept that their purpose is to make space for the other, to encourage, empower, "The and highlight anything about the person or country they are serving that is good, admirable and trustworthy.

Christians do well to remember Mary's lessons. When we realize that our primary task is to witness to the truth and transforming power of the Christ, we never have to be center of attention, we listen more than we speak, and we live faith as a verb: an action, and a lifestyle, that invites others to live for others. We do this more naturally and simply when we are grateful for the great gift our our faith and our salvation.

Today, serve someone with joy.

Do you have a special devotion to Mary? Why?

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Growing in our love for God

"John testified to him and cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’” From his fullness we have all received,
grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." Jn 1 16-17

Most of us have been in the presence of people with political or religious power. We know what that feels like, but Jesus was an itinerant preacher and minor prophet. Surely, John was talking about something more than the power we invest in hierarchies when he said of Jesus, "The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me." John saw something in Jesus and so must we.

In order to see the fulness of Jesus, we must look long and hard at ourselves, others and the world. This takes practice and discernment. We cannot expect to see what it is that God is doing within and among us unless we take time to gaze upon God and God's works everyday. Some call this prayer or contemplation but naming is not as important as doing it. Finding time in our busy schedules to stop, listen, and allow the Spirit of God to guide us is essential to anyone who wants to live the Gospel, not just know about it.

Jesus often left his disciples, even for entire nights, to commune with his Father in prayer, and in this he offers an example. Because we can easily get so close to someone or something that we see them as if through a microscope, we need to step away and let God guide our eyes and hearts. In this way, perhaps we can see the Spirit like Jesus did.

Today, slow down and let the Lord look at you as you are.

What most keeps you from developing a daily prayer life?

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Holy Family

"Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another." Col 3:12

The Holy Family is sometimes held up as a model for all but for the wrong reasons. If we allow ourselves to idealize their life together as one of blissful peace and happiness, we cheat them and ourselves of finding in them a compass for our everyday lives. In fact, the scriptures offer evidence that Jesus regularly confused his parents. He stayed behind in Jerusalem without telling his parents, and initially refused to help the young couple at Cana, who because of poor planning, were running out of wine for their wedding. Mark's gospel goes further and suggests Jesus' family thought he was out of his mind. (3:21). Everything was not sweetness and light!

The Holy Family is important for contemporary Christians when we allow their experience as family to shape our attitudes towards one another and the world. When, as Paul reminds us, we put on compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness, especially towards people in our own families, we witness to the saving work of Christ in and for us and remind all that we are the Body of Christ.

Today, listen in your family twice as much as you speak.

What are the greatest challenges contemporary families face in living the Gospel?

Friday, December 28, 2018

Recognizing the Christ

"Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: "Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel." Lk 2: 27-32

Waiting for someone you have never met is anxiety producing. Whether we are at a bus station or an airport, we scan the faces of the people who are exiting and wonder if they are the one we are to meet. Simeon, who Luke implies is an old man, waits each day until finally Mary and Joseph arrive to present their first born son for consecration in the temple, and when he sees the Christ, he does not hesitate. Simeon knows this is the One promised of old and sings for joy.

The question presented to us is the gospel is clear. Do we recognize the Christ among us? Do we take time to search the faces of the poor, the forgotten, the ignored and the despised in order to remind them they are the beloved of God, the chosen ones?  Saints of every age have reminded us of this obligation. Mother Teresa said it this way, "Every person you meet is Christ in disguise."

Today, expect to be surprised by Christ.

Has someone from whom you expected little revealed to you the face of Christ in an entirely new way?

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Holy Innocents

"When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under." Mt 2:16

Today seems like a perfect day to celebrate all the children who have been lost, stolen or conscripted into armies for the sake of power or money. While we will never understand the twists a human psyche can take that result in the massacre of children, we know it happens, has happened before, and will happen again.

All life is a gift from God and must be spent as a gift for others. When we fail to remember this most fundamental faith demand, we too often wallow in our own failures and losses. That our well- intentioned deeds do not always result in success is not the point. That we freely offer others the gift of ourselves is. That is why Christ came among us. He was and is a sign that God cannot and will not abandon us, even when we turn away from God and fail to live the Gospel. We have only to lift our heads to find God waiting to lead us again along a path of other centered love.

Today, remember the innocents: children, the disabled, the mentally ill.

How does faith help you face unspeakable evil?

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

St John the Evangelist

"We are writing this so that our joy may be complete." 1 Jn 1:4

Bickering, rigidity and unfettered competition can drain the life out of any community which is precisely what was happening in the community to which St John was writing his first letter. Struggling to understand how Jesus could be both fully God and fully human, some believers dismissed the mystery altogether by proposing that Jesus was not really human but only God in a human disguise.

John takes a different tack. Trying to help the community see that the mystery of the incarnation could never be reduced to words, John encourages them to put aside their disagreements and serve others on behalf of the Gospel.  In this way, he assured them, they would begin to appreciate more deeply the mystery of God's presence in the world as they saw its "truth" living in those they served.

This simple lesson is still true today. There are times that we get stuck inside our heads, especially when we are trying to convince others that our insights and opinions are correct and important. Perhaps if we followed St John's advice to help the needy when we are in turmoil, we might reach a more peaceful place. Care for those most in need often settles our spirits in ways we could never have imagined or articulated and brings us a kind of joy beyond words.

Today serve someone in need. Your joy will be overwhelming.

Has service of those in need ever brought you joy?

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

St Stephen

"Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people...but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke." Acts 6:8,9

The reasons we reject others are many. Sometimes we don't like or trust the person. At other times, their message annoys or upsets us, and unfortunately, there are some who reject others because of race, ethnicity, culture or sexual orientation. Although most of us have been raised with the bromide, Don't judge a book by its cover, we all have our prejudices.

Stephen was rejected simply because he was preaching the salvation of Jesus Christ, a message that frightened traditional religious types who used their power to control others' lives. When Stephen's wisdom and spirit began to sway people towards Christ and away from the synagogue, his fate was sealed. Some scholars believe that Stephen had attended and worshiped at the synagogue in which he was preaching, making his sin even greater. To draw others away from the Talmud was bad enough but to do it to one's neighbors and friends was a much worse offense.

Putting Stephen's feast on the day after Christmas is no accident. The church wants believers to know there is a cost to following the babe of Bethlehem. The joy we feel at Christmas must be tempered by the challenge of every day faith, and though Stephen's witness leads to his death, he dies with gratitude and hope.

Today, be grateful for those who live and speak our faith with power no matter the cost.

Have you ever been attacked or rejected because of your religious faith?


Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas

"She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Mt 1:21

For most believers, Christmas is a delight, a wondrous celebration of faith and family, but for some, Christmas is a terrible burden. Because expectations for Christmas are so great, we can try too hard to please God and others, and get in the way of God's plan. Only when we learn to slow down, listen, and respond rather than react to every situation, can we hope to know and live God's plan for us and the people we love.

When we take a few moments to reflect on the first Christmas, we realize both Mary and Joseph had to stay very centered as they traveled and waited for the birth of Jesus. Away from their families and without the security of a place to stay, they had to rely on a kind inn owner to find them a place for their child to be born. While the insecurity must have been very trying for them, they endured. Strengthened by Mary's yes to the angel, and Joseph's dream, they trusted that God would lead them where they needed to be to fulfill Jesus' destiny.

Today, give God permission to lead you.

What hurdles must you cross to celebrate Christmas with joy?

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Zechariah's Freedom Song

"Zechariah, (John the Baptist's) father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying: 'Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free.'" Lk 1:67

What a joy it must have been for Zechariah to announce that God had set his people free. In exile often, the Jewish people yearned for a military solution to the Roman problem. Invaded by Caesar's armies, Israel had little control of the land God had given to them, and they hated it. Zechariah's prophesy would have filled them with hope.

God's willingness to rescue his people is a constant theme in the Hebrew bible. No matter how often the chosen people turn away from his rule, God's mercy trumps his anger and God welcomes the Jewish people into his heart. Our biggest concern should be not taking God's goodness for granted. Rather, our gratitude for God's graciousness ought to be a sign to the world of our Gospel commitment.

It is important to speak our faith, especially on behalf of the voiceless and people in exile: immigrants, refugees and people living in shelters. When a society and a church ignore or turn away from those most in need, we deny God's concern for those who are lost and open ourselves to the criticism that faith is a crutch upon which we lean, not a dynamic and inclusive lifestyle that sees all people as brothers and sisters.

Today, say something on behalf of the needy.

What most inhibits your willingness to speak up on behalf of the voiceless?





Saturday, December 22, 2018

Imagining the Joy of Mary and Elizabeth

"When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb." Lk 1:40

The Visitation of Mary is another of the gospel scenes that has fascinated and challenged Christians forever. A young woman, newly pregnant, visits her newly pregnant older relative, and spends three months with her.

What was their first meeting like? How did they spend most days? What kinds of conversations did they have? Because we have no answers to these questions, we supply the ones our reflection and prayer generate. This is good, something all of us ought to do regularly with the mysteries of faith. 

How we imagine Mary and Elizabeth together not only gives us insight into their relationship, it tells us much about where we are in life and faith. Are we joyful about being "pregnant" with the living God? Are we anxious to let others know about how being the "bearer of Good News" affects us and changes our life on a daily basis? 

Believers in Jesus, especially as Christmas nears, knowing they have been saved, live for others, and while this attitude and conversion is tested everyday, there is no doubt about our call. We are disciples challenged to announce Good News by the way we live for others.

Today, visit someone struggling with life, even in your own home.

What have been the joys of being Christian in your life?

Friday, December 21, 2018

Mary's Sound

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."  Lk 1:46

The Venerable Bede, an 8th Century monk, in an attempt to help us understand the depth of Mary's gratitude, expands St Luke's language:
The Lord has exalted me by a gift so great, so unheard of, that language is useless to describe it; and the depths of love in my heart can scarcely grasp it. I offer then all the powers of my soul in praise and thanksgiving. (Universalis)
These days as we creep ever closer to Christmas, the church cannot get enough of Mary. Full of anticipation, Mary sings but knows that words and music, no matter how beautiful, cannot express her joy at being the mother of Jesus. She can only offer thanks, and we would do well to follow her example.

Thanksgiving is the ground and base of Christian spirituality. If we do not practice Thanksgiving, we will never understand the Eucharist or fully appreciate God's total and persistent love of us. Only when we live gratefully for each day of life and faith are we able to proclaim the Good News unequivocally and completely.

Today, imagine where you would be without the love of God.

What are you most grateful for?


Thursday, December 20, 2018

Mary's Journey

"Hark! my lover–here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills. My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag." Sg 2:8

Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Lk 1:39

The notion that the spiritual life is a journey is an important one in the Judeo Christian tradition. Believers are always on the way and reaching for something else. So is God. God seeks us out. God desires us, and in the Song of Songs the writer wants us to imagine God as a romantic lover who will leap mountains in order to be with us. God wants us to believe that winter's cold and darkness is over because the light has come into the world.

Mary learns the lesson of pilgrimage early. Almost as soon as she says yes to being the mother of the Messiah, she leaves her home and travels to be with Elizabeth, and her visit is not a drop in but a three month stay. What she will learn about Elizabeth and herself will shape her life and ours. Though we can only guess what happens in Mary's heart as Jesus grows in wisdom and age, we know that she was always near him, sometimes correcting, at other times consoling, but never abandoning her son despite the terrible personal cost.

If God is always seeking us and surrounding us with love, why should we be afraid? Mary's fear faded fast when she allowed the the Spirit to enter her. So should ours, and in the end, as long as we do not turn away from the journey, we have nothing to fear.

Today, take one step towards God and see how God responds.



What parts of your journey have most filled you with joy?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

What do you want for Christmas?

The LORD spoke to Ahaz: Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!'”
Is 7: 10-11

Not infrequently we hear friends say, "Be careful what you wish for." Warning us that we may not like the consequences of a wish fulfilled, they seem to be cautioning us not to pray, dream or imagine a different future, but to be stoic and satisfied with life as it unfolds. While this might be a subtle way for friends to alert us to be careful about a new or dangerous relationship, it can also be awful advice. Not to ask for help means we think of ourselves as totally independent even though the Gospel urges us to live as one body and to be interdependent.

King Ahaz had his own plans for the world and while he seems to take a humble posture before God, it is a ruse. Ahaz doesn't want to listen to God, Isaiah or anyone else and he will pay for it. As Christmas nears we might ask ourselves about our own intentions. How would we feel if we received no gifts at all? More essentially, what do we really want from God at Christmas? A good feeling kneeling before the crib? Our children and grandchildren to go to Mass? Do we really want God to start all over with us and the world? And do we want to be instruments of Good (but sometimes hard) News?

Today, listen to God in silence for five minutes.

What are your most fervent prayers?

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Barrenness

"There was a certain man from Zorah, of the clan of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren and had borne no children."

Barrenness is a particularly difficult burden to bear, and in the ancient world it was often seen as a punishment for sin. Both the wife of Zorah, the father of Samson, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist were barren, and we can only imagine the pain they felt. No doubt both women were familiar with the words of Jeremiah who tells us that Rachel wept inconsolably because she was barren. For Jewish women not to have children meant they had no identity, no value, and no blessing from God.  Zorah's wife in today's passage from Judges isn't even named. How great then the joy of both women when, in their old age, God blesses them with children whose role in salvation history will forever help believers to appreciate the greatness of God who blesses us when we least expect it.

In these last days of Advent, the same is true of us.  Our roles in the ongoing story of God's love for the world, while sometimes muddy and confusing, are radically important to God.  God wants to speak through us, to announce good news, not only through the strengths and gifts we each have, but through our willingness to endure weakness and suffering for the sake of building God's reign.

Today ask God to "fertilize" your heart, which so often seems barren, with the the hope only God can give.

Do you know what it is to be barren?

Monday, December 17, 2018

God our Justice!

"This is the name they give him, the Lord our Justice." Jer 23:4

Letting go of our work and its success or failure is never easy, but the gospel is clear. It is our obligation to preach the Good News in word and deed and leave the results to God. Gospel spirituality is demanding. Called to be pilgrims going from place to place and taking nothing for the journey, we strive to live and speak the Gospel  of Justice in such a way that God's direction can be clearly seen and experienced by those to whom we are sent.  

Demanding a radical humility, a total putting aside of everything that is not of God, we need always to remember that justice for all is God's good news, not ours. This is not to say that we cannot be good instruments in God's orchestra. Each of us is gifted and our talents are the means God uses to invite people to know and love the Lord. Our insights, compassion, and thirst of justice can be wonderful signs of God's love for the world, but unless they always point towards the Lord, they can get in the way of God's glory. 



Today, let God's justice shine and get out of the way.

What blocks you from being Good News?

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Justice Flourishing

"Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever." Ps 72:3

It is clear in the Catholic tradition that there can be no lasting peace without justice, and no matter how often we proclaim this important truth, we forget it ourselves and fail to convince others. Why? Because doing justice is hard work.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the theologian and holocaust victim, reminded us often in The Cost of Discipleship, that living the Gospel demands sacrifice and surrender to God's plan for humankind, and this is never easy. Listen. "Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ."

In Bonhoeffer's case the cost of discipleship meant letting go of his family and the new love of his life, Maria von Redemeyer. A confirmed bachelor most of his life, Bonhoeffer fell in love in his mid thirties and the love he experienced was intense. In his Letters and Papers from Prison, he writes to Maria about the terrible duty he has to speak the truth, defend the Jews and oppose Hitler and the Nazis. Apologizing to her, he assures her that their love would be empty if he failed to live the Gospel with integrity.

It is important for every believer to pray for the courage to be a disciple no matter the circumstances or the cost of living the Gospel. Every great gift demands sacrifice. We should never be surprised by faith's challenges.

Today, pray to be free to live the Gospel without fear.

Have you ever experienced the cost of discipleship?


Saturday, December 15, 2018

Prepare the Way of the Lord

"I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals." Lk 3:16

Knowing who you are and to whom you belong is a foundational first step on the road to spiritual health.  Every adult believer has struggled mightily at times with their identity as Christians and Catholics. Sometimes it is a particular issue that leaves us full of doubt. These days the sexual abuse of children by clergy has left American Catholics enraged, sad and confused. Was every bishop and priest complicit? Did all bishops and priests look the other way or refuse to acknowledge what they were seeing?

It is at times like this that John the Baptist becomes a good patron saint.  John knows who he is and does not try to be someone else. He knows that his job is to prepare the way for the Messiah, and he is determined to do it with integrity and total commitment. That he might upset those in charge does not bother him. If we remember that we are disciples with a mission,  God will give us the faith to live with the questions and burdens which have no easy answers. That God is with us in the middle of the doubt, fear and anger is the promise upon which we rely.  God is here. God lives within us and among us. God is enough.

Today, ask God to help you live with the questions you face.

How do you respond when friends or family are struggling with their faith?

Friday, December 14, 2018

Elijah and John the Baptist

"Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.
So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist." Mt 17 12-13

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 13, 2018

St John of the Cross

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

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." 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?




Wednesday, December 12, 2018

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?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Our Lady of Guadalupe

"A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth." Rev 12:1

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?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Comfort the Lost

"Comfort, give comfort to my people." Is 40:1

Prophets are fascinating people. Like all good leaders they warn us about dangerous paths we might be taking or reprove us when we fail to live up to our values, but they can also be incredibly gentle and consoling. The 40th chapter of Isaiah is like this.

When the Jewish nation was in exile. many forgot who they were and to whom they belonged.  Others found ways to compromise with their captors as a way of staying alive, but were neglecting their religious obligations. Isaiah knew all this and decided that honey works much better than vinegar when people are lost and in pain.  Isaiah reminds his listeners that soon they will be home, among their friends and families and will be free to worship in Jerusalem. Don't worry, he seems to be saying, God is near and, "Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care."

Advent's scriptures are often like spiritual comfort food for me. Just as a big bowl of coffee ice cream can transport me back to childhood vacations with my family in Westport, Ma, Advent fills me with warmth and hope. As life was once simple and rich, so it will be again.  As we prepare to celebrate the Lord's birth, we are reminded that Christmas is not about the gifts we give and receive, but the incredible promise of God not to leave us orphans nor abandon us when we are in exile.

Today, comfort someone who seems lost.

What or who helps you remember the comforting power of God?

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Put aside Fear

"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? 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?

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Second Sunday of Advent

"John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." Lk 3:3

Authentic humility, as demonstrated by John the Baptist, demands that Christians see themselves as part of something much greater than their accomplishments. As part of Christ's body we have a dignity beyond our imagination, but only when we accept the role designated for us and do not pretend to be someone we are not, or that we are in control of life.

This message, like so many others that Jesus offers us, is counter intuitive. While most people bow to humility as a value, few wear the clothes of humility, especially in the United States. Citizens of our nation are trained from an early age to excel, and to accept both the accolades and privileges associated with "winning."

While wealth and power are by products of a successful life in the United States, this is not the goal of those who profess to live a Gospel life. Gospel success is measured, not in what it produces, but in the seeds of hope that it plants. Never far from the realization that all life is a gift, and all worldly success is temporary, Christians believe that our "success" is an integrated and other centered life, and this is no easy task.

Today, don't say something you are thinking. Listen first to others.

Have you had an experience of humility that changed your life?

Friday, December 7, 2018

Immaculate Conception

"Hail full of grace. The Lord is with you!"

Eugene Peterson, a scripture scholar seeking to help people who either cannot access the power of the Greek text of Luke's Gospel or have read the scriptures so often that they have  grown bored, offers us a different view of Gabriel's greeting to Mary.
Good morning! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, Beautiful inside and out! God be with you.
While some might be confused, unnerved or upset by Peterson's translation, there should be little doubt that his translation forces us to enter Mary's world in a very different way, and this can only be good. Like so many other saints, Mary's uniqueness and importance to believers has often been lost by the trappings of sanctity with which a particular culture or spirituality adorn her. Reducing her to a young frightened girl or portraying her in a manner that strips her of her humanity and femininity cheats believers of meeting the powerful woman she was. First acknowledging her fears, then questioning the angel's announcement, Mary helps us identify in faith with every person asked to assume a new responsibility, especially one for which we feel unprepared.

Today, re-imagine Mary's role in your spiritual life.

What stories of Mary most embolden you to live your faith with passion?

Thursday, December 6, 2018

St Ambrose

"No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: 'This is the way; walk in it.'” Is 30 20-21

St Ambrose is one of those fascinating characters who populated the early church. Known for his keen political sense and theological caution, he tried to act as mediator in Milan when it was divided between its Arian proponents and the hierarchy of the Catholic church.

Arius proposed that Jesus, because he was created by God the Father, was less than the Father, and Catholics argued that Father, Son and Spirit although distinct persons, were one God, coequal and coeternal. The battle became fierce and when Ambrose tried to help the two sides reconcile, the people, not wanting bloodshed, called for him to be bishop.

Ambrose reacted strongly. Not yet baptized, he wanted no part of the church hierarchy. Only after the Emperor Gratian encouraged him to accept the call to leadership did he seek baptism and ordination, becoming one of the most important figures in the early church. Learned in philosophy and rhetoric, Ambrose impressed St Augustine with his oratory and insight. More important, he was unafraid to confront those, even emperors, who ignored the Gospel while claiming to be Christian.

Today, be a reconciler.

Who do you most admire for their wisdom and savvy?

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Christ our Rock

"But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.

Sometimes we get confused about who or what our rock is.  Too often we rely exclusively on our knowledge, insight, wealth or experience as guides, and while all these tools are important and helpful, they cannot be our rock.  For a Christian there is only one Rock, the Christ of God, the one who was promised from the beginning, who came among us ain human form and who continues to guide and direct us.  The Christ, our Messiah, is the fulness of God's love and the new Covenant. Keeping the memory of Christ's love fresh is a daily challenge.

When Jesus reminds us to build our house on rock, not sand, he invites us to use our  imaginations. Picture a house with four corners each of which is built on a rock, and ask yourself what the rocks of your life are that others see in you.  To do this more simply, ask yourself what your passion is, how you spend your time, who you trust?

Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may be, this reflective exercise almost always reveals some sandy spots.  For some it is an addiction to alcohol or other chemicals that obsess them. Others know this because our behavior, no matter how careful or hidden, gives us away. For others, their rock is success at any price, despite its effects on their family.  For too many, it is blindness to the world as it is, and for a few it is using prayer and religious devotion as an escape. None of these rocks last.  They crumble and our house begins to list and topple. Christ is the house in which we live and Advent is a time to do ordinary maintenance on the foundation.

Today, pick one pillar and work at making it a cornerstone of your life.

What and who have been the rocks upon which your have built your lives?

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Questions and Doubts

"The all ate and were satisfied." Mt 15:37

Knowing who you are and to whom you belong is a foundational first step on the road to spiritual health.  Every adult believer has struggled mightily at times with their identity as Christians and Catholics. Sometimes it is a particular belief or practice that makes us uncomfortable or leaves us full of doubt, and this is especially true when we are struggling with other issues in our life. When a marriage collapses or a parent nears death, we can wrestle with the teaching of the church or its beliefs and practices. Why can't I remarry, some ask?  Doesn't God want me to be happy? Or why is my mother suffering so?  Doesn't God care?

It is at times like this that that we need to remember that God wants to feed us,  but we must present ourselves to him as hungry.  When we are able to remember that God is in love with us, and is our companion through every dark forest or imposing mountain climb, we are able to put aside the particular stumbling blocks along the way and eat the food he offers us.

Today, ask God to help you live with the questions you face."

What does it take for you to be satisfied?

Monday, December 3, 2018

New Shoots of Hope

"A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse." Is 11:1

When Isaiah promises that a new shoot will come from the stump of Jesse, he reminds all believers that God can make something extraordinary from nothing. At the same time, the prophet is not speaking about a miracle in a classic sense. Rather,  Isaiah wants us to remember what happens often in the natural world. There are trees with so much inner life that even when they seem dead, we can take one of their broken branches, stick it in the ground, water it often and before long  it takes root and becomes a young  tree.

The challenge to believe that God wants to do something great and new in us, even when we are tired and feeling ragged, is upifting. God’s love is enduring and, like a broken  branch, stronger than we can imagine. We have only to plant and water it and it will take us to Christmas.

Plant a good deed in someone’s heart and let God do the rest.

Are there “miracles” in nature that remind you of God’s love?

Sunday, December 2, 2018

St Francis Xavier

"At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd." Mt 9:36

St Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Jesuits along with St. Ignatius Loyola, was the among the first Jesuit missionaries. With his mind and spirit focused on going to China, Francis left Italy without language skills or money. Despite these difficulties, Francis kept his eye on the prize and at every stop along the way preached the gospel, baptizing thousands in India and Japan. That he never realized his dream of preaching the gospel to the Chinese seems insignificant now. He did God's will and that is all that matters.

Francis Xavier is a powerful reminder of what we can become when we place our total trust in God and let God do God's work wherever we are sent. None of us walks the pilgrim path of faith without obstacles. St. Augustine reminds us that we are like pieces of pottery, shaped by instruction and fired by tribulation, and should never fear the kiln. Rather, he encourages us to focus on what God is making of us while we are being tried by fire. (Augustine sermon)

Today, ask God to tell you where you ought to go to proclaim the gospel.

What are your strengths when trials come?

Saturday, December 1, 2018

God's Eternal Covenant

"The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah."  Jer 33:14

Sometimes we watch too closely, pay attention to too many details and get ourselves in trouble. Not only to do we miss the forest for the trees, we get increasingly anxious about things we can’t control.  Parents sending their children to school for the first time often do this, and it can happen to me when to help a friend work his way through a troubling or difficult personal situation.  Both situations, while understandable and for some unavoidable, remind us of something wise people have said for a long time: Look but don’t stare.

The prophet Jeremiah reminds us not to worry too much about what we have or don't have. Rather, he reminds us that God will be more just to the Israelites by helping them remain faithful to the covenant, and God will surely do the same for us.

Today, imitate God by looking at yourself and others without staring.

What situations cause you to obsess about matters you cannot control?

Friday, November 30, 2018

No Excuses

"Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” Lk 21:36

Today is the last day of the liturgical year and a good time to make a simple review of our faith life. Four actions ought to mark the life of a faith filled Catholic and we can reflect on them through a series of questions. Have we been faithful to God and the community of believers by gathering regular for prayer and worship, especially on Sundays? Have we taken time to reflect on the mysteries of faith, especially as they are articulated in Scripture? Have we celebrated God's gifts with joy and gratitude? Have we served others as if they were Christ? 

Coming together regularly, studying and praying about God's care for us and serving those most in need are visible signs that God matters in our lives and that we want to witness to God's mercy before others. For most of us the only way we preach is through our actions. We can talk about faith all day, but if we never act on it, we are, as Paul reminds us, noisy gongs and a clanging cymbals. We make a lot of noise but don't do anything for others but annoy them.

Today, be honest with yourself and God. Make no excuses for your faults. Ask to begin again.

Which dimension of our faith life most attracts and empowers you?

Thursday, November 29, 2018

St Andrew, the Apostle

"For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved." Rom 10:9

Salvation, Paul reminds us, is more than simple belief in God. We must tell others about God's goodness to all of humankind. We must announce the graciousness of God with power and conviction. St Andrew did this so intently that he was martyred for his faith.


Peter's brother, Andrew hears the invitation of Jesus to follow him and does not hesitate. He leaves everything to be a disciple of the Lord. Even when he was being martyred he asked to be crucified on an X shaped cross because he did not think he was worthy of being crucified in the same way Jesus was.

When we learn to speak honestly, courageously and naturally about the great gift of our faith, our discipleship is deepened and our witness becomes more powerful.

Today, Confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.

What are your biggest hurdles on the road to salvati

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Seeing God in All that Is

"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves." Lk 21:26

What are the great and wonderful works of God that move you most forcefully to fear or contemplation and transformation?

For some, every earthquake, or hurricane is a sign of God's wrath and they warn anyone who will listen that the end of the world is near.  But for others, creation, even when its force is overwhelming, fills them with wonder and awe. St. Francis of Assisi might be the patron saint of these believers. Francis not only praises sun, moon, fire and water, he calls them his sisters and brothers. Gratitude for creation is the ground of Francis' unique spiritual path while disregard of God's creation is the root of sin.

Taking time each day to thank God for all God has done and does can help us grow in the spiritual life. Grateful people exude a joy that both lifts others' spirits and gently challenges them to conversion.

Today, praise God for God's wonderful works.

What most moves you to wonder and awe?

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Commit to the Spirit

"Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking." Lk 21:14

Jesus makes a pretty big promise to his disciples, assuring them, even though they lack education or in many cases the ability to read of write, that the Holy Spirit will teach them what to say. While this might be the occasion for some of us to think we don't have to prepare a homily or a presentation on faith, there is no basis for this kind of thinking. Jesus is referring to those times when we are attacked unexpectedly and without provocation, not to the ordinary diligence we need to use to present our faith clearly and with passion.

Rather, the Lord wants us to trust in the Spirit of God to guide, direct, and challenge us everyday, and to realize that this is an essential dimension of our faith and its practice. Without this trust, we can only rely on ourselves or expert opinion, and no matter how knowledgeable we or our advisors might be, our insight will be insufficient.

Today, consciously commit yourself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Have you experienced the Holy Spirit's strength and direction in your life?

Monday, November 26, 2018

Trust the Lord

"See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he,' and 'The time has come.' Do not follow them!" Lk 21:7

When we are in dark or difficult circumstances, we often look for almost anything or anyone to distract us. We watch too much television or waste time on the computer, hoping for some respite from the ache we feel inside. All of this is natural and understandable, but spiritually unhealthy.

The people portrayed as following Jesus in the gospels might also be falling into this trap.  Like people everywhere who have lost their jobs or cannot make sense our of their family's life, they look to Jesus for an escape.

Authentic hope is not rooted in the avoidance of the feelings that can torment us when we are in crisis, but in the letting go of our struggles so that we can know the Lord more deeply and trust in his wisdom more completely. God has promised to be with us in the dark as well as the light, and it is our response to Gods' commitment that can make all the difference.

Today, enter a dark corner of your life and look for God.

What do you do when your life is falling apart?

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Giving Away God's Luxurious Love

"When Jesus looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury." Lk 21:1

That everyone has something to give others is self evident to most of us. What is not obvious, however, is that our gifts, in a gospel context, are not for ourselves.  Each of us has been gifted by God for the sake of others.  We are part of a community, we are the body of Christ, and as a community of faith we can only be ourselves and function well when all the parts are playing their proper role.

The gospel today reminds us that there is no reason to fear. We should give from our substance, not just our excess. God is with us, will protect us and challenges us to trust no matter how anxious we might be about having enough for ourselves. When we not only share our money and property but our ideas, our creativity, and our lives, we live the fullness of the Gospel.

Today, rejoice in the luxury of God's love. Then give it away to whomever needs it.

Who has shared her or his "wealth" with you when you were most in need?

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Christ the King

"Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent." Col 1:18

Although we can and often do turn away from God and the covenant God made with us in Jesus, God cannot and will not renege on his promise to be with and guide us always. Paul is clear about this. The Apostle to the Gentiles acknowledges that although the Jews were often disobedient, abandoned the law and worshiped false Gods, God was and remains merciful to them and us. Paul wants his Gentile listeners to know this and be comforted. The God who has come to us in Jesus is proof of this. The new and eternal covenant, Jesus is the incarnation of God's promise, a gift we can reject but which will never be withdrawn.

The challenge of God's promise is demanding. Made in God's image, the only way we can demonstrate to others and especially to our enemies that God's love lives in us is to love everyone no matter how often our love is rejected to ridiculed. If God is forever faithful so too must we be faithful. This is not to say we should or must allow ourselves to be abused. Rather, while we ought to withdraw quietly from any situation that allows another to strip us of our good name or reduce to an object of their wrath, we must stand ready to reconcile with our oppressors for the sake of the Gospel.

Today, enjoy God's everlasting love.

What must you let go of in order to love like God?

Friday, November 23, 2018

Saint Andrew Dung-Lac, Priest, and Companions, Martyrs

"We praise your glorious name, O Lord our God." Chronicles 1:29

Viet Nam has often been a difficult country and culture for Catholics, especially during the 19th and 20th centuries. Between 1820 and 1900 more than 100,000 Catholics were martyred for their faith, and the persecution continued in the 20th century when Catholics living in the northern part of Viet Nam had to abandon family and possessions and flee to the south in order to escape oppression or imprisonment.

Although we know very little about St Andrew, there are multiple testimonies about Catholics of his generation who were forced to renounce their faith and step on crucifixes to demonstrate their total lack of respect for the sacrifice of Jesus.  In the end, Andrew was beheaded for the crime of being a parish priest.

Reading about the Vietnamese martyrs reminds us of other people who have been persecuted, not because of some heinous crime, but for being who they are. Jews, especially in the Holocaust, blacks in the United States, homosexuals everywhere, and women whose voice is ignored or discarded simply because they are women.

Today, pray for anyone persecuted for their faith or identity.

How would you respond to religious persecution?

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Inclusiveness of Jesus

"My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves." Lk 19:45

The good news of Jesus Christ is a message of hope for all peoples. Though we sometimes worry and fret about the state of the church, especially in a culture that more and more resists organized religion for a more generic spirituality, we should never let ourselves forget that the new covenant in Jesus Christ is the gift of a God who includes all people in his love.

Again and again in the New Testament we hear this. John tells us that Jesus Christ will "draw all people" to himself, (Jn. 12:32) and Paul reminds us that, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:28) Remarkably, Isaiah echoes what we think are inclusive terms found only in the New Testament. "For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." (Is 56:7) A simple way to express this conviction is to let the joy we feel shine like a soft light in our personal and family lives, and spread through acts of compassionate justice into the lives of those who are empty of hope.

Today, take some time to pray that the Good News of Jesus will seep, like water enlivening the roots of the tallest trees, into the hearts and lives of all people.

How can you live so that all know God's house is a gift and invitation for everyone?

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

St Cecilia

"O God, I will sing a new song to you; with a ten stringed lyre I will chant your praise. Ps 44:9"

St Cecilia is almost always portrayed with a musical instrument in her hands. Sometimes it is a viola or a flute; at other times she is seated at an organ, all because she is said to have heard beautiful music when she was forced to marry a pagan. From a simple incident without a firm historical foundation, Cecilia is honored as the patron of liturgical music. Clearly, what keeps Cecilia's memory alive is the power of music that fills us with hope and joy, and helps deepen the faith that is the ground of our lives.

When I was a boy there was a wonderful choir in my home parish, and although as a child I did not always appreciate the beautiful music they made, my spirit remembers the pride of the adults who sang in the choir and the joy of those who listened. At Christmas, our choir's  ministry was even richer since the men's and women's choirs combined at Midnight mass and at the principal mass of Christmas morning.  Our devoted choir was a sign that our parish was committed to God and was willing to sacrifice many hours of practice to help lift our hearts through music and song.

Perhaps Henry David Thoreau said it best. "When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest." Music not only reminds us how important our bodies and senses are in an incarnational spirituality, it helps us to express a love that is beyond words. 

Today, pray for all those music ministers who remind us with St Augustine that we pray twice when we sing. 

What kind of music transports you beyond yourself?

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Presentation of Mary

Although there is no historical evidence that Mary was presented by her parents for Temple service when she was only three years old, the feast of the Presentation of Mary has deep roots in the Eastern church. Desirous of helping the faithful understand that even as a child Mary was dedicated to God, the church tells us that Mary spent nine years in the Temple before she was promised to Joseph, and readied herself to become the Theotokos, the Mother of God.

Image result for presentation of mary

Although there is a powerful message in Mary's presentation, the art that emerged to help us understand this mystery is heart rending. How could a couple who had been childless let go of their daughter at such a young age? Would God this of them or anyone? When we see Anne's face in the depiction of the event we wonder what it must have been like for her see Mary walk into the temple. Did she worry, fret, wonder what might be next for her? While there are no answers to these questions, one truth emerges. God will always be near. No matter what we might have to suffer, God will be our companion. St Anne knew this. Mary knew this. We know this.

Today, pray for the courage to face whatever difficulties you encounter with faith.

How do you face unanswerable questions?

Monday, November 19, 2018

Come Quickly

"Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house." Lk 19:5

Why should Zaccheus come down quickly to join Jesus? Were others vying for the Lord's attention? Were Jesus' disciples urging him to meet with new followers in order to further instruct and form them? Whatever the reason, Zaccheus listens and responds to the Lord and becomes a model for us.

Often enough we are not exactly sure what we are do to help build God's reign, but at others times we know exactly what it is the Lord is saying and we resist. Like those invited to a wedding feast, we make up excuses for not living the Gospel. We don't like how God seems to be acting in our life. We wonder if we are making everything up about life in the Spirit, or we fight God's call because it demands that we let go unconditionally, and we are the kind of persons who want clear explanations before we act.

The Lord call us and wants to stay in our house today. What is so difficult about this? Perhaps because we have other things planned or wanted some time alone, we resist, forgetting that God is never a bother if only we let God be God and live in God's presence with peace. The things we have planned can be moved to another time. The few moments of quiet will keep. God wants to eat with us. We need to learn to drop everything and respond.

Today, ask not what you are supposed to do today, but what God wants you to do.

What are your biggest resistances to God?

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Please, let me see!

"Lord, please let me see." Lk 18:41

Sometimes the gospel stories seem stark, and lack detail. This makes sense of course when one remembers that only a few people in Jesus' time were literate, and the intention of the gospels was not to write a biography of Jesus but to announce him as Messiah, son of God and savior of the world. Details were not important in a written form. The story teller could elaborate and fill the text with passion and power. for those who could not read

But the Gospels are not always stark. When the blind man today says "please," we stumble upon an important detail and a telling moment. Not only is the request polite, it pleads with Jesus to look upon a man who is an outcast from his own family and community. Condemned to a life of begging and isolation, the blind man, like Moses, (Ex 33) begs Jesus for help, and becomes an example for all.

Jesus often reminds us that because we have eyes does not mean that we really see. Only those who see with the heart will experience the fullness of the revelation. The blind man, even before he is healed, sees and knows the Lord as Messiah and so approaches him politely, but with hope and confidence. The Messiah's task is to open the eyes of all to the wonders of God's enduring care and love for the world, and because the blind man remembers this, he is healed.

Our task is the same. If we want to see, we must first acknowledge God as creator and redeemer. Only then will we know the Messiah in our hearts.

Today, open your eyes again to the wonder of the created world.

When are you most blind?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Fig Trees

"For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?" Mk 13:7

At the time of Jesus, Palestine was an arid land with little water and shallow soil. Farmers had to use their resources carefully. Because they could not afford to allow fruit bearing plants or trees that did not produce a good crop to litter the land, they became a ready example for Jesus to teach.

All of us must bear fruit. Given faith as a free gift, we need to spend it freely for the good of others. Faith is not something that merely calls us to personal holiness. It is a treasure intended to help others know God and the Good News of Jesus. Only when we live faith in a transparent way does it bear the fruit intended by God.

Today,  reach out for someone lost.

What keeps you from producing fruit for all to eat?

Friday, November 16, 2018

St Elizabeth of Hungary

"You did not recognize the time of your visitation." Lk 19:44

St Elizabeth of Hungary was born into and married royalty. She had access to money and power, but when her husband died on his way to fight the sixth crusade, she decided to leave the palace and follow Conrad, her Franciscan spiritual director, to Marburg where she continued her life of compassion for those most in need.  Conrad wrote that Elizabeth "built a hospice where she gathered together the weak and the feeble. There she attended the most wretched and contemptible at her own table."(1)

People of faith like Elizabeth, especially the married and families, are the ground upon which the church builds communities of compassion for the poor and justice for all. After all, it was the faith and courage of our parents and grandparents, so many of whom were immigrants, who came to this country and built, hospitals, schools, orphanages, soup kitchens and shelters because they knew that faith demanded they respond to the struggles they saw all around them.

Though the structures might change, the demand of the gospel to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty will never change. St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who is the patroness of Catholic Charities, remains an icon who challenges our generation not only to pray for justice in our churches, but to live the gospel in our streets.

Today, pray in gratitude for those who give their lives to care for those who cannot help themselves.

How can you live Elizabeth's values in your life?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Pride

"Anyone who is so "progressive" as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God." 2 Jn 1:9

Early in the church's life there were gnostics (those in the know!), people who believed that Christ's coming in the flesh was only a first step in faith, and that there was another stage of faith that allowed some to know the "spiritual" Christ and abandon their previous beliefs.

Some people in the United States who think we have developed an economic system that is far superior to any other are dangerous, just like the gnostics of old. They reduce life to how much a person has, not how they live and behave and in doing so are not only arrogant towards others, but dismissive of them. This is hardly the Gospel message. Only when we we seek the grace to live a life of integrity and respect for ourselves and others because we are all children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus can we hope to be Good News in the world.

Today, pray to be free of the kind of pride that makes you look down on others.

Whose humble life and lifestyle has most impacted you?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Looking at the Undocumented

"Perhaps this is why he (Onesimus) was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord."

Near the end of his life, St Paul writes to Philemon about Onesimus, a slave who has turned his life around in Christ, and begs Philemon to treat Onesimus as a fellow pilgrim, not as a slave. Without denying that Onesimus still belongs to Philemon by law,  Paul focuses, not on Onesimus' status as a slave but on the radical equality all people gain in Christ.

What a powerful lesson this short letter teaches. We are all one in Christ and we need to act like it. Respecting undocumented people, honoring refugees and exalting those without a voice because we are one with them in Christ proclaims that the power of faith erases all distinctions between and among Christians. Working for policies in every nation that exalt our common humanity rather than our differences because of race, gender, and ethnicity is an essential Gospel teaching.

Today, look not at another's legal status but at their rights as human persons to dignity and love.

Who has helped you see others with God's eyes?

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Take Nothing for Granted

"Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?"  Lk 17:17

A few weeks ago, following Hurricane Michael, people in the Florida panhandle were forced to think about basic needs and services. Not only were most of them without electricity for days, thousands of homes were destroyed and many other homes remain uninhabitable.

Unfortunately, for too many of us, it takes a storm like this to make us think about what we so often taken for granted. Learning about people without electricity and heat for days, and being unable to find gasoline for their cars makes all of us realize how dependent we are on the services which most of the time we can find anywhere, and forces us to pause in gratitude.

Jesus reminds us of this same reality. It was a foreigner, someone without a voice or a home, who returns after being healed to thank him. The clear call of the Gospel is to be thankful each day not only for the simple gifts of food, water and heat, but for life itself.

Today, thank someone who provides you with a basic service.

How do you avoid taking life's necessities for granted?

Monday, November 12, 2018

Rejecting Entitlement

"When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'" Lk 17:10

Attitude is everything and nothing gets in the way of having an authentic Christian attitude more than a sense of entitlement. When we begin to think that we have earned everything we have, even if we have worked hard all our lives, we forget how blessed we have been.

I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood. People shared freely the little they had. Our parents did everything they could to send us to Catholic schools and colleges where we would have an opportunity for a better life. They did not expect much from us in return. They were happy to give us everything they had, but they did demand that we work hard, and that we be grateful, and never take for granted what came to us because of the generosity of others.

This is especially true of faith. Our attitude about faith, about what we can contribute to the building up of the body of Christ, about others who think differently than us must be one of gratitude. In fact, our faith reminds us continually that all is gift. Life is gift, creation is gift, friendship is gift, prayer is gift, and all are gifts to be given away. When Jesus sends the disciples out to proclaim good news he is clear: "Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give."(Mt 10:8)

Today, check your attitude and be grateful for your faith.

How do you avoid a sense of entitlement?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

St Josaphat

"Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the one through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. Be on your guard!"  Lk 17 1-2

In the 17th chapter of St. John's gospel, Jesus prays that his disciples may be one, but even a cursory glance at the history of the church reminds us that unity is not uniformity. There are 13 rites, many of which have multiple subdivisions. In the Roman Catholic Church each of these rites, "possess their own hierarchy, differ in liturgical and ecclesiastical discipline, and possess their own spiritual heritage." l In other words, while the liturgy, language, law and spirituality may differ markedly, the Christ who is their center is the same. It is this unity that St. Josapha worked so hard to attain.

Josaphat, working to heal the Great Schism (1054) between Eastern and Western churches, spent his entire life in pursuit of the unity for which Jesus prayed. At Vatican II, the Council fathers made it clear that Christian unity remained one of it's principal concerns.2 How very important then to listen to Jesus' command to pray always without becoming weary. No matter how painful and frustrating our divisions might be, we must continue to pray and work for Christian unity.

Today, quietly examine the issues that divide your family and/or your parish and ask God for a path of unity and peace.

What do you think are the marks of unity in the Church?

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Exalting the Poor

Imagine what the leaders of the Jewish community thought when Jesus held up a poor widow as an example of authentic generosity.
He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, "Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood. Mk 12 40-44
Widows had no standing in the ancient world, and their lot was even worse if they had no sons. Ignored and forgotten by most, the woman about whom Jesus speaks remains faithful and generous, a fact that shamed the Jewish leaders and anyone else who reduced a person's value to property and wealth. Whenever we speak up on behalf of the voiceless, we follow Jesus.

Today, listen to someone who you usually ignore.

Who are the people in your neighborhood to whom no one listens?

Friday, November 9, 2018

St Leo the Great

"I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me." Phil 4:13

St Leo the Great, better known to most as the Pope whose eloquence convinced Attila the Hun not to destroy Rome, must have had a big dose of the strength St. Paul talks about in today's his letter to the Phillipians. An authentic relationship with Christ can do this. When we enter the mystery of the Jesus as truly God and truly human, his power becomes ours and enables us to live in ways we could never imagine.

St Leo's faith was such that, while on a mission to Gaul, he was elected by the people to be bishop of Rome and Pope. It was everyday people who recognized in Leo the kind of faith they knew was necessary to direct the church at a very turbulent time. Leo not only effectively moved the church to recognize the importance of Rome as the seat of church authority, he did it peacefully, an effort that effectively won for him the title Great.

Today, ask God for the strength to live your baptismal vocation with peace and power.

What believers do you think of as Great?

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

"Do this in memory of me." Lk 22:19

One of the most important words in the Catholic tradition is remember.  When we pause to remember the Dedication of a church, we do so, not first to admire the building, no matter how beautiful, but to offer a prayer of gratitude for all those who gathered there over the centuries. We remember the people who put brick upon brick; we remember the joy generations of people felt to be free enough to gather in faith for small and great feasts and, in the case of St. John Lateran, we remember that it is the parish of the Pope, the community to which the Holy Father belongs, the people given to him as pastor so that he might be renewed in his own faith.

Each day for many of us at the Eucharist, and at least once a week for all of us, we are called together to remember our baptism, that we are church. We gather for the celebration of the "breaking of the bread" with other believers as members of Christ's body knowing that when we are together in Christ, faith comes alive in a visual way. We gather to be re-membered, bonded to one another in hope. Some of us are hands, others feet, but all have a role and function in the living body of Christ and together we proclaim the Glory of God and the power of the Good News of Jesus Christ. That is what it means for us to be church.

Today, pray in gratitude for your parish community.

How do you understand the word "church?"

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Lost are Important

"What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?" Lk 15:2

At first glance, it makes no sense to leave ninety nine sheep alone to search for the lost one, but Jesus is making an important and challenging point with his followers. The lost are important. The healthy, he says in another place, don't need a physician. The sick do. (Mk 2:17) Jesus wants us to let go of the security of wherever we are to look for those who have lost their way, and this is often a hard challenge.

Often in Christian terms we must be people who are both/and. We must so deeply know who we are that we are unafraid to let go of our security to seek those who forget or reject their own heritage and faith. Because we are rooted in the memory of Jesus we know that wherever we are, we are in Christ who is the source and summit of our lives, and can risk anything in order to proclaim the message of Jesus. The apostles knew this. So did the great saints. We can learn it a day at a time.

Today, open your spirit to the lost and do it without judging them.

Are there places, people and communities that you avoid?

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Cost of Discipleship

“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." Lk 14:25

The use of the word hate in this translation is always troubling. How can anyone, especially those raised in communal cultures that so value relationships over personal accomplishment, hate family members? And is it possible to hate one's own life? Clearly, Jesus is demanding that we let nothing get in the way of doing the right thing, all the time. If for instance, as it might have been for the earliest Christians, your parents refuse to speak with you, shun you or consider you unclean if you will not reject the person and message of Jesus, you must be willing to let go of your parents despite the terrible cost.

This teaching might be easier to understand if we use a different example. Suppose someone promises you a million dollars if you are willing to lie about a candidate for office in order to get their family member elected as mayor or congressperson. While at times we might be slow to answer, especially if we are in deep financial need, we would not lie despite the "rewards." Jesus demands the same from his disciples. Unless his followers are willing to acknowledge how much faith in Jesus matters, despite the consequences, they cannot be his disciples, and faith continues to make these kinds of demands on us in the 21st century.

Today, do the right thing despite the cost.

Has your faith ever been the occasion for confronting evil?

Monday, November 5, 2018

Letting Go

"Christ Jesus,  though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped." Phil 2:6

How hard it is to let go, especially of good experiences. We grasp and cling to situations and people who make us happy. Though we know this is foolishness, we can rarely help ourselves. Grace that tastes like candy is hard to resist. More important, we often find it difficult to let go of hurt. Somehow, the ache of not being recognized or discarded by people we love, seems to cling to us like the grime of not being able to shower after working outside in the hot sun.

That is why it is so important to listen to St Paul when he reminds us that Jesus did not even cling to his Godhead, but emptied himself for us and for the world. Because Jesus is always other centered, he witnesses for us how we ought to go about in the world. The more we think of others and try to respond to them in their need, the easier it is to forget ourselves and our problems. First responders to tragedies like hurricane Michael that just devasted the Florida panhandle remind us of this. As soon as they begin to help others, their own struggles fade quickly into the background.

Today, ask for the grace to let go of one nagging and old hurt.

Who do you most admire for letting go of difficult experienes in life?

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Building Unity in the Church

"Do nothing out of selfishness. of out of vainglory." Phil 2:3

St Paul is forever encouraging the churches that he helped found to be generous, loving and unified in God's Spirit. What a great challenge for us these days in the Catholic church during these days of scandal and shame over sexual abuse. Pope Francis asked Cathlolics around the world to pray the rosary everyday to combat the devil, the evil spirit who, the Holy Father reminds, wants only to divide us a people.

St Paul knew the same threat in his day. Committed to helping new churches outside of Jerusalem not to be bound by every narrow rabbinic interpretation of the Law, Paul wanted them to be free to develop their own spirituality that would reflect the best of their own culture and experience of Jesus. More important, he wanted to avoid the sins of the past and work diligently towards unity by regarding "others as more important than" ourselves.

Today, pray that the church in the United States will avoid the political and theological divisions that cause people not even to speak with one another.

Who or what helps you to work for unity in our families, church and nation?

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Everyday Saints

"You are not far from the Kingdom of God." Mk 12:34

When one of the scribes is able to appreciate Jesus' wisdom and agree with the Lord that to love God completely and our neighbors as ourselves is the essence of the law, Jesus tells him that he is not far from the reign of God. It seems like a strange compliment, until we realize that while the scribes were likely to know the law and prophets well, they were often more interested in getting the law "right" than living the law well. 

A while ago, I was speaking with a priest friend about the saints we have known, almost all of whom were lay people. Not incidentally, the people we both knew were not scholars, but parents, husbands and wives, grandparents and even some children. What they shared in common was their fidelity in the face of very long odds. They had faced sickness, death, and poverty with courage and honesty. They did not whine about how God had dealt them a poor hand, but were grateful for the God who had accompanied them in their struggles. 

Today, ask God to help you know and live the law of Christ more deeply.

Who is the holiest person you know? Why?

Friday, November 2, 2018

Take the Lowest Place

"Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." Lk 14:11

When Jesus told the guests of the Pharisees to take the lowest place at a banquet in order not to be embarrassed if a more important guest arrives, he is not only offering them a strategy, but a challenge with a deeper spiritual meaning.

Authentic humility, rooted in God's power, demands that Christians see themselves as part of something much greater than their accomplishments. As part of Christ's body we have a dignity beyond our imagination, but only when we accept the role designated for us and do not pretend to be someone we are not, or that we are in control of life.

This message, like so many others that Jesus offers us, is counter intuitive. While most people bow to humility as a value, few wear the clothes of humility, especially in the United States. Citizens of our nation are trained from an early age to excel, and to accept both the accolades and privileges associated with "winning."

While wealth and power are by products of a successful life in the United States, this is not the goal of those who profess to live a Gospel life. Gospel success is measured, not in what it produces, but in the seeds of hope that it plants. Never far from the realization that all life is a gift, and all worldly success is temporary, Christians believe that our "success" is an integrated and other centered life, and this is no easy task.

Today, don't say something you are thinking. Listen first to others.

Have you had an experience of humility that changed your life?

Thursday, November 1, 2018

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. 

I often experience this simple truth when I think about and celebrate my Dad's life. 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? 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

All Saints

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven." Mt 5:2

What makes a saint? Some say the ability to get up after being knocked down. Others insist that humility and acceptance in the face of struggle is the mark of the great saints, and the church often speaks of heroic virtue as the defining characteristic of sainthood. But whatever criteria one uses, today we celebrate all those holy women and men, unknown to most but precious to God and the church, who listened to God's word, embraced it and let it change them.

The saints learned, often at a very young age, that pride, which so often insists that our way and our opinion is right, is the biggest obstacle to authentic transformation. Listening with an open and humble heart is the only way to real freedom. When we allow God to direct our lives for God's purposes. we open ourselves to experience the full sweetness of God's unconditional love and begin to know the delights of a simple Gospel life. The saints teach us a simple truth: only when we learn to live in gratitude for all that is will we know the depth of God's eternal embrace, and celebrate it everyday.

Today, ask God to make you a saint.

What do you think are the marks of sanctity?

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Learning to be Last

"Some are last who will be first; and some are first who will be last." Lk 13:30

The challenge not to seek the first place in anything is an important Gospel lesson. Jesus is clear when he warns his followers not to worry about the issues that can so easily consume them. Whether they struggle for financial security or want assurances that the path they are following is a good one, Jesus' disciples must remember that God's promise to them is not first about this world, but about the next.

At the same time, we need to be careful when interpreting this passage. Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus used their modest wealth, knowledge of the law and religious authority as weapons to frighten and intimidate the underclass, and Jesus condemned this behavior. The purpose of the Law was to assure believers that God was their companion and guide and they had nothing to fear from any civil power, even their oppressors, if they lived the law with joy.

For Christians, the call is direct. Jesus, as the fulfillment of the law, is the one who must be at the center of our lives. Nothing we can gain in the world can substitute for this relationship. As long as we are willing to enter into the mystery of God's love in Christ and submit ourselves to him, we have nothing to fear.

Today, remember who you are before God and be grateful for your faith.

Which spiritual practices help you counter your pride?






Monday, October 29, 2018

Walking with God without Fear

"Blessed are you who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways." Ps 128:1

Letting go of our work and its success or failure is never easy, but the gospel is clear. It is our obligation to preach the Good News in word and deed and leave the results to God. Gospel spirituality is demanding. Called to be pilgrims who go from place to place  without fear and taking nothing for the journey, we strive to live and speak the Gospel in such a way that God's direction can be clearly seen and experienced by those to whom we are sent.  

Demanding a radical humility, a total putting aside of everything that is not of God, we need always to remember that the Gospel is God's good news, not ours. Our task, like John the Baptist's, is to clear the ground before the Lord and make his path straight. Everything else is superfluous. 

This is not to say that we cannot be good instruments in God's orchestra. Each of us is gifted and our talents are the means God uses to invite people to know and love the Lord. Our insights, compassion, and thirst of justice can be wonderful signs of God's love for the world, but unless they always point towards the Lord, they can get in the way of God's glory. 



Today, let God's light shine and get out of the way.

What blocks you from being Good News?