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Saturday, March 3, 2018

Keep Holy the Sabbath

"Keep Holy the Sabbath." Ex 20:8

One of the great tragedies on the present age is that too many people in the world struggle to survive. Hundreds of millions are hungry,(1) cold, and poorly housed, and more than 25 million people live in refugee camps. Forced to flee their countries because of war and famine, refugees are a constant reminder to be grateful for the simple gifts of food and home. They also prompt us to think about the fragility of life as we know it. Often in the blink of an eye families must leave their homes and countries to seek safety among people and in a place that is temporary, crowded and frightening, especially for children.

Situations like this make it impossible for millions to rest, reflect, pray and honor the Sabbath. The command of God to keep Holy the Sabbath feels like a luxury to the poor and refugees, and robs them of the freedom to experience Sabbath's benefits. Families resting together without working have the opportunity to listen more intently to one another and God, and to celebrate who they are becoming as individuals and people of faith. Sabbath also refreshes our imaginations and makes us more productive when we do work.

God's wisdom and desire for us is to rest every week and pray, and this command is so important that God holds up the poorest of the poor, the anawim, as examples for us.(Neh 13) Even when the Jews were dragged into exile, a few, the poor, despite being threatened that their children would go hungry, honored God and kept the Sabbath. So should we.

Today, take a twenty minute Sabbath. Do nothing.

What is most difficult for you to put aside in order to celebrate Sabbath with your family?

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Forgiving Father

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”  Lk 15:17-18

The story of the prodigal son or the forgiving father is one of the most remarkable in all of scripture. In order to demonstrate God's desire to forgive us, Luke's Jesus suggests that even if someone returns to God for less than pure motives, God will welcome her. More, God embraces and empowers anyone who seeks reconciliation.

When faced with this same kind of situation, most of us would try to discern the motives of the person seeking reconciliation, but God, the Forgiving Father, does not. Satisfied that his son or daughter is home, God reaches out and celebrates, apparently believing the power of his graciousness will convince his son or daughter that he must change his or her life.

We often spend too much time trying to figure life out when we would be better off entering its mystery and discerning more carefully what few issues deserve our response. Otherwise, we will waste our lives in fruitless obsession when we ought to be doing good. The Forgiving Father teaches us always to be looking for the good in the world, not bemoaning our losses.

Today, forgive someone unconditionally.

Is there anything that troubles you about the Forgiving Father?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Making Sense of Suffering

"The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Mt 21:45

The scriptures are full of stories of intrigue and violence. Today we are presented with two of them, Joseph  sold into slavery by his own brothers, and the son of the vineyard owner killed by the tenants. In Lent, of course, they are preparing us for Jesus' suffering and death, but there is also a telling reminder in the middle of today's gospel. When we see only with our eyes and "not by faith," we miss hugely important lessons.

Engineers and architects have been fascinated for centuries by the simple but elegant style and form of Roman arches. Strong today even after 2000 years, the arches are built with stones almost exactly the same in size, except for the capstone which allows the arch to stand freely and strongly. The capstone is chipped at and broken so that it fits perfectly between the others. Rejected as a a regular building stone because of its odd shape, it becomes the capstone only after it is hacked at and formed in a way that allows the rest to stand together.  Our capstone, of course, is the Christ, who suffers so that the "arch" of God's kingdom can endure.

What a great lesson. While suffering is one of the most difficult of human experiences to explain, understand and accept, it comes to us all. Both Joseph and the owner's son remind us to reflect deeply about our own envies and jealousies. How often we "kill" others with words and rumors thinking we can advance our owns standing in the community, only to have the one attacked become a symbol of hope by her willingness to endure suffering for a greater good. Women and men like Joseph and the vineyard owner's son are capstones and Christ figures who challenge us to transformation through suffering.

Today, welcome the uncomfortable and confusing.

When has suffering in your own life helped you enter more deeply into the mystery of God's love?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Lazarus

"And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores." (Lk 16:20-21)

It is so difficult to read the passage about Lazarus and the rich man. How is it possible to have someone lying at your feet and not see him? Couldn't the rich man at least have swept the crumbs off his table so that Lazarus could have something to eat? How could he let his dogs lick Lazarus' wounds? These seem natural but unanswerable questions, but they demand reflection from us.

Who is it that we don't see? Are there people so unimportant that we ignore them? Too often the answer is yes. Sometimes it is people of color or those who are culturally different than us. At other times, it is people who are generational recipients of welfare. More often we turn away, almost unconsciously, from the homeless and mentally ill because they frighten us, but we can and ought to try to change this.

The act of seeing whatever and whoever is directly in front of us is a discipline and practice we can learn, but it takes prayer and silence. Those who take time each day to sit quietly, to breathe deeply and pay attention to all creation, after a while, find it impossible not to see those in need, and while we might not be able to do anything immediately, at least we have honored those who need to be seen and recognized as people just like us.

Today, spend five minutes in quiet and reflection in preparation for seeing that which is directly in front of you.

What situations and people are most difficult for you to face?





Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Service of, not Power Over

"Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mt 20:28

When the mother of James and John asked Jesus to put her two sons as authority figures on his right and left, she is only doing what seemed natural. Wanting her sons to succeed, to move up in the world and to be a part of Jesus' entourage, she reminds us of the father of St. Francis who so wanted his son to succeed that he outfitted him in the finest clothes in order to give him every opportunity to impress others and grow wealthy and powerful.

That the mother of James and John and the father of St. Francis get it all wrong should not surprise us since we have all misunderstood the Gospel from time to time. Their only concern and ours ought to be to listen more deeply to the Lord and change our ways.

Service of others is the hallmark of the Gospel, not wealth nor power over others, and authentic Gospel service means trying to make ourselves prayerfully and unconditionally available to God in order to build God's reign not our comfort or influence.

Today, ask God to know how to serve others with dignity and charity.

What are your biggest blocks to serving others freely?

Monday, February 26, 2018

Preaching but not Practicing

"They preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them." Mt 23:4-5

Most of us preach from time to time, even if don't intend to. Listen to someone go on about the soccer played by Barcelona or Manchester United. Convinced there is only one right way to play the game, soccer preachers will bore you for as long as you are able to take it. In the United States, there are baseball fans who either bemoan or exalt their team in conversations or monologues that seem never ending. But it is priests who can be the hardest preachers to listen to, especially if they are encouraging or demanding a kind of behavior that they rarely practice.

Jesus had a lot to say about preachers, most of it harsh and dismissive. He was especially disenchanted with the Pharisees and Sadducees who have may have been fine fellows, but seemed unable not to interpret the law in ways that led everyday Jews into guilt and shame without changing their own lives.

Although transformation is clearly the goal of every religious tradition, unless we practice our faith with conviction and joy, our preaching will do little good. Who wants to listen to anyone who is more interested in evangelizing others than in living the Gospel themselves?

Today, make a review of your faith life and ask God for the integrity to live its challenges with delight.

Whose commitment to faith has most formed you in your own religious practice?

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Stop Judging

"Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned." Lk 6:37

Judging the motives of others is natural, but dangerous. Someone acts in a way that makes no sense to us and we immediately interpret it. In this election year we might find ourselves saying, President Obama is just trying to assure himself the women's vote, or Mitt Romney is trying to hide his wealth. We often base these judgments on one thing we heard on the news or our political prejudices. To this point, this kind of thinking and judging is normal and necessary. Not exploring our judgments and conclusions, and dismissing another person or political position completely based on very little evidence, is where we get ourselves in trouble with the Gospel.

Jesus was always being judged. Those threatened by his message tried to convince others that he only wanted to wrest power from the Pharisees and Sadducees, and exalt himself as a prophet and healer. It was very difficult for his enemies, and for us, to encounter a totally other centered person. Jesus came to announce the Good News of his Father. He wanted to remind us that we are saved and have only to turn to God in faith to receive this great gift. The gratuitousness of his goodness was too much to accept, even though it was only a fulfillment of what God had promised the Jews long before.

Judging without facts in order to undermine the goodness or motives of others for our gain is a sin, one which we should pray to be freed from this Lent. When indeed we encounter someone who apparently is manipulating others for his or her own gain our obligation is to confront them, not to destroy their person or reputation.

Today, judge others with God's compassion.

When are you most tempted to sit in judgement of others?