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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Palm Sunday

"They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them. The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: 'Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" Mt 21:8-9

Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem is festive, big and frightening all at once. For a local healer and rabbi like Jesus, accepting the adulation of the crowd was dangerous. There is little doubt that Jesus knew he was in trouble with the leaders of the Jewish community who now had evidence that Jesus was not correcting those who were hailing him as Messiah. It would not be long before they hauled him before Pilate demanding that Jesus be put to death for the sin of idolatry. All of this makes Palm Sunday a schizoid kind of feast.

One moment we are shouting with the crowds welcoming Jesus into the holy city, and just a short while later, we are witnessing his trial and condemnation. The church offers us these confusing scenes on Palm Sunday for an important reason. Things rarely are as they seem. It was difficult for Jesus' disciples to understand that Jesus would suffer and die in his role as Messiah, and it is difficult for us. Though we all know we have grown through suffering, when we are suffering, growth in faith seems far away. That is why we have Holy Week each year. We need to remember how far God is willing to go for us. That God would send his son makes sense. That the Lord would have to suffer does not until we realize that God will do anything to convince us of his love.

Today, pray to hear the power of God's love for us throughout Holy Week.

What about Holy Week most speaks to your spiritual heart?

Friday, March 23, 2018

Dealing with Threat

"If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” Jn 11:48

The threat of losing their temple sanctuary, and the power and prestige associated with it, paralyzed the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day. Overwhelmed by the Roman presence in their "promised land," they did everything they could to preserve the few freedoms they had, and no small town healer or prophet, like Jesus of Nazareth, would be allowed to interfere.

When we are under pressure to perform or produce, we often refuse to listen to people on the edge of our societies for fear their viewpoints will further unravel a shaky foundation. A protective attitude and policy is natural, but, ultimately, unhelpful. Only a brutal and transparent honesty will allow us to go forward.

Jesus is clear in pointing out to the Jewish leaders that they had sold their birthright for the sake of a fragile security, and most of us can remember situations in which we took the same path. Peace at any price in our families, religious communities and parishes is a lurking temptation, but one we must resist.

Today, listen to the witness of Jesus without defensiveness.

What are your biggest temptations when trying to live the gospel?

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Stoning our Enemies

“I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me?” Jn 10:32

The drama in John's gospel as we approach Holy Week is building. Everyday people are drawn to Jesus, but the Jewish leaders "pick up rocks to stone Jesus," and as we all know there are many kinds of rocks with which we can hurt others.

Sometimes it as simple as a friend or family member ignoring or turning away from us when we are in need that feels like a rock to the heart. At other times, we undermine or call into question the good will of another by our silence or our unwillingness to defend them. But whenever we pick up rocks and throw them at others, we are not living the Gospel.

Thank God, there are also a thousand different ways to put down the rocks we have picked up to defend ourselves. A young friar who has worked a twelve step program for a many years had a series of three questions to help him discern when he must say something in a trying situation. He would ask himself whether something needed to be said, whether he was the person to speak and, finally, whether something needed to be said at that very moment. If the answer was no to any of these questions, he would hold his tongue, and his reluctance to hurl a verbal stone provided him with many moments of peace and reconciliation.

Today, ask God to let you see someone with whom you are struggling as God sees them.

What kind of rocks are the most difficult for you to endure?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Openness of Spirit

"When Abram prostrated himself, God spoke to him: “My covenant with you is this: you are to become the father of a host of nations." Gen 17:3

In the ancient world, people often had their name changed to indicate a new status or importance. Abram becomes Abraham when God announces to him that he will not only be a father (Abram) but the father of many (Abraham). Remember that Abram was 99 years old when God renamed him. The message is clear. God can do anything. Our task is not to doubt but to be open to whatever God wants of and for us. God's dramatic promise to Abraham should embolden all of us.  As long as we are willing to welcome God and God's desire for us, we have nothing to fear. The Patriarchs, prophets, kings and saints all demonstrate this.

Julian of Norwich, a 14th century anchoress and mystic is a powerful example of this. When a woman entered the anchorage, a small room attached to a church or monastery, she committed herself never to leave. The idea of living our entire lives in an anchorage is daunting for most of us, but Julian, who some commentators thought had lost her entire family in the plague, not only wrote a theology that was optimistic, she insisted that illness was not a punishment for sin but something everyone had to endure and accept in life. So committed to the God who spoke to her, Julian called Jesus her father and mother and, with Abraham, proclaimed that God fills all who believe with joy and compassion if only we open ourselves to these gifts.

Today, no matter how you feel, ask God to make your life a sign of God's love for all.

What must you do to open yourself to God's dream for you?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Standing Together in Suffering

"You should know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up.”  Dn 3:18

The remarkable story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego always lifts my spirit. Thrown into a raging fire because they refused to to worship King Nebuchadnezzar's God or the golden statue he made, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego assure the king that their God will protect and save them even if he allows them to die in the fire. That they are protected from the fire, while spectacular, is almost incidental because they are living the simple truth that saints have always insisted upon. They serve God, pray and care for the needy, not to be successful, but to be faithful, and it is the failure to live faith in this way that condemns the servant in today's gospel who, after being forgiven a large debt, refuses to forgive his fellow servant in a small matter.

God protects, God forgives and God sets us free over and over to begin again. Made in God's image, we are to save one another from the "fire" of shame that reduces people to objects of need, rather than subjects of our compassion. If God is compassionate, understanding and accepting, so must we have hearts of kindness and mercy

Today, offer someone who cannot repay you an ear of compassion.

Has anyone ever stood with you in suffering without judgment?

Monday, March 19, 2018

God belongs to all the Earth

"The nations shall revere your name, O Lord, and all the kings of the earth your glory." Ps 102:16

Although it is clear from the earliest days of his ministry that Jesus has come, not only for the Jews, but for the entire world, his message is slow to enter the consciousness of his listeners. It is no different for us. Somehow we think Jesus belongs to us exclusively as Christians, and this is simply not true. In fact, it is our duty to announce his saving work to all people knowing he wants to be with all forever.

Belonging to someone or something is important. Often it gives us a sense of identity. We call ourselves Americans, for instance, with a certain pride in all that the United States has made possible for so many, especially immigrants, but when being American or Christian leads to arrogance or dismissiveness of others, it does not serve us or God well.

Discerning how best to root ourselves in Jesus and the Gospel without forgetting that discipleship demands we open ourselves to radical difference and diversity for the sake of God's Kingdom is essential to the Christian journey.

Today, speak with someone you might otherwise ignore.

How do you negotiate being committed to Jesus without being exclusive?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

St Joseph, Husband of Mary

"When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home." Mt 1:24a

There are many ways to wake up. Sometimes, it is simple. Our bodies tell us to pay attention. We have a headache that will not go away or we discover a skin growth that looks strange. Our bodies are telling us to pay attention and take action. At other times, especially when we take time to relax and reflect, an idea that has been percolating in our minds and hearts, takes shape. We read about AIDS in Africa or the plight of refugee children in Syria, and we start searching the Internet for places and organizations that are addressing these vital concerns. Waking up to the challenge of acting on the Gospel is important for our own salvation and the good of others.

Joseph, the husband of Mary, troubled by his young wife's pregnancy, wakes up. Not wanting her to be stoned, he decides to divorce her quietly. In this way, Mary will have other chances to marry and build a family. But then Joseph has a dream and when he wakes up, he knows that God wants him to marry Mary despite his misgivings. That he listens and acts upon the message he receives is critical for Joseph's salvation and ours.

Waking up to the immensity of God's love for us, while sometimes very challenging, is a gift that keeps on giving. Not only does it empower us  personally to live more freely and gratefully, it urges us to tell others the Good News of God's desire to love them more deeply an totally.

Today when you wake up, pause and let God speak a liberating word to you.

Have there been moments in your life that changed the course of your faith?