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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Remain in Me

"Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing." Jn 15:5

One of the dangers in being called to ministry is that we very often encounter people when they are in acute distress. Their children are addicted and acting out, their parents are in jail, a sister is seriously mentally ill or a brother is unable to tell the truth, and they look to us for insight and wisdom. The list of woes goes on and on, and often skews our worldview. Life feels like a very dark place and unless we are careful we begin to believe that the entire world is a mess.

Because Jesus understood that life would be difficult for his disciples, especially if they continued to proclaim the Good News, he offered them a way to understand and interpret their ministerial efforts through the experience of a woman giving birth. While the pain of child birth is intense, the result is pure joy. A child is born, a new life begins and hope replaces despair. Such would be the life of those who remained faithful to the gospel. Darkness can become light, and sadness can be transformed into hope, but we must pause each day to remember that we are not alone, that we are accompanied by a body of believers who, while they suffer, also know great joy.

Today, remember that your life has already produced great gifts for God.

How do you manage to remain centered in God in a world full of heartache?

Friday, April 27, 2018

Maintaining Peace in the Midst of Persecution

"The Jewish (leaders) stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas." Acts 13:50

How can the early church be both at peace and persecuted? The author of Acts, probably Luke, wants us to realize that when we are in the Spirit, living the Gospel and announcing it with power, fear dissipates. The presence of the Holy Spirit becomes tangible, something we can almost taste, and although we must endure difficult and dangerous trials, we are not overwhelmed.

Of course, the further any of us move away from our early days of conversion, the more fear returns. Wavering back and forth between strength and weakness, like the Jews in the desert, we find ourselves drifting from the ideals of our faith commitments. We build "sacred cows"  by accumulating money and power, hoping they will protect us from the foolishness and failures of faith, but soon a life propped up by wealth is drained of its sweetness and we know that hedging our bets offers no ultimate consolation. 

Faith is an all in kind of life. We must give ourselves over totally to a loving God and enter the mysteries of daily life with little understanding or insight, but with great hope. The witness we can offer others at times of great stress is powerful. Knowing we are on God's path despite our struggles helps others believe more deeply in a Christianity that is simultaneously tough and tender.

Today, recommit yourself to the entirely of the Gospel.

When is it most difficult for you to remain peaceful?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Transforming Fear

"Jesus said to his disciples: 'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.'" Jn 14:27

When we read about the life of Jesus' first disciples, especially after Pentecost, we realize that following Jesus was no cheap grace. The price of discipleship was high. Many would lose their lives through martyrdom, and many others turned away from Jesus because of their fear.

Fear can be a very difficult emotion with which to deal. Sometimes paralyzing, and always uncomfortable, we often choose to ignore or deny it rather than realize that fear in the face of danger is necessary, and for the Christian, a means of transformation. Acts of the Apostles tells us that Paul was stoned so badly in Iconium that his persecutors thought he was dead, but in fact he lived, left that town and continued to announce the Good News despite its cost.

Jesus acknowledges and addresses the fear in his followers and promises them they will have his peace as a companion, but we should not be naive about this. The peace of Jesus is the ground upon which we build our faith, but it is often tested, and does not guarantee that we will be free of a fear that can paralyze us. Jesus will experience his own fear during the terrible night of his scourging and on the cross, but gives his life to his Father freely and powerfully. When we stay close to him, he assures us we will have the same strength to face our fears as he had during his agony.

Today, be with your fears and do not turn away from the trials of faith.

What about faith has helped you live with your fears and anxieties?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Humility

"When Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, he said to them: 'Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.'" Jn 13:16

When Jesus assumed the posture of a slave and washed the feet of his apostles, he startled them and us. That we ought to be kind to one another and welcoming to all, even our enemies, is clear, but that we should kneel down and wash others' feet made no sense at the time of Jesus and continues to feel alien to us. While we might offer someone access to a bathroom to refresh themselves, the idea of washing their feet would never occur to us.

In Jesus' day washing feet was common, but it was done by women and foreign slaves. Heads of household would never wash feet, and although many of the great figures of the Hebrew bible offered kind service to their friends and family, Jesus' willingness to stoop to wash his disciples feet signalled a new kind of leadership and a radical view of God.  Jesus' challenge was clear. We must see ourselves as less in order that God can be more.

Today, think about the God in others, not your own power or prestige.

Who taught you most about a life of Christian service?

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

St Mark, Evangelist

"Clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another." 1 Peter 5:5

Commentaries on the scriptures are full of midrash, a homiletic method of biblical explanation that fills in the gaps that the text does not reveal directly. There are midrashim about Mary, for instance, at Cana which suggest what she was thinking when she told Jesus, "They have no wine."

Another Mirash about the miracle at Cana concerns Mark, whose feast we celebrate today. Legend has it that he was one of the servants who filled the six stone water jars with water. When Jesus changed the water to wine, Mark was especially moved by Jesus' power and compassion, and it was at Cana that he decided to follow Jesus as a disciple.

Though we cannot "prove" any of these stories through the lens of history as we record it today, we can be sure that something stirred the hearts of those who encountered Jesus to follow him and risk their lives to proclaim the good news he was preaching.  The same is true for us. Very few conversions that last are built on intellect alone. Only when our hearts are moved does the truth of the Gospel change us forever.

Today, think about the experiences of faith you have had and be grateful?

What stories of conversion most impacted your faith life?

Monday, April 23, 2018

Building Relationships through Listening

"For a whole year they met with the Church and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians." Acts 11:26

Relationships take time, and are rarely easy. Paul and the first Christian missionaries knew this and took their time not only teaching the Antiochenes but getting to know them. Every message, even the Gospel, has to be spoken with one's audience in mind, and nothing is more important in this regard than culture.

Historians tell us that Antioch was among the most sophisticated of ancient cities with a large library, a magnificent theater and a half million people. Paul, who was learned, and his companions were beginning to articulate a theology of Christianity that demanded the attention of Building Relationshipshis listeners, but his willingness to remain in Antioch, to listen and learn were as important as the message he proclaimed.

Listening to others, especially those who expect little from us because we might be more educated or we connected than them, is not only a good strategy, it is a telling act of humility.

Today, listen twice as much as you speak.

What has been the most important thing you have learned by listening?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Listening for the Shepherd's voice



"The sheep hear his voice." Jn 10:4

Hearing the voice of someone you can trust is a very comforting sound, especially if you are in a difficult or new situation. The first time I traveled to Bolivia I got off the plane after 15 hours of travel, looked around and could not find a familiar face, but after collecting my baggage, I heard the friar I was intending to visit call my name. Although I was far from New York and very tired, I felt at home.

Shepherds in the ancient world did that for their sheep. Most shepherd's had a different whistle or sound for each of their sheep and when the sheep heard their master's whistle, they followed him. He was their guardian and would lead them to fertile pastures where they could eat and drink.

Most of us have had people in our lives who seem able to hear us on a level that both sustains and challenges us. Gifted with the ability not to speak too quickly or forcefully, our shepherds help us understand ourselves and the God who seems silent but always has a message. Although we often resist their insights, eventually we let go and trust the God who speaks through them.

Today, be grateful for the shepherds in your life who help you hear God's voice.

Whose voice was most important to your growth as a person?