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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Getting to Know the "Other"

"A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak." Mt 9:20

Fear can be paralyzing, especially in the face of something or someone we do not know. Not infrequently, when I was ministering at a hospital in Boston that cared for many people who were mentally ill, I would have to accompany visitors through the hospital because they were too intimidated by mental illness to walk alone. No matter how I tried to assure them that they would be safe, they had heard too much about the mentally ill to trust those who looked so intense and guarded.

When today's gospel speaks of a woman bleeding for years, I cringed. Many at the time of Jesus would have avoided this woman at all costs, more concerned with their own cleanliness than with the woman's struggles to live a faith filled life. In the United States these days there are a host of communal fears. Many distrust Muslims, immigrants and people from countries and cultures that seem to threaten us, and this fear is sometimes fanned by political rhetoric rooted in ignorance and anxiety about the nature of diversity. Everyone who looks different is suspect. Jesus' response to all of this is plain.

"Do not be afraid," he cautions us. Get to know those who differ from you. When trust grows, we can build the kingdom of God together.

Have your cultural fears gotten in the way of your freedom?

Friday, June 29, 2018

Compassion

"Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.” Mt 8:6

Not infrequently, we can feel like the centurion in today's Gospel whose servant is suffering dreadfully. A rare form of cancer or a difficult to diagnose heart ailment strikes a friend out of the blue, and everyone begins scrambling to understand, to help find a doctor, to get a second opinion, to choose a form of treatment, and all of this before our friend has begun to accept his illness and decide on a path of action. At times like this, what we really need to do is offer our friend the same compassion Jesus extends to the centurion and his slave.

Compassion is the quiet presence we can offer to those who are lost, confused, anxious and doubtful.  It is rarely surrounded with a multiplicity of words. Rather, it is like an open hand extended to others with love and tenderness. It is not condescending or judgmental.  It is the simplest form of love and lets all know that they are not something to be fixed, but friends who need a companion with whom to take the next step. Because the centurion is so full of genuine compassion for his servant, Jesus is anxious to help him, and ready to help us if only we present ourselves to him with humility and trust.

Today, offer a stranger compassion.

Who showed you the kind of compassion Jesus offers to the centurion and his servant?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Sts Peter and Paul

"I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith." 2 Tim 4:6

St Paul uses sports metaphors regularly, urging his disciples to follow him in the race, and not to be afraid to compete with anyone who might be distracting God's people from their goal of unity with Christ. Most of us can relate to Paul in this regard, but we need to be careful. Competition has its pitfalls. Too often, when we are trying to be better than others, we diminish their efforts in order to exalt our own, and this is not Jesus' or Paul's intent.

Believers cannot measure their effectiveness in proclaiming the Gospel because the results of our efforts are God's work, and unless we can let go of our need to be right, we miss the point of Jesus' message. The Lord wants us to be passionate about the Gospel but reminds us that once we have done what we know is right, we must leave the rest up to God.

This simple rule of thumb is also good advice for leaders and parents. While we have an obligation to teach the fullness of our faith to all, especially our children, we must also allow them to interpret the Gospel and live it in a way that frees them to do God's work and not simply please us.

Today, live the Word boldly and let God work.

Who has been your best and most effective teacher in the ways of faith?sts 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

St Irenaeus

"When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes." Mt 7:29

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

For some creation itself fills us 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.

Others focus their awe on the human person. Both the complexity and simplicity of people stretch us to wonder. We can think, feel, respond to others, love and laugh, and the ease with which we do all these complex actions is amazing. St Irenaeus, whose feast we celebrate today, says it this way, "The human person fully alive is the glory of God."(Irenaeus)

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, June 26, 2018

Looking at ourselves with God's Eyes

"By their fruits you will know them." Mt 7:16

Every person has faults, makes mistakes and loses focus. To do anything else would not be human, but we must never measure our life only by our failures; we must also celebrate its fruits. Jesus is clear about this, and though we sometimes are tempted to dismiss the good we have done, we need to listen to his guidance.

In 12 step spirituality, like Alcoholics Anonymous, program people are encouraged to work through the twelve steps and make a searching and fearless inventory of themselves (4th step). For those who do this with a sponsor, it is also important not just to acknowledge one's faults but to record one's successes as well. Looking at ourselves with the eyes of those who have always loved us despite our weaknesses can be a startling and wonderful revelation. 

It is very clear in the scriptures that God is always willing to look past our sins and focus on our gifts, and this is true throughout the Bible. Very few people would forgive David his lust for Bathesheba and his willingness to put her husband Uriah in a position where he would surely be killed. But God does. Even more remarkable is the story of the forgiving father who embraces his younger son who has squandered his inheritance. God wants us to succeed and be reborn.

Today, accept the good God has done through you.

When was the last time you took the opportunity to praise someone for their good qualities?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Soul Friends

"Enter through the narrow gate." Mt 7:12

St Paul  often brags about his weakness, and for those especially who have been humbled in any way, his boast is a consolation. Weakness can be a strength if it leads us to the acceptance of our faults and weaknesses and encourages us to work with others whose strengths make up for our failings.

There is a temptation for some who recognize a serious weakness to seek out others who struggle in the same way they do, and this is almost always a mistake. While we console one another, we also subtly suggest that there is nothing we can do or anyway we can change, and this results in a kind of stagnation. The recognition and acceptance of weakness only becomes a strength when we enter more deeply into the life of the faith community, seek out others who have faced and even overcome serious faults and depend for strength on our oneness in Christ.

Today, embrace your weakness. Cling to the body of Christ.

Which of your weaknesses most disturbs you?


Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Splinter in our Siblings Eye

"Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?" Mt 7: 1-2

Although Pope Francis shocked many a couple of years ago when he insisted that he would not judge homosexual persons, it is his ongoing pastoral example that calls believers everywhere not only not to judge others, but to look rather at their strengths and virtues. When writing his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, the Holy Father further challenged us to revisit our priorities personally and communally,
I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.(1)
It should be clear that when the Holy Father encourages us to "hit the streets", he is also reminding us that people who are engaged in trying to help others and proclaim the Gospel have little time to judge others. They are too busy being Good News.

Today, if you are tempted to judge someone, praise them instead.

Do you know people like Pope Francis who refuse to judge others?