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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?