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Saturday, January 19, 2019

Our Divided Church and Nation

"For Zion's sake I will not be silent." Is 62:1

Though  I rarely comment on politics in this blog, the text today certainly seems to apply to our nation and church. Like most Americans, I am befuddled and increasingly annoyed by the sniping that seems in full swing among President Trump, the media and the newly elected Congress, and I am angry. The attacks on Pope Francis, moreover, actually scandalize me. Rooted in rigid theological maxims, they seem to ignore the Holy Father's consistent challenges to us to change and be transformed by God's word and goodness. What happens to us as a people and a church when we fail to look at issues and concerns from the other side of wherever we stand, and more important, what happens when we only think about protecting our own assets?

Isaiah faced this in his life and warned his sisters and brothers in the Jewish community against being so divided that they collapse. Surely, he would say the same to us in our country and church. How is it possible not to work for a deeper unity when so many people are in need? Unless we find a way to speak with one another about critical issues like hunger, housing, health care and immigration reform, and he environment, we will be clanging symbols that the rest of the world rightly ignores.

Today, be silent. Say nothing for a while and see what happens when you listen.

What do you think most divides us as a country and a church?

Friday, January 18, 2019

Changed by Goodness

“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Mk 2:17

Jesus' answer to the Pharisees who are complaining about his eating with tax collectors and other sinners seems so obvious, we wonder how the Pharisees could be so blind and deaf. They must have known that the law not only allowed conversations with sinners but demanded it. Like us, the Pharisees often heard and saw they wanted to see and hear. Secure in their knowledge of the Torah and satisfied with their modest power, they wanted only to find something to criticize in Jesus' behavior in order not to listen to him.

However, when Jesus responds to their resistance and dullness, he teaches all of us. Change is always difficult, and it is easier to criticize someone than to search for their goodness and compassion. Jesus sees past the sins of the tax collectors. Inviting them to supper and building a relationship with them makes it possible for him eventually to speak with them about changing their lives and turning away from their sin. Rather than attack their profession, he sits at table with them in the hope that they will be able to see the error of their ways and change.

Today, praise someone whose behavior often irritates you.

Have you ever been changed by someone's kindness and understanding?


Thursday, January 17, 2019

True Friendship

"They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying." Mk 2:3-4

Where would we be without friends? A paralyzed man who hears about Jesus has no way to see or visit the Lord unless friends help him. Though Jesus is  surrounded by needy people, the paralytic's friends are not deterred. They go up on the roof, dig through it and lower their friend in front of Jesus. It is really an amazing scene which the scribes cannot spoil with the mumbling about Jesus not having the power to forgive sins. So anxious not to lose their teaching role in the society, the scribes think nothing about the paralytic while the man's friends think of nothing else. Who doesn't yearn for friends like this?

The twelfth century monk and writer, Aelred of Rievaulx, says it this way:
No medicine is more valuable, none more efficacious, none better suited to the cure of all our temporal ills than a friend to whom we may turn for consolation in time of trouble, and with whom we may share our happiness in time of joy. ― Aelred of Rievaulx Spiritual Friendship
Today, be gracious and accept the help of your friends.

To which friends are you most grateful?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

St Anthony, Abbott

"Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord." Ps 89

No matter how far Anthony went into the desert, people followed and found him. Though unlettered, he was gifted with so much wisdom, that many were drawn to him, hoping to absorb some of what he had learned in silence and solitude. Reputed to have lived for twenty years in a single walled room, Anthony grew in faith and devotion. While some thought that the isolation he sought would drive him crazy, Anthony grew more quiet and serene because he had found God and himself in the silence.

Obviously, not everyone is drawn to the life and lifestyle of St Anthony, but Anthony does teach everyone a basic truth of life. When we learn how it is that God wants to work in us, we have only to follow God's promptings to be at peace. Some will be drawn to God by a life of total involvement with the world. Others will find themselves and God in a life among the poor or as missionaries. A few will be drawn to the hermetical life like St Anthony. Where we arrive in life is not the issue. How we get there is.

Today, pray for the grace to be totally open to whatever God wants for you.

Have you met someone whose lifestyle at first confused you but whose peace taught you to follow God no matter the cost?

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Cured to be a Servant

"Simon's mother in law lay ill with a fever, ..then the fever left her and she waited on them." Mk 1:30, 32

Many years ago on a trip to Honduras I had the privilege of visiting the Mesa Grande refugee camp where more than 30,000 Salvadorans were encamped. Despite being in a virtual prison the people were filled with joy as they built a community of faith and solidarity which sustained them as the waited to go "home."

One refugee story, told to me by a priest friend who was ministering there, remains in my heart. Even though they were in grave danger, one community that he accompanied back to Salvador had taken the time to bury their church bell before fleeing, promising to ring it again when they returned from exile. Imagine their joy, he said, as they watched men from their village exit the buses, dig up the bell, hoist it to the tower and ring it in order to call everyone to a homecoming Eucharist.

How like Simon's mother in law! Cured, home again, she gets up and waits on others.

Today, pray in solidarity with the 25 million refugees in the world, more than 10 million of whom are hungry, sick and exposed to the elements.

What does "home" mean to you? How do you pass on your values to your children?

Monday, January 14, 2019

To Whom Do You Listen

"The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes." Mk 1:22

While very few would suggest that education is unimportant, it can be overrated. Most of the adults I knew as a child had little formal education, yet they were respected in my neighborhood.  Anyone who worked hard, had a deep faith and understood life from the inside was trusted and revered.  Like Jesus, many of my neighbors spoke with authority.

Jesus did not seem to worry much about the education of the the men he called to be his apostles, but the leaders of the Jewish people seemed to think this was a soft spot in the life of the new community. Anxious to stop Jesus' disciples from speaking about their Lord, they called them in and threatened them, only to have Peter and John insist that they had no choice but to speak of Jesus. Clearly, Peter and John were not worried about their lack of education and were not intimidated by threats from the Jewish leaders.

It is always good to take a few moments and ask ourselves to whom we are most likely to listen. Do the highly educated intimidate us into silence about important matters? Are we unwilling to speak of our faith to people of power and prestige in the community?

Today, take time to listen to someone you might otherwise ignore.



What most impresses you about the faith you witness everyday?

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Follow Me

“'Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.' Then they left their nets and followed him." Mk 1:17

Reading about the call of the disciples, it is natural to wonder if Jesus knew any of the men before inviting them to follow him. Did he notice something in them that would help announce the great salvific message of his Father? Did he know their families? Did he call them because he noticed them listening intently to him when he preached.

We have any number of reasons to hesitate when hearing the call of the Gospel. Discipleship, especially in the so called developed world, does not pay very well, nor does it promise fame or power, but resisting it can be difficult if not impossible for those who are honestly looking for a way of life that respects, even honors, all people.

The simplicity of the Gospel has not changed. Neither has its difficulty. Our task is to live its message of hope, transformation and submission to God with integrity and honesty. Admitting our dependence on God and being willing to serve others in his name remains a powerful invitation to anyone looking for a God who will never stop loving and challenging them.

Today, listen for the voice of the Lord in your life and follow it unreservedly.



Have you ever followed someone immediately without really knowing much about them?

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Baptism of the Lord

"A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench." Is 42:3

The images of John the Baptist that emerge in the gospels can sometimes be off putting. Like many prophets before him, John is direct and uncompromising, making him difficult to listen to, but this is not the case when John speaks of Jesus. John's humility about his own role and his assurance that Jesus is the Messiah lifts us up and sends us forth in hope.

Jesus, Isaiah and John remind us, has not come into the world to destroy it, but to assure all those listening, especially the poor, that his task is to heal the bruised reed and keep alive the flame of faith, but only if we accept his word and allow his power to transform us.

As Jesus begins his public ministry by having John baptize him, it is clear that he will risk anything so that his message from his Father will be clear and transparent. Jesus is among us to announce Good News, but his message will be difficult for those who want to cling to power, wealth and worldly prestige. Jesus wants to set us free from the domination of all systems that fail to create a just world. This message will be his downfall and our salvation.

Today, put aside your fears of being broken and weak. Our God heals.

Is it time to begin again your own ministry of service and freedom?

Friday, January 11, 2019

Jesus is the One

"The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease." Jn 3 29-30

What was it that John saw? What did the Spirit look like? Most of us have been in the presence of people with political or religious power. We know what that feels like, but Jesus was an itinerant preacher and minor prophet. Surely, John was talking about something more than the power we invest in hierarchies when he said of Jesus, "He must increase, I must decrease."

In order to see, we must look long and hard at ourselves, others and the world. This takes practice and discernment. We cannot expect to see what it is that God is doing within and among us unless we take time to gaze upon God and God's works everyday. Some call this prayer or contemplation but naming it is not as important as doing it. Finding time in our busy schedules to stop, listen, and allow the Spirit of God to guide us is essential to anyone who wants to live the Gospel.

Today, slow down and let the Lord look at you as you are.

What most keeps you from developing a daily prayer life?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Asking to be Healed

"If you wish, you can make me clean." Mk 1:40

From time to time, all of us have to ask for help, even from those we don't like or admire. The man with leprosy asks Jesus to be made clean and as soon as he does, his life changes. Though Jesus does not want the leper to tell anyone who healed him, his excitement and gratitude spill out of him and soon everyone knows.

There is a simple lesson in this text for us. Though we may be reluctant to ask God for help, thinking our faith is not strong enough, we should not hesitate. We should always ask to be healed, and trust that healing comes in many forms. Sometimes God's healing allows us to accept the burden of a dark period in our lives, and while that might not be what we were praying for, it does allow us to move forward in faith .

When we trust God in this way everything changes. We obsess less about wanting to live on our own terms, and seek companions who will walk with us no matter what we are carrying. More important, allowing others to help us may lead to their healing. Sometimes when we ask people for help, they finally see themselves as worthwhile and their spirit opens to God in ways they thought could never again happen.

Today, ask God for healing and wait.

Have their been instances in your life when asking for help changed how you viewed the burdens you carry?

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Authentic Discipleship

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free." Lk 4:18

Like most Catholics born in the middle of the last century, I was schooled to believe that the best way to live a devout life was to get to mass as frequently as possible, and to confession every week. These religious practices, good in themselves, often led people of my generation to worry about trivial matters in a way that was out of proportion to the faults themselves. Worse, we often struggled every day to be better, not so much to honor God, but to "earn" our salvation. Unfortunately, while we became good practicing Catholics, our call to discipleship often got lost in the shadows of our compulsions. When the focus of the spiritual life becomes our personal holiness, union with God often takes a back seat.

Today's gospel reminds us that Jesus had a different perspective. God is not someone hovering over us, counting our sins, but a healer who wants to lay hands of hope on the blind and draw ever closer to the oppressed. When we accept the help of the divine physician everything changes. Facing our weakness and acknowledging our poverty allows us not to obsess about our faults like we once did, but to celebrate God's tender mercy. More important, admitting our sins each day reminds us to be humble and non judgmental, and to look at every person with God's compassionate eyes.

Today, accept your need for God and glory in God's desire to be with you in your poverty.

Do you obsess about being perfect? What has this to do with the Gospel?

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Courage in the Face of Fear

“Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!' He got into the boat with them and the wind died down." Mt 14:26

God is always calling us. The scriptures are clear about this, but we are not always listening, and even when we are listening, we sometimes misinterpret what God wants from us.  The New York Times  featured an article about soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who were seeking all kinds of outlets to wash themselves of the scars of war and renew their lives. It reminded me of an earlier article in the Times that featured soldiers who, even after many years, cannot drive, and when they do drive often speed up at intersections and go through stop signs for fear there are people ready to fire upon them.

Rereading the article I realized I was breathing very shallowly. I don't want to know about these soldiers problems, because I do not want to face the horrors of war, especially as it impacts the lives of children. But unless we face these issues, we will never come to terms with the long term disabilities these men and women face, and the terrible effects upon our society. Dwight Eisenhower wrote, "I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity." Today's scriptures remind us not to act on our fears when we are threatened. Otherwise, we will rush into war again and never find ways to establish peace on the earth.

Today, ask God to help you be a peacemaker.

In what area of life do you most need the courage of Jesus?

Monday, January 7, 2019

Give them some Food

"Give them some food yourslves." Mk 6:37

Fear is a powerful and dangerous motivator, so strong at times it can overwhelm our good judgment and cause us to harm ourselves and others. When a mother can't afford to feed a child, she might do almost anything to find food. Anyone who has lived among the very poor knows this. Women everywhere have sold themselves to support their children, and fathers have stolen money and goods for the same purpose.

We don't know how fearful the disciples were when Jesus told them to feed the hungry themselves, but they immediately resist his command to feed those who are following him. Afraid, perhaps, that they would not have enough for themselves, they try to reason with Jesus, but the Lord will have none of it. Jesus insists that there is always enough if we take not what we want to feel comfortable, but what we need to stay alive and healthy. Sharing the goods of the earth is a foundational Gospel principle.

Today, enjoy the Eucharist and feed someone who is hungry.

How do you understand Jesus' command to be the Body of Christ?

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Commiting ourselves to Jesus and His Gospel

"Those who keep Jesus' commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit whom he gave us." 1 Jn 3:24

To whom do you  belong? This is a critical question in the life of every believer. We may be faithful Catholics and celebrate the Eucharist each Sunday, but unless we belong to Jesus Christ and the lifestyle he set our for us, we find ourselves drifting from one action to another without ever committing ourselves to the Lord .

Belonging means prioritizing Jesus and his teaching as the focus of our lives. Committed to the community of faith, we pray reguarly, break bread in memory of the one who has been raised from the dead, continue to learn about and live the Scriptures, and serve those most in need in the name of Jesus. This is a tall order but it should not overly disturb us that we often fail to live the fulness of the Gospel. Jesus only demands that we continue to return to him and his teaching and seek to enter the mysteris of faith with passion and hope.

Today, ask Jesus for the grace to enter more deeply into him and the life to which he has called you.

What most distracts you from the Gospel with passion and hope?


Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Epiphany of the Lord

"Where is the newborn king of the Jews?" Mt 2:2

Stability is something we all seek.  We want a permanent job, a house or apartment of our own that we can afford.  We want our children to do well in school and enter strong solid marriages.  It goes on and on.  Stability is like a prize that we cannot live without, but today's readings ask us to make a very deep examination of conscience.

What kind of stability are really seeking? Jesus does not offer us the kind of stability that God seemed to promise the Jews of old. Though they would enter the Promised land and build a temple that signaled to all the world that they were God's people, Jesus tells us that stability of place is not the gift he is bringing, not the Good News. He promises us internal stability, the assurance that God is with us in the flesh, and will send his Spirit to dwell within us and among us forever which makes us God's holy temple and his tabernacle.

We are a pilgrim people who build places of worship and call them churches, but the real church is us.  United in faith with the assurance that God will be our anchor, we are set free from the compulsive need to live in one place, have the same job forever, and measure our success by what we have rather than who we are.

Today, ask God to give you a stable relationship in faith to continue your journey.

How do you understand the stability that God promises us?

Friday, January 4, 2019

St John Neumann

"If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?" 1 Jn 3:17

St John Neumann knew well the truth of John's first letter. Because he saw so many in need, he did everything he could to respond, including learning Spanish, Italian, French and Dutch. As a missionary to the United States, he became a kind of itinerant pastor, but acknowledging his need for community, he joined the Redemptorists.

Named bishop of Philadelphia at 41, the young Redemptorist, anxious to respond to the needy and unlearned, approached the teaching brothers and sisters in the area and invited them to serve with him in the schools of Philadelphia. Determined to give immigrant children a chance at a better life, John immediately began to build Catholic schools. In less than a decade Philadelphia, which had only two Catholic schools when he arrived,  had more than one hundred.

Success stories like John's continue to lift us up with hope. When people of faith work together for the good of all, everyone benefits. The parochial school system that John helped build not only provided Catholics with a good education, it prepared them to make a difference in society, and taught them how a deep faith life could impact their neighborhoods and cities for the good of all.

Today, pray to know how best to announce the Good News with your lives.

What aspect of church life has been most important in your faith life?

Thursday, January 3, 2019

St Anthony, Abbot

"Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord." Ps 89

No matter how far Anthony went into the desert, people followed and found him. Though unlettered, he was gifted with so much wisdom, that many were drawn to him, hoping to absorb some of what he had learned in silence and solitude. Reputed to have lived for twenty years in a single walled room, Anthony grew in faith and devotion. While some thought that the isolation he sought would drive him crazy, Anthony grew more quiet and serene because he had found God and himself in the silence.

Obviously, not everyone is drawn to the life and lifestyle of St Anthony, but Anthony does teach everyone a basic truth of life. When we learn how it is that God wants to work in us, we have only to follow God's promptings to be at peace. Some will be drawn to God by a life of total involvement with the world. Others will find themselves and God in a life among the poor or as missionaries. A few will be drawn to the hermetical life like St Anthony. Where we arrive in life is not the issue. How we get there is.

Today, pray for the grace to be totally open to whatever God wants for you.

Have you met someone whose lifestyle at first confused you but whose peace taught you to follow God no matter the cost?

St Elizabeth Ann Seton

"We have found the Messiah." Jn 1:41

Elizabeth Ann Seton had any number of firsts in her life. She founded the first American congregation of religious sisters in the United States, opened the first parish school and the first Catholic orphanage, but none of these is her greatest triumph. Despite being widowed at 30 with five young children, she decided to become a Catholic despite strong opposition from her staunch Episcopal family.

Elizabeth's courage at a time in her life that begged her to be careful and conservative remind us that when we depend totally on God wonderful things can happen. Not only are we able to make difficult decisions, we do so with conviction and serenity. When God is on our side, and God always is, no obstacle is too big to overcome.

In the United States women have always been the foundation stones of our parishes. They teach religious education, serve on every committee and week after week faithfully celebrate the Eucharist with devotion and passion. In all of this they have a wonderful model in Elizabeth Ann Seton. Not deterred by being ignored, dismissed or rejected, women know, like Elizabeth Ann, that God is their center and their guide. Nothing else matters.

Today, listen to a woman of faith.

What woman of faith do you most admire?

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Looking long and hard at Ourselves

"John testified further, saying,...‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’" Jn 1: 28, 29

What was it that John saw? What did the Spirit look like? Most of us have been in the presence of people with political or religious power. We know what that feels like, but Jesus was an itinerant preacher and minor prophet. Surely, John was talking about something more than the power we invest in hierarchies when he said of Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God...He must increase, I must decrease." Whether it was a simple matter that Jesus had no sin to confess when he came to John for baptism, or the confidence with which Jesus carried himself, we do not know but we do know John saw something and so must we.

In order to see, we must look long and hard at ourselves, others and the world. This takes practice and discernment. We cannot expect to see what it is that God is doing within and among us unless we take time to gaze upon God and God's works everyday. Some call this prayer or contemplation but naming is not as important as doing it. Finding time in our busy schedules to stop, listen, and allow the Spirit of God to guide us is essential to anyone who wants to live the Gospel, not just know about it.

Jesus often left his disciples, even for entire nights, to commune with his Father in prayer, and in this he offers an example. Because we can easily get so close to someone or something that we see them as if through a microscope, we need to step away and let God guide our eyes and hearts. In this way, perhaps we can see the Spirit like Jesus did.

Today, slow down and let the Lord look at you as you are.

What most keeps you from developing a daily prayer life?

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Sts Basil the Great and Grgory Nazianzen

“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’" Jn 1:23

Most of the great saints of the early church, like Basil and Gregory, knew, like John the Baptist, that their primary task was to cry out the truth of the Gospel despite the personal cost to their own reputation and power. Basil did this by preaching twice a day, usually against Arianism which denied the divinity of Christ. His commitment to preaching the fullness of the truth caused others to accuse him of heresy. Despite his appeals to the Pope for help, Basil was often left dangling and vulnerable.

Gregory was first drawn to Basil, the founder of monasticism in the East, because he wanted  to live a quiet, secluded and prayerful life. Soon  however, he was ordained priest, then  bishop, and before he knew it he was sent to Constantinople to try to bring peace and orthodoxy to that troubled place. Despite his best efforts, he was also vilified and attacked personally. Still, Gregory endured and preached consistently and constantly about the great mystery of the Incarnation, only to be isolated and forgotten in his last years.

Only when we are clear about our role as Christians are we able to endure trials and difficulties. Like John the Baptist we are to make the Lord's way straight and accept the consequences, no matter how difficult, of living the Gospel.

Today, don't worry about your success. Worry about living the Gospel.

What is the most difficult part of living the gospel for you?