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Saturday, August 24, 2019

Accepting God's Generosity

"For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last." Lk 13:30

No matter how hard we try to understand God's greatness, the scriptures keep reminding us that God and God's graciousness have no parallels in human life, and while it is helpful to think of metaphors and similes that open up our understanding, they will always fail to capture the fullness of God's goodness. Most of us have gazed at a sunrise, sunset, the ocean or a majestic mountain and been unable to describe what we experience. The grandeur and power of nature defies description, and  the love of God's is even more impossible to label or name. Only awe and silence seem a proper and fitting response.

What we can and must do is accept God's challenge to live lives of limitless generosity and learn how to spend the love we have been given with humility and delight. While a tall order, even this is possible with God's help.

Today, give someone something they have not deserved or earned.

Do you  have a favorite way or story to desribe God's generosity?

Friday, August 23, 2019

St Bartholomew

"Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him." Jn 1:47

Some people are naturally open, transparent and accepting. Most of us, however, are not. We fear and resist the judgment of others. What can they know about us, we ask, they have only just met us, and while this is true, it can reflect an unhealthy desire for independence. Only when we realize that the wisdom  and insight of others can be a gift for our own journey do we embrace it and grow from it.

St. Bartholomew is the poster boy for innocence and openness in the gospel, and if we can be open to the lessons he teaches, our lives can be much simpler. People are given to us in life as guides and mentors, and while some remind us what not to be, most can help us take the next step if only we will listen. Bartholomew blurts out, "How do you know me?", but as soon as the Lord answers, his resistance crumbles and he acknowledges Jesus as Son of God and King of Israel.

Today, ask for the gift of openness before God and others.

What helps you put aside duplicity and seek transparency?

Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Greatest Commandment

"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" Mt 22:36

One of the tasks of the great Rabbis was to reduce the entire law and prophets to as few words as possible without losing the power and love of the entire Torah. Today’s gospel is Jesus’ response. In just a few words he sums up the entire law and prophets. Although other rabbis suggested answers similar to Jesus, Jesus is unique in two ways. First, no other rabbi suggests that love of God and love of neighbor are equally important. Love of God is not enough by itself. Neither is love of neighbor sufficient without love of God. Prior to Jesus, the rabbis talked about certain prescriptions of the law as heavy or light. Love of neighbor, while important, was considered light, while love of God was considered heavy. Jesus tells his listeners that both love of God and love of neighbor are heavy, that is, vitally important aspects of the good news.

Jesus also challenges the traditional rabbinic understanding of neighbor. The rabbis taught that other Israelites deserved our love as neighbors. Those outside the covenant deserved compassion but not love. Jesus rejects this understanding and makes his interpretation of the Torah overwhelmingly open.  The good news is for all. There are no outsiders In God's love, which remains the challenge for us today. Everyone has a right to our love as a neighbor, not just our compassion. How we live this command is the heart of the gospel.

Today, ask God for the gift of knowing deep in your heart that God is always with you. 

How would you share with others the Greatest Commandment?

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Queenship of Mary

"Behold, I have prepared my banquet....Come to the feast." Mt 22:4

St Bernard of Clairvaux, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, invites his readers to think of Mary as a Queen in a very different way. Because Mary has no secular power or even an honorary position in her society, the crown she wears is made up of the virtues she embodies: compassion, understanding, kindness and moral strength. Without the trappings of the secular world, Mary proclaims her queenship by the way she lives.

Afraid at first of the call from God to be the mother of his son, Mary puts her fear aside and becomes Jesus' first disciple. She follows him and urges others to do so, not so much in word, but in deed. If Jesus must endure suffering, so will she. The call of Jesus to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul and to love our neighbor as ourselves becomes her mantra, her simple path to life and hope. Mary is Queen of heaven and earth because her example empowers all to love God as Jesus did.

Today, be an example of compassion by caring for someone to whom you have no responsibility.

Who has shown you the virtue of compassion without words?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

St Pius X

"What if I want to give this last one the same as you?" Mt 20:15

The ministry of the Pope, St. Pius X, is a good example of why the church is always in need of reform. Realizing that 19th century spirituality had disenfranchised many, especially children, from a full sacramental life, Pius X, in 1902, wrote: "The chief aim of our efforts must be that the frequent reception of the Eucharist may be everywhere revived among Catholic peoples....For the soul, like the body, needs frequent nourishment; and the holy Eucharist provides that food which is best adapted to the support of its life." (Mirae Caritatis)  The Eucharist, Pius reminded us, is real food and real drink. Our senses are the pathway to our souls. It is through them that we know the glory of God and God's love for us in a bodily way.

Today's gospel passage insists that those who are often last in our societies will be first because they recognize these truths more naturally. Never far from the earth and its riches, the poor and lowly never take food or simple shelter for granted. Rather, they treasure the gifts of the earth each day and eat and sleep with gratitude.

Today, be grateful for all you eat, especially the Eucharist.

What or who helps you to remember the nourishing and nurturing gifts of creation?

Monday, August 19, 2019

Bold Humility

"But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first." Mt 19:30

St Bernard of Clairvaux, in a remarkably moving and demanding sermon, begs Mary to help her sons and daughters:
Let humility be bold, Mary, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.
Reading Bernard's words always lifts my spirits. It is clear that the Saint thought of Mary as his sister, mother, and friend, someone to whom he could speak plainly and with abandon. Mary was not an historical figure, but a living, breathing companion with whom Bernard could plead and beg. His example should embolden us. Both Mary and Jesus are meant to be accessible players in our personal and communal lives. We should never be afraid to approach them and ask for help and guidance.

Today, imagine you are Mary's sister. Stop her and ask for direction and help.

What spiritual practice has most helped you strenghten your faith?

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Sell Everything

"Go, sell what you have and give to the poor." Mt 19:21

The severity of Jesus' demand that we renounce all our possessions can be overwhelming, especially when we read it out of context. The best scholars of the bible always remind us that when we ask God for the strength to let go, to renounce everything for God, God gives us back what we need to live well and serve others. While God's challenge is daunting, it is also necessary. Belief demands that we learn to trust God with our entire lives despite the cost.

When trying to listen to the God who demands everything from us, it is also important to remember that most of us have more than we could ever use or need, and it is our fear and pride that causes us to worry about whether we have enough or how others see us. Rather than let go to simplify our lives, we acquire more and more ideas, stuff and baggage. Jesus might sound harsh, but his message is clear. Don't be afraid to give God everything. The reward is a Gospel freedom beyond anything we could imagine.

Today, recommit yourself to a Gospel life no matter the cost.

Which of your possessions or ideas are most difficult to renounce?

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Hot Faith

"I have come to set the earth on fire and how I wish it were already burning." Lk 12:49

Faith is often hot, uncomfortably so. Like walking across sand at the beach in the middle of summer, we jump and hop around, trying to avoid faith's scorching demands, but there is no way around it, faith burns. Unfortunately, we too often think of the so called hot button issues in the church of North America when we speak of faith's demands: abortion, same sex marriage and divorce, but the heat of faith is much more than these controversial issues.

Faith is hot because it demands that we listen when we are ready to explode with anger at those who disagree with us. Faith burns when it requires us to love our enemies and do good to those who harm us. Faith stings when it challenges us to let go of power that dominates others economically, militarily and socially, and all of this is what Jesus is referring to in today's gospel.

When the Lord tells us that he has not come to bring peace at any price and that the gospel will divide fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, he is not suggesting that division is good, but inevitable when we fail to care for the poor, the broken, the sick and immigrants.

Today, don't run away from the fire of faith.

When have faith's demands burned you?

Friday, August 16, 2019

Let Children Teach Us

“Let the children come to me; do not prevent them." Mt 19:13

Unfortunately, for priests and religious these days, this passage has an edge of fear to it. Most of us who minister full time are anxious around children and are very cautious in our relationships with them. How awful!  Jesus wants us to see in children an example who we must become, not a group of people we should avoid. With that said, the passage remains very powerful.

Jesus holds up a child's innocence as an example of what his disciples need to become. Open spirited, engaged, naturally contemplative and without guile, children, who had no voice or rights at the time of Jesus, teach us how God wants us to go about in the world. The Good News is a new way of living, not a set of rules we have to obey.

Jesus asks us to hold onto the freshness and vitality of children as a way to proclaim the depth of God's love. Believing in a God who is always with us must change everything about us if it is to have an effect in the world. Unless people can find in us a zest for life and a commitment to all people, especially those without a voice, our witness will be empty. Like children, we continue to live with joy because of what God has done for and among us.

Today, let your imagination, like a child playing a game, roam with delight.

What about children most speaks to you of the Gospel?

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Divorce

“Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." Mt 19:3

Divorce is always difficult and painful, but sometimes it is necessary. When there is physical or emotional abuse, the spouse being abused has little choice. The Gospel never demands that a person submit to abuse for the sake of any relationship, and while many married people struggle to stay in relationships that are empty, there are times when a spouse must leave a marriage.

That being said, the gospel is clear that divorce should be a last resort, and that all of us need to address our hard hearts. It is not only the married, but clergy and religious, too, who too often take life for granted, think too much about what is not working in their lives and become hyper critical of the people with whom they live. Jesus had it right. When our hearts get hard, we can justify anything we do and demonize others. Finding scapegoats rather than looking at ourselves is convenient but robs us of the opportunity for growth as persons and Christians committed by vow to a particular way of life.

Jesus wants the married to succeed, to be faithful, to forgive, forget and work through their difficulties. When marriage or religious life becomes something we can abandon or easily put aside when it hurts to take the next step, we deny God's power to heal and to shine a light on the dark path that we all must sometimes take. Learning from those who accept life as it unfolds because of their faith is a gift we should all treasure.

Today, recommit yourself to your baptismal vows, and pray for those struggling in marriage.

Whose commitment to marriage most enhanced your faith?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Assumption of Mary

"Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth." Mt 1:39

Although Mary is pictured in art and literature in a wide variety of roles, not the least of which would be the Annunciation and Calvary, I prefer to think of her as "on the road," a pilgrim and a disciple, reaching out for those most in need. If I could paint, I would show her, newly pregnant, starting off to visit Elizabeth. It is Mary's willingness to step out of what she knew and was comfortable with that makes her the saint we must imitate.

We celebrate the feast of Mary's Assumption into heaven, not simply because Mary is the mother of Jesus, but because she was his disciple as well. Mary followed Jesus' example by witnessing to the change that she experienced when she said yes to be the Mother of the Messiah. The 13th century Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart says it beautifully.
“We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.” Meister Eckhart 1260-1328
 Today, be a mother to someone who seems lost.

What faith experiences have you had that called you to change your life?

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

St Maximillian Kolbe

"Be patient with me, and I will pay you back." Mt 18:29

St Maximilian Kolbe, who offered his life for another prisoner at the Nazi death camp in Auschwitz, was drawn to a military life as a boy, but soon after entering the seminary he realized that the fight God wanted him to enter was a spiritual one. Although he imagined his life as a "long war", he focused not on the failures of those to whom he was preaching, but on their strengths, and it was this strategy that fostered his work of evangelizing Western Europe and Japan.

Maximilian never forget that it is impossible to pay back God, and this knowledge drove him to pour out his life in gratitude for all God had given him. The gift of life and the gift of faith are pure gifts, not something we earn or deserve. God chooses to give us life and sustain us in it because of God's goodness, not our worth. More important, we cannot earn salvation. God wants us to be with him forever. It is as simple as that. Like a parent, God desires only good for his children and wants them to live in peace forever.

Today,  be as patient with yourself as God is with you.

How would you counsel others to live patiently?

Monday, August 12, 2019

Countering Arrogance

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” Mt 18:10

Most of us work diligently not to despise anyone or anything, trying always to think of all creation as a gift from God. Nevertheless, we slip, we sin, we fail. In recent days, the actions of our Congress have led many to despise the intransigence of those we have elected to serve, but whose behavior too often seems self protective and rigid. Because we so need our representatives to remember all the people of this nation, especially the poor, we expect them to have the comprehensive and inclusive view of what a stoppage in government service might mean for the neediest of our citizens.

When Jesus wants his disciples and opponents to understand fully his attitude towards them and his expectations of them, he reminds them to look at children as icons of humility. Children, he insists, can teach all what it means to understand greatness. We are not called to dominate or manipulate others, but to serve one another like children and slaves, and to be innocent, vulnerable and alert to everything and everyone around us, especially the poor.

Today, remember to be humble.

How do you counter arrogance in yourself and others?

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Taxes

"The collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, 'Does not your teacher pay the temple tax?'”

Money is always a problem. Not only do some people have too much, many more have too little, and the ability to issue a currency that is recognized internationally is critically important for nations wanting to do business with other nations.

At the time of Jesus, while Jews were free to produce their own currency for use within the temple grounds, they were forced to use Roman coins to pay their poll taxes. The rabbis, however, reminded Jews that even to touch a coin with the image of the Roman emperor who claimed to be divine was idolatry. Trying to trap Jesus, they trapped themselves. Jesus knew of their prohibition against the possession or use of Roman coins, but also knew they would have some to pay their taxes. Merely by carrying Roman coins for Jesus to look at they condemned themselves as idolaters.

Intriguingly, not having a coin puts everyone on notice that Jesus had no intention of offending the law, the prophets or the interpretations of the rabbis with regard to honoring anyone who claimed divinity. There is only one God, his actions proclaim, and he will not enter silly arguments about whether to pay taxes to Caesar. Rather, he will honor the one God by dying for him.

Today, resist winning an argument, and pray for your opponent.

What helps you resist arguing with others for the sake of your image?

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Faith Overcomes Fear

"Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen." Heb 11:1

All of us doubt. We doubt ourselves and the adequacy of our skills. We doubt the reliability of friends and family. We doubt the ability of our civic leaders to govern, and we doubt God, or more precisely, we doubt the God we created or think we learned about in school or church. Hearing that God is all powerful, we sometimes naively think that God's power allows God to heal at will, depose unethical leaders and make the world a more just place. But saying that God is all powerful does not mean that God takes away our freedom. God's power is much more extensive then our self centered desire or limited view of the world.

Letting go of the fear that God will not act for us and for our good is the greatest challenge most of us face. Because we do not understand all of God's ways, we panic and begin to pray only for what we see and perceive, and while this is understandable, we must pray to let go totally into God's good hands and trust. Practicing this every day is the essence of prayer.

Today, pray for an increase in faith and to accept God's mercy.

What aspects of faith are most challenging to you?

Friday, August 9, 2019

St Lawrence, Deacon

"Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit." Jn 12:24

St Lawrence reputedly said while being grilled on an open fire as punishment for his failure to obey the the Roman Prefect : Turn me over. Like so many other stories, it misses the point.

St. Lawrence should be known for something very different. When the Roman Prefect demanded Lawrence bring him the treasures of the church, Lawrence went throughout the city and gathered all the poor and sick declaring: These are the riches of the church. The Roman Prefect, embarrassed and enraged, demanded that Lawrence be burned like an animal and Lawrence accepted his punishment for telling the truth. Indeed, the poor and sick are our greatest treasure.

We must all, like Lawrence, fall to the earth and die if we want to witness to the the gospel in an authentic way. Unless we have the faith and courage to let go of our narrow and limited world views, we cannot bear the fruit of God, the fruit that will last forever.

Today, ask not to be afraid of the daily dying demanded by the Gospel.

Who has died so that you might live?

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

St Dominic

"A man who governs his passions is master of the world. We must either command them, or be enslaved by them. It is better to be a hammer than an anvil." St Dominic

While preaching at the Eucharistic liturgy, with few exceptions, is confined to ordained men, much preaching in retreat centers and para liturgical settings is done lay women and men, and for those of us who have heard it, it is uniformly informed, powerful and challenging. The Dominicans especially have fostered this practice. Known as the Order of Preachers, they conduct workshops and seminars on preaching around the country in order to emphasize the importance of hearing a wide variety of preaching styles and voices so that everyday people might be attracted to the Gospel.

St. Dominic would have appreciated his followers efforts. Committed, like Francis of Assisi, to a deep reform of the church through simple living, care for the poor and careful teaching, Dominic is best known for his defense of the faith against the Albigensians. Successful, not simply because of his insightful and precise teaching, but because he was committed, like the Albigensians, to an ascetical life, Dominic appealed to ordinary people seeking to live the Gospel more fully.

It would surprise few people these days if Pope Francis encouraged the church, especially its leaders, to live and preach more simply so that more and more people would be attracted to the power of the Gospel lived with transparent joy and integrity. That women and men lay preachers, in the spirit of St Dominic, might lead this reform would be a wonderful gift to the church.

Today, pray for the ongoing reform of the church.

What kind of preaching most moves you to live the Gospel/





Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Inclusion

"It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." Mt 15:26

Not infrequently, gentiles and the poor were compared to dogs, people who did not appreciate the word of God, but Jesus turns this saying upside down, just as he does when he reminds us that the first will be last.

In Jesus preaching, the only criterion used to judge people was their openness to the fullness of God's word. In other words, the rich, the powerful, the interpreters of the law were all judging themselves if they refused to hear Jesus' call to reform their lives and return to the heart of the law.

For contemporary believers the same standard endures. Unless we are open to the transforming power of God's word, which is more inclusive than we often want to acknowledge, we are the dogs about whom the Gospel speaks. When we use the Good News as a hammer to exclude those who are racially, religiously, culturally and spiritually different from us, even when they are enemies, we judge ourselves.

Today, pray to be free of prejudice.

What practices help you not to judge others? 



Monday, August 5, 2019

The Transfiguration

"While he was praying Jesus' face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white." Lk 9:29

While change is necessary in all our lives, it always implies a struggle. Because we are often comfortable in a particular circumstance despite its difficulties, we sometimes choose to make excuses for not changing. Jesus experienced resistance in his apostles as he headed for Jerusalem, the seat of Jewish life and power. His followers, delighted by their master's healing power and message of liberation for the poor, wanted to stay in the Northern part of Palestine and go from town to town gathering new disciples, thinking they would strengthen their hand when eventually they would arrive in Jerusalem. But Jesus would have none of it.

Determined to move towards Jerusalem, and his death, Jesus reveals himself to his disciples on the mountain of the Transfiguration. Showing himself as the successor to Moses and Elijah, Jesus lets his friends know that he is more than they think and more than they bargained for. He is the Messiah of God, and his message and purpose go far beyond the liberation of the Jewish nation from Roman domination. Though it will be frightening and confusing, if Jesus' disciples want to continue to follow him, they must accompany him to Jerusalem and all that it implies. So must we.

Today, let the Lord show himself to you as he is.

What are your most challenging resistances to change?

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Give them Something to Eat

"Five loaves and two fish are all we have, unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people." Lk 9:13

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?

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Greed

“Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Lk 12:15

Greed has been a constant theme in the United States in recent years. CEO's making $29,000,000 a year is a commonplace, and, frankly, a scandal. The discrepancy in income between the super rich and the everyday poor is growing and a cause for deep concern. In the past, this kind of disparity in salaries has also been the seed of revolution. The simplistic principle that those who produce a billion dollars of profit for a company ought to be rewarded accordingly doesn't help those on the low end of the economic pyramid or the economy!

Jesus had more than a little to say about this, and it is still valuable advice. Money, property and power accumulation are not in themselves the problem. Greed is. The desperate clinging to what we have suggests there is no other world but the one in which we live, and faith challenges this view over and over.

Jesus did not come to straighten out the world but to set its people free, and while some will deny or ignore this gift, it is ours for the taking. When we live generously and with deep regard for those most in need, relationships blossom and the Good News becomes powerful and transforming. It is virtually impossible to turn away from someone we know who is in real need. It is only when the poor remain faceless that our greed overwhelms our beliefs. Opening our eyes to everyone in front of us not only changes us, it can change the world.

Today, ask yourself how much you need to live.

Does greed sometimes capture your imagination?

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Beheading of John the Baptist

“'I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist.'... So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison. He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl." Mt 14:8

The beheading of John the Baptist has always been one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament to read. Horrific and barbaric, we cringe and withdraw from the image of someone bringing the head of another human being to a banquet to satisfy the rage of a woman whose marriage has been condemned.

Unfortunately, to the horror of most people in the world, this scene has been repeated too often in recent years with the deaths of Christians for no other reason than their faith is Jesus. Pope Francis, in responding to these atrocities, reminds believers that despite the awfulness of what we are witnessing, we must continue to live the Gospel: "Wars are always madness: All is lost in war, all is to be gained in peace, In deploring all of these, I wish to assure my prayers and my solidarity for those who are being held in captivity and for their families, and I appeal to the humanity of the kidnappers to free their victims,"  Solidarity with all people trapped by war and the willingness to seek new roads to peace is the only Gospel response.

Today, pray for anyone, especially children, caught in wars they cannot possibly understand.

What do you think is the Gospel response to overwhelming violence?

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Little Portion (Portiuncula) of St Francis

“See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.” Ps 64:69

Sometimes the psalms startle and stop us. Because they are prayer songs which we often recite by rote like a litany or the rosary, we can forget that they contain countless images that help us understand God, our faith and ourselves better. When Psalm 64 reminds us that God sees us in our lowliness and hears our confusion and upset, the scripture helps us remember that God draws closer to us when we are suffering. It is not that God will take away our pain. Rather, God will walk, stand or sit with us as we endure and eventually embrace the trials that come to all in life.

A friar friend, Tom Murphy, who died several years ago, was a shining example of this. Tom spent the majority of his ministerial life as a hospital chaplain. Not one to wait to be called to the bed of a sick person, Tom walked the halls of the hospital and nursing home where he served. Like St Francis of Assisi, Tom sought out those who were struggling the most. He always had time to sit down, listen and pray with those who felt desperately alone. And because Tom was bilingual, he was also able to attend to the large Latino population of the hospital and nursing home with a special tenderness. 

Tom did all this while enduring his own demons. His mental illness not only did not deter him from walking with the sick, it made him more compassionate. Tom, and so many others like him, remind us that God will not only not abandon us in our confusion, God will will seek us out and assure us we are not alone.

Today, seek out someone who is sick and listen.

Who or what most helps you when you are wrestling with life?

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Face to Face

"Then the cloud covered the meeting tent, and the glory of the LORD filled the Dwelling." Ex 40:34

Although the book of Exodus speaks of God as a cloud descending on the tent, believers wonder what God looked like. If God spoke with Moses face to face, how did God's face appear? Was God's face young, old, man, woman, fierce, kindly? These are questions without answers and in some ways irrelevant. That God spoke with Moses as one man or one woman speaks to another is the point of the text.

God is intimate with Moses. God draws near and speaks clearly because, the text implies, God wants to be close to us, and involved in our lives. Most important, God wants us to know that we have a purpose and a destiny, and will only reach our end if we live in peace, work for justice and find a way to care for all creation. 

God is clear. Life is a gift which we ought to enjoy and share. Giving Moses the commandments is a way of helping us understand what we must do and how we must live. Not simply a list of prohibitions, as they are sometimes presented and interpreted, the commandments remind us that every community needs order and boundaries in order to live well together. If we honor God and respect and love all that God gives us, life among us is rich and reverent.

Today, speak with the Lord face to face. Don't be afraid.

What experiences or activities bring you closest to God?


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

St Ignatius Loyola

"Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field." Mt 13:36

Have you thought about making a retreat recently? If not, then the feast of St Ignatius may be a good time to start. The founder of the Society of Jesus and the patron saint of spiritual retreats, Ignatius designed a simple but profound method for entering the mysteries of faith more deeply. Called the Spiritual Exercises, it begins with what he calls a principle and foundation, a prayer that challenges retreatants to hand over their lives totally to God, trusting that God will lead them to a place where they might become the person God needs them to be for the sake of the world.

Demanding and freeing at the same time, beginning a retreat by writing a prayer of unconditional acceptance of God's desire for us prepares retreatants to hear the message of the scriptures more profoundly. Retreats can be as short as one day and as long as a month,  but always offer us the luxury of stopping everything we are doing, stepping back and surveying how our life is unfolding. Painful at times, they can also be a wonderful time of discovery and recovery of our deepest values and dreams.

Today, think about stopping for an hour to contemplate with gratitude how God has accompanied you each day of your life.

What is keeping you from retreating from the busyness of today to sit with God and asking for direction?


Monday, July 29, 2019

Praying the Psalms

"The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness." Ps 145:8

For centuries the church has charged its leaders and people with praying the psalms on a daily basis and with good reason. The psalms are songs and hymns that console and challenge us everyday to transformation. They lift us up and send us forth; they knock us down and set us straight, and in all of this the psalms assure us that if we wait, listen and ask for help, God will stoop toward us and listen to our cry.

Carlo Caretto, a well known Italian activist and writer, found himself exhausted, confused and lost in the Roman church. Not sure how he could survive in a church which he loved and despised at the same time, Caretto left Italy for North Africa to join Charles de Foucauld and the Little Brothers of Jesus where he found a group of men who were willing to pray and reflect for long hours before they acted.

The little brothers changed his life. They taught him about patient prayer and silence, and introduced him to a faith path that helped him find God in places he had never before visited. When finally Caretto returned to Italy he was a different man. Quiet and reflective but still full of zeal. Caretto became a spokesperson for the power of prayer and the role of lay people in the church. Indeed, he discovered the God who stooped toward him in his need and listened to his cries.

Today, stoop towards someone in need with compassion and a listening heart.



Has anyone bent down to help you when you are in need of understanding and acceptance?

Sunday, July 28, 2019

St Martha

"Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak." Lk 10:38

When Jesus visited the home of Mary and Martha, Martha, busy about all the preparations for his visit, complained that Mary was not helping and wanted Jesus to correct her. Instead, Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part. What could Jesus possibly mean? Shouldn't we all help one another with the everyday tasks cooking and cleaning?

Over the years, many commentators suggest that Luke was writing about the so called active and contemplative life, but contemporary cultural insight helps us realize that sitting at a rabbi's feet was the role of men called to the rabbinate. Martha is angry because Mary is assuming a role to which she could not aspire. A woman's place was in the background helping with the ordinary chores, but Jesus challenges this stereotype, not just among men and women, but what it meant to be a rabbi. Teachers and leaders had to be servants, not privileged operatives with power over others.

Today, pray to learn how to be a servant of those most in need.

Whose life of humility and service most challenges you to be good news in everyday life?

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Death and Dying

"We were indeed buried with him through baptism." Col 2:12

Every major religious tradition reminds us that we cannot escape death, and all our attempts to deny this simple reality lead us nowhere. St Paul admonishes those who waste too much time worrying about death.  "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (I Cor 15:57) That Jesus has already rescued and saved us from ultimate death is a fundamental teaching of our faith.

Islam also insists that while death is inevitable, so is resurrection, but in order to be ready, we must work to get close to God now. “Though we know death is certain, we have not prepared ourselves for it. Though we know paradise is definite, we have not worked for it...What are you waiting for? Death is the first visitor from the Almighty bringing good or evil tidings… so get closer to your Lord!”(Hamid al-Qasyirasi)

Mark Twain reminds us that the fear of death is really the fear of life. Those of us who are afraid to live, even though we are breathing, are moving quickly towards death. In fact, if we don't resolve and ask God to help us live fully, we are already dead because we miss so much of life.

Today, meditate on your own death and pray to accept what feelings arise.



Who has taught you most about death and dying?

Friday, July 26, 2019

Patience

"No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, 'First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.’” Mt 13: 29-30

All of us have faults and most of us have determined to rid ourselves of them without success. If our words get us in trouble regularly, we decide to be quieter. For a while it works, but as soon as we lose our focus, we find ourselves talking too much about ourselves or others. These are the weeds that grow in our life.  We can try to blame someone else for planting them, but they are ours and we need to be responsible for them. Thank God Jesus recognizes us despite our faults and suggests a response.

The Lord tells us to stop worrying too much about our sins and concentrate instead on doing good. It is remarkable when we think about it that when we have lots of good to do, there is little time for faults and sins. While we might talk too much, spend too much, worry too much or try too hard, when we are focused on living well with and for others, our faults don't bother us as much and neither do they last as long.

Today, let the weeds grow together with the wheat in your life.

Which of your own faults or sins bothers you the most?

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Sts Joachim and Anne

"The seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” Mt 13:23

Although we are certain of nothing about Joachim and Anne, even their names, they were the parents of Mary and the grandparents of Jesus, the couple whose example and instruction formed Mary in faith. It was from Joachim and Anne that Mary would have first heard the Torah, and learned to pray, and it was Mary's prayer that gave her the courage to accept God's invitation to be the mother of Jesus.

Grandparents are becoming increasingly important in the 21st century, especially in the United States. Because almost half of children are born to unmarried women,(CBS) grandparents are often called upon to parent a second time but without the authority they might have enjoyed with their own children. How they negotiate these muddy waters will play a hugely important role in their grandchildren's lives. If they can somehow maintain their compassion and nurturing in ways that help their grandchildren feel secure and focused, especially in faith, they will offer them a gift beyond anything they could buy them.

Today, pray for grandparents

Who taught you most by their lives about faith?






Wednesday, July 24, 2019

St James, Apostle

"We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body." 2 Cor 4:8-10

St James, the Apostle, is mentioned often in the gospels as a close companion of Jesus. Perhaps most importantly he is present at the Transfiguration when Jesus reveals himself as a prophet and patriarch with Moses and Elijah. A close friend of Jesus, James and his brother John were nicknamed "sons of thunder" by Jesus because of their fierce commitment to the Gospel, even if some of it was misplaced, but his zeal for the Gospel gave him the strength to endure martyrdom.

The Patron of Spain, James's fame increased over time as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims make their way to Compestela, where tradition suggests his relics are preserved. Believing that James had the courage to leave Jerusalem in order to announce the Good News in Spain, pilgrims today stream to his shrine hoping to let go of life patterns that steal their humanity and their faith.

The boldness of St James both in his ministry with Jesus and in bringing the Gospel to Spain is a wonderful example for contemporary Christians. In a society obsessed with stability, security and power, we would do well to listen to the example of James to let go of what seems permanent in order to discover the God who lives within and among people everywhere as guides on their journeys.

Today, be bold in living the Gospel.

What in your life calls you to live the Gospel boldly?

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Rocky Ground

“A sower went out to sow...Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots." Mt 13: 3-4

There is rocky ground in all our lives, and while we have to acknowledge it and accept it, we should not obsess about it. Whether our early years were difficult and confusing, or your marriage was sour almost from the beginning, we need to find a way not to let our dark days dissuade us from living with joy and hope. Our parents or our partners may have disappointed us, but God cannot abandon us, and faith demands that we ask God to be the ground of our lives. Only then can we be sure that no matter how rocky life is or might become, God's love will sustain us.

Letting God find the good ground in our lives and asking for the grace to let go of our failures is an important step on our spiritual journeys. If we worry too much about the rocky ground, we will miss the good God is already doing within and through us.

Today, be grateful for the God has done in you. Let go of failure.

How has God surprised you on your pilgrim journey?

Monday, July 22, 2019

Living our Faith more Deeply

"And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.'" Mt 12: 49-50

There are some who might get upset with this passage from Matthew. When the crowd tells Jesus that his mother, brothers and sisters are looking for him,  Jesus reacts. A person’s life is not of value, he says, because of her parents or relatives, but by her willingness to listen and live the good news. The Jesus of the gospels would never disparage his own mother’s goodness, but he does remind his listeners that being born a Jew guarantees nothing. Were he alive today, he might well say that being born a Catholic means little unless one lives one’s religious faith and tradition.

Jesus was trying to remind his Jewish brothers and sisters that they were not better than others simply because of their religious clothing, roots or heritage. Rather, he wanted them to live their faith with integrity and a deep sense of justice not by lording it over others but by always remembering their own slavery in Egypt and their times of exile from the Promised Land.

Today ask God for the grace to go beyond the essentials of religious practice and the courage to make your faith the foundation of your life.

What does it mean to you to be a disciple of Jesus?

Sunday, July 21, 2019

St Mary Magdalene

"Jesus said to her, 'Mary!' She turned and said to him in Hebrew, 'Rabbouni,' which means Teacher." Jn 20:16

Neither the disciples on the road to Emmaus, nor Mary Magdalene, recognized Jesus immediately after the resurrection. Why this was is not clear. The disciples may have been too angry or hurt by Jesus' death, and Mary's grief may have blinded her. Only after the Lord calls her by name does Mary recognize him.

Most of us have experienced this in everyday life. If we are waiting for someone at an airport or bus station and they don't appear with the other arriving travelers, we find ourselves wondering whether we missed the person for whom we are waiting or whether they are on a different flight. We scan the crowds, ask others if they were on the same flight for bus, and sometimes check to see if they are at other exits. Only when the person calls our name or we see them sitting in a corner of the station do we realize that our anxiety blinded us to the obvious.

It is clear that the gospels want to teach us about the resurrected Jesus through signs and sounds. We have only to quiet ourselves and pay attention to see the risen Jesus among us. Every time we gather for the Eucharist the Lord is among us in the breaking of the bread. Every time we pause to listen to him in prayer, he lives within us. When we open our hearts to hear the word as a call to change, we encounter the Christ who is always active, but when are hearts are troubled or distracted by large or small concerns, we miss the presence of the One who is always looking for us.

Today, remember the times the Lord called you by name.



What concerns most often blind you to the presence of God in the world?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Martha's Bold Faith

"Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?'"

Because she is sometimes sneered at for complaining that her sister Mary is not helping prepare a meal for Jesus, Martha can be easily dismissed as a second class saint, but she deserves our praise and admiration. Because she is straightforward with Jesus, Martha helps free us from treating the Lord like a plastic amulet whose only purpose is to protect us from harm. Honest and direct, Martha reminds us not to be afraid of the Lord, but to pour out our hearts to him like we would to a treasured friend.

In responding to Martha, Jesus teaches his disciples and all those who were following him that he is their hope and their life, and that through him all will be raised up on the last day. For those who accept this message and acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior, Jesus' promise is the foundation of our faith. As Paul reminds us, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." (1 Cor 15:14)

Today, ask Jesus to help you better understand his message of salvation.



Are you able to question and challenge the Lord without fear?

Friday, July 19, 2019

Bruised Reeds

“A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory.”  Mt 12:20

The wonderful Australian writer and vocalist, Monica Brown, has a beautiful chant on her album, Holy Ground, called: In Jesus Name. Reminding us over and over again that Jesus does not break the bruised reed nor quench the wavering flame, she wonders: Cannot we do the same, in Jesus name?

Mary Magdalen is a powerful example of a suffering  woman, a bruised reed, who Jesus heals. Mentioned at least fourteen times in the gospels,  Mary (not the prostitute!) is the one from whom “seven devils went out.”  Grateful for her healing, Mary follows the Lord doggedly, and is the one who rushes to the tomb on Easter morning and hears Jesus say: “Go to my brothers and tell them that, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father.’” Because of this great commission, St. Augustine calls Mary Magdalen the Apostle to the Apostles.

Gratitude for the Lord’s mercy is an essential element in the Christian life, and there are few better than Mary Magdalen in teaching to teach us this.

Today, do not despair in your brokenness, but remember the Lord’s healing power.

Have you known extraordinary healing in your life or in the lives of friends and family?

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Purity of Heart

"Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them." Mt. 12:1

When we feel cornered, we will do almost anything to defend ourselves. It is always easier to attack then defend a weak position. There seems little doubt that those accusing Jesus’ disciples of breaking the Sabbath were really trying to undermine the Lord’s authority.

The Pharisees must have known that David had demanded that his troops be fed even with the bread consecrated for temple use. David knew his men were “pure”, that they had avoided sexual relations, and were therefore worthy of eating the consecrated bread. He reminds the priests that he always demanded purity of his troops when they were on an expedition for the nation. 

In like manner, Jesus is challenging the Pharisees to find some “impurity” in his disciples. After all, the disciples had left everything to follow him and were told often that they should take nothing for their journey except the truth of Jesus’ message so that no one could question their motives. If they were “pure” in their desire to announce God’s Good News even if it meant their persecution, why would the Pharisees accuse of them of breaking the Sabbath?

Today, pray for “purity” of heart in being a disciple.

What are your greatest challenges to living the Gospel simply and transparently?

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

God's Yoke

"My yoke is easy, my burden light." Mt 11:30

All of us have people in our lives who get under our skin.  Almost anything they say makes us defensive and resistive. Though we cannot easily articulate what it is that disturbs us about the other person, it is very real and disabling. Often enough the person who annoys us at every turn is a mirror image of ourselves. If we find ourselves talking too much and not listening carefully enough to others, we resent it when others prattle on and seem not to hear the opinions of others.

On the other hand, it is good to remember that our personality gets under the skin of others. Self reflection can be humbling, but it can also take the edge off our annoyance and calm our spirits. More important, it can be the first step in recognizing and accepting the call to conversion and transformation.

Jesus has a ready answer when we allow our own faults or the foibles of others to bother us unnecessarily. Come to me, he insists, don't be afraid. I will be your guide and protection; I will make your burdens much lighter but you must let me help. Stop trying to figure out what it is about yourself or others that bothers you. It is a waste of time and fruitless. Place my yoke around your shoulders and walk the path to which I direct you. In me, everything is possible.

Today, pray for someone who annoys you.

What is the heaviest burden the Gospel asks you to carry?

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Children Teach Us

“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike."  Mt 11:25

What is it about children that causes Jesus to hold them up as icons? Surely, they are charming and innocent, but there is more. Children live in awe and wonder. They see without blinders. They don't interpret what they see as much as delight in it, and in all of this, they teach us. Unlike the leaders of the Jewish community who are looking for ways to best Jesus, they don't care if he claims to be the Messiah. They only want to be close to him.

It is important not to forget that children, though treasured in the ancient world, had little value in themselves. Until they could work and produce something valuable for their families, they were educated by their mothers and tolerated, but they would not be protected in an emergency. Jesus, as he often did, challenged his own disciples when they tried to keep children away from him because he was an important rabbi.

It should not surprise us that children are naturally contemplative, able to play or work at a project for hours without noticing the time. So fascinated are they by what is right in front of them, they are not easily distracted and teach us how to live fully each day. Jesus' praise for children is well founded and natural when we take time to reflect upon it.

Today, let your spirit be distracted by the awesome beauty of the world.

What most distracts you from living each day with joy and delight?

Monday, July 15, 2019

The All Forgiving God

"But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” Mt 11:24

Most of us are familiar with Abraham's willingness to wager with God in the book of Genesis. Intimate with God, Abraham is unafraid to approach God, even push God, to forget our sins and embrace us anew. Aware that God is thinking about destroying the wicked city of Sodom, Abraham first asks God whether 50 innocent and good people would change God's mind about destroying the city. When God says yes, Abraham keep lowering the number until God is willing to forgive the entire city of Sodom if Abraham can produce 10 good people. 

The God we meet in the book of Genesis is tender, compassionate and merciful but often for reasons of guilt and shame we are unable to accept this God. Thinking we are deserving of punishment and retribution, we resist allowing the God of Genesis to come near us for fear we will have to offer others the same solicitous love God shows us, but God is bigger than our fears. While God wants us to forgive our enemies, God's love is not conditional. As long as we ask for help, God is there, trusting that the reception of this kind of mercy will help us see others as God seems them.

Today, imagine God waiting for you with open arms.

What keeps you from believing in the all forgiving God that Abraham encounters?

Sunday, July 14, 2019

St Bonaventure

"Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple–amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” Mt 10:37

Sometimes, the Gospel is very simple. Feed the hungry. Give a drop of water to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. At other times, the discernment we need to make about how to live the Gospel in the spirit in which it was written, it is not so easy.

St Bonaventure, who some call the second founder of the Franciscan movement, knew this struggle well. Charged with settling the differences between and among Francis' followers especially with regard to their vow of poverty, Bonaventure succeeded where others failed. A theologian, Bonaventure employed Greek philosophy together with the Gospel to intellectually ground the pursuit of God without pretending one could ever fully understand God and God's ways. This wisdom allowed him to bring his great learning to the struggles of the early Franciscans.  Alwasy seeing  the middle way, a path that honored everyone on it, Bonaventure proved to be an inspired leader and healer. Minister General of the friars for seventeen years, he led the Franciscan community to a place of honor and humility by his willingness to stand at the center of every controversy as an agent of peace and good. In a society like the United Statees that is so divided, we are challenged to do the same.

Today, seek peace with someone with whom you disagree.



What most inspires you about St Francis and the Franciscans?

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Good Samaritan

"But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight." Lk 10:33

The story of the good Samaritan is one of the most well known and powerful stories in the Gospels, and for good reason. Samaritans were hated by the Jews. Accused of being syncretists, people who mixed religious traditions for their own self centered purposes, Samaritans also built their own temple to which non observant Jews were welcomed in contradiction to Jewish law.

If some of this sounds familiar, it should. Too many people label others in ways that not only challenge their belief systems, but denigrate their persons, and Jesus will have none of it. The Good Samaritan, he reminds us, not only risks his own life by responding to the fellow who has been robbed, he brings him to an inn so that he can rest and recover from the attack. We know nothing else about this particular Samaritan. Whether he worshiped in the  "false" temple on Mt Gerazim in Samaria and therefore was judged unclean by the Jews was irrelevant. That he stopped and aided someone in need is Jesus' only concern.

Today, help someone in need.

What aspect of the story of the Good Samaritan most moves you?

Friday, July 12, 2019

Believe in your own Worth

“Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows." Mt 10:33

The disciples were drawn to Jesus for many reasons. He spoke to their hearts. He addressed them with dignity. He was a healer and prophet. He spoke with power. But they were also cautious and afraid. When Jesus spoke to and about the Pharisees he was dangerous. Because the Pharisees were able to intercede for them and help them with a meal or clean clothes, the poor were not going to bite the hand that fed them. That is why today’s gospel from Luke is so telling.

No doubt Jesus’ disciples were impressed and hopeful. The prophet they were following was popular and powerful. More important, he was a rabbi who cared about them, but his warning about not being swayed by the leaven of the Pharisees had to make them very anxious. No doubt some moved to the background where they might escape the wrath of the Pharisees if necessary. Jesus’ suggestion that some of them might die as a result of following him was not what they wanted to hear. But others heard him at a deeper level. Rather than retreat, they moved closer to him where there was no reason to be afraid. Since they were worth more than many sparrows, God would protect them, guide them and strengthen them when they were threatened.

Being willing to hear Jesus’ word today is no different. There will be times when we want to fade into the background, afraid that we might lose the little we have. Jesus’ assurance that we should not fear those who can kill the body but not the soul will fall on deaf ears. When we feel threatened it is natural to retreat, but we should resist. Allowing ourselves to feel the fear will help dissipate it. More important, when we ask the Lord to enter the fear with us, we will sense a kind of companionship that is empowering and helpful.

Today, ask God for the faith to believe in your own worth and not to let your fear get in the way of a deeper relationship with the Lord.

Do you believe that God cares about you and all people personally?

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Accepting Sadness

"As soon as Joseph saw his father, he flung himself on his neck and wept a long time in his arm" Gen 46:29

Most of us have done our share of sobbing. When a beloved parent or spouse dies, when a friend moves or turns away from us, when our government or church fails miserably at protecting the most vulnerable, we find ourselves weeping in sadness and fear. Joseph, the youngest son of Jacob sobs so loudly when he encounters his father that everyone hears him.

Sadness is a necessary part of all our lives. Only the loss of something or someone precious allows us to know how blessed our lives are, and how important it is to treasure what we have when we have it. Too often we take for granted our health, our wealth, our family, our faith and our friends, failing to take time each day to be grateful for the simplest but most important aspects of life and faith.

Sadness can also be deceiving. As Longfellow reminds us, we can sometimes think of people as cold when they are only carrying secret sadness, and while we might be tempted to avoid them, they are friends in need of compassion. Joseph could have punished his brothers, but his heart, so full of sadness for so long, was also filled with understanding and tenderness.

Today, don't run away from sadness. Transform it into compassion.

How does faith help us understand and accept sadness?

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

St Benedict, Abbot

“Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves." Mt 10:16

St Benedict, who is widely credited with founding the monastic movement in the Christian West, is a fascinating character. Like John the Baptist and so many others who found greed and all kinds of vice in their societies, Benedict felt like a sheep in the midst of wolves. Knowing he could not live the Gospel in a society that was so lost, he fled to a cave near Mt Subiaco to pray and to grow closer to God, but after three years, when a group of monks asked him to lead them, he left his cave only to be undermined by the monks themselves who objected to his strict rule of life and leadership style.

Soon after returning to the caves, other monks, who were more open to disciplining their lives, came to Benedict for guidance and before long there were so many that Benedict organized them into groups of twelve and wrote his now famous Rule of Life. Emphasizing work and prayer, Benedict's simple directives continue to guide men and women monks and nuns around the world, and can help everyone who is willing to allow the Spirit to direct their lives.

Today, examine your conscience in order to evaluate your lifestyle.



Have you ever been challenged to be as shrewd as a serpent but as simple as a dove?

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Knowing Your Audience

“Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Mt 10:6

The Jesus of Matthew's gospel is clear about his intentions. A Jew who has been sent to the Jews, Jesus wants his disciples to be careful to live the Torah and its Rabbinic interpretations narrowly. They should avoid Samaria altogether in order that every Jew who hears them can trust that they are observant Jews who want only to introduce their hearers to Jesus, the Messiah who God has been promised to his people.

Matthew's perspective makes perfect sense in context. It was important that Jesus' disciples remember their audience while not changing Jesus' message. Luke's gospel, because it was addressed primarily to Gentiles, was not concerned with connecting Jesus' teaching to the Torah. Quoting Jesus warning his first followers to avoid Samaria would make no sense to Gentiles who knew nothing about Palestinian geography or the quarrels among Jews.

How important it is to learn to announce the Good News to the people of the 21st century in a form they can understand. For those who have never lived without a computer or a cell phone, images and metaphors that were helpful to the people of the 20th century make little sense. In order to follow the powerful example of the early church, we need to be more sophisticated about social media, the music they enjoy and how they interact with the world.

Today, live the Gospel in a way that speaks to the those born in the 21st century.

Who or what helps you make sense of your faith?

A

Monday, July 8, 2019

Seeking the Lost

"At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd." Mt 9:36

Sheep are usually considered obedient and passive animals. They travel in flocks and rarely wander off by themselves, but when they do the shepherd seeks them out and directs them back to the flock. The notion that Christ is our Good Shepherd is powerful when viewed through the lens of someone finding us when we are lost, but dangerous if we think we are are called to be asleep or overly compliant in our discipleship.

In an interview with an Argentinian news agency, Pope Francis warned priests not to fall into patterns that reinforce passivity among God's people.
“We priests tend to clericalize the laity.We do not realize it, but it is as if we infect them with our own disease. And the laity — not all, but many — ask us on their knees to clericalize them, because it is more comfortable to be an altar server than the protagonist of a lay path. We cannot fall into that trap —it is a sinful complicity.”(Pope Francis)
Both clergy and laity need to be clear about their goals. Compliance is not a Gospel value. Passion for the Word is, and behaviors that reduce our call to live the Gospel without zeal have no place in an adult Christian's life.

Today, seek out the lost.

What keeps you from living the gospel with passion?

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Embracing the Stranger

'A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak." Mt 9:19

Reading today's Gospel about a woman bleeding for years, I cringed.  Most of Jesus contemporaries 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. Immigrants seem to threaten us, and this fear is sometimes fanned by political rhetoric rooted in ignorance and anxiety about the countries and cultures from which these people come. Because they speak a different language, wear different clothes, eat different foods and practice a different religion, we wonder whether we should admit them to our shores and sometimes even suggest they are criminals out to take advantage of our generosity. But Jesus' response to people's criticism and fear is plain.

"Do not be afraid," he cautions them. Get to know those who differ from you. When trust grows, he assures his listeners, they can build the kingdom of God together.

Today, stretch beyond your comfort zone and meet someone from a different culture or country.

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

Saturday, July 6, 2019

An Abundant Harvest

"The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest." Mt 9:38

What owner of a farm would not want to gather up a rich harvest?  Having spent hundreds of hours, preparing, sowing, weeding and watering, the harvest is a time for farmers to collect the "wages" of their work.  Moreover, because in most cases there are only a few days to accomplish this, farmers rush to gather up what they have sown as soon as the crop is ready.

Nevertheless, some of us are so busy with other matters that we lose sight of our priorities, and fail to respond to fields overflowing with produce. When we do this, our delay can cost us everything. Paying attention to all that God is doing among us is essential for believers. We cannot afford to dwell too long on our diminishment and losses. Though we may have failed to respond fully in the past to Jesus' call to discipleship, the call is repeated today for everyone who has ears to hear and eyes to see.

Today, invite someone to help you spread the Good News.

Who is the most convincing "harvester" you know?

Friday, July 5, 2019

Christ the Bridegroom

“Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?" Mt 9:15

Everyone in the ancient world knew how important weddings were. A time for families and tribes to deepen their bonds with one another, weddings lasted at least a week and the entire time was given over to the celebration of the new couple and the promise their marriage contained for their families, tribes and faith communities. No one would suggest that a wedding feast was a time to fast!  That is why Jesus uses the idea of wedding to help his disciples understand his commitment to them. He was their bridegroom and they were his bride.

Another aspect of weddings at the time of Jesus gives us even more insight. After a man was betrothed to his intended bride, he would leave her and return to his father's house, but before departing he would say, I go to prepare a place for you, the same words Jesus uses to assure his disciples that he would return for them after his death and bring them to the bridal chamber he had prepared for them forever in heaven.

Today, rest in the realization that Christ has betrothed himself to us forever.

What image do you use to help yourself remember Christ's eternal and total love for you?

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Authentic Spiritual Health

“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do." Mt 9:11

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?



Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Fourth of July

"Rise, pick up your stretcher and go home." Mt 9:7

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 paralytic, I cringed. Many at the time of Jesus would have avoided this person all costs, more concerned with their own cleanliness than with the paralytic'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.

Today, on the 4th of July, stretch beyond the platitudes of national pride and meet someone from a different culture or country.



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

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

St Thomas, Apostle

"You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone." Eph 2:19-20

Feeling like a stranger can be very beneficial, especially if we are traveling in a foreign country. Only those with too much chutzpah think they belong everywhere, and Americans are notorious for this. Some American tourists, believing they own the world, hurt and anger people of other countries and cultures. Acting as if they are entitled to anything they want because they can pay for it, the embarrass themselves and their country, often without even knowing it.

Poor people almost never feel this way, but this is not to say they have no pride or sense of themselves. Rather, because their poverty makes them dependent on others, they are slow to judge, demand or condemn. The Jews of Jesus' day were like this. Knowing their country was occupied by the Romans, they walked cautiously through life, anxious not to lose the few privileges they had, and it was their humility that make it easy for Jesus to change their lives.

Although the Lord did not come among us to free us politically, he gives us a much greater gift by inviting us to be a part of his Body as "the household of God." Reminding us that we are built upon the foundations of the Apostles and prophets, Paul assures us the as long as Jesus is our cornerstone, the ground of our faith, it does not matter how rich, important or powerful we are in the world. All that matters is our commitment to be the Christ in the world.

Today, glory in the gift of your relationship with Christ.

How has faith given you a sense of belonging?

Monday, July 1, 2019

Terror and Faith

"They came and woke him, saying, 'Lord, save us! We are perishing!' He said to them, 'Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?'”

Terror comes to all of us. Sometimes we forget that the Apostles were ordinary men hoping the Lord would rescue them from burdensome lives and free their nation from Roman occupation. When Jesus tried to help them see him for who he was, they either turned away or hoped their interpretation of what he was saying was flawed. No one wants to let in the ultimate terror, but that is exactly what Jesus demanded. When the Lord told them that he had to suffer and die, they assured him they would not allow anyone to harm him, not realizing that unless Jesus died they could not be saved. When, moreover, They realized they might have to face the same fate, their fear reached new heights.

Terror endured for the sake of God's reign saves us, and while it is natural to look for another path, we have only to ask God for the strength and integrity to endure and accept whatever will proclaim the coming of God's reign with power and transformation. Our only consolation in all that we must suffer is that the Lord will be at our side and give us resilience to persist through every trial with him as our guide.

Today, ask for the courage to face any terror that comes your way.

What strengths do you have to face the struggles of life as they unfold?

Sunday, June 30, 2019

God Wants to Forgive

"If I find fifty innocent people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake." Gen 18

Most of us are familiar with Abraham's willingness to wager with God in the book of Genesis. Intimate with God, Abraham is unafraid to approach God, even push God, to forget our sins and embrace us anew. Aware that God is thinking about destroying the wicked city of Sodom, Abraham first asks God whether 50 innocent and good people would change God's mind about destroying the city. When God says yes, Abraham keeps lowering the number until God is willing to forgive the entire city of Sodom if Abraham can produce 10 good people. 

The God we meet in the book of Genesis is tender, compassionate and merciful but often for reasons of guilt and shame we are unable to accept this God. Thinking we are deserving of punishment and retribution, we resist allowing the God of Genesis to come near us for fear we will have to offer others the same solicitous love God shows us, but God is bigger than our fears. While God wants us to forgive our enemies, God's love is not conditional. As long as we ask for help, God is there, trusting that the reception of this kind of mercy will help us see others as God seems them.

Today, imagine God waiting for you with open arms.

What keeps you from believing in the all forgiving God that Abraham encounters

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Jesus the Pilgrim

"Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head." Mt 8:19

Jesus continually surprises his disciples. Just as they get comfortable with the direction he is taking, he turns a corner and turns their world upside down. When someone from the crowd, exultant and full of himself, proclaims that he will follow Jesus anywhere, Jesus reminds him that he has no place to lay his head. Is the fellow from the crowd willing to become a nomad and follow Jesus into  the wilderness? What a challenge?

In claiming his identity as a pilgrim and an itinerant preacher, Jesus promises us that like the God of the Hebrew scriptures he will follow his flock anywhere and everywhere. Though he makes few demands, he is always imploring us to live like him, without family or wealth, but full of hope and compassion. God will guide us and care for us, he insists, but we have to trust. The emptiness of having nothing in Christ is a fullness beyond compare. Clinging to nothing, we have everything. The faith to believe this is the test we all face.

Today, empty yourself of everything that gets in the way of loving God and neighbor.

Have you known the glory of feeling rich even when you have nothing?

Friday, June 28, 2019

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?

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

"You are a people sacred to the LORD, your God; he has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people peculiarly his own." Dt 7:6

The feast of the Sacred Heart reminds us that we are embodied, that our faith celebrates not just the salvation of our souls, but our entire person. Like the feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, the feast of the Sacred Heart counters any tendency in the Christian community to forget that God sent his son among us as a fully human person and through him reminded us that God wants to be us with us body and soul forever. How our resurrected bodies might look is not the issue. That we will be with God in our bodies is.

The scriptures are forever reminding us of this, but in a world where so many live in large cities, we can forget the importance of creation, all of which manifests the glory and face of God in marvelous ways. The Canticle of Daniel even reminds creation itself to praise and bless the Lord. Listen:
Sun and moon, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Stars of heaven, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Every shower and dew, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. All you winds, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Fire and heat, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Dew and rain, bless the Lord, praise and exalt him above all forever.
Today's feast calls us to come closer to the heart of Jesus where we will find mercy, consolation and hope. What else could we desire.



Whose loving heart has most formed you in faith?

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Christ our Rock

"But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock." mt 7:25

When Jesus reminds us to build our house on rock, not sand, he invites us to use our  imaginations. Picture a house with four corners each of which is built on a rock, and ask yourself what the rocks of your life are that others see in you.  To do this more simply, ask yourself what your passion is, how you spend your time, who you trust?

Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may be, this reflective exercise almost always reveals some sandy spots.  For some it is an addiction to alcohol or other chemicals that obsess them. Others know this because our behavior, no matter how careful or hidden, gives us away. For others, their rock is success at any price, despite its effects on their family.  For too many, it is blindness to the world as it is, and for a few it is using prayer and religious devotion as an escape. None of these rocks last.  They crumble and our house begins to list and topple. Christ is the house in which we live and Advent is a time to do ordinary maintenance on the foundation.

Today, pick one pillar and work at making it a cornerstone of your life.

What and who have been the rocks upon which your have built your lives?

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

God works through Us

"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 24, 2019

The Narrow Gate

"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 23, 2019

The Nativity of John the Baptist

His mother replied: "He will be called John." But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name." Lk I:59

What's in a name?  In the ancient world, everything. Names were given to children by their fathers to honor his ancestors and elders. Mothers had no role in this ritual, but Elizabeth does. Only when Zechariah writes the name John on a tablet is his "mouth opened and his tongue freed." Clearly, Elizabeth's child John would play an important role in salvation history. John, whose name means God is gracious, would usher in a new order and a new way of being in the world.

Unlike so many, John would have no doubts about his role. He knew he was not the Messiah, despite the desire of so many who accepted his baptism. Rather, his entire life would consist in pointing to Jesus, and announcing the coming of the Messiah. Admitting that he was not worthy to untie Jesus' sandal strap and that he needed to decrease and Christ increase, John becomes a symbol for every Christian.

Our task as believers is not to posture or pretend that we are important, but to be grateful for the name Christian, recognize Christ in every person and prepare others to receive his Good News. Accepting that we are God's children gives every Christian an identity that is empowering forever. We need not have any fear about who we are or what we are to do. Like John, we are to point to Christ as Redeemer and hope for all humankind.

Today, help someone find Christ.

What are the biggest obstacles we face in announcing the Good News?

Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Body and Blood of the Lord

"Do not forget the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt,...and fed you in the desert with manna, a food unknown to your fathers." Dt 8: 14b, 15

Nourishing food is as necessary for the spirit as it is for the body. When we do not have access to good and fresh food, our bodies become more vulnerable to illness and our souls have little to satisfy them. How insightful and natural for Jesus to give himself to us as food that recognizes the importance of our bodies and our souls.

The feast of Corpus Christi further reminds us that we are the Body of Christ, living food for all, and while none of us has to be the entire body, we must cooperate with all the members of Christ's body to help create a world where all eat and all have the freedom to pray and worship. Whether we are called to be an eye, a foot or an ear, each of us has a particular role, and when we live it well, everyone benefits. Corpus Christi is a good day to remember never to take food for granted and to celebrate the great gift of God's invitation to be his body in the world.

Today, be food for someone who is hungry.

Have you had the privilege of feeding others with food and/or faith?