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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Mary, the Mother of God

"The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child." Lk 2:16-17

Every year the church begins the New Year by holding up Mary, the Mother of God, as a model for believers everywhere. Mary, as mother, is first of all present to Jesus, something that is more difficult than it seems. Being present to another does mean we try to fix or help them, but serve them. Like a good waitperson in a restaurant who does not hover or keep asking how your food is, she makes you feel comfortable. His or her only purpose is to help you enjoy your dining experience Mary is like this for Jesus and us.

Servants also know their place. This is not to say they should be willing to be treated poorly or abused, but because they understand their role, they realize and accept that their purpose is to make space for the other, to encourage, empower, "The and highlight anything about the person or country they are serving that is good, admirable and trustworthy.

Christians do well to remember Mary's lessons. When we realize that our primary task is to witness to the truth and transforming power of the Christ, we never have to be center of attention, we listen more than we speak, and we live faith as a verb: an action, and a lifestyle, that invites others to live for others. We do this more naturally and simply when we are grateful for the great gift our our faith and our salvation.

Today, serve someone with joy.

Do you have a special devotion to Mary? Why?

Monday, December 30, 2019

Testifying to the True Light

"He came to testify to the Light." Jn 1:7

Today we have an opportunity to reflect on one of the most accessible images in the entire gospel. The word Light appears almost 100 times in the New Testament. Not only are we encouraged to light a lamp and put it someplace so that others can see, the gospel also calls Jesus the light of the world and reminds us that John the Baptist was the light who prepared the world for Jesus' coming.

Electricity has become so natural and so accessible to life as we know it that we often take it for granted. Recently, I was preaching at a convent that was without electricity for several days. Living without light, especially for the older sisters, was not only difficult, it was dangerous. Not able to see where they were going or get out of their rooms easily, they felt frightened and trapped. When Jesus tells his contemporaries to light a light and put in on a lampstand so that people can see, anyone who has lived without light for a few days knows exactly what he meant.

Today, take a moment to thank God for all those who have been light for you, especially when the dark threatened to overwhelm you.

How can you be a light for others today?

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Facing our Resistances

"Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Jn 2:15

Spiritual directors often speak of "resistances" to God's action in our lives.  Sometimes it is unresolved conflicts from the past that seem to block our submitting ourselves to God.  At other times, it is too much work , too much television or too much time in front of the computer. Part of my work, for instance, demands that I spend time reflecting on the daily scriptures, researching areas with which I am not familiar and actually writing this blog or a homily, but the computer cannot be my life.

Unless we take sufficient quiet time to remember God's enduring presence all around us, what we read, study and write will be like dry straw. Lacking a certain spirit, it will be unable to sustain us or help lift people to God and urge them to live for God and do God's work. Knowing who we are and what our priorities need to be is the foundation of an honest spiritual journey.

Today, ask God to help you recognize your addictions.

How do you manage your resistances and anxieties?

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Holy Innocents

"Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another." Col 3:12

The Holy Family is sometimes held up as a model for all but for the wrong reasons. If we allow ourselves to idealize their life together as one of blissful peace and happiness, we cheat them and ourselves of finding in them a compass for our everyday lives. In fact, the scriptures offer evidence that Jesus regularly confused his parents. He stayed behind in Jerusalem without telling his parents, and initially refused to help the young couple at Cana, who because of poor planning, were running out of wine for their wedding. Mark's gospel goes further and suggests Jesus' family thought he was out of his mind. (3:21). Everything was not sweetness and light!

The Holy Family is important for contemporary Christians when we allow their experience as family to shape our attitudes towards one another and the world. When, as Paul reminds us, we put on compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness, especially towards people in our own families, we witness to the saving work of Christ in and for us and remind all that we are the Body of Christ.

Today, listen in your family twice as much as you speak.

What are the greatest challenges contemporary families face in living the Gospel?

Friday, December 27, 2019

Holy Innocents

"When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under."

Any sane person would keep a distance from a man capable of killing his wife, his brother and the husbands of his sisters. Herod, the king of Judea, was such a person. When the astrologers from the East came to his door, he disingenuously tried to convince them to return to him after they found "the newborn king of the Jews" so that he, too, could worship the child.

No Jew, knowing of Herod's total disregard for anyone or anything that threatened his power, would have believed the King, but Herod was hopeful that the travelers would not know his reputation and bring him information about the new born baby. Anxious to act quickly, it is clear that Herod would not hesitate to murder the child but Joseph, the one who seems always willing to listen to his dreams, takes Jesus and his mother and flees to Egypt. Long a place of Hebrew slavery Egypt would soon become the country from which Jesus, the new Moses, would return to set his people free.

Joseph's dream is intended for all of us. There will be times when we will have to flee those aspects of our society that are dismissive of the poor and needy in order to preserve our faith. When any country, no matter how often it proclaims freedom for all, suggests that unborn children, the poor, the aged and the crippled are expendable, we need to go to a place where we can pray, discern and plan how best to respond as People of the Good News. 

Today, gaze upon a child and praise God.

Who have you known who has been willing to sacrifice everything for their faith? 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

St John, Apostle and Evangelist

"We are writing this so that our joy may be complete." 1 Jn 1:4

Bickering, rigidity and unfettered competition can drain the life out of any community which is precisely what was happening in the community to which St John was writing his first letter. Struggling to understand how Jesus could be both fully God and fully human, some believers dismissed the mystery altogether by proposing that Jesus was not really human but only God in a human disguise.

John takes a different tack. Trying to help the community see that the mystery of the incarnation could never be reduced to words, John encourages them to put aside their disagreements and serve others on behalf of the Gospel.  In this way, he assured them, they would begin to appreciate more deeply the mystery of God's presence in the world as they saw its "truth" living in those they served.

This simple lesson is still true today. There are times that we get stuck inside our heads, especially when we are trying to convince others that our insights and opinions are correct and important. Perhaps if we followed St John's advice to help the needy when we are in turmoil, we might reach a more peaceful place. Care for those most in need often settles our spirits in ways we could never have imagined or articulated and brings us a kind of joy beyond words.

Today serve someone in need. Your joy will be overwhelming.

Has service of those in need ever brought you joy?

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

St Stephen

"Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people...but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke." Acts 6:8,9

The reasons we reject others are many. Sometimes we don't like or trust the person. At other times, their message annoys or upsets us, and unfortunately, there are some who reject others because of race, ethnicity, culture or sexual orientation. Although most of us have been raised with the bromide, Don't judge a book by its cover, we all have our prejudices.

Stephen was rejected simply because he was preaching the salvation of Jesus Christ, a message that frightened traditional religious types who used their power to control others' lives. When Stephen's wisdom and spirit began to sway people towards Christ and away from the synagogue, his fate was sealed. Some scholars believe that Stephen had attended and worshiped at the synagogue in which he was preaching, making his sin even greater. To draw others away from the Talmud was bad enough but to do it to one's neighbors and friends was a much worse offense.

Putting Stephen's feast on the day after Christmas is no accident. The church wants believers to know there is a cost to following the babe of Bethlehem. The joy we feel at Christmas must be tempered by the challenge of every day faith, and though Stephen's witness leads to his death, he dies with gratitude and hope.

Today, be grateful for those who live and speak our faith with power no matter the cost.

Have you ever been attacked or rejected because of your religious faith?

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas

"She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Mt 1:21

For most believers, Christmas is a delight, a wondrous celebration of faith and family, but for some, Christmas is a terrible burden. Because expectations for Christmas are so great, we can try too hard to please God and others, and get in the way of God's plan. Only when we learn to slow down, listen, and respond rather than react to every situation, can we hope to know and live God's plan for us and the people we love.

When we take a few moments to reflect on the first Christmas, we realize both Mary and Joseph had to stay very centered as they traveled and waited for the birth of Jesus. Away from their families and without the security of a place to stay, they had to rely on a kind inn owner to find them a place for their child to be born. While the insecurity must have been very trying for them, they endured. Strengthened by Mary's yes to the angel, and Joseph's dream, they trusted that God would lead them where they needed to be to fulfill Jesus' destiny.

Today, give God permission to lead you.

What hurdles must you cross to celebrate Christmas with joy?

Monday, December 23, 2019

Zechariah's Freedom Song

"Zechariah, (John the Baptist's) father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying: 'Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free.'" Lk 1:67

What a joy it must have been for Zechariah to announce that God had set his people free. In exile often, the Jewish people yearned for a military solution to the Roman problem. Invaded by Caesar's armies, Israel had little control of the land God had given to them, and they hated it. Zechariah's prophesy would have filled them with hope.

God's willingness to rescue his people is a constant theme in the Hebrew bible. No matter how often the chosen people turn away from his rule, God's mercy trumps his anger and God welcomes the Jewish people into his heart. Our biggest concern should be not taking God's goodness for granted. Rather, our gratitude for God's graciousness ought to be a sign to the world of our Gospel commitment.

It is important to speak our faith, especially on behalf of the voiceless and people in exile: immigrants, refugees and people living in shelters. When a society and a church ignore or turn away from those most in need, we deny God's concern for those who are lost and open ourselves to the criticism that faith is a crutch upon which we lean, not a dynamic and inclusive lifestyle that sees all people as brothers and sisters.

Today, say something on behalf of the needy.

What most inhibits your willingness to speak up on behalf of the voiceless?





Sunday, December 22, 2019

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, and 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, December 21, 2019

What do you want for Christmas?

The LORD spoke to Ahaz: Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!'”
Is 7: 10-11

Not infrequently we hear friends say, "Be careful what you wish for." Warning us that we may not like the consequences of a wish fulfilled, they seem to be cautioning us not to pray, dream or imagine a different future, but to be stoic and satisfied with life as it unfolds. While this might be a subtle way for friends to alert us to be careful about a new or dangerous relationship, it can also be awful advice. Not to ask for help means we think of ourselves as totally independent even though the Gospel urges us to live as one body and to be interdependent.

King Ahaz had his own plans for the world and while he seems to take a humble posture before God, it is a ruse. Ahaz doesn't want to listen to God, Isaiah or anyone else and he will pay for it. As Christmas nears we might ask ourselves about our own intentions. How would we feel if we received no gifts at all? More essentially, what do we really want from God at Christmas? A good feeling kneeling before the crib? Our children and grandchildren to go to Mass? Do we really want God to start all over with us and the world? And do we want to be instruments of Good (but sometimes hard) News?

Today, listen to God in silence for five minutes.



What are your most fervent prayers?

Friday, December 20, 2019

Mary's Journey to Visit Elizabeth

"Hark! my lover–here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills. My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag." Sg 2:8

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

The notion that the spiritual life is a journey is an important one in the Judeo Christian tradition. Believers are always on the way and reaching for something else. So is God. God seeks us out. God desires us, and in the Song of Songs the writer wants us to imagine God as a romantic lover who will leap mountains in order to be with us. God wants us to believe that winter's cold and darkness is over because the light has come into the world.

Mary learns the lesson of pilgrimage early. Almost as soon as she says yes to being the mother of the Messiah, she leaves her home and travels to be with Elizabeth, and her visit is not a drop in but a three month stay. What she will learn about Elizabeth and herself will shape her life and ours. Though we can only guess what happens in Mary's heart as Jesus grows in wisdom and age, we know that she was always near him, sometimes correcting, at other times consoling, but never abandoning her son despite the terrible personal cost.

If God is always seeking us and surrounding us with love, why should we be afraid? Mary's fear faded fast when she allowed the the Spirit to enter her. So should ours, and in the end, as long as we do not turn away from the journey, we have nothing to fear.

Today, take one step towards God and see how God responds.

What parts of your journey have most filled you with joy?

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Have no Fear, Mary

“"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.' But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.'" Lk 1 29-20


When the unexpected comes, it often unnerves us. News of a close friend's sudden death or the failure of a marriage we admired leaves us speechless and wondering what happened. In our busyness did we miss something important? Were we too self absorbed to notice the struggles others were having? 

The evangelist Luke paints a picture of Mary that emphasizes both her fear and her faith, a stance that encourages us not to be afraid of the unexpected, but to acknowledge our fear and pray for faith at the same time. Responding to God at times of crisis is made more possible when we develop a spiritual life on a daily basis. Praying and reflecting about God's life among us in word and sacrament, and celebrating and serving those forgotten or ignored makes is possible to prepare ourselves for life as it comes. If we want to have Mary's honesty and humility, we must practice our faith every day.

Today, listen for the voice of God embedded in every thing you do and everyone you meet.

What about Mary's life calls you to live your faith more deeply?

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Barreness

"There was a certain man from Zorah, of the clan of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren and had borne no children." Judges 2:7

Barrenness is a particularly difficult burden to bear, and in the ancient world it was often seen as a punishment for sin. Both the wife of Zorah, the father of Samson, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist were barren, and we can only imagine the pain they felt. No doubt both women were familiar with the words of Jeremiah who tells us that Rachel wept inconsolably because she was barren. For Jewish women not to have children meant they had no identity, no value, and no blessing from God.  Zorah's wife in today's passage from Judges isn't even named. How great then the joy of both women when, in their old age, God blesses them with children whose role in salvation history will forever help believers to appreciate the greatness of God who blesses us when we least expect it.

In these last days of Advent, the same is true of us.  Our roles in the ongoing story of God's love for the world, while sometimes muddy and confusing, are radically important to God.  God wants to speak through us, to announce good news, not only through the strengths and gifts we each have, but through our willingness to endure weakness and suffering for the sake of building God's reign.

Today ask God to "fertilize" your heart, which so often seems barren, with the the hope only God can give.

Do you know what it is to be barren?

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Waking up to Truth

"When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home." Mt 1:24a

There are many ways to wake up. Sometimes, it is simple. Our bodies tell us to pay attention. We have a headache that will not go away or we discover a skin growth that looks strange. Our bodies are telling us to pay attention and take action. At other times, especially when we take time to relax and reflect, an idea that has been percolating in our minds and hearts, takes shape. We read about AIDS in Africa or the plight of refugee children in Syria, and we start searching the Internet for places and organizations that are addressing these vital concerns. Waking up to the challenge of acting on the Gospel is important for our own salvation and the good of others.

Joseph, the husband of Mary, troubled by his young wife's pregnancy, wakes up. Not wanting her to be stoned, he decides to divorce her quietly. In this way, Mary will have other chances to marry and build a family. But then Joseph has a dream and when he wakes up, he knows that God wants him to marry Mary despite his misgivings. That he listens and acts upon the message he receives is critical for Joseph's salvation and ours.

Waking up to the immensity of God's love for us, while sometimes very challenging, is a gift that keeps on giving. Not only does it empower us  personally to live more freely and gratefully, it urges us to tell others the Good News of God's desire to love them more deeply an totally.

Today when you wake up, pause and let God speak a liberating word to you.

Have there been moments in your life that changed the course of your faith?

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Cost of Discipleship

"Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever." Ps 72:3

It is clear in the Catholic tradition that there can be no lasting peace without justice, and no matter how often we proclaim this important truth, we forget it ourselves and fail to convince others. Why? Because doing justice is hard work.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the theologian and holocaust victim, reminded us often in The Cost of Discipleship, that living the Gospel demands sacrifice and surrender to God's plan for humankind, and this is never easy. Listen. "Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ."

In Bonhoeffer's case the cost of discipleship meant letting go of his family and the new love of his life, Maria von Redemeyer. A confirmed bachelor most of his life, Bonhoeffer fell in love in his mid thirties and the love he experienced was intense. In his Letters and Papers from Prison, he writes to Maria about the terrible duty he has to speak the truth, defend the Jews and oppose Hitler and the Nazis. Apologizing to her, he assures her that their love would be empty if he failed to live the Gospel with integrity.

It is important for every believer to pray for the courage to be a disciple no matter the circumstances or the cost of living the Gospel. Every great gift demands sacrifice. We should never be surprised by faith's challenges.

Today, pray to be free to live the Gospel without fear.

Have you ever experienced the cost of discipleship?


Sunday, December 15, 2019

Prepare the way of the Lord

"I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals." Lk 3:16

Knowing who you are and to whom you belong is a foundational first step on the road to spiritual health.  Every adult believer has struggled mightily at times with their identity as Christians and Catholics. Sometimes it is a particular issue that leaves us full of doubt. These days the sexual abuse of children by clergy has left American Catholics enraged, sad and confused. Was every bishop and priest complicit? Did all bishops and priests look the other way or refuse to acknowledge what they were seeing?

It is at times like this that John the Baptist becomes a good patron saint.  John knows who he is and does not try to be someone else. He knows that his job is to prepare the way for the Messiah, and he is determined to do it with integrity and total commitment. That he might upset those in charge does not bother him. If we remember that we are disciples with a mission,  God will give us the faith to live with the questions and burdens which have no easy answers. That God is with us in the middle of the doubt, fear and anger is the promise upon which we rely.  God is here. God lives within us and among us. God is enough.

Today, ask God to help you live with the questions you face.

How do you respond when friends or family are struggling with their faith?

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Seeing with God's Eyes

"Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared." Is 35:6

Seeing is a wonderful gift, one we can easily take for granted. Only an injury to the eye, even a slight one, makes us sit up and take notice. That we can see and appreciate the beauty of all creation is remarkable, and while it seems simple it really is very complex. So many parts of our body have to work together for us to see, and Jesus uses this very basic faculty to teach us about sensing beyond what our eyes and ears and brain working together offer us.

Some of the Jewish leaders, who could have worked with Jesus to proclaim God's reign, did not want to see, hear or admit that Jesus had remarkable powers and insight, that he understood and interpreted the Torah in a way that freed people to live the Law more fully and deeply. Because they feared their power was being challenged and undermined, they chose to be blind and confronted Jesus at every turn but were never able to dissuade or distract ordinary people from acknowledging what they experienced.  We all need to learn that seeing with the mind and heart is as important as seeing with our eyes alone, otherwise we will miss the transforming power of the Gospel.

Today, open your eyes slowly and look around at the glory of God's creation.



Have you had an experience that helped you see God's action in your life more clearly?

Friday, December 13, 2019

St John of the Cross

"The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness." Ps 145.1

St John of the Cross was a very young man when St Teresa of Avila saw qualities in him he could never have seen himself. Bright and insightful, an artist and song writer, above all John was drawn to the mystical path in the spiritual life and was not afraid of the dark night to which he was called. Teresa knew John was different and although she was thirty years older than John, she wrote, "He was so good that I, at least, could have learned much more from him than he from me."

John of the Cross was destined to be like Elijah the prophet, a fire and a flaming furnace of God's love. When he died at 49 he had helped found, despite enormous opposition from his own Carmelite brothers, many monasteries of discalced Carmelites who led an intense life of prayer and penance while also being hugely effective apostolic ministers, writers and preachers. The poet, Jessica Powers, shortly before she entered the Carmelites herself, wrote of John's books:
Out of what door that came ajar in heaven
       drifted this starry manna down to me,
       to the dilated mouth both hunger given
       and all satiety?
       Who bore at midnight to my very dwelling
       the gift of this imperishable food?
       my famished spirit with its fragrance filling,
       its savor certitude.
       The mind and heart ask, and the soul replies
       what store is heaped on these bare shelves of mine?
       The crumbs of the immortal delicacies
       fall with precise design.
       Mercy grows tall with the least heart enlightened,
       and I, so long a fosterling of night,
       here feast upon immeasurably sweetened
       wafers of light.
Today, ask God to let you see with God's own eyes.

What keeps you from a more intense prayer life?



Thursday, December 12, 2019

St Lucy

They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles' wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint." Is 40:3

Sometimes the church is accused of exalting virginity as a virtue and forgetting that marriage is a sacrament that celebrates human and sexual intimacy as spiritual practices. While an overemphasis on celibacy can happen, it does not have to be this way. St. Lucy, about whom we know little except that she refused to renounce her faith when a fellow she refused to marry "accused" her of being a Christian, is a good example.

Chastity was not just a personal virtue for Lucy but a social one. When she opted for celibacy rather than marriage, she renounced pleasure as an end in itself and proclaimed a God whose love promises us happiness forever, not just in this life.

Lucy's determination to to give herself totally to God in imitation of Jesus has profound implications for our life today. No doubt Lucy had to endure the taunts of young friends who thought her foolish to renounce marriage for faith, but Lucy knew what she was doing. The culture around her in 4th century was dotted with 40 room villas that exalted pleasure for itself. That Lucy rejected this life and lifestyle challenges us still at the beginning of the 21st century when our own country is sprinkled with 40 room McMansions, replete 10 baths for a family of four. Maybe Lucy wasn't so crazy after all.

Today, take a moment to reflect on your own values in a over sized culture that exalts wealth for its own sake.

What woman do you most admire and why?

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Our Lady of Guadalupe

A careful, meditation on the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is very revealing. Mary appears as a shy, pregnant, peasant woman with bare feet.  Her hands are folded in petition like ours would be in the presence of God and an angel holds her up as an icon of devotion.

Every time I look at this image I think of the hundreds of young women I have met in the developing world. Often too timid to look in your eye, they speak softly and always with respect. More important, they answer questions directly and with few words. These women amaze me not only because many of them have good educations and have contributed to their communities with great generosity, but because they do everything without drawing attention to themselves. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a woman from the developing world who identifies totally with those she has come to address and lift up, but she also challenges us not to take ourselves too seriously. She is a disciple of her own son and as such reminds us to follow him with humility and passion. Together, her image suggests, we are held up by angels, making our cause great and our voice important.

Today, walk humbly before the Lord and ask for guidance.

Has a quiet, unselfconscious woman ever touched your heart?

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Come to the Lord

"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?

Monday, December 9, 2019

Comfort My People

"Comfort, give comfort to my people." Is 40:1

Prophets are fascinating people. Like all good leaders they warn us about dangerous paths we might be taking or reprove us when we fail to live up to our values, but they can also be incredibly gentle and consoling. The 40th chapter of Isaiah is like this.

When the Jewish nation was in exile. many forgot who they were and to whom they belonged.  Others found ways to compromise with their captors as a way of staying alive, but were neglecting their religious obligations. Isaiah knew all this and decided that honey works much better than vinegar when people are lost and in pain.  Isaiah reminds his listeners that soon they will be home, among their friends and families and will be free to worship in Jerusalem. Don't worry, he seems to be saying, God is near and, "Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care."

Advent's scriptures are often like spiritual comfort food for me. Just as a big bowl of coffee ice cream can transport me back to childhood vacations with my family in Westport, Ma, Advent fills me with warmth and hope. As life was once simple and rich, so it will be again.  As we prepare to celebrate the Lord's birth, we are reminded that Christmas is not about the gifts we give and receive, but the incredible promise of God not to leave us orphans nor abandon us when we are in exile.

Today, comfort someone who seems lost.

What or who helps you remember the comforting power of God?

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Immaculate Conception

"The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it." Gen 3:13

Why do we blame others so easily when we are embarrassed or ashamed?  Uncomfortable and confused, we try to get out from under the microscope to bargain for time and examine why exactly we do this. Of course, there are any number of answers, all of which can teach us about ourselves, but at root we look for scapegoats in order to escape the consequences of our actions.

Countries and churches do this as well. Our own Catholic church was guilty of this fault when the sexual abuse scandal first surfaced. We blamed psychologists and psychiatrists who gave our leaders bad advice when they suggested abusing priests could safely return to ministry. We deflected attention from ourselves by reminding everyone that the worst sexual abuse offenders were family members, not priests, which is, of course, beside the point.

Honestly facing our failures and sins is made much easier when we have Mary, the Immaculate Conception, as our intercessor. This feast celebrates that Mary, without from sin from the first moment of her conception, is always free to pay undivided attention to us, her children. Free of self absorption, she reaches out for all those who look to deny their sin or turn away from their guilt, by inviting us to honesty and integrity, to admit our wrongs, and reach out in compassion for others.

Today, acknowledge one sin and ask for the grace to face its consequences.

How do you practice honesty and integrity in your life?

Saturday, December 7, 2019

New Shoots of Hope

"A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse." Is 11:1

When Isaiah promises that a new shoot will come from the stump of Jesse, he reminds all believers that God can make something extraordinary from nothing. At the same time, the prophet is not speaking about a miracle in a classic sense. Rather,  Isaiah wants us to remember what happens often in the natural world. There are trees with so much inner life that even when they seem dead, we can take one of their broken branches, stick it in the ground, water it often and before long  it takes root and becomes a young  tree.

Clearly, a branch of Jesse’s tree, even when it seems dead and lifeless after its exile in Babylon, is stronger than we think. God will plant it again so that his faithful followers might have life and believe in his promises.

The challenge to believe that God wants to do something great and new in us, even when we are tired and feeling ragged, is uplifting. God’s love is enduring and, like a broken  branch, stronger than we can imagine. We have only to plant and water it and it will take us to Christmas.

Plant a good deed in someone’s heart and let God do the rest.

Are there “miracles” in nature that remind you of God’s love?

Friday, December 6, 2019

St Ambrose

"No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: 'This is the way; walk in it.'” Is 30 20-21

St Ambrose is one of those fascinating characters who populated the early church. Known for his keen political sense and theological caution, he tried to act as mediator in Milan when it was divided between its Arian proponents and the hierarchy of the Catholic church.

Arius proposed that Jesus, because he was created by God the Father, was less than the Father, and Catholics argued that Father, Son and Spirit although distinct persons, were one God, coequal and coeternal. The battle became fierce and when Ambrose tried to help the two sides reconcile, the people, not wanting bloodshed, called for him to be bishop.

Ambrose reacted strongly. Not yet baptized, he wanted no part of the church hierarchy. Only after the Emperor Gratian encouraged him to accept the call to leadership did he seek baptism and ordination, becoming one of the most important figures in the early church. Learned in philosophy and rhetoric, Ambrose impressed St Augustine with his oratory and insight. More important, he was unafraid to confront those, even emperors, who ignored the Gospel while claiming to be Christian.

Today, be a reconciler.

Who do you most admire for their wisdom and savvy?

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Responding to the Blind

"When he entered the house, the blind men approached him and Jesus said to them, 'Do you believe that I can do this?' 'Yes, Lord,' they said to him." Mt 8 28-29

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God speaks of helping the blind to see. Isaiah promises, even when the Jewish people are in exile, that they will see their homeland again and Jesus, after asking two blind men whether they believe he can help them see, cures them. But we need to be careful when reading these passages.

Jesus is asking the blind men and us bigger questions. He is not simply willing to restore their sight, he wants them and us to promise that we will treasure the gift of sight and use it to be present to and help others. Seeing is a much more demanding duty than looking around and going back to our daily tasks. It demands engagement. When we see the earth being abused or people not eating, our eyes are telling us to act and if we do not accept this Gospel challenge then we are not really seeing at all.

Today, ask God to open your eyes to life as it is and as it unfolds for all God's people.

Who has challenged you not simply to notice or look upon the needy, but to reach out and help them personally and structurally? 

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Houses built on Rock

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

Sometimes we get confused about who or what our rock is.  Too often we rely exclusively on our knowledge, insight, wealth or experience as guides, and while all these tools are important and helpful, they cannot be our rock.  For a Christian there is only one Rock, the Christ of God, the one who was promised from the beginning, who came among us in human form and who continues to guide and direct us.  The Christ, our Messiah, is the fullness of God's love and the new Covenant. Keeping the memory of Christ's love fresh is a daily challenge.

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, December 3, 2019

Asking God for Food

"The all ate and were satisfied." Mk 6:43

Knowing who you are and to whom you belong is a foundational first step on the road to spiritual health.  Every adult believer has struggled mightily at times with their identity as Christians and Catholics. Sometimes it is a particular belief or practice that makes us uncomfortable or leaves us full of doubt, and this is especially true when we are struggling with other issues in our life. When a marriage collapses or a parent nears death, we can wrestle with the teaching of the church or its beliefs and practices. Why can't I remarry, some ask?  Doesn't God want me to be happy? Or why is my mother suffering so?  Doesn't God care?

It is at times like this that that we need to remember that God wants to feed us,  but we must present ourselves to him as hungry.  When we are able to remember that God is in love with us, and is our companion through every dark forest or imposing mountain climb, we are able to put aside the particular stumbling blocks along the way and eat the food he offers us.

If we remember that to ask God for help everyday, not just when we are need, God will give us the faith to live with the questions and burdens which have no easy answer. That God is with us in the middle of the doubt, fear and anger is the promise upon which we rely.  God is here. God lives within us and among us. God is enough.

Today, ask God to help you live with the questions you face.

What does it take for you to be satisfied?

Monday, December 2, 2019

St Francis Xavier

"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

St Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Jesuits along with St. Ignatius Loyola, was the among the first Jesuit missionaries. With his mind and spirit focused on going to China, Francis left Italy without language skills or money. Despite these difficulties, Francis kept his eye on the prize and at every stop along the way preached the gospel, baptizing thousands in India and Japan. That he never realized his dream of preaching the gospel to the Chinese seems insignificant now. He did God's will and that is all that matters.

Francis Xavier is a powerful reminder of what we can become when we place our total trust in God and let God do God's work wherever we are sent. None of us walks the pilgrim path of faith without obstacles. St. Augustine reminds us that we are like pieces of pottery, shaped by instruction and fired by tribulation, and should never fear the kiln. Rather, he encourages us to focus on what God is making of us while we are being tried by fire. (Augustine sermon)

Today, ask God to tell you where you ought to go to proclaim the gospel.

What are your strengths when trials come?

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Authentic Humility

"Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed." Mt 8:7

Most humble people have been humbled. Born into wealth or privilege, circumstances conspired against them and they lost everything. The proud complain or curse God; the humble realize that everything they had was a gift and not something they earned or deserved. The proud do almost anything to reclaim what they believe is theirs by divine right. The humble echo the Japanese proverb: When my house burned down, I could finally see the sunrise.

Remarkably, the centurion in the today's Gospel is not asking Jesus to help him but to heal his servant, and Jesus, obviously moved, is willing to respond to the centurion's request. But the centurion becomes an icon of humility for the ages when he acknowledges Jesus' power to heal without touch or physical presence. Not wanting Jesus to risk the condemnation of the rabbis for entering his house, the centurion asks Jesus only to speak a word of healing.

Today, be grateful for all of life no matter how humbling.

What keeps you from humbly acknowledging your weaknesses?


Saturday, November 30, 2019

First Sunday of Advent

"No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him. Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!" Is 64:3

Sometimes we watch too closely, pay attention to too many details and get ourselves in trouble.  Not only to do we miss the forest for the trees, we get increasingly anxious about things we can’t control.  Parents sending their children to school for the first time often do this, and it can happen to me when trying to o help a friend work his way through a troubling or difficult personal situation.  Both situations, while understandable and for some unavoidable, remind us of something wise people have said for a long time: Look but don’t stare.

The prophet Isaiah asks God not to stare at his people and punish them. Rather, the Prophet suggests that God could have been more forceful in helping the Israelites remain faithful to the covenant. “Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” I can only imagine God smiling at Isaiah's intervention.

But Isaiah doesn't give up. Rather, while acknowledging the sins of the people, and admitting that they deserve condemnation, he also reminds God that God is the potter and the people are the clay.  Surely, God must know that no potter ever discards her clay.  Rather, she reworks it and shapes it into something new.  That is what Advent is all about, asking God to reshape and mold us into heralds of the Great King.

Today, imitate God by looking at yourself and others without staring.

What situations cause you to obsess about matters you cannot control?

Friday, November 29, 2019

St Andrew, Apostle

"For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved." Rom 10:9

Salvation, Paul reminds us, is more than simple belief in God. We must tell others about God's goodness to all of humankind. We must announce the graciousness of God with power and conviction. St Andrew did this so intently that he was martyred for his faith.


Peter's brother, Andrew hears the invitation of Jesus to follow him and does not hesitate. He leaves everything to be a disciple of the Lord. Even when he was being martyred he asked to be crucified on an X shaped cross because he did not think he was worthy of being crucified in the same way Jesus was.

When we learn to speak honestly, courageously and naturally about the great gift of our faith, our discipleship is deepened and our witness becomes more powerful.

Today, Confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.

What are your biggest hurdles on the road to salvati

Thursday, November 28, 2019

God's Word will not Pass Away

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Lk 21:33

Not infrequently, even after 50 years of preaching God's word, I will stumble upon a scripture passage that strikes me in a new an powerful way. Even though I have read the passage many times, a word or a phrase that I did not focus on or sit with jumps off the page and challenges me to pause, to read it again, and be grateful.

Recently, preparing for a funeral, I read the words, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest, says the Lord." Jesus does not promise us freedom from grief and an instant healing, he only promises us a moment of rest. We need to hear this and be grateful. Jesus does not pluck us out of life as it unfolds, but walks with us through every trial and joy. Is that enough?

Today, offer someone a moment of rest by listening to them without interruption.

Who has made a space for you that allowed you to rest and reflect?

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Thanksgiving Day

"Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?" Lk 17:18

The feast of Thanksgiving is a time to return to the God who has so often healed us, to pause and remember all those who God has given us as companions in faith, who have accepted our faults and lifted up our strengths.  Honestly, if any of us began to name all of these people today, the list would stretch around the world. Today let us sing alleluia for friends and enemies who showed us God's face even when we were distracted by self absorption or lost in self pity.

We also thank God today for allowing us to play a small role in the healing of others.  Broken families, shattered marriages, lonely teenagers, desperate older people and the mentally ill, to name just a few, have all been given to us as gifts. Today we thank God especially for never thinking that the healing relationships we have been privileged to share with the lost have been our doing.  Most of the time the only thing we had to give others was time itself, and to our surprise, that was more than enough.  Though most of us could never have imagined the path God would set us upon, today we acknowledge that all is grace, all is gratitude, and all is rooted in the unconditional love of God because, in truth: Those we have served have given us more than we could ever give them.

Today, find a quiet place to breathe in gratitude for all God has given you and breathe out hope to those who find life an overwhelming burden.

Who or what forces you to your needs in gratitude?

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Spirit as Guide

"Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking." Lk 21:14

Jesus makes a pretty big promise to his disciples, assuring them, even though they lack education or in many cases the ability to read of write, that the Holy Spirit will teach them what to say. While this might be the occasion for some of us to think we don't have to prepare a homily or a presentation on faith, there is no basis for this kind of thinking. Jesus is referring to those times when we are attacked unexpectedly and without provocation, not to the ordinary diligence we need to use to present our faith clearly and with passion.

Rather, the Lord wants us to trust in the Spirit of God to guide, direct, and challenge us everyday, and to realize that this is an essential dimension of our faith and its practice. Without this trust, we can only rely on ourselves or expert opinion, and no matter how knowledgeable we or our advisors might be, our insight will be insufficient.

Today, consciously commit yourself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Have you experienced the Holy Spirit's strength and direction in your life?

Monday, November 25, 2019

Trust in the Lord

"See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he,' and 'The time has come.' Do not follow them!" Lk 21:7

When we are in dark or difficult circumstances, we often look for almost anything or anyone to distract us. We watch too much television or waste time on the computer, hoping for some respite from the ache we feel inside. All of this is natural and understandable, but spiritually unhealthy.

The people portrayed as following Jesus in the gospels might also be falling into this trap.  Like people everywhere who have lost their jobs or cannot make sense our of their family's life, they look to Jesus for an escape.

Authentic hope is not rooted in the avoidance of the feelings that can torment us when we are in crisis, but in the letting go of our struggles so that we can know the Lord more deeply and trust in his wisdom more completely. God has promised to be with us in the dark as well as the light, and it is our response to Gods' commitment that can make all the difference.

Today, enter a dark corner of your life and look for God.



What do you do when your life is falling apart?

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Widows as Disciples

"I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood." Lk 21:4

There are two things in today’s gospel that move me and remind me that the gospel is about transformation, not just information. No doubt I have said this before, but I often worry that Catholics don’t think of themselves as disciples. Discipleship, they say, is too high an honor, and with a false sense of humility, suggest that they do not deserve such a title. Nothing could be further from the truth. We don't deserve or gain discipleship. It is a free gift from God who has called all of us to discipleship through baptism. We are to speak and live the good news with integrity, honesty and conviction. Jesus’ response to the widowed mother in today's gospel is a perfect example for us to follow. 

Widows were in real danger in the world of Jesus. They rarely owned property, were often illiterate and had to rely on their eldest son for sustenance and a place to live. The widow in today's Gospel ignores these dangers. More intent on giving God her whole self, she offers everything she has to the Temple and God. Her generosity never fails to impress us. I wonder if anyone at the time, besides Jesus, even noticed.

There are so many people in our world who follow the Gospel not to be noticed but to give God all they have. Their example of selflessness challenges us not to worry so much about our security, but to trust that God will never abandon us even when we have nothing.

Today, give someone of your substance and do not count the cost.

What keeps you from being more generous with your time or resources?

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Christ the King

"Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent." Col 1:18

Although we can and often do turn away from God and the covenant God made with us in Jesus, God cannot and will not renege on his promise to be with and guide us always. Paul is clear about this. The Apostle to the Gentiles acknowledges that although the Jews were often disobedient, abandoned the law and worshiped false Gods, God was and remains merciful to them and us. Paul wants his Gentile listeners to know this and be comforted. The God who has come to us in Jesus is proof of this. The new and eternal covenant, Jesus is the incarnation of God's promise, a gift we can reject but which will never be withdrawn.

The challenge of God's promise is demanding. Made in God's image, the only way we can demonstrate to others and especially to our enemies that God's love lives in us is to love everyone no matter how often our love is rejected to ridiculed. If God is forever faithful so too must we be faithful. This is not to say we should or must allow ourselves to be abused. Rather, while we ought to withdraw quietly from any situation that allows another to strip us of our good name or reduce to an object of their wrath, we must stand ready to reconcile with our oppressors for the sake of the Gospel.

Today, enjoy God's everlasting love.

What must you let go of in order to love like God?

Friday, November 22, 2019

Silly Arguments

"Teacher, Moses wrote for us, If someone's brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother." Lk 20:27

When the Sadducees, who denied the Resurrection, tried to trap Jesus in a silly argument about which of a woman's seven husbands would be her husband in the afterlife, Jesus refuses to take the bait. The Sadducees are stuck trying to be right and use logic to reinforce their argument, but Jesus insists that the after life is not about marrying or giving in marriage, but in accepting the gift of living with God forever. Failing to appreciate this free gift of God, the Sadducees walked away thinking they won the argument while the crowd who listened to Jesus drew even closer to him.

Not infrequently, we are like the Sadducees. Insisting that we are right in an argument in order to win, we jeopardize our relationship with both friends and foes, making it very difficult to find common ground in the next go round. Without a relationship, even simple conversations become problematic and awkward. and that is what happens to the Sadducees. Embarrassed and confused by Jesus they look for other opportunities to prove their point and lose any chance to hear the transforming word of God. Unless we listen to the Lord with an open spirit, the same can happen to us.

Today, ask God for the gift of listening with an open heart.

When has your pride interfered with your ability to hear the truth?

Thursday, November 21, 2019

St Cecilia

"Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full." Ps 17

St Cecilia, whose feast we celebrate today, is almost always portrayed with a musical instrument in her hands. Sometimes it is a viola or a flute; at other times she is seated at an organ, all because she is said to have heard beautiful music when she was forced to marry a pagan. Amazing really.  From a simple incident without a firm historical foundation, Cecilia is honored as the patron of liturgical music. Clearly, it is not Cecilia's demonstrated holiness that keeps her memory alive, although I have no doubt she was deeply committed to God, but the power of music that fills us with hope and joy, and helps deepen the faith that is the ground of our lives.

Perhaps Henry David Thoreau said it best. "When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest." Music not only reminds us how important our bodies and senses are in an incarnational spirituality, it helps us to express a love that is beyond words. 

Today, take a moment to celebrate all those music ministers who remind us with St Augustine that we pray twice when we sing. 

Does music help you pray?

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Presentation of Mary

Although there is no historical evidence that Mary was presented by her parents for Temple service when she was only three years old, the feast of the Presentation of Mary has deep roots in the Eastern church. Desirous of helping the faithful understand that even as a child Mary was dedicated to God, the church tells us that Mary spent nine years in the Temple before she was promised to Joseph, and readied herself to become the Theotokos, the Mother of God.

Image result for presentation of mary

There is a powerful message in Mary's presentation, and the art that emerged to help us understand this mystery is heart rending. How could a couple who had been childless let go of their daughter at such a young age? Would God this of them or anyone? When we see Anne's face in the depiction of the event we wonder what it must have been like for her see Mary walk into the temple. Did she worry, fret, wonder what might be next for her? While there are no answers to these questions, one truth emerges. God will always be near. No matter what we might have to suffer, God will be our companion. St Anne knew this. Mary knew this. We know this.

Today, pray for the courage to face whatever difficulties you encounter with faith.

How do you face unanswerable questions?

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Entitlement

"To everyone who has more be given." Lk 19:27

Unfortunately, like most people in the developed world, I often take "my wealth" for granted, and even feel entitled. If the phone doesn’t work for two days, I might threaten the service provider with switching to another company. You get the idea. I have been given so much that when I read today’s gospel parable, I realize that my one task is to stay awake in gratitude and too often I am asleep, even to the gift of faith.

On occasion, I ask people at a workshop to complete the statement, I believe..... Their responses always touch and challenge me. They say: I believe there is a benevolent God who loves his children. I believe God has sent us his son as an eternal gift. I believe that the world is a good place that I can make better by my faith. I believe I should be compassionate to every creature. You can imagine the rest, and I would encourage you to pause a moment to answer yourself.

When we stop to notice of all we have and offer a word of gratitude for whatever and whomever comes to us each day, we are different. We are rich and as Jesus reminds us, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much.” Don’t be afraid of this warning. Be grateful for the gifts you have been given, and share them generously. God gives us all the strength to live our faith and give it away with joy and exuberance.

Today, make an inventory of all you have been given. Then take five minutes of silence to sit with your gifts in gratitude.

How best can you share "your wealth" with others?


Monday, November 18, 2019

Come Quickly

"Lord, please let me see." Lk 18:41

Sometimes the gospel stories seem stark, and lack detail. This makes sense of course when one remembers that only a few people in Jesus' time were literate, and the intention of the gospels was not to write a biography of Jesus but to announce him as Messiah, son of God and savior of the world. Details were not important in a written form. The story teller could elaborate and fill the text with passion and power. for those who could not read

But the Gospels are not always stark. When the blind man today says "please," we stumble upon an important detail and a telling moment. Not only is the request polite, it pleads with Jesus to look upon a man who is an outcast from his own family and community. Condemned to a life of begging and isolation, the blind man, like Moses, (Ex 33) begs Jesus for help, and becomes an example for all.

Jesus often reminds us that because we have eyes does not mean that we really see. Only those who see with the heart will experience the fullness of the revelation. The blind man, even before he is healed, sees and knows the Lord as Messiah and so approaches him politely, but with hope and confidence. The Messiah's task is to open the eyes of all to the wonders of God's enduring care and love for the world, and because the blind man remembers this, he is healed.

Our task is the same. If we want to see, we must first acknowledge God as creator and redeemer. Only then will we know the Messiah in our hearts.

Today, open your eyes again to the wonder of the created world.

When are you most blind?

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Please Help Us

"Lord, please let me see." Lk 18:41

Sometimes the gospel stories seem stark, and lack detail. This makes sense of course when one remembers that only a few people in Jesus' time were literate, and the intention of the gospels was not to write a biography of Jesus but to announce him as Messiah, son of God and savior of the world. Details were not important in a written form. The story teller could elaborate and fill the text with passion and power. for those who could not read

But the Gospels are not always stark. When the blind man today says "please," we stumble upon an important detail and a telling moment. Not only is the request polite, it pleads with Jesus to look upon a man who is an outcast from his own family and community. Condemned to a life of begging and isolation, the blind man, like Moses, (Ex 33) begs Jesus for help, and becomes an example for all.

Jesus often reminds us that because we have eyes does not mean that we really see. Only those who see with the heart will experience the fullness of the revelation. The blind man, even before he is healed, sees and knows the Lord as Messiah and so approaches him politely, but with hope and confidence. The Messiah's task is to open the eyes of all to the wonders of God's enduring care and love for the world, and because the blind man remembers this, he is healed.

Our task is the same. If we want to see, we must first acknowledge God as creator and redeemer. Only then will we know the Messiah in our hearts.

Today, open your eyes again to the wonder of the created world.

When are you most blind?

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Let the Spirit Guide

"Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking." Lk 21:14

Jesus makes a pretty big promise to his disciples, assuring them, even though they lack education or in many cases the ability to read of write, that the Holy Spirit will teach them what to say. While this might be the occasion for some of us to think we don't have to prepare a homily or a presentation on faith, there is no basis for this kind of thinking. Jesus is referring to those times when we are attacked unexpectedly and without provocation, not to the ordinary diligence we need to use to present our faith clearly and with passion.

Rather, the Lord wants us to trust in the Spirit of God to guide, direct, and challenge us everyday, and to realize that this is an essential dimension of our faith and its practice. Without this trust, we can only rely on ourselves or expert opinion, and no matter how knowledgeable we or our advisors might be, our insight will be insufficient.

Today, consciously commit yourself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Have you experienced the Holy Spirit's strength and direction in your life?

Friday, November 15, 2019

Being Just

"By what authority are you doing these things?" Mk 11:28

From time to time, all of us try to ignore or bypass uncomfortable situations.  A friend regularly offers you suggestions on how to avoid paying taxes that you know are legitimate and you say nothing. Their tactics might be legal, but are they ethical? While silence is sometimes the prudent response to situations like this, it can also be uncharitable and sinful not to speak up.

Jesus could very well have ignored the chief priests and their questions about the legitimacy of John the Baptist's ministry, but he chose to use their inquiries both to make them uncomfortable and to take a stand. The elders knew that if they said John's baptism was of God, they would have validated his ministry, and if they said John was an impostor, the crowd would have attacked them. When they choose to say nothing, the chief priests demonstrate their weakness. It is clear that they are not really concerned about John's ministry, but only trying to trap Jesus in order to undermine his work. When Jesus turns the question on them, their nastiness and dishonesty are exposed.

If we are followers of Jesus, we need to think hard and long about how to respond to evil. When immigrants are being cheated or people are avoiding legitimate taxes, everyone is effected. More important, by too often remaining silent, we fail to live the Gospel we pretend to embrace.

Today, pray for the courage to speak up and work for those whose lives are being ruined because of greed.



Have you been in a situation where you knew you had to speak up?

The Fire of Faith

"But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" Lk 18:8

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?

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Suffering for the Kingdom

"First, he must suffer greatly." Lk 17:25

Rejection is always painful whether it comes from a superior, a coworker or a family member. Usually we become defensive and angry even if we saw the rejection coming for a long time. We also struggle to understand it and put it in a category that protects us from further harm. But rejection comes to everyone in life and unless we learn to accept it for what it is, we will struggle with it more than necessary.

The Apostles and disciples find it almost impossible to understand, much less accept, what Jesus is saying. The Lord has been a successful preacher. People follow him from place to place and his promise to set them free reminds them of God's promise through Moses to the Jews in Egypt. While they might not have thought of Jesus as the new Moses, neither did they expect him to suffer greatly and be rejected. No doubt they resisted his message for fear that they too would undergo the same trials.

Although the call to discipleship involves suffering, we do not have to be afraid. The Lord promises to accompany his disciples until the end of time. As long as we stay close to the Lord through prayer, service and worship, there is nothing to fear.

Today, listen without fear even to difficult messages.

What has been your best response to suffering



Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Wisdom

"In Wisdom is a spirit intelligent, holy, unique, Manifold, subtle, agile, clear, unstained, certain." Wis 7:22

We usually expect wisdom to emerge in people who have had a great deal of experience and are willing to use that experience to discern how to exist and prosper in difficult times. Unfortunately, this is not always true. Many of those we entrust with leadership in government and the church, to their shame and ours, protect the institutions of the nation and the church before attending to abused young people and children. Who then, if not the bishops and our elected leaders do we look to for wisdom?

The book of  Wisdom suggests that God is wise and if we want to be wise at any age, we need to be close to God and God's desire for the world so clearly expressed in the Gospel. Although shrouded in some controversy, Greta Thunberg is only one of thousands of young people committed to Care for Creation as Pope Francis asks, even begs of us all. It is not so much that God inserted wisdom into these young people, but that they were willing to open their eyes to the devastation around the world and act.

Today, ask the Lord to draw you close to God, no matter your age, so that you might act with wisdom.

Who do you most admire for their wise choices and counsel?

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

St Frances Xavier Cabrini

“Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?" Lk 17:18

Two things marked the early life of Mother Cabrini. She was frail and sickly as a child and only four of her 10 siblings survived adolescence, but neither situation shuttered her imagination. When her father would read to his children about the great men and women who left their homelands to go around the world as missionaries, Frances dreamed of joining them. Frances' faith was bigger than her weakness.

Faithful to her parents until their death, Frances helped them on their farm and went to school, but soon after their death she began to explore a religious vocation. Rejected at first because of her poor health, Frances persevered and soon the local bishop asked her to found a new congregation of religious women. Sure that Frances' efforts would benefit the local church, the bishop was excited by Frances' new congregation, but Frances had bigger ideas. Soon after making vows, she added the name Xavier to Frances, after the famous Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier, and went to Rome to establish a convent. Soon after, still hoping to go the Orient as a missionary, Frances was asked to help Italian immigrants in the United States. Resistant, she asked the Pope Leo XIII for help in discernment, and the Pope assured her that she should go West to the United States, and from this point her life exploded with activity and zeal.

St Frances Xavier Cabrini was a brilliant organizer and administrator. She founded 68 missions and, though she hated ocean travel, crossing the Atlantic more than thirty times. Her work took her to New York, South America, Chicago and New Orleans, and all of this with failing health. A woman of our times, Frances Xavier continues to inspire women and men of the 21st century with passion and zeal.

Today, pray for the young to accept the call to discipleship.

What do you think are the most important tasks of the 21st century church?




Monday, November 11, 2019

St Josaphat

"Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the one through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. Be on your guard!"  Lk 17 1-2

In the 17th chapter of St. John's gospel, Jesus prays that his disciples may be one, but even a cursory glance at the history of the church reminds us that unity is not uniformity. There are 13 rites, many of which have multiple subdivisions. In the Roman Catholic Church each of these rites, "possess their own hierarchy, differ in liturgical and ecclesiastical discipline, and possess their own spiritual heritage." l In other words, while the liturgy, language, law and spirituality may differ markedly, the Christ who is their center is the same. It is this unity that St. Josapha worked so hard to attain.

Josaphat, working to heal the Great Schism (1054) between Eastern and Western churches, spent his entire life in pursuit of the unity for which Jesus prayed. At Vatican II, the Council fathers made it clear that Christian unity remained one of it's principal concerns.2 How very important then to listen to Jesus' command to pray always without becoming weary. No matter how painful and frustrating our divisions might be, we must continue to pray and work for Christian unity.

Today, quietly examine the issues that divide your family and/or your parish and ask God for a path of unity and peace.

What do you think are the marks of unity in the Church?

Sunday, November 10, 2019

St Martin of Tours

"I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." Lk 16:9

Two incidents in the life of St Martin of Tours, both recorded by his disciple and biographer, Sulpicius Severus, capture our attention. In the first, Martin meets an almost naked beggar outside the city of Amiens in present day France. Moved by the man's desperate need, Martin cuts his own cloak in half and gives it to the beggar. That night, in a dream, Martin sees Jesus dressed in the cloak he had given the beggar and hears Jesus say: "This is Martin, the unbaptized one, who has clad me." Sulpicius says that after the dream Martin "rushed to be baptized."

The second story is about Martin's "conscientious objection." Conscripted into the Roman army against his will at 15 , Martin was discharged 8 years later after refusing a bonus given to soldiers on the eve of battle. Severus quotes Martin's response to his commanding officer. "I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight."(1) Imprisoned for his refusal to take up arms, Martin offers to stand unarmed at the front of the troops as they ready themselves for battle, but when the two armies forged a peace, his gesture was never needed and Martin was discharged from the army. These stories were so compelling in the early church that Martin became and remains one of our church's most popular saints.

Today, let go of a worn out thought that troubles you. Let go of resentment against someone long dead. Let go.

How do you manage difficulties in your life?

Saturday, November 9, 2019

The God of the Living

"He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive." Lk 20:38

The implications of this passage are broad and important. Knowing that we will live forever ought to be freeing, unless of course we are stuck in guilt or shame. In that case, living forever feels like hell, literally, but this is not Jesus' intent. Reminding his listeners and us that we will live forever is a reminder to let go of guilt and to put aside shame for the sake of others. Our task is to announce this good news despite the difficulties we encounter. Wherever we are stuck, whether in anger, confusion, anxiety or darkness, we must pray for the faith to see all these emotions as self absorbing and destructive of community and the church. Our self concern blocks our ability to be for others.

When the Sadducees, who denied the Resurrection, tried to trap Jesus in a silly argument about which of a woman's seven husbands will be her husband in the afterlife, Jesus refuses to take the bait. The Sadducees are stuck trying to be right and use logic to reinforce their argument, but Jesus insists that the after life is not about marrying or giving in marriage, but in accepting the gift of living with God forever. Failing to appreciate this free gift of God, the Sadducees walked away thinking they won the argument while the crowd who listened to Jesus drew even closer to him.

Not infrequently, we are like the Sadducees. Insisting that we are right in an argument in order to win, we jeopardize our relationship with both friends and foes, making it very difficult to find common ground in the next go round. Without a relationship, even simple conversations become problematic and awkward. and that is what happens to the Sadducees. Embarrassed and confused by Jesus they look for other opportunities to prove their point and lose any chance to hear the transforming word of God. Unless we listen to the Lord with an open spirit, the same can happen to us.

Today, ask God for the gift of listening with an open heart.

When has your pride interfered with your ability to hear the truth

Friday, November 8, 2019

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

"Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh."

One of the wonderful images in the Book of Revelation is the flowing river about which Ezekiel also speaks. Watering and washing every bit of land through which it flows, the river helps every thing along its banks to grow strong. Fruit trees will produce large amounts of nourishment for all every month, and every kind of fish will grow strong and multiply in its waters.

The river, of course, is the water of life that flows to all from the restored temple and it will bring new life and hope to all who enter it, which is the point. We must enter the waters of baptism, drown and be raised up again in Christ if we hope to live the Gospel. This is not an easy journey or notion. To die to self so that Christ might live is the heart of the Gospel but is not something we do intuitively. We must learn to die from those who have gone before us in faith, especially the martyrs, and that is where the Lateran Basilica leads us.

St John Lateran is the basilica of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. First among all Rome's church's, it is dedicated to St John the Baptist who lost his head for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, and reminds us that the most fundamental work of the church is to witness to Christ crucified and raised up for the sake of all. John the Baptist never forgot that his mission was to make straight the way of the Lord. Willing to die for this privilege, John the Baptist continues to remind us of our role. When we make the way of the Lord straight people can find their way into the mystery of God's love.

Today, pray for the grace never to forget God's enduring love for all.

What do you most value about the church, the people of God?




Thursday, November 7, 2019

Seeing with God's Eyes

"I myself am convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to admonish one another." Rom 15:14

Think about the people in your life who always looked at you with God's eyes, who looked past your faults and focused on your good qualities and deeds. How important people like this are, not only for our self image, but the building up of Christ's body, the church. St Paul is clear that together as God's holy people we are all members of his body. Some of us are eyes, others feet or hands, but only together can we see and respond to others with the love of Christ.

When St Paul speaks to and about the Romans, he assures them that they are full of goodness and knowledge and have the discerning qualities that will allow them to admonish one another without destroying their relationship in Christ which will invite others to hear the welcoming voice of Jesus who calls them to be one and a sign of God's oneness.

Today, ask God for the grace to see others as God seems them and build them up as God's gifts to the church and world.

Who has most helped you to believe in yourself and grow in faith?


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Dying for the Lord

"None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's." Rom 14 7-8

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.

While all of us fear death since we know so little about it and often lack faith, the scriptures are clear:
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
Today, meditate on your own death and pray to accept what feelings arise.

Who has taught you most about death and dying?

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Hating our Father and Mother?

“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." Lk 14:26

The use of the word hate in this translation is always troubling. How can anyone, especially those raised in communal cultures that so value relationships over personal accomplishment, hate family members? And is it possible to hate one's own life? Clearly, Jesus is demanding that we let nothing get in the way of doing the right thing, all the time. If for instance, as it might have been for the earliest Christians, your parents refuse to speak with you, shun you or consider you unclean if you will not reject the person and message of Jesus, you must be willing to let go of your parents despite the terrible cost.

This teaching might be easier to understand if we use a different example. Suppose someone promises you a million dollars if you are willing to lie about a candidate for office in order to get their family member elected as mayor or congressperson. While at times we might be slow to answer, especially if we are in deep financial need, we would not lie despite the "rewards." Jesus demands the same from his disciples. Unless his followers are willing to acknowledge how much faith in Jesus matters, despite the consequences, they cannot be his disciples, and faith continues to make these kinds of demands on us in the 21st century.

Racist, sexist and other bullying language and behavior, used repeatedly, must be addressed by Christians in the public sphere. Dismissive and vulgar remarks about entire cultures and religions must also confronted. Otherwise, our silence will be taken for agreement and Jesus' inclusive attitude towards all who are willing to hear, accept and live the Good News will be implicitly denied.

Today, do the right thing despite the cost.

Has your faith ever been the occasion for confronting evil?

Monday, November 4, 2019

We are the Body of Christ

"We, though many, are one Body in Christ." Rom 12:5

Often I find myself praying in gratitude for the people I have met along the way, especially people who could easily have walked away from faith because their journey was so difficult. Many of these people are the cornerstones of our parishes and faith communities, but many others are from the developing world where their contact with parishes as we know them is limited. Strong in their faith, these powerful and committed believers continue to study, reflect and celebrate the mysteries of faith despite their poverty. They are, for me, contemporary heroes who I not only admire but try to emulate.

St Paul regularly boasts about the believers who came to faith through his ministry. Never claiming them for himself, but for Christ, Paul reminds them that they "have the mind of Christ," and it will sustain them. Knowing how difficult it is to live their faith when few support them, Paul holds up the glory of their witness to Christ as an example for all to follow.

Today, boast about someone others ignore.

What helps you endure in faith on a daily basis?

Sunday, November 3, 2019

St Charles Borremeo

"The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable." Rom 11:29

God loves us. That is God's gift to us. But God's love is not a promise that we will never suffer or feel lost and alone. When we say that God loves us we mean that his gift, as St Paul reminds us, is irrevocable. God will never take it back, never stop loving us, and in this promise we have hope, strength and the assurance that God is near even and especially when we suffer.

God's call is also irrevocable and this can be both empowering and terrifying. God calls all of us to discipleship, and discerning what that is can be the task of a lifetime. In my own case, like many other young men of my generation, I felt strongly I was being called to be a Capuchin priest. Motivated by so many of the Capuchin priests I knew as a boy to be active, engaged and committed to the needy, God used that natural attraction to lure me into vows and priesthood. Being a friar, though important, was a distant second to being  a priest.

Thirty years ago, however, in a frightening twist of grace, it became clear that God wanted to work in the Capuchins in ways we could never have foreseen. Without devaluing the call to be priest, the church challenged the Capuchins to reclaim the charisms of their founder, and all the friars to listen to God and not simply follow our own best instincts or needs. Remarkably, this shift is cited by a majority of our young friars as the reason they were drawn to the Capuchins. When we reclaimed the dream of St Francis to form a community of brothers whose love for one another as they traveled from place to place to preach the Gospel would be their most important way of announcing Good News, everything changed. God does write straight on crooked lines.

Today, ask God to renew the vocation to which you have been called.

Who or what has been most influential in helping you listen more deeply to the Gospel?st 
Charles