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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