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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?