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Friday, September 25, 2020

Listening Intentionally

 “Pay attention to what I am telling you.” (Lk 9:44)

Paying attention to others, especially when they speak, is a simple act of courtesy that every person deserves, especially children and the elderly. Nevertheless, for any number of reasons, we often fail in this regard. We are busy, distracted, and anxious or have a cluttered mind or schedule. Unfortunately, because children and the aging have less to distract them, they notice when we are not listening, and while they may not say anything, they are often hurt and confused by our failure to be fully present to them.

I wonder if it was like this for Jesus when his apostles failed to listen to him. No doubt they were sometimes afraid or confused about what he was saying, especially when he told them he would suffer, but the Lord was not asking them to understand everything he said, he was simply asking them to listen. Like us, they could walk away, and many did, especially when he spoke about his flesh as real food, but that was not the point. (Cf Jn 6) Listening to him was.

Today, try listening to someone intentionally. Ask God for the grace to be still and to be attentive to the other with reverence and patience. Don’t ask for the right answers. If that kind of response is necessary it will come. Rather, ask for the ability not to run away from another’s struggle and the courage to walk with them in silence.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Responding to Suffering

 "The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised." Lk 9:22


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, September 23, 2020

Violence in the Gospel

"But Herod said, “John I beheaded. Who then is this about whom I hear such things?” Lk 9:9

Readers of the gospel cannot help but wonder whether John the Baptist understood fully the import of his words about decreasing so the Christ could increase. Did he know he would die for the sake of the gospel? Surely he had enough time in prison to know that his prospects for a full life with Christ were small, and the evangelists remind us that it was John the Baptist's death that pushed Jesus to begin his public ministry.

When we are young and distant from the reality of our own death, it can be easy to make promises the depth of which we cannot really appreciate, but when we grow older, we know. If we are going to live the gospel with integrity there will be a price. The Good News might be good but it is not easy.
So many of us, sounding other centered, tell everyone that we are willing to endure whatever a gospel life brings, but we do not want to be a burden to others. How shallow these words can be upon reflection.  Allowing others to care for us as we would for them is essential to a fully human and gospel life. Not taking that care for granted is also important. Life must be accepted no matter what it brings.

Today, ask for the grace of accepting whatever God asks.

How do you explain the violence that emerges in the Gospel?

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

St Padre Pio

 “No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light." Lk 8:16

What must we do when our inner demons urge us not to display the light God has given us? This is no idle question, but a deep struggle of conscience that many saints have had to face in their lives. St struggled mightily with the gifts God gave him. Blessed with the Stigmata, Pio was frightened when first presented with the gift of Jesus' wounds appearing in his own body. Writing to his friend, Padre Benedetto, Pio told the priest that when he first received the Stigmata he thought he was dying, and would have died had not God intervened. Worried about the reaction of others, Pio asked God to take the outward sign of the Stigmata from him. Willing to endure the pain of the wounds, he did not want to face the questions and doubts of his confreres and superiors about their authenticity.

But God did not give Pio a choice. God wanted to speak and be a light in the world through him. St Pio was not permitted to extinguish his light or avoid public scrutiny. More important, neither are any of us free to let the light of God shining in and through us be extinguished. Rather, our lives of faith are designed to be a guide for others seeking to know God's Good News.

Today, let your light, no matter how weak, shine for God's glory.

What most troubles or unnerves you about being God's light in the world?

Monday, September 21, 2020

We are God's Family

 "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother." Mt 12:50

We are the family of Jesus. It is that simple and that clear. It is also important. While some might be unnerved when Jesus stretches his followers to think of anyone who listens to and tries to live God's word as his family, it is not a rejection of his own family.

Jesus loved his mother and family deeply. That he wanted everyone listening to him with an open heart to see themselves as his brothers and sisters did not diminish his respect for and love of his immediate family, but was a way to break down the artificial and unnecessary barriers between and among people.

Jesus' love for all people is a lesson for us. We are called to love everyone as He did. We are not free to reject anyone for reasons of race, religion, culture or ethnicity. While it is obvious that there are some people who will be more difficult to love than others, if we want to call ourselves Christians, we must put aside every prejudice to love as Jesus did.

Today, love someone to whom you are not attracted.

What kind of people are most difficult for you to love?

Sunday, September 20, 2020

St Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

 "Follow me." Mt 9:10

Matthew must have been amazed and delighted when Jesus called him to follow. Amazed because he was a tax collector, a man despised for what he did and who he was. Tax collectors were most often Jews who worked for the Romans. Upfront, they would pay the Romans the taxes of those from who they collected taxes and then charge Jews whatever they could, and this would often be exorbitant and excruciating.

Matthew also would have been delighted. Here was Jesus, a prominent Jew and rabbi, calling him, accepting him, sitting down at table with him when everyone else in the community was shunning him. Matthew knew that he was being given a second chance and he was anxious to take it.

The message of the gospel is clear. All of us will get a second chance and it is up to us to take it, to follow the Lord and let go of behaviors and practices that oppose God's law and God's desire for us. As long as we are willing to admit that we are in need of a physician, the Lord will come to us like a doctor who sees only that we are in need. The Lord wants to heal us. How wonderful.

Today, acknowledge your weakness.

Who looked at you with love when you could not accept or love yourself?

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Praying Faithfully

 "Seek the LORD while he may be found, call him while he is near." (Is 55:6)

Staying in the day, staying in the moment is an important spiritual practice. Being alert to everything happening around us, without trying to control or manipulate our environment is a contemplative exercise that can serve us well in everyday life. More important, if we fail to pay attention to each day, we run the risk of getting trapped in the past or day dreaming about the future, an activity that diminishes our acceptance of each day and often damages our relationships. 

There’s a story, allegedly about St Bernard of Clairvaux, but told in many religious traditions, that makes this point well. St Bernard was riding his horse one day and was stopped by a farmer. “I envy you,” the farmer said, “for being able to ride that beautiful horse and say your prayers. It’s a lot easier than my lot in life. I have to work so much there is no time for prayer.” Bernard paused and said, “Prayer is hard work. But if you really think it is easier to pray than work, I’ll make you a deal. If you can pray the Our Father once without distraction, I will give you my horse.” The farmer smiled, assured Bernard that it would be easy for him, and began. “Our Father who art in heaven….Do I get the saddle, too.”

Many think that a life of prayer and reflection would be easy, especially if they lived in a monastery and had four or five periods of prayer together each day. In fact, prayer is hard work as St. Bernard insisted. Learning to let go of all of our distractions is the first step in attending to what is happening right in front of us and the foundation of a healthy prayer life.

Today, pray the Our Father slowly and don't worry about being distracted.

From whom did you learn to pray faithfully?

Friday, September 18, 2020

Generosity

"The seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance.”

Years ago I remember a young mother of six exhorting her second youngest child to let his younger brother play with his toys. The little boy protested, but his mother only smiled and picked him up. If you let Jimmy play with whatever he wants, he will forget about it in a few minutes and you can have it back. Try to be patient and see what happens. The little boy took his mother's advice and learned a great lesson. If he did not cling to his own small possessions, he would be free, and soon enough he would learn that there were enough toys for him and his brother. Indeed, there is enough for all when we learn to let go.

When we allow our possessions, our power or our fear to possess us, it becomes impossible to hear Jesus or anyone else. We build walls and fences to protect what little we have and vow to defend it with our lives. It is clear that the leaders of the Jews saw Jesus as a threat who was stripping them of what little power they had and so plotted to trip him up, not because he was dishonoring God, but because he was threatening their security, and all this in the name of God!

Today, give something away to someone freely, and do not expect it to be returned.

Who is the most generous person you know? 


Thursday, September 17, 2020

Women in the Church

 "Some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources." Lk 8:2-3

In the United States, at least, women have almost always carried the burden of keeping our parishes organized, welcoming and functioning smoothly. Where would our parishes be without the women who lead and teach catechetics, organize celebrations and picnics, and make sure the parish is active in reaching out to the poor and needy? This is not to say that men haven't played key roles in the church, but it is women upon whom falls the daily and weekly tasks that make a parish live and go. They are its face, and during this pandemic I fully expect it will be women who lead us.

Pope Francis continues to move the church in this direction by encouraging what he called,
The indispensable contribution of women in society, in particular with their sensitivity and intuition toward the other, the weak and the unprotected." He also noted that "many women share some pastoral responsibilities with priests in looking after persons, families and groups" and he said he had hoped that "the spaces for a more diffuse and incisive presence in the church be expanded."
Today,  pray for a woman you know who has been generous but under appreciated in her service to the church.

What steps can and should the church take to highlight the contributions of women to our faith communities?

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

God's Merciful Eyes

 "Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears." Lk 7:37

Jesus is forever pushing us to look beyond people's past to see how they are behaving in the present. The woman who wipes his feet with her hair becomes an icon of what it means to be a Christian, But because most of us see sin in others first, especially in the powerful, it is difficult to see her with God's eyes. If an athlete or a politician is caught in an adulterous relationship or using public monies for his or her private gain, we pounce. See, we say, why do we trust people like this? When we do this, we ignore the mercy of God.

No doubt the leaders of the Jewish community were doing the same with the woman who is "wasting" money anointing Jesus' feet with costly perfume. That Jesus does not pull away or correct her annoys the Pharisees. They impose their judgmental eyes on Jesus and try to undermine him and his authority by suggesting that his inability to recognize that she is a sinner ought to condemn him. But Jesus turns the tables. He asks: Do you see this woman? The answer of course is "no". They have reduced her to her sin and do not value her humility or recognize her tears.  We need to avoid this error in our own lives.

Today, look at all people with God's eyes and don't get lost in their past.

Have you know people who turned their lives around and helped you?

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Sts Cornelius and Cyprian

 “He deserves to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.” Lk 7: 4-5

Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian were friends, and when the church was under enormous pressure in the third century, their friendship became an important tool for reconciliation and healing. When Novatian insisted that anyone who denied faith, along with murderers and adulterers, could not be reconciled under any circumstances, Cyprian interceded with his friend Pope Cornelius, and Novatian's position was condemned. The fragile nascent church, with only 50,000 believers and 50 priests, was sustained because of the friendship of Cornelius and Cyprian.

Not infrequently, like Cyprian and Cornelius, we do things for friends who ask a favor on their own or their family's behalf. It is not difficult to be gracious, especially when the request is something we do easily or naturally. Jesus is able to hear and respond to the request of the Jewish elders to heal the centurion's sick slave because they asked him to do something as a friend of the Jewish nation.  In the long run, however, while loyalty and friendship captured Jesus' attention, it was the faith of the centurion that moved Jesus to act. 

Not wanting to trouble Jesus with a visit to his home and being very aware of the differences between them, the centurion insists that he is not worthy of Jesus' care. When the centurion further suggests that a word from Jesus will be enough to heal his slave, Jesus uses the centurion's faith to teach the Jews saying, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Faith, like the centurion's, and friendship and faith, like Cyprian and Cornelius shared, can forge a church of great power and strength.

Today, be grateful for a faith filled friend.

How can a friendship, strengthened by faith, help us live the Gospel more powerfully?




Monday, September 14, 2020

Our Lady of Sorrows

 “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” Jn 19:25

Who stands by you compassionately when you are struggling or lost?

In the Office of Readings today, St Bernard of Clairvaux, writing in the 12th century, calls Mary “a martyr in spirit,” because of her compassion, never abandoning her son even on the cross. Bernard writes: “Perhaps someone will say: “Had she not known before that he would not die?” Undoubtedly. “Did she not expect him to rise again at once?” Surely. “And still she grieved over her crucified Son?” Intensely. Who are you and what is the source of your wisdom that you are more surprised at the compassion of Mary than at the passion of Mary’s Son? For if he could die in body, could she not die with him in spirit? He died in body through a love greater than anyone had known. She died in spirit through a love unlike any other since his.”

Standing with others in their suffering, not taking it away, not offering empty words of consolation, not trying to understand it, is a kind of death, a martyrdom. Helplessness is often the price of compassion and Mary, the mother of Jesus and our mother, helps us learn this vital Christian virtue.

Today, pray for those who have no one to stand with them in their suffering.

Have you ever been called to be a companion to someone who is suffering alone?

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

 "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." Jn 3:13

The cross of Jesus Christ, as St Paul says, is a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness for Gentiles, (1 Cor 1:23) but the believer continues to hold the cross high, to exalt it, as a sign of God's unconditional love for us. Never easy to understand or to penetrate its mystery, the cross remains for those who believe, as St Francis said, the only book we will ever need.

How we read the book of the cross is fundamental to our growth in faith. How, for instance, do we understand or interpret suffering? How should we approach death and dying? What can we expect from God when we carry our own crosses? Martin Luther King, speaking of what he labels unmerited suffering, writes, "Recognizing the necessity for suffering I have tried to make of it a virtue. If only to save myself from bitterness, I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation which now obtains." (MLK)

Today, ask God for the grace not to be afraid of the cross.

What about living a Gospel life causes you the most suffering?

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Unconditional Forgiveness

"Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan." Mt 18:28

Offering forgiveness to others is one of the hallmarks of Judeo Christian spirituality. Knowing that God wants to forgive us and goes out of his way to do so ought to impel us to do the same.

There are so many examples of this in our faith traditions that it can overwhelm us, but we need to be aware of this history. One of the most dramatic was a letter found at the Ravensbruck death camp where 92,000 women and children died. It was scrawled on wrapping paper near a dead child.

Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will also those of ill will. But do not only remember the suffering they have inflicted on us. Remember the fruits we have brought, thanks to this suffering--our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this. And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits we have borne be their forgiveness. Amen

Today, ask God to help you let go of an unresolved anger or hurt.

How have you experienced God's forgiveness in your life?

Friday, September 11, 2020

Good Trees, Good Fruit

 "A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.” Mt 7: 19-20

Every person has faults, makes mistakes and loses focus. To do anything else would not be human, but we must never measure our life only by our failures; we must also celebrate its fruits. Jesus is clear about this, and though we sometimes are tempted to dismiss the good we have done, we need to listen to his guidance.

In 12 step spirituality, like Alcoholics Anonymous, program people are encouraged to work through the twelve steps and make a searching and fearless inventory of themselves (4th step). For those who do this with a sponsor, it is also important not just to acknowledge one's faults but to record one's successes. For most addicts it is easier to list their faults than to name their strengths, and I often think this is true for all of us.of us it is easier to list our faults than count our successes. 

It is very clear in the scriptures that God is always willing to look past our sins and focus on our gifts, and this is true throughout the Bible. Very few people would forgive David his lust for Bathesheba and his willingness to put her husband Uriah in a position where he would surely be killed. But God does. Even more remarkable is the story of the forgiving father who embraces his younger son who has squandered his inheritance. God wants us to succeed and be reborn.

Today, accept the good God has done through you.

When was the last time you took the opportunity to praise someone for their good qualities?

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Overcoming Blindness

"Can a blind person guide a blink person?" Lk 6:39

It can be very sad to acknowledge how blind we have been in life. Not only do we fail to see the sick and needy around us, we often are blind to the needs of our closest friends. When we are too concerned with our own image, power or needs, we lose focus, forget our ideals, and everyone and everything around us suffers.

Unfortunately, none of this is new or particular to people of the present age. Jesus tried to help his disciples see the errors of the Pharisees, but his task was difficult. The men he chose as apostles, though insightful, did not come to Jesus from a place of power and influence. As fishermen, they had to be decent business men but would have been wary of crossing the Jewish authorities for fear they would be condemned  and even shunned by their contemporaries. 

Finding a place within and a community of disciples with whom to walk the way of the Gospel is important. Being strengthened by others who seek to know and live the Good News is an essential element of the faith about which Jesus preached. Because Jesus knew the path of righteousness which he proclaimed would be a struggle for all, he was forever reminding his followers to go "two by two" and to work together to be faithful to God. The same is true for our generation.

Today, open your eyes and look around. Judge nothing. Simply look and reflect about what you see.

What spiritual practices help you see the world the way God sees it?

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Learning for Service

 "Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up." 1 Cor 8 1b

St Bernard of Clairvaux one wrote that people seek knowledge for three reasons. Some seek knowledge for knowledge sake. They are curious. Other seek knowledge to impress other. They are vain. And some seek knowledge for service. Theirs is an act of love. 

St Paul warns us about seeking knowledge for any other reason but love because it can feel like power over others and leads to pride. Love on the other hand leads to service especially of those most in need. Because most of us struggle with pride, we look to Sts Paul and Bernard to help us root ourselves as people of the good news whose entire lives are dedicated to service and love. More important, when we allow God to direct us in this way, we grow in faith.

Today offer some a hand in service and let them direct you about how to help.

Who has helped you learn the value of service of others?

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

St Peter Claver

"I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church." Col 1:24-25 

People of a certain age were introduced to the saints as children, and St Peter Claver captured my imagination when he wrote, "I must dedicate myself to the service of God until death, on the understanding that I am like a slave." That our religion teacher was Fr Peter Claver Eich also helped. A smiling and athletic friar priest, Fr Peter Claver encouraged everyone he met with a boundless energy and kind spirit. I wanted to be like him and St Peter Claver.

It's good and important to remember how our spirits were shaped. Although we were carefully and deeply catechized with the aid of the Baltimore catechism, it was the people we met along the way who brought the catechism and the scriptures to life and most shaped our early spiritual lives. People living the Good News with passion and hope do more to spread the Gospel than any sermon.

Another Jesuit, Alonso de Sandoval, cared for the slaves of Columbia for forty years before St Peter Claver arrived, and it was Alonso's example that shaped and formed Peter. That Peter learned from Alonso is clear, but he took service to the slaves another step. While Alonso visited and cared for the slaves where they worked, Peter met them at the docks with medicine, water, and food. Though opposed by some of his fellow Jesuits who believed slavery was justified, Peter continued to care for and love the slaves and worked for their civil rights by preaching to slave traders and businessmen in the city square while staying in the slave quarters at night.

Today, pray for those enslaved by their fears and rage.

Whose passion for faith most helps you to live the Gospel?





Monday, September 7, 2020

The Nativity of Mary

"Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means 'God is with us.'" Mt 1:23

Birthdays are festive times, and although Mary probably didn't celebrate hers like 21st century Americans, we ought to celebrate it with real joy. Mary is the one who’s "yes" to the angel and God made possible the entrance of Jesus into history and her birthday might be a time for us to light a few candles to remember her life and her sorrows.

There are few saints who teach us more about accepting and celebrating life as it unfolds than Mary. Apparently content with her life, especially after she was promised in marriage to Joseph, her life turned upside down when she was still a young girl. A visit from an angel invited her to know God in a more intimate way than anyone before her, but this knowledge came at a great price. She would be talked about and ridiculed, forced to flee her country and family, and when she was free to return to Palestine after Herod's death, she would be faced with the awful burden of watching her son suffer and die as a common criminal.

No wonder we want to celebrate her birthday. Mary's nativity invites us to trust that even that which appears and feels like an overwhelming sorrow, will be transformed by God into hope for all peoples and all nations. Happy birthday, Mary. Thank you for showing us the path to hope in darkness.

Today, ask God for the grace to embrace whatever comes your way.

What it is about Mary that most moves you to say yes to God's path for you?

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Yeast

 "Brothers and sisters: Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough?...Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." I Cor  5: 6b,8

Yeast, which is an irritant, plays a prominent role in the Gospel. When activated in flour is makes bread rise, but also reminds us that a fully engaged Gospel life makes a difference in society. Believers, like yeast, are not simply passive receivers of Good News, but doers of the word whose gratitude expresses itself in works of justice and charity.

Active Christians are like yeast. Their good works can motivate, and at times agitate others. While this might be uncomfortable for some, the hard sayings of Jesus, like loving our enemies, are an integral part of the Gospel. In the long run, a soft Christianity does no one much good. Yeast reminds us that it is always a good time to rejoice and recommit ourselves to a full Gospel life.

Today, take time to rejoice for the gift of faith.

Who has been yeast in your life?

Saturday, September 5, 2020

The Importance of Gathering

 "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Mt 18:20

There was an important, and in some circles, still controversial document that emerged from  the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1979. Entitled Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, and never formally approved by the entire assembly of bishops, it became enormously important for the principles it used to guide architects and liturgical theologians in redesigning Catholic churches after the Second Vatican Council.

One principle especially was very important to me personally. Architects, it suggested, must never forget that when we gather for worship nothing is more important than the assembly of believers. Therefore, they should make sure there was a place, whenever possible, for people to gather in faith in preparation for the Eucharist.  This principle resulted in many churches in the United States having large vestibules, sometimes called narthexes or foyers, and served to remind us that when we come together in faith, bringing with us all that has happened to us personally and communally during the previous week, we proclaim that Christ is always among us, always empowering us. 

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” changes everything. God is with us, not only in the person of the priest, in the word and in the breaking of the bread, but when we gather in faith to celebrate Christ among us.

Take a moment today to thank God for the gift of soul friends who walk with you in faith.

How important is the assembly of believers to you when you gather for the Eucharist?

Friday, September 4, 2020

The Sabbath without Mercy

"While Jesus was going through a field of grain on a sabbath, his disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them." Lk 6:1

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 3, 2020

New Wineskins

 "People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” Mt 9:16-17

When we get stuck in the past, we cannot advance the Good News, and this happens to all of us from time to time. We know this is the case when we smile at ourselves or friends who remind us that we sound just like our parents! Caught up in the way things "used to be," we fail to recognize or fully appreciate the advances that the present generation is making.

Because the Jewish community of Jesus' time was so locked into a traditional understanding and interpretation of the Torah, they could not recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah. Although Jesus continually assured them that he had no intention of changing or doing away with even the "smallest part of a letter of the law," their defenses were up and their hearts were closed to how God wanted to renew them.

A good and healthy spiritual practice finds us asking regularly, not simply what we might do to preserve God's word, but how can we advance it to a new generation. Only when the young hear our excitement for them to be the face of a new evangelization will they be unafraid to push the Gospel forward.

Today, drink deeply of the new wine of Jesus.

Who or what has helped you appreciate the always new wine of the Gospel?

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Illusion of Security

 “To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.”  Lk 4:43


Changing cultures, jobs, cities or countries is always difficult. Most of us, even if life is difficult, prefer to stay where we are, physically, emotionally and spirituality, and it is this last dimension that is so contrary to the Spirit of Jesus. Knowing that the sick and struggling, as well as his own disciples, want him to stay in one place, Jesus resists their entreaties and reminds everyone that he was sent by God to preach the good news to all people.

Missionaries in the Church have always known this simple truth. We are all called to go two by two into the world to announce the Gospel. Because so many have yet to hear about the healing love and freedom of Jesus, believers will always find a way to let go of what is comfortable and secure. As Helen Keller famously wrote:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.(Keller)
Jesus continues to invite his followers to "a daring adventure."  We are to throw ourselves on his mercy, trust in his guidance, and fearlessly go about in the world with confidence and joy.

Today, introduce yourself to someone new.

What do you think are the most important qualities of a disciple of Jesus?

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Authentic Fame

"News of him spread everywhere in the surrounding region." Mt 4:37


Wise people remind us regularly that fame is fleeting. We lose our looks, our athletic ability, our fortune or our political power and people who could not get enough of us, forget our name and what we thought was a friendship. Fame that is based on our skills and appearance cannot last, but fame that is rooted in our honest other centeredness is something else altogether.

The fame that Jesus garnered and about which the evangelists write is often of a passing kind. His miracles especially attract those looking for a quick fix to their problems, but it is clear to those who read the Gospels as Good News that focusing on Jesus' miracles is fools gold. Only our willingness to listen to his transforming message and be moved by it to conversion of life will last. Intriguingly, when those following him focus too intently on his miracles, Jesus leaves them, finds on mountain on which to pray, and moves onto another place and people. His mission is not about impressing people but offering them a gift that is beyond an healing they may be seeking.

When people tried to focus on Dorothy Day's goodness and care for the poor by calling her a saint, she caustically replied: Don't dismiss me so easily. Saints know that living the Gospel is not about being famous or being called saint. Rather, saints know that their task is to conform themselves to God's dream for the world and to live it no matter the cost. Whether they experience extraordinary gift from the Holy Spirit is not he point. That they are faithful to the gospel is.

Today, pray for the gift of authentic humility.

What famous person do you most admire for living the Gospel with joy?

Monday, August 31, 2020

Keeping Hope Alive

 “'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.'” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, 'Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'”


Hope is an essential quality for Christians. Because we know, although we do not always feel it, that God is near, our faith calls us to be full of hope. Assured by Jesus that he has come to fulfill God's dream for his people and that he will always accompany his people through his Spirit, we live surrounded by God's promise.

A priest friend of mine insisted that every difficulty we face in life is at the same time an opportunity, and he lived his conviction. Bill had the ability to see every glass as half full. Although a priest in a place where he could have lived a comfortable life, he was deeply involved in Haiti, a country that has been struggling forever, but Bill never focused on the poverty of the people, but on their faith. He also had no doubt that the struggles of the church in the 21st century were simply a prelude to a powerful renewal that the Holy Spirit was engineering.

People like Bill challenge us to believe and hope, no matter how difficult the circumstances of our life. Taking the natural gifts of a positive personality, he wove them into his faith life. As a pastor he not only gently accompanied the poor, he encouraged people of means to share their bounty with others. Bill's witness was contagious, and whenever I find myself moving into a dark place, I think of him and remember to hope in the God who lives within and among us as a ground upon which to stand and dream.

Today, speak hopefully to someone struggling in life.

What helps you to keep hope alive when you face difficult problems?


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Perfectionism

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Peter's Rashness

"Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." Mt 16:23

Peter is one of my favorite gospel figures.  Anxious to help, sure of himself and committed to following the Lord, his impulsiveness often gets the best of him. On one occasion, he quickly answers Jesus' inquiry: Who do you say that  am?  The Christ, Peter says, the Messiah.  Unfortunately, while Peter's answer is correct, his understanding is lacking.  He wants Jesus to be a kind of military leader who drives the Romans out of Jerusalem and reclaims the Holy City for the chosen people.  More, if Jesus is an earthly king, he probably thinks that his own position as a disciple will afford him enhanced status among his peers.  

In today's gospel, Peter stands up again for the Lord as a defender and protector, but this time the Lord’s response is harsh.  “Get behind me, Satan. You are an obstacle to me.”  Although I have often prayed not to be an obstacle for others, especially to their faith life and journey,  I know that my quick tongue and harsh judgments have often hurt others.

That is why I think it is so very important to develop simple practices to accept our faults and address our  anxieties. Rather than strike out verbally, we need to work for reconciliation and healing.  My parents suggested a way to do this when  they told me never to make important decisions quickly, to sleep on them and if possible to wait a week or more before acting. Later, a 12 step friend told me: Things that are are urgent are rarely important, and things that are important are rarely urgent. Had I listened more closely to my parents and friend, I might have saved myself and others unnecessary hurt.

Today, try reading the scriptures not for insight but for transformation.  

What practices most root you in faith?

Friday, August 28, 2020

Living the Gospel Everyday

"You bear witness against yourselves." Mt 23:31

There is a little joke about five birds sitting on a telephone wire. Three decide to leave. How many are left? Five, because they are Catholic birds and only decide to leave but never act on it. Too often that is the case for us. We think, we pray, we discern but then do nothing. I know this has often been true for me.

In recent months I have been deeply disappointed by not being able to visit our senior friars because of the Corona Virus and often I remind myself to give one or two of them a call, just to say hello. But then, as often as not, the day gets away from me and my intention remains just that, a promise without fulfillment.

Matthew's Gospel reminds Jesus' disciples they ought not be like the Pharisees and other leaders who speak about what they would have done had they been alive during the time of the Prophets, but when an opportunity comes to be prophets in their own time, like the birds on the phone wire, they just sit there and do nothing.

Today, think about someone who you have been intending to call just to say hello and do it.

What excuses do you use not to act on the Gospel that reminds us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked?

Thursday, August 27, 2020

St Augustine

"You have searched me and you know me, Lord." (Ps 139)

Augustine of Hippo wrestled with God for years. Resistant to anything or anyone who couldn't help him understand life as he experienced it, his life turned around when he met St Ambrose in Milan. A seminal thinker and writer, Ambrose got Augustine's attention through kindness and helped open his mind and heart to the Gospel by his brilliant preaching, but it was the voice of a child telling him to "take and read" that moved Augustine to read the thirteenth chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans. Hearing Paul tell his readers that the night was over and it was time to live decently moved Augustine towards baptism.

Best known for his Confessions, a work which the saint thought should be read aloud, Augustine remains one of the most controversial figures in the Christian West as well as one of its most accessible writers. St Thomas Aquinas, St Bonaventure, John Calvin and almost every theologian of note, relied heavily on Augustine in their theological and pastoral writings, but some of Augustine's writings, especially about the Jews and original sin, continue to trouble contemporary readers. Nonetheless, Augustine remains a figure of immense importance whose writing continues to inspire believers everywhere.

Writing about love, Augustine asks: "What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like."(Augustine) For Augustine, love is a verb not a noun. It is something that we must act upon and share. More important, it is not always something we feel but something we decide to live and involves all the senses. We must love what we see and hear and walk towards those most in need.

Today, live your faith by keeping your eyes and ears open to all.

What keeps you from acting upon the Gospel everyday?




Wednesday, August 26, 2020

St Monica

"There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I died. My God has exceeded this abundantly." (St Monica in the Confessions IX, 10)

St Monica taught her son, St Augustine, many lessons. Steadfastness and fidelity to the Gospel, expressed by her willingness to accept him even when he was wandering from his faith, tolerance of her mother in law who regularly rejected her because of her piety, but nothing was more important than her reliance on prayer especially when praying for her son's conversion.

Following Augustine everywhere he went, even when he tried to avoid her, Monica finds herself in Milan where the Milanese did not fast on Saturday. Confused, Monica asks St Ambrose for advice. When Ambrose tells her to follow local custom wherever she was, Monica took his advice believing that her willingness to listen and change would prove to Augustine that his mother's prayer for his conversion was pure. If she wanted Augustine to change, so must she.

When Monica was nearing death, she insisted that no one worry about her or attempt to bring her body back to Africa for burial. “Lay this body anywhere, let not the care for it trouble you at all. This only I ask, that you will remember me at the Lord's altar, wherever you be.” (Confessions IX, 11) Because St Monica's prayers had been answered with Augustine's full embrace of his Catholic faith, she lived the rest of her life in gratitude, a lesson all of us would do well to learn.

Today, pray for someone's conversion.

Whose prayer and desire for you has most moved you to listen and change?

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Facing our Resistance

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence."

It must have been shocking and upsetting for the Pharisees and scribes to hear Jesus assert that only that which comes from within defiles a person. In fact, it is difficult for most of us to hear the great challenge of Jesus to put aside our desire to control ourselves and others with a rigid interpretation of the law. Jesus insists that salvation is not about discipline alone, but about asking God to cleanse our hearts of jealousy, resentment and suspicion of others.

More important still is whether we are willing to help others worry less about how they appear and more about the integrity of their faith lives. St Jerome says it well, "I bid you not to tear your garments but rather to rend your hearts which are laden with sin. Like wine skins, unless they have been cut open, they will burst of their own accord."(St Jerome on Joel)

Most believers know the truth of the gospel from the "inside." They realize that what appears to be a faith filled life is empty unless it reflects an interior commitment to live without guile. When each of us admits that a life of ritual rigidity and lawful integrity is hardly good news, we will begin to announce the gospel as Jesus did.

Today, don't be afraid of an honest self examination.

How do you resist an unhealthy dependence on the law as a substitute for gospel living?

Monday, August 24, 2020

Blind Guides

“Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites."  Mt 23:25

Being blind is not always a bad thing. Pope John XXIII wrote in his diary: See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little. Good advice for all, but especially leaders and parents. Sometimes it is better not to "see" or to look away from those we are trying to lead, especially if they are trying something for the first time. Often, when I am trying to help people learn the art of public reading in church, I don't look at them since getting up in front of others is difficult enough without thinking someone is staring at you.

But this is not what Jesus is talking about in Matthew's gospel. Concerned that the leaders of the Jewish community are more concerned with their own welfare than proclaiming and interpreting the Law and the Prophets, Jesus warns them about looking without seeing and obsessing about money and property to the detriment of the Law.

It is often clear in the Gospels that the Scribes and Pharisees are more concerned with tripping Jesus up than with hearing his message or listening to him with respect. Alarmed that Jesus might be stripping them of the little power they had, they challenge his knowledge of the Law and are blind to his good works on behalf of the poor.

The struggles of the Jewish leaders remain ours. Too often we cling to the shallow knowledge we have or defend our behavior rather than ask God for insight about how better to live the Gospel. Unless we remain deeply rooted in the foundational values of the Gospel, we will fail to see the Lord in the faces and lives of the poor.

Today, open the eyes of your heart to those most in need.

What situations in your family or church are most difficult for you to see and address?

Sunday, August 23, 2020

St Bartholomew

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

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

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

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

What helps you put aside duplicity and seek transparency?

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Christ our Rock

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Mt 16:16

St Peter is often faulted for speaking too quickly and rashly, but in today's Gospel he answers for all of us, and his response sets a tone for Lent. If we are successful at nothing else during this penitential season, we need to reaffirm out commitment to the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

In a poignant moment, when Benedict XVI met with the Roman clergy a few days after announcing his resignation, the Sistine choir sang Palestrina's interpretation of this same passage from Matthew 16 as Benedict left the assembly, assuring him and us that the Gospel would always be a "rock" of safety for those who freely professed their faith, and that his role as Peter was shared with us all.

Is Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, for us? Can others see and experience our belief by the quality of our faith life? The teaching that comes from the Chair of Peter, no matter how strongly any Pope tries to exercise his authority, will be empty unless believers everywhere live the Gospel everyday and open themselves to every form of formation and growth.

Today, sit down and ask God to help you live and reflect upon the gospel with integrity and power.

How do you understand the authority Jesus gives Peter?

Friday, August 21, 2020

The Queenship of Mary

"The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Mt 23:12

Authentic humility, rooted in God's power, demands that Christians see themselves as part of something much greater than their accomplishments. As part of Christ's body we have a dignity beyond our imagination, but only when we accept the role designated for us and do not pretend to be someone we are not, or that we are in control of life.

Conversely, Mary is an icon of grateful humility, a woman wrapped in grace whose every word and action in the scripture is other centered. Not only does she say yes to the angel's invitation to be the mother of Jesus despite having very few answers to her questions, she stands up for the young couple at Cana who have no wine and accompanies her son to his horrific death. Mary never forgets who she is and how much God loves her in the middle of her personal struggles. No wonder she is call Queen.

Today, shepherd those in your care. Don't worry about how much or little they produce.

Who has shepherded you without concern for themselves?

Thursday, August 20, 2020

St Pius X

"I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts." Ex 36:27

Sometimes Popes do things that surprise us. Pius X, who was born in poverty, filled the apostolic palace with survivors after the 1908 earthquake in Messina well before the Italian government acted. Imagine what the 21st century media would do if Pope Francis opened the Vatican to Syrian refugees!

Pius knew, like Ezekiel, what it meant to have a new heart and new spirit. Determined to stand behind those most in need with open arms, Pius also worked to make the Eucharist available to a larger and larger group of people, especially children, and it was his leadership that encouraged all people, not just the clergy, to seek holiness through a devout life.

Like Pius, we must ask for a new hearts and spirits and yearn for a new way of living so the church can become the poor church for the poor that Pope Francis envisions. It is so easy to get comfortable in life and in faith, but when we do, we fail to hear the ongoing call to conversion that is at the heart of the Gospel.

Today, remember what it is like to have your heart and spirit renewed..

How can we help others know the God who continually renews our hearts and spirits.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

St Bernard of Clairvaux

 "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." Mt 19:21

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

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

What spiritual practice has most helped you strenghten your faith?

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

God's Generosity

"‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’....Are you envious because I am generous?’" Mt 20:16a

Upon first reading Matthew's parable about the laborers who worked only an hour and received a full days wage, we are puzzled. Trained to believe that when we work hard we will receive our reward, Jesus' story turns our expectations upside down, and that is the point. The parable is not about the workers at all. It is about God and God's generosity, and its purpose is twofold: to remind us that God is good beyond our imagination and to challenge us to live more generously than we have in the past.

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 17, 2020

Being Rich

"It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” Mt 19:24

When social standing, wealth and power lead to blindness of spirit, they become impediments to knowing and loving God, and must be avoided or rejected. Only those, rich and poor alike, who see with the eyes of God and respond in justice to the poor deserve to be remembered, named and imitated. Every person, no matter how poor, has a dignity and importance in the reign of God. This is a great obstacle to many.

People of every generation, social class, race and culture need to remember that it is not our accomplishments or wealth that lead us to God, but our humility and love of all creation which save us. Jesus expresses this bluntly in today's Gospel. "It is easier for a camel to pass through [the] eye of [a] needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mk 10;24) When wealth blinds us to God's will and others' need, we are from the reign of God. Only a change of heart can help us.

Today, pray for anyone you may have dismissed because of their weakness, race or poverty.

How do you understand Jesus when he says that it is terribly hard for rich people to get into heaven?

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Sell Everything

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The Lost Sheep of the House of Israel

"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Mt 15:24

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

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

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

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

Who or what helps you make sense of your faith?

Friday, August 14, 2020

The Assumption of Mary into Heaven

"Blessed is the womb that carried you, and the breasts at which you nursed." Lk 11:27

Today's feast doesn't need a lot of explanation. Mary is the promise, in the flesh, of our own resurrection. Because it is so obvious that Jesus loved the one who carried him in her womb and fed him the milk of her breasts, he wants her to be with him forever in the flesh, and her reward is the promise of our own resurrection.

Not infrequently, people wonder what heaven might be like. The promise of this feast is that we will be with the Lord and all those who have gone before us in the flesh, not necessarily a flesh like we know now, but in our resurrected bodies. Just as Jesus was not limited after his resurrection by the body the apostles saw in the Upper Room, there was no doubt that it was Jesus. Neither, some day, will we have any doubt about who it is that has prepared a place for us.

To understand more deeply the substance of this feast, take a moment to think about how important it is to be with those who have loved us and whom we have loved. Not to be with and see them ever again would be a terrible burden. Today's feast promises us that God knows our yearning and will respond with the gift of a place at the eternal banquet.

Today, let those close to you know of your love.

How do you imagine heaven? What do you hope for?

Thursday, August 13, 2020

St Maximillian Kolbe

"No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it." Maximillian Kolbe

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

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

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

How would you counsel others to live patiently?

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

God's Patience

"Be patient with me and I will pay you back in full." Mt 18:26

God's patience is ours for the asking. Almost unbelievable to those of us with little patience, God is waiting for us to ask for help, and today's scripture is a powerful example of this. A debtor, and aren't we all debtors, asks his master to be patient with him. Moved with pity, perhaps because of his awareness that he too is a debtor, the master forgives his servant completely, asking for no payment whatsoever, but the servant does not understand the depth of his master's compassion. Rather than follow the example of his master, when the servant  who has been forgiven is asked to forgive another servant in debt to him, he refuses and puts him in prison. When the master of both servants hears of this he is outraged and punishes the unforgiving servant severely.

This entire story, we must remember, emerges from Peter's question about how deep and often he must forgive a brother who sins against him. When Peter suggests that seven times might be adequate, which after all was much more generous than the teaching of the Rabbis, the Lord pushes him beyond his own limited sense of God's mercy and tells him that forgiveness should never be withheld, even from our enemies.

This is a hard saying, especially when we have been badly hurt by a friend, a parent, a spouse or a lover. To think that we must act towards those who hurt us like God acts towards us seems impossible, but it is clearly the message of Jesus.

Today, forgive someone even if they fail to ask forgiveness.

What holds you back from forgiving others?

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Reconciliation

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother." Mt 18:15

Reconciliation, especially between and among family members, is critical not only for the people involved but for everyone.  When we realize that one in every four women in the United States suffers domestic violence in her lifetime, and boys who witness violence in their homes are twice as likely to abuse their own partners, (NCADV) we know how important reconciliation is.

Moreover, the cost of domestic violence is enormous. More than four billion dollars is spent in medical and mental health visits as a result of domestic violence and we can only guess at its ongoing effects since most cases go unreported to civil or medical personnel. When Jesus tells his disciples to find a peaceful path to healing even when they are sinned against, he is speaking to us as well.

Too often we hold onto hurts, blame others for how we feel and fail to see the good in those with whom we struggle. The gospel is clear in this regard. Unless we work to look past the obvious, as Jesus does, when he refuses to condemn the woman caught in adultery and tells Zaccheus the tax collector that he wants to eat with him, we will find ourselves further and further from the ideals Jesus sets for us.

Today, offer a hand of healing to someone who has hurt you.

Who has helped you to let go of hurts for the sake of community and the Gospel?

Monday, August 10, 2020

St Clare of Assisi

"(Ezekiel said) I did as I was told. During the day I brought out my baggage as though it were that of an exile, and at evening I dug a hole through the wall with my hand and, while they looked on, set out in the darkness, shouldering my burden." Ez 12:7

Like St Francis, her friend and mentor, St Clare was born into wealth, and although her mother was generous towards the poor and had a deep spirituality, Clare knew that the power which her family's wealth gave her was an obstacle to a full Gospel life.

Because she wanted. like Jesus and Ezekiel, to sell everything she had and give the proceeds to the poor, Clare petitioned Rome to live what she called the "privilege of poverty." Anxious to demonstrate her total dependence on God and the church, Clare wanted both to live within the enclosure and without a dowry, something unheard of in the middle ages. Because women within the enclosure had no means of supporting themselves, the church insisted that nuns have the security of a dowry to protect them from destitution.

Although it took almost to the end of her life, St Clare's desire to live with nothing of her own was finally accepted by Rome when her Rule was approved in 1253 just a day before her death, and this profound breakthrough continues to inspire women of the 21st century to live the Gospel simply and without guile.

Today, ask yourself whether you need everything you have.

What spiritual practice might help you live the Gospel more simply and fully?

Sunday, August 9, 2020

St Lawrence, Deacon

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

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

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

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

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

Who has died so that you might live?

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Living through Fear

"It had already grown dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them." Jn 6:17

Imagine yourself in a small boat at night when a sudden storm starts blowing you all over the place. The day has been long and you need to rest, but the storm is fierce and demands your attention. You need help, but feel very much alone. If this sounds like more than a few days and nights you have had, then you know how the apostles felt during the storm on the sea of Galilee. Very much afraid when they see Jesus walking on the water towards them, they want to take him into a boat and possess him when suddenly they reach land.

Today's gospel is best understood as a metaphor for life, and especially for those who are grieving. The bereaved often feel "lost at sea". Nothing they are experiencing after losing a friend or having a loved one die seems ordinary or understandable. Tempted to panic, they may seek solace in all the wrong places, when what they must learn is to wait for their "boat" to reach land again. This can be easier said than done, but it was very necessary for the disciples to experience what it would be like not to have Jesus with them all the time, and it is just as important for us.

Today, remember a time when you felt lost and discovered that God was with you in ways you did not know.

How do you respond to days when you feel lost?

Friday, August 7, 2020

St Dominic

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

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

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

It does not surprise people these days when Pope Francis encourages the church, especially its leaders, to live and preach more simply so that more and more people are attracted to the power of the Gospel lived with transparent joy and integrity. That women and men lay preachers, in the spirit of St Dominic, might lead this reform would be a wonderful gift to the church.

Today, pray for the ongoing reform of the church.

What do you think of lay people preaching?

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Denying Ourselves

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Mt 16:24-25

The essence of Jesus' message is other centeredness, a virtue that is both difficult and dangerous. It is difficult because it demands that we think of others first, even when they haven't earned our attention or concern, but Jesus is clear when he tells us that it is the sick who need a physician, not the healthy. The gospel demands patience, consistency and compassion, but when the other person ignores our outstretched hand or pushes us away, we can be easily discouraged.

Other centeredness is also dangerous. Too often wanting to please others or being afraid of disappointing them, we worry more about our goodness than the other's need. Anxious to "fix" the sick as a way of proving our fidelity to God, we ignore others in need, even members of our own family. Having a good "soul friend" can help us avoid this danger. All of us need someone to show us how to let go of our pride and will in order to let God do God's work.

The saints often struggled in this area. St. Francis, trying to imitate Christ in every way, punished his body so severely through fasting and work that he had to apologize to "brother ass" at the end of his life and ask God's pardon for abusing himself in the name of the Gospel. Practicing a prayer of listening each day can help us trust God more than our own disordered inclinations. Sitting quietly before God and asking for insight and generosity are the keys to leading an other centered life.

Today, pray for the gift of discernment to do God's will not your own.

When is it most difficult for you to be other centered?

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Transfiguration

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

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

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

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

What are your most challenging resistances to change?

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

God's Scraps

“Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Mt 15:27

The Canaanite woman in today's gospel who asks Jesus to free her daughter of a demon is a remarkable example of someone who, despite overwhelming odds. refuses to be put off by Jesus' insistence that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Far from allowing herself to be distracted by the rejection of Jesus and his disciples, she continues to advocate for her daughter. That she compares herself to a dog eating scraps from its master's table finally gets Jesus to look at her and acknowledge her faith. 

Giving into discouragement or despair is not an option for Christians when they advocate for the poor. No matter the cost, believers must continue to follow the example of the Canaanite woman and work together with other people of faith for a just life for all in our society and around the world. While we might not be successful all the time, the justice of our cause will surely move the hearts and minds of other believers to work for a society that refuses to allow some to live in destitution while others hoard resources.

Today, ask he Lord to teach you how to help the poor.

What aspects of life make you feel most powerless?

Monday, August 3, 2020

St John Vianney

"Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!' Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'” Mt 13: 29-31

How often we begin a project, hesitate or pause for a bit, and never return to it. We can claim we don't have enough time or excuse ourselves by citing more pressing priorities, but not finishing a project can be depressing and painful. Not completing what we have begun begins to stare us in the face emotionally and give us pause about beginning something new.

Peter's faith is tested when Jesus tells him not to be afraid and to come to him across thee water. Initially grateful and willing, after he begins to move towards Jesus, Peter realizes that the winds are stronger than he thought and his fear overwhelms him.

Forgetting that it was Jesus who called him and Jesus who would sustain him, Peter offers all a lesson about faith and trust in God when he relies on his own strength and begins to sink. Only when we accept our total dependence on God for life, for strength and for the gift of eternal life are we able to let go and not be unduly afraid of the "winds" of change, diminishment and death.

Today, ask God for the strength to walk across the troubled waters of your life.

What are greatest faith challenges?

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Doubt and Faith -- The Gospel for today and tomorrow are very similar -- Enjoy

"When Peter saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!' Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'" Mt 14: 30-31

Fear and doubt are ordinary and necessary aspects of faith. Only those who refuse to think about the mysteries of faith, or live in denial about the struggles with which faith presents us believe they will never be afraid or have doubts.  From St Thomas, the Apostle, to Mother Teresa, the great figures in our faith tradition had doubts with which they had to struggle continually.

In the Long Lonliness, Dorothy Day, in describing the struggles of her baptism in the Catholic church,  says it this way:
One part of my mind stood at one side and kept saying, ‘What are you doing? Are you sure of yourself? What kind of an affectation is this? What act is this you are going through? Are you trying to induce emotion, bring about faith, partake of the opiate of the people?’ I felt like a hypocrite if I got down on my knees, and shuddered at the thought of anyone seeing me…
Today, ask not to be afraid of your doubts. God can lead you through them into new hope.

What are your biggest faith struggles?

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Feeding Others with what you Have

"Jesus said to them, 'There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.'” Mt 14:16

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 31, 2020

St Alphonsus Liguori

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

One of the most remarkable phenomenon in the Judeo-Christian tradition is how God uses the weakness of people to confound the wise. Not only is this uncomfortable for us, it often pushes away those who think of themselves as sane, centered and grounded. Christopher Hitchens, who in his last years was a loud and acerbic critic of religion, asserted that the dark night of the soul was nothing more than depression, a view that is shared by many who call themselves atheists.

Nevertheless, in Psalm 50 we read, "True sacrifice is a broken spirit: a contrite and humble heart, O God, you will not refuse." Only when we acknowledge our brokenness does God work, using our humility as a path to truth. We are all weak; we are all fragile; we are unable to live without others and creation. From a Christian perspective these are truths that set us free because they help us submit to God and God's ways.

Alphonsus Liguori, the founder of the Redemptorists, is a powerful example of this. Well educated, he finished his doctoral studies in canon and civil law before he was twenty, but was unhappy. Hearing God's call to share the good news in simple ways, he sought ordination, despite the opposition of his family. Badly bent over by rheumatism, and unable to stand erect, he managed to preach popular missions for 26 years. Though a renowned theologian, it was his humility and integrity that touched the hearts of ordinary believers most deeply.

Today, ask for the grace of not knowing everything.

What experiences have taught you the value of humility?

Thursday, July 30, 2020

St Ignatius Loyola

"This word came to Jeremiah from the LORD: Rise up, be off to the potter’s house; there I will give you my message." Jer 18:1

In a brief biography about Ignatius Loyola we read, "As a member of the Velazquez household, he was frequently at court and developed a taste for all it presented, especially the ladies. He was much addicted to gambling, very contentious, and not above engaging in swordplay on occasion." (Ignatius life) In other words, Ignatius was a typical young man of the privileged class. 

More concerned with his own pleasure and ephemeral power than the welfare of others, Ignatius was arrogant, entitled and aggressive, not someone his contemporaries would have imagined becoming one of the great and most revered saints of the Western Church. But God had plans for Ignatius, and God's desire for him won out. 

Badly wounded in battle, Ignatius had nothing to do but fantasize about a woman he hoped to marry. Unsatisfied and dispirited, when he began to read a life of Christ and the lives of the saints, his spirit quieted and he felt peaceful. Discernment of Spirits, for which he would become famous, was born. Ignatius knew that his heart was driving him away from his former life more deeply into the Gospel, and when he responded God drew him closer and led him towards other young men who were eager to life a Gospel life. Not long afterwards the Society of Jesus was born.

Today, let your heart speak its truth and ask for the grace to follow it.

Have you had religious experiences that changed your life?

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Letting God Shape Us

“Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.” Jer 18:6

Thinking and believing that we are like clay in God’s hands ought to be comforting, but it isn’t always. Because we so want to control our lives, we often push away God’s hands shaping us into what God wants. Though we believe that being “worked” by God makes us wonderful and transparent signs of God’s life in the world, we resist becoming God’s “pots.”

Many years ago, a potter friend of mine give a wonderful workshop on the craft of pottery and its relationship to our spiritual life. First she reminded us that the clay is formed into a pliable ball and then centered on the wheel where the lightest touch begins to shape the ball into the form the potter intends. God is not harsh she reminded us, and from the ball of all are faults and weaknesses, while allowing us enormous freedom in our spiritual journey, God makes us into beautiful and useful pots. At the same time, she noted, only after the pot is formed can it be glazed and fired. The same is true for us. Becoming the person God wants us to become is a long and slow, but ultimately beautiful and purposeful process.

Today, give the delicate and gentle hand of God permission to shape you.

What have been the most important moments in your becoming God’s work?

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

St Martha

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things." Lk 10:41

There is a series on anxiety that has been running in the New York Times for several years. (anxiety) Sometimes difficult to read because the writers suffer so from what to others might be insignificant situations, it is, nevertheless, insightful and demanding. I read it because I am an anxious person and want to learn more about the condition, but also because it reminds us that almost 20% of Americans regularly suffer from anxiety. Clearly, for anyone committed to a Gospel life, compassion for the suffering is essential.

Although it is difficult to know if Martha's anxiety is similar to what the Times' columnists write about, the text is clear. Martha is anxious to have Jesus address her discomfort and tell her sister Mary to help in the kitchen. Jesus responds gently enough, but reminds Martha that Mary has chosen the better part. Mary wants Jesus to free her from her anxiety and thinks having her sister help with the serving will do this, but those who suffer from anxiety know this is not the case. Unless we learn to enter and own our discomfort, it will always control us, and while we might want to blame others for it, it belongs to us and only we can engage it and live with it.

Today, stay with your anxiety or upset. Don't run.

What situations most often make your anxious or worried?

Monday, July 27, 2020

Asking for Help

“Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” Mt 13:36

In recent days, while trying fruitlessly to figure out the Corona Virus, I stumbled upon this Gospel text and wondered whether the apostles were as confused as I am these days. Viruses are like upside down parables. Our task is not to figure them out, but to learn how to live with them and let them speak to us.

This is not bad advice for most of us most of the time. Listening to others with open minds and hearts may not help us make sense of upsetting and baffling realities, but it does let others know we respect them and trust them. Perhaps that is what the Apostles were demonstrating in asking Jesus to help them understand the parable of the weeds, and perhaps that is what we need to do in the midst of this pandemic. Ask the Lord for insight, wisdom and acceptance and the explanation might take care of itself.

Today listen to someone who is confused even if you can't help them.

Whose presence in your life helped you live with confusion and upset?

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Mustard Seeds

"The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush,
and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.'" Mt 13: 31-32

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

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

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

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