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Saturday, February 22, 2020

Loving our Enemies

"But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." Mt 5:44

Rooted in the Book of Leviticus, Jesus' command to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us is one of the more troubling of Jesus' hard sayings. How can we pray for those who persecute us, especially if they are members of our own family or parish? Isn't it more natural to avoid them, to not think about them and live without them as companions in faith?

At the time the gospels were written, Jesus' insistence that we love our enemies was especially difficult since most his followers were considered unclean. Willing to interact with Gentiles and sinners, Jesus' disciples were sometimes excluded from their own families. Indeed, the early Christians had a very rough road to walk, and they needed to hear and remember that Jesus taught his disciples to think like God, to be like the Forgiving Father of Luke's gospel, to welcome sinners and sit at table with them like Jesus did. (Luke 5:29)

There is no doubt that learning to love our enemies is an ongoing battle, one that we will often lose, but one which we cannot avoid. Nothing speaks the Gospel more clearly or deeply than the lives of believers willing to go beyond what seems reasonable in order to proclaim Good News. When we love our enemies, no one can deny the power of Jesus' life and teaching alive in us, and while our enemies might not choose to join us, they will surely respect our faith filled lives.

Today, for the sake of the Gospel, pray for the grace to reconcile with someone who hurt you.

What are the hardest sayings of Jesus for you to understand and accept?


Friday, February 21, 2020

Christ, The Messiah of God

“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 reminds us of the central mystery of Gospel living. We belong to Christ and follow him as the Messiah of God, the one promised us from the beginning of time.

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?

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Other Centered

"If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross." Lk 9:23

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.

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, February 19, 2020

No One is a Stranger to God

"Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom that he promised to those who love him?" Jas 2:6

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

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

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

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

How has faith given you a sense of belonging?

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Evangelization as Listening

"Everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak." Jas 1:19

More than once my father reminded me that God gave me two ears and one mouth for a reason. We need to listen twice as much as we speak, he insisted. In part, my dad challenged me in this way because he was a quiet man who preferred listening to speaking. He didn't have much schooling and was sometimes intimidated by people with college degrees, but his advice was wise and insightful. He knew the power of listening as a path to wisdom.

St James basically says the same thing. Evangelization is not just about getting your opinion heard, it also means learning to listen with hope and from the heart. When we help others articulate their feelings and opinions without interrupting them, they grow in respect for us and are much more likely to listen to us.

Authentic Evangelists are listeners, not just as a technique to assure others we respect them, but because we honestly want to hear the opinions and insights of those with whom we differ religiously.

Today, listen to someone from another religious tradition and try not to be defensive no matter how you feel.

What do you think about the faith traditions of Muslims, Buddhists and Jews?

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Leaven of the Pharisees

"'Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees...' " Mk 8:14

The disciples were drawn to Jesus for many reasons. He spoke to their hearts. He addressed them with dignity. He was a healer and prophet and he spoke with power. But they were also cautious and afraid when he warned them not be swayed by the leaven of the Pharisees. The Pharisees could intercede for them with the Roman authorities when they were in trouble and they did not want to bite the hand that fed them. No doubt some moved to the background when they heard Jesus' warning. but others listened at a deeper level. Rather than retreat, they moved closer to him because they believed God would protect, guide and strengthen them when they were threatened. What is your temptation when you are challenged?

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

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

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Embracing our Trials

"Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." James 1:2

The testing of our spirits is always a struggle. We see, or prefer to see ourselves, in a certain light, but not until our self image is tested do we know whether the self we want to be and have others know is authentic. All sorts of questions emerge about our spirituality when we lose our temper, speak poorly about others, or hold a grudge. At the same time, it is not healthy to reduce ourselves or anyone else to their faults.

Of course, none of us seeks suffering and diminishment, but few us escape the daily tests to our spiritual values. Fears, anxieties, darkness come to everyone who lives even a few years. How we respond to these trials will be the ultimate mark of our commitment to the Gospel.

Today, die to one memory that traps you in self pity.

Has suffering ever been a blessing for you?

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Wisdom

"We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God redetermined before the ages for our glory." 1 Cor 2 6-7

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

St Paul suggests that God is wise and if we want to be wise at any age, we need to be close to God and God's desire for the world so clearly expressed in the Gospel. Perhaps that is why thousands of young people are committed to Care for Creation as Pope Francis asks, even begs of us all. It is not so much that God inserted wisdom into these young people, but that they were willing to open their eyes to the devastation around the world and act.

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

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

Friday, February 14, 2020

Authentic Wealth

“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat." Mk 8:1

The people following Jesus were rarely rich or entitled. Rather, it was the poor, the sick, the struggling who followed him and not always for the right reason. It is clear in John's Gospel that some followed Jesus because he fed them when they were hungry, not because they recognized him as the Messiah.

At the same time, wealth by itself is not a detriment to following Jesus. Only when we cling to what we have, make up excuses for not sharing more generously with the needy and turn away from "beggars", that Jesus looks us in the eye and reminds us to take "nothing for journey."

When we pause to pray or simply be quiet, we often realize that everything we have is a gift. Many work hard to earn a living and share generously with their neighbors and churches because they realize how blessed they are and  always have been. These are the people who praise God everyday for their parents and grandparents and their formation in faith because it was their parents and teachers from whom they caught the wonder of God's creation and the beauty of living faith.

Today, try to silent for ten minutes and pay attention to everything and everyone around you.

What is your real wealth?

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Sts Cyril and Methodius

"Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." Mk 8:15

The use of the vernacular, or the language of the people, has long been controversial in the Church. Even today there are those who think we should return to the use of Latin in the liturgy primarily because it is not a "living" language and, therefore, less subject to misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

When Sts Cyril and Methodius, whose feast we celebrate today, wanted to make Slavonic the language of the liturgy the Bavarian bishops reacted, fearful they would be stripped of their influence in the Slavic world. Clearly, the preaching of Cyril and Methodius was having  a powerful effect on the people. That the liturgy might also be celebrated in a language the bishops could neither speak nor understand made them very anxious.

Power is almost always an issue in our lives. When we lose the power to speak, to see clearly, to drive a car, own a home or influence a vote, we can react violently against authority and God.  We want our voice and our freedom. The Bavarian bishops were so afraid of losing their ability to guide the church that they forced Methodius into exile for three years, to no avail. Cyril and Methodius were trying to spread the gospel with every tool at their command. That they were impeded, even stopped for a while by those who should have celebrating their efforts, only made them stronger and more effective.

Today, ask God to remind you of the gospel injunction to love your enemies.

How do you empower the powerless?

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Inclusive Vision of Jesus

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

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

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

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

Today, pray to be free of prejudice.

What practices help you not to judge others? 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Breathless

"When the queen of Sheba witnessed Solomon’s great wisdom, the palace he had built, the food at his table, the seating of his ministers, the attendance and garb of his waiters, his banquet service, and the burnt offerings he offered in the temple of the LORD, she was breathless." 1Kgs 10:4-5

Sometimes it is a sunset that takes our breath away. At other times, it is a surprise gift or the insight of a child or grandchild. Having our breath taken away is almost always a surprise. We come upon a vista while driving, or a person, a movie or a play that not only startles us, it also challenges us.

The Queen of Sheba, resistant to all she heard about Solomon's triumphs, decided to see for herself and what she discovered changed her attitude and her life, which is the point of this passage. When were we last surprised, lifted up and challenged by something or something from whom we expected little?

Often during the years of my initial formation as a Capuchin, the brothers would put on plays and musicals that amazed me and made me very happy and proud to be a friar. The talent displayed by some friars was wonderful, but the willingness of others, whose talent was limited, to be vulnerable for the sake of the common good touched me even more. Whenever we think more about the needs and desires of others, and act on their behalf, we are always better. Other centeredness is the core of Jesus' life and Gospel living.

Today, pause in gratitude for the last time you were breathless with delight.

How do you help others to be breathless with the gift of faith?

Monday, February 10, 2020

Focus on Your Strengths

"This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts." Mk 7:6-7

In a world as fast paced as ours, it is difficult not to lose focus. With so many messages coming at us thousands of times a day, we find ourselves spouting platitudes rather than thoughtful responses. 
Because we all fall into the trap of saying things over and over, we have some compassion for the Pharisees in today's Gospel. Doing everything they could to trap Jesus with his own words and actions, the Pharisees find themselves looking for anything to discredit Jesus and his disciples. 

Eating without washing one's hands, while an important ritual for Jews, was hardly earth shaking. Unable, however, to find anything else about Jesus' behavior to undermine his growing power and popularity, the Pharisees fixate on the faults of Jesus' followers, not his amazing and compelling compassion for the broken.

Today, think of and pray for someone you dislike.

How do you counter your tendency to focus on another's faults and sins?

Sunday, February 9, 2020

St Scholastica

Then Solomon said, “The LORD intends to dwell in the dark cloud; I have truly built you a princely house, a dwelling where you may abide forever.” 1 Kgs 8:13

The Second Vatican Council reminded Catholics that God dwells everywhere but is more fully or more deeply present when we gather for the Eucharist. More specifically, the Council insisted that Christ was present in the assembly of believers, in the Word proclaimed, in the breaking of the bread and in the person of the priest, all of which is rooted in God's promise to the Jewish people to be present among them as first Kings reminds us, "in a dark cloud."

God's presence among us, which is another way of speaking about God's fidelity, is central to Jews and Christians alike, and it is our task to attend to the God who lives within and among us. In some parishes, God is loud, festive, even pushy. The joy with which believers greet one another, inquire about one another's families, and sing enthusiastically is tangible and empowering. In other communities, God's presence can be caught from older parishioners sitting quietly before Mass praying the rosary, making the stations of the cross or reading the bible. It does not so much matter how God is present but that God is among us as a living presence and a challenging prophet. Our task is to be grateful for the God who is always with us, whether in a dark cloud, a candle lit church or our own homes.

Today, pause a few times to remember that God is always near.

How is God most present to you in daily life?

Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Diversity of Christ's Light

"You are the light of earth." Mt 5:14

Almost every year I have an opportunity to spend time with the Capuchin postulants of North America, who are always a remarkably diverse group of young men. Some are Hispanic, others Asian, still others are Middle Eastern or Caucasian. The light of Christ is very bright indeed and these young men are not putting their lights under a bushel basket.

The gospel today reminds us that like Christ, we must be lights in the world, bringing healing and hope to the world. Gathering with such a diverse group of committed and joyful young men is always a wonderful reminder that God continues to do God's work even in a church as hurt and broken as ours.

Being a light in the world is simple, but often difficult. It means discerning when to speak or be quiet in difficult circumstances. It means doing the right thing even when it is unpopular. It means remembering that it is not our own light but Christ's that we put on the mountain top so that all can see.

Today, be a light to others.

What or who brings the light of Christ into your life?

Friday, February 7, 2020

Seeking the Lost

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

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

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

Today, seek out the lost.

What keeps you from living the gospel with passion?

Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Sacrifice of John the Baptist

"He went off and beheaded John in the prison." Mk 6:27

Readers of John's 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?The 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

St Paul Miki and Companions

"This people honors me with their lips, but not with their hearts are from me." Mk 7:6

Sometimes, when we celebrate a saint's liturgical feast day, we forget who the companions were. This is a shame because it cheats us from celebrating everyday people. The twenty six companions of St. Paul Miki included people, young and old, from ever walk of life.
The twenty-six martyrs of Japan were crucified on a hill, now known as the Holy Mountain, overlooking Nagasaki. Among them were priests, brothers and laymen, Franciscans, Jesuits and members of the Secular Franciscan Order; there were catechists, doctors, simple artisans and servants, old men and innocent children—all united in a common faith and love for Jesus and his church. (Catholic Culture)
The history of our church is replete with a wonderful variety of saints and blesseds, all of whom deserve our admiration. If only we knew the stories of more ordinary people, not just bishops, priests and religious, we would understand more deeply how important it is to ask God to make us saints right where we are.

Not all of us have to become priests and religious. In fact, most people are not called to this way of life. Rather, single adults, married people, widows and widowers, are all called to a holiness proper to their vocations. Only when we encourage people to ask God for the gift of living a Gospel life in their homes, businesses, neighborhoods and cultures, will we understand more deeply the marvelous ways of God.

Today, pray to one of the lay men and women Japanese martyrs.

What qualities do you look for in saintly people?

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

St Agatha

"They...begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak." Mk 6:56

We know little of St Agatha except that she was martyred because she resisted marriage to a nobleman who wanted her to renounce her faith, and was reported to have said:  "Jesus Christ, Lord of all, you see my heart, you know my desires. Possess all that I am. I am your sheep." Asking God to make her as submissive as a sheep was Agatha's answer to those who wanted her to live an empty, faithless life. 

The writer of the book of Hebrews suggests that Agatha's courage can be ours if we remember that we are surrounded by the community of saints who will support us in our struggles and share our joys, but only if unload our burdens upon the Lord and turn away from sin.  

Remembering to call upon those who have struggled to live faith fully is a powerful antidote to our own fear and self absorption. Christianity is not simply about living the law but submitting ourselves in total trust to the Lawgiver. Recalling the faith lives of our parents, grandparents and mentors can give us the strength to do God's will in all circumstances.

Today, remember you are surrounded by a "cloud of witnesses."

Whose memory do you call upon in times of doubt?



Monday, February 3, 2020

Suffering

"A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak." Mt 9:20

Fear can be paralyzing, especially in the face of something or someone we do not know. Not infrequently, when I ministered among people who were mentally ill, I would have to accompany visitors through the hospital because they were too intimidated by mental illness to walk alone. No matter how I tried to assure them that they would be safe, they had heard too much about the mentally ill to trust those who looked so intense and guarded.

When today's gospel speaks of a woman bleeding for years, I cringed. Many at the time of Jesus would have avoided this woman at all costs, more concerned with their own cleanliness than with the woman's struggles to live a faith filled life. In the United States these days there are a host of communal fears. Many distrust Muslims, immigrants and people from countries and cultures that seem to threaten us, and this fear is sometimes fanned by political rhetoric rooted in ignorance and anxiety about the nature of diversity. Everyone who looks different is suspect. Jesus' response to all of this is plain.

"Do not be afraid," he cautions us. Get to know those who differ from you. When trust grows, we can build the kingdom of God together.

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



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

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Prisons of our own Making

"When he got out of the boat, at once a man from the tombs who had an unclean spirit met him. The man had been dwelling among the tombs, and no one could restrain him any longer, even with a chain." Mk 5: 2-3

There are all kinds of prisons. Some are physical in nature with bars and alarm bells and bobbed wire to make sure prisoners cannot escape. Others are internal and in many ways they are more restrictive than the prisons that house law breakers. Trapped in our expectations or by our fears and anxieties, we worry excessively about everything from the weather to our health and our financial security, and too often forget Jesus' reminder that we should not worry but remember that God takes care of everyone and everything. Prisons like this are painful, disempowering and unnecessary.

Unfortunately, like the man dwelling in the tombs, it is difficult for our friends and family to restrain us. Too concerned with our own opinion or reputation, we stop listening, reject the insights of others and isolate ourselves. Only when we ask for help, and find time to pray more often and simply do we begin to turn the corner and discover there is a way out of our prison. Letting go of our need to have everything and everyone in place, we discover that the Lord can be our strength,

Today, ask for the grace to walk out of the prison of your own pride.

What are the chains that bind you and our society?


Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Presentation of the Lord

"The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him."

The gospel scene of the infant Jesus being presented in the temple is remarkable, an epiphany of sorts. Entering the temple with his mother and father, he was every Jewish first born boy. Presented to God for God's purposes, he left the temple the Messiah. Recognized and lauded by Simeon as the One promised by God, and spoken about to everyone who would listen by the prophetess Anna, in many ways Jesus' mission began when, as an infant, he left the temple and grew in wisdom and grace because the favor of the Lord was upon him.

Though we know little about the childhood of Jesus, the Presentation offers us a glimpse into his humanity. Though recognized by Simeon as the one for whom he had been waiting all his life, he returns with his parents to his hometown to grow up like any child. Whether he was remarkable or insightful we do not know. What we do know is that he didn't skip over anything that makes all of us the unique persons we are. No doubt he had childhood illnesses, struggled with the Torah, worked alongside his father to learn a craft, and played with other children his age, all of which prepared him to be the Prophet he became. 

Committed like Moses to freeing his people, Jesus seems never to have wavered as an adult from doing his Father's will. Knowing his Father was always near, he teaches us the same simple lesson. God is always near. We have only to live life as fully and honestly as possible and let it unfold as God desires.

Today, be yourself and let God take you where you need to go.

What do you think your parents dreamed about for you?








Friday, January 31, 2020

Enduring Terror

“Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” Mk 4:40

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Mustard Seeds

"It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants." Mk 4:31

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?

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Remembering God's Benevolence

"The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you."  Mk 4:24

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Rocky Ground

"A sower went out to sow his seed...Some seed fell on rocky ground " Luke 8:4, 5

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

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

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

How has God surprised you on your pilgrim journey?

Monday, January 27, 2020

St Thomas Aquinas

"Christ is mediator of a new Covenant." Heb 9:15

No one in the history of the Christian west has been more influential in shaping theological thought than Thomas Aquinas. A prolific writer whose works include the Summa Theologica, his thought also helped Christians probe the wisdom of the Greek philosophers, especially Aristotle, as a path to new insights about the Gospels.

There is a wonderful lesson in Thomas' willingness to study Aristotle for all of us. As the 21st century unfolds we need to find new and probing ways of helping the Gospel live in this age, and while the wisdom of the past will always be an aid in this regard, it must be supplemented by tools contemporary believers recognize and use. How the Internet and other social media will open up paths to a new Evangelization is still to be seen, but surely needed.

Today, be wise. Say nothing. Just listen.

What thinker or social media has helped you enter the Gospel message more deeply?

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Blasphemy

"But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” Mk 3:29

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

God is with us, among us, present to us individually and communally. God's power allows God to accompany us, to direct us (when we listen!), to challenge us to be the voice and heart of Christ in the world. While this aspect of our baptismal charge is often overwhelming, it is ours for the taking, and to deny it is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy is nothing more than refusing to reverence the God who is, or asserting that God lacks the power to be present to us all the time.

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

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

What aspects of faith are most challenging to you?

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Belonging to Christ

“'I belong to Paul,” or 'I belong to Apollos,' or 'I belong to Cephas, or 'I belong to Christ.' Is Christ divided?" 1 Cor 12

To whom do you  belong? This is a critical question in the life of every believer. We may be faithful Catholics and celebrate the Eucharist each Sunday, but unless we belong to Jesus Christ and the lifestyle he set our for us, we find ourselves drifting from one action to another without ever committing ourselves to the Lord .

Belonging means prioritizing Jesus and his teaching as the focus of our lives. Committed to the community of faith, we pray regularly, break bread in memory of the one who has been raised from the dead, continue to learn about and live the Scriptures, and serve those most in need in the name of Jesus. This is a tall order but it should not overly disturb us that we often fail to live the fulness of the Gospel. Jesus only demands that we continue to return to him and his teaching and seek to enter the mysteries of faith with passion and hope.

Today, ask Jesus for the grace to enter more deeply into him and the life to which he has called you.

What most distracts you from the Gospel with passion and hope?

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Conversion of St Paul

"Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Acts 22:7

The drama of St Paul's conversion is compelling. Travelling to Damascus, determined to capture and persecute more followers of the "way", the gospel of Jesus, Paul is startled by a great light and, unsure of what is happening, falls to the ground. His companions see the light but don't hear the voice of Jesus. Only Paul hears the Lord's question, and frightened, asks what he should do. Jesus' response is cryptic but clear. Paul is to go to Damascus but his mission has been changed. No longer will he persecute Christians, he will join them.

If only faith was this clear for us. Our conversion, which is ongoing but often happens in hidden ways, is essential to our Christian life, but most of us have to read the signs of  times in the light of the Gospel to know the path we should take. While this might sound difficult, and is surely not as dramatic as Paul's conversion, it is easier if we have a spiritual companion and pray regularly. The freedom to speak with another about our own inner journey and our place in the world guides us, through prayer, to make good, thought through and felt through decisions that foster our ongoing conversion.

Today, speak with a soul friend and pray quietly for ten minutes.

What do you need to do to be open to God's ongoing call?

Thursday, January 23, 2020

St Francis de Sales

"He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd." Mk 3:9

Being ready for whatever comes each day is everyone's goal, but often difficult to do. When we are busy with a matter that demands our full attention, it can be irritating to be interrupted, especially when we determine that our time is precious.  This is not the way of Jesus!

Today's scripture suggests that the apostles and disciples should expect to be interrupted. More, they should be ready to respond. The posture of servant demands that Jesus' followers think more about the poor and lowly who are looking to Jesus for nourishment than their own needs or plans.

A stance so simple should not be confusing or awkward for the disciples, but it is. Too often the disciples forget who they are and why Jesus came. Sound familiar? The lesson today is straightforward. Get ready to welcome anyone who comes seeking faith. Nothing is more important than the discipleship to which we have been called. Stay alert to the seekers all around you. They need the fullness of the Gospel.

Today, make the way of the Lord less cluttered for others.

Who helped you when you were lost and in need?

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Jealousy

"Saul was very angry and resentful of the song, for he thought: 'They give David ten thousands, but only thousands to me. All that remains for him is the kingship.' And from that day on, Saul was jealous of David." 1 Sam 18:8-9

Jealousy is among the most destructive of emotions. Often rooted in our unhealthy need to think of ourselves as better than others, jealousy destroys relationships and can lead to a kind of violence that is both random and overwhelming. When one group, tribe or race in any society has infinitely more opportunities and resources than another, violence is almost inevitable.

Saul's jealousy of David emerges from a seemingly innocuous event. The women of Israel, celebrating David's victory over Goliath, hail David for slaying tens of thousands of their enemies, and although they honor Saul their song only mentions that he killed thousands. Saul is so jealous that he begins to plan David's murder but is undermined by his own son Jonathan, who warns David about his father's intentions.

Jealousy emanates from comparisons between and among us, which always diminish one or more people. Saying someone is stronger than another person or more intelligent, while strengthening one person, slights the other and encourages unhealthy competition. Jesus and the great saints made it a point to celebrate whatever strength a person had. Rather than compare one to the other, they lifted up the gifts God gave each person to build up the body of Christ. We can all avoid the sin of jealousy by doing the same.

Today, pray for the grace to see the gifts each person has.

What situations tempt you to be jealous of others

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Living our Faith

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price,  he goes and sells all that he has and buys it." Mt 13:46

Often great thinkers and saints come along at a time in church history when there is division, even chaos, and rage. St Francis of Assisi changed his society not by being upwardly mobile, but by choosing to live as a poor person among the poorest of the poor in Assisi. Thomas Becket famously said: "I am ready to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace. But in the name of Almighty God, I forbid you to hurt my people whether clerk or lay." And Mother Teresa of Calcutta saw a million people dying on the streets of Calcutta and decided to respond to them with love when no one else wanted to see them. All of them were pearls of great price.

Our task today seems very similar. Sometimes the Catholic church is known more for what it condemns than what it promotes, a comprehensive concern for the human family. While some in the press challenge the church’s condemnation of abortion as limiting a woman's legitimate freedom, the bishops remind us that we must have an “option for the poor and vulnerable," especially unborn children as well as promote workers rights, provide health care for all and welcome refugees fleeing violence and political oppression if we are going to have an authentically formed Catholic conscience. 

Today, practice virtue and justice.

What do you think it means to be a faith filled citizen in the United States today?

Monday, January 20, 2020

St Agnes

"At this the Pharisees said to him, 'Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?'” Mk 2:24

When people seem to break the law for no apparent reason it is sometimes easier to question their motives than to risk being changed. That is what seems to have happened to Jesus. Rather than celebrate his honesty, integrity and healing power, people suggested that he and his disciples didn't respect the law or the rabbinic interpretation of the law of fasting.

I had the privilege of working with many people who, though labelled "crazy," changed my life. Their kindness, compassion and insight about life and faith forced me to reevaluate my tendency to judge or dismiss them. In retrospect, I think it was my own fear of mental illness that got in the way of my seeing the person behind or inside the illness. Perhaps it was this same kind of fear that got in the way of people seeing Jesus and his disciples for the revolutionaries they were,

Today, think of someone who others dismiss with the eyes and ears of God.

How do you react to people who challenge the law and its interpretation?

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Weddings and their Promises

"Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?" Mk 2:20

It is no wonder that Jesus uses the image of a wedding to help his critics understand his larger message. Everyone in the ancient world knew how important weddings were. A time for families and tribes to deepen their bonds with one another, weddings lasted at least a week and the entire time was given over to the celebration of the new couple and the promise their marriage contained for their families and their faith community. 

Remembering that the Lord has made a covenant with us, married us, invites us to believe more deeply in the resurrection. At the time of Jesus, after a man was betrothed to his intended bride, he would leave her and return to his father's house, but before departing he would say, I go to prepare a place for you, the same words Jesus uses to assure his disciples that he would return for them after his death and bring them to the bridal chamber he had prepared for them in heaven.

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

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

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Singing a new Song

"He put a new song into my mouth." Ps 40:2

Sometimes we are so dense that can't seem to learn new and important aspects of life. We cling to what we know and the ways we have always done things, and this gets us in trouble. Our children, students, and younger relatives listen to us politely, but ignore our insights and suggestions. To them we always seem to singing the same old song.

Today the psalmist reminds us that God will put a new song into our moths if only we listen with openness and a desire to sing God's song and not ours. Most of us remember moments like this. Reading a book, listening to something on the radio, television or computer or engaged in a conversation, a light goes on. Someone has expressed something in a way that challenged us to change, to let go and to live God's truth, not ours.  Resistive for a moment or three, eventually  we move towards gratitude and begin to sing a new song and the melody not only helps us, it challenges others.

Today, think about friends, now dead, who changed you with an insight, an image, a metaphor or an interpretation of scripture or events that opened you to new way of living.

Who are the people in your life that you find very difficult to listen to?

Friday, January 17, 2020

Eating with Our Enemies

“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Mk 2:17

Jesus' answer to the Pharisees who are complaining about his eating with tax collectors and other sinners seems so obvious, we wonder how the Pharisees could be so blind and deaf. They must have known that the law not only allowed conversations with sinners but demanded it. Like us, the Pharisees often heard and saw what they wanted to see and hear. Secure in their knowledge of the Torah and satisfied with their modest power, they wanted only to find something to criticize in Jesus' behavior in order not to listen to him, but when Jesus responds to their resistance and dullness, he teaches all of us.

Change is always difficult, and it is easier to criticize someone than to search for their goodness and compassion. Jesus sees past the sins of the tax collectors. Inviting them to supper and building a relationship with them makes it possible for him eventually to speak with them about changing their lives and turning away from their sin. Rather than attack their profession, he sits at table with them in the hope that they will be able to see the error of their ways and change.

Today, praise someone whose behavior often irritates you.

Have you ever been changed by someone's kindness and understanding?


Thursday, January 16, 2020

St Anthony, Abbot

"Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart." Mk 3:5

St Anthony was reputed to be so attentive when listening to the Scriptures that he never needed spiritual books or a bible because he remembered everything he heard. (Office of Readings)

In the 21st century, it seems, we are less and less attentive since we have so many resources to help us remember. The almighty Google knows all. Type in or speak a question or even a few key words and there are usually more than one million places indicated where one might discover more information about the question asked. Is Google making us lazy?

When we examine our spiritual practices, it would be good to ask ourselves whether, even when we read the Scriptures, we rush to get through it rather than savor its delights. Although we have the freedom to pick up a bible anytime for reflection and nourishment, it is important not take God's word for granted. A slow reading of the scriptures can be enormously enriching.

Today, read one paragraph of the daily scripture slowly.

What is the best way for you to learn about and be transformed by God's word?





Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Hiding with Christ

"The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, Jesus dismissed him at once. Then he said to him, 'See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.'” Mk 1:43

Not wanting to be the focus of people's adulation, Jesus hides from the people after curing the leper because he knew that flattery rarely led to imitation and discipleship.  Jesus wanted the Jewish leaders and the people who first listened to him to fall in love with his Father and commit themselves to God's will.

This was and is a hard lesson for us. It is natural to want security and answers to life's problems and concerns. We go to doctors to avoid and address health issues and financial advisers to help us invest our money wisely and safely, but Jesus did not come to promise us protection from life's every day trials but to accompany us on every journey. He is the new Covenant, the fullness of God's love, the one who will always be with us as a guide. We should not expect him to shield us from difficulty but to be a light in the darkness.

Today, pray to be aware of God's unconditional love and presence.

Who has been with you through every dark night?

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Patient Listening

"When Samuel went to sleep in his place, the LORD came and revealed his presence, calling out as before, 'Samuel, Samuel!' Samuel answered, 'Speak, for your servant is listening.'” 1 Sam 3:10

Anxious to care for Eli, the high priest, as he neared death, Samuel, though just a boy, was like a mother with a small child, and woke easily from sleep when he thought Eli was calling him in the middle of the night. Each time Samuel heard his name called, he thought it was Eli asking for help but Eli assured him it was not him calling. Finally, Eli realized it was God calling Samuel and told him that when he heard his name called at night, to say: Speak, Lord your servant is listening. When Samuel next heard his name called, he obeyed Eli and listened to God but the message was painful. God tells Samuel that Eli's unwillingness to control his sons would never be forgiven. More painful still, Eli demanded that Samuel tell him exactly what God had said. Samuel obeyed and Eli heard God's awful punishment from the boy he had helped raise.

Sometimes we don't get the answer we want from God about our lives and our dreams. Samuel could not have expected that God would tell him that because of  the wickedness of Eli's sons, Eli's reign would soon end forever. How difficult it must have been for Samuel to tell Eli what God had said, but as a prophet, he had no choice. His only task was to speak God's word faithfully despite the cost to him personally, and his fidelity would be rewarded by God.

Telling the truth despite the cost is an important challenge for every believer. Unless we are willing to acknowledge our own failures, and the mistakes of our families, nation and church, we cannot expect God to make up for our faults. God wants to free us from fear and strengthen our resolve but we have to do our part.

Today, ask God to help you live without fear.

How difficult is it for you to speak the Gospel when no one seems to be listening?



Monday, January 13, 2020

To Who do you Listen

"The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes." Mk 1:22

While very few would suggest that education is unimportant, it can be overrated. Most of the adults I knew as a child had little formal education, yet they were respected in my neighborhood.  Anyone who worked hard, had a deep faith and understood life from the inside was trusted and revered.  Like Jesus, many of my neighbors spoke with authority.

Jesus did not seem to worry much about the education of the the men he called to be his apostles, but the leaders of the Jewish people seemed to think this was a soft spot in the life of the new community. Anxious to stop Jesus' disciples from speaking about their Lord, they called them in and threatened them, only to have Peter and John insist that they had no choice but to speak of Jesus. Clearly, Peter and John were not worried about their lack of education and were not intimidated by threats from the Jewish leaders.

It is always good to take a few moments and ask ourselves to whom we are most likely to listen. Do the highly educated intimidate us into silence about important matters? Are we unwilling to speak of our faith to people of power and prestige in the community?

Today, take time to listen to someone you might otherwise ignore.

What most impresses you about the faith you witness everyday?

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Follow Me

"Come after me."  Mk 1:17

The call to discipleship comes early in Mark's gospel.  Jesus sees Simon and his brother Andrew, who were fishermen, working their trade.  He calls them and they follow.  Mark is clear, sharp and uncomplicated. The text suggests that Simon Peter and Andrew needed to follow the Lord immediately or they would be left behind.

What was it that attracted the first apostles to follow Jesus? Were they simply in the right place at the right time? Sometimes being in the right place means standing still, not rushing about anxiously simply because we are uncomfortable. Stilling ourselves, breathing deeply, becoming aware of everything and everyone around us is the foundation for good decisions. Only when we are quiet internally and externally are we able to hear others and God deeply.

Today, take five minutes of quiet to sit still, listen and ask for guidance.

What is the best advice you ever received about living your faith?

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Baptism of the Lord

"I need to be baptized by you, yet you are coming to me?" Mt 3:14

With this feast, the season of Christmas comes to an end, but the challenge to give birth to the Christ begins in earnest and John the Baptist teaches us how to go forward. John's humility about his own role and his assurance that Jesus is the Messiah lifts us up and sends us forth in hope. Jesus, Isaiah and John remind us, has not come into the world to destroy it, but to assure all those listening, especially the poor, that his task is to heal the bruised reed and keep alive the flame of faith, but only if we accept his word and allow his power to transform us.

As Jesus begins his public ministry by having John baptize him, it is clear that he will risk anything so that his message from his Father will be clear and transparent. Jesus is among us to announce Good News, but his message will be difficult for those who want to cling to power, wealth and worldly prestige. Jesus wants to set us free from the domination of all systems that fail to create a just world. This message will be his downfall and our salvation.

Today, put aside your fears of being broken and weak. Our God heals.

Is it time to begin again your own ministry of service and freedom?

Friday, January 10, 2020

Letting Christ Increase in Us

"He must increase, I must decrease." Jn 3:30

The word picture of John the Baptist created by the evangelists is both charming and challenging. Clear thinking, focused, lean and a little mean, John was not afraid to say what he was thinking to anyone, even if it put his life in danger. The Baptist is a traditional hero who both knows and accepts himself. Acknowledging that he is unworthy to untie the sandal strap of the Lord, John insists he is not the Messiah. Both honest and transparent, John's reward for his goodness will be a gruesome death.

John the Baptist is also the first to recognize Jesus when he leaps in his mother's womb as the newly pregnant Mary approaches his childhood home. Excited by the arrival of his Messiah, John senses even before his birth that his visitor will change everything about his life, and in this he becomes an example for every Christian.

John is the forerunner of Jesus, the one who will prepare his way and so must we in our culture, country and time.  John's insistence that "He must increase, and I must decrease," (John 3:30) will become a mantra for Christians throughout the ages.

Today, be yourself. Don't try to be God.

What most challenges you in the life of John the Baptist?

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Inviting others to know God

"Then Jesus ordered the leper not to tell anyone." Lk 5:14

Sometimes I find myself seriously disagreeing with Jesus. Today he tells the leper who he just cured not to tell anyone about his cure, and especially not to tell others that Jesus cured him. What is this so called "Lucan secret" all about? Aren't we supposed to tell others about Jesus? Aren't we supposed to witness to his transforming power alive in us?

Jesus, like the other most powerful spiritual teachers in human history, does not want the focus on himself, but of the wonderful and wondrous power of God. If the leper speaks too much about Jesus' ability to heal and cure, some people will search for him for the wrong reasons. The sick won't care about his message because they want only to be free of illness, and those in authority might feel threatened and attack him without listening to the fullness of his message.

Speaking about Jesus as a miracle worker without following his lead in responding to those most in need will do little to help transform the world. Our task is to be living invitations to encounter the living God.

Today, ask God for the strength to decrease, while God increases.

What is the essence of the Good News as you hear it and experience it?

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Listening to and loving our enemies

"If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates his brother, he is a liar." 1 Jn 4:20

Christianity is dangerous. It is not a religion that lets us escape into a world on contemplation and prayer without actions. In fact, it demands that we love our sisters and brothers with the same breath and ardor that we love God.

We all know this, but it is important to remember, especially when we find ourselves enmeshed in political or religious arguments that tempt us to be right rather than in relationship. Real love demands that we listen with the ears of God to those with whom we disagree. Jesus did this with the leaders of the Jewish community and demands we do the same with those elected or called to lead us.

This can be much more difficult when it involves family members or friends with whom we disagree. As the 2020 presidential election nears, all of us will be tested not just to listen to God but to listen to all those with whom we differ and seek common ground. When Jesus found faith outside of Jerusalem, he honored it and challenged his contemporaries to do the same. He continues to do this if us and through us today.

Today, pray for someone with whom you disagree and ask for the faith to listen to them with God's ears.

Whom do you find it most difficult to listen to?

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Remaining in God

"Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him and he in God. We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us." 1 Jn 15

One of the dangers in being called to ministry is that we very often encounter people when they are in acute distress. Their children are addicted and acting out, their parents are in jail, a sister is seriously mentally ill or a brother is unable to tell the truth, and they look to us for insight and wisdom. The list of woes goes on and on, and often skews our worldview. Life feels like a very dark place and unless we are careful we begin to believe that the entire world is a mess.

Because Jesus understood that life would be difficult for his disciples, especially if they continued to proclaim the Good News, he offered them a way to understand and interpret their ministerial efforts through the experience of a woman giving birth. While the pain of child birth is intense, the result is pure joy. A child is born, a new life begins and hope replaces despair. Such would be the life of those who remained faithful to the gospel. Darkness can become light, and sadness can be transformed into hope, but we must pause each day to remember that we are not alone, that we are accompanied by a body of believers who, while they suffer, also know great joy.

Today, remember that your life has already produced great gifts for God.

How do you manage to remain centered in God in a world full of heartache?

Monday, January 6, 2020

Seeking the Lost

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

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

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

Today, seek out the lost.

What keeps you from living the gospel with passion?

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Testing Spirits

"Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God." 1 Jn 4:1

The testing of our spirits is always a struggle. We see, or prefer to see ourselves, in a certain light, but not until our self image is tested do we know whether the self we want to be and have others know is authentic. All sorts of questions emerge about our spirituality when we lose our temper, speak poorly about others, or hold a grudge. At the same time, it is not healthy to reduce ourselves or anyone else to their faults.

The first letter of John alerts us to the fact that all of us will be tested, but especially the Christ. Ironically, it is Jesus obedience and submission to God's will that most convinces us of his claims to divinity. While others might be able to accept their own death as an ordinary dimension of life, Jesus embraces death for us so that he might demonstrate God's unconditional love for us and free us for a life with him at the eternal banquet.

Of course, none of us seeks suffering and diminishment, but few us escape the daily tests to our spiritual values. Fears, anxieties, darkness come to everyone who lives even a few years. How we respond to these trials will be the ultimate mark of our commitment to the Gospel.

Today, die to one memory that traps you in self pity.

Has suffering ever been a blessing for you?

Saturday, January 4, 2020

The Epiphany of the Lord

"Where is the newborn king of the Jews?" Mt 2:2

Stability is something we all seek.  We want a permanent job, a house or apartment of our own that we can afford.  We want our children to do well in school and enter strong solid marriages.  It goes on and on.  Stability is like a prize that we cannot live without, but today's readings ask us to make a very deep examination of conscience.

What kind of stability are really seeking? Jesus does not promise us that we will have a land to call our own, but assures us that God will always be with us in the flesh, and will send his Spirit to dwell within us and among us forever. Rather than building temples, we are God's holy tabernacle. We are a pilgrim people who build places of worship and call them churches, but the real church is us! United in faith with the assurance that God will be our anchor, we are set free from the compulsive need to live in one place, have the same job forever, and measure our success by what we have rather than who we are.

Our challenge on the feast of the Epiphany is straightforward: How open spirited are we?  How ready are we to welcome the message of salvation and hope no matter where it comes from? The story of the Magi is still told today because it reminds us to let go of our limited understanding of the gospel and listen with open spirits to the epiphanies happening all around us every day.

Today, ask God to give you a stable relationship in faith to continue your journey.

Have you had an Epiphany lately?

Friday, January 3, 2020

St Elizabeth Ann Seton

"We have found the Messiah." Jn 1:41

Elizabeth Ann Seton had any number of firsts in her life. She founded the first American congregation of religious sisters in the United States, opened the first parish school and the first Catholic orphanage, but none of these is her greatest triumph. Despite being widowed at 30 with five young children, she decided to become a Catholic despite strong opposition from her staunch Episcopal family.

Elizabeth's courage at a time in her life that begged her to be careful and conservative remind us that when we depend totally on God wonderful things can happen. Not only are we able to make difficult decisions, we do so with conviction and serenity. When God is on our side, and God always is, no obstacle is too big to overcome.

In the United States women have always been the foundation stones of our parishes. They teach religious education, serve on every committee and week after week faithfully celebrate the Eucharist with devotion and passion. In all of this they have a wonderful model in Elizabeth Ann Seton. Not deterred by being ignored, dismissed or rejected, women know, like Elizabeth Ann, that God is their center and their guide. Nothing else matters.

Today, listen to a woman of faith.

What woman of faith do you most admire?

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Letting the Lord Gaze Upon You

"John testified further, saying,...‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’" Jn 1: 28, 29

What was it that John saw? What did the Spirit look like? Most of us have been in the presence of people with political or religious power. We know what that feels like, but Jesus was an itinerant preacher and minor prophet. Surely, John was talking about something more than the power we invest in hierarchies when he said of Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God...He must increase, I must decrease." Whether it was a simple matter that Jesus had no sin to confess when he came to John for baptism, or the confidence with which Jesus carried himself, we do not know but we do know John saw something and so must we.

In order to see, we must look long and hard at ourselves, others and the world. This takes practice and discernment. We cannot expect to see what it is that God is doing within and among us unless we take time to gaze upon God and God's works everyday. Some call this prayer or contemplation but naming is not as important as doing it. Finding time in our busy schedules to stop, listen, and allow the Spirit of God to guide us is essential to anyone who wants to live the Gospel, not just know about it.

Jesus often left his disciples, even for entire nights, to commune with his Father in prayer, and in this he offers an example. Because we can easily get so close to someone or something that we see them as if through a microscope, we need to step away and let God guide our eyes and hearts. In this way, perhaps we can see the Spirit like Jesus did.

Today, slow down and let the Lord look at you as you are.

What most keeps you from developing a daily prayer life?


Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Sts Basil and Gregory the Great

"When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires, the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper....our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians." (1) St. Gregory of Nazienzen

The saints whose lives we honor today were, in contemporary language, "soul friends."  Basil, who is recognized as the father of monasticism in the East, could be fierce and unbending. Much like Mother Teresa of Calcutta in our day, he was a reformer and  made decisions quickly, often without much conversation with others. Gregory, on the other hand, was shy and retiring.  When appointed Archbishop of Constantinople, he lived with friends rather than take up residence at the city's center. Both men were accused of heresy and were slandered by those who resented their power and fortitude. Despite their differences, they remained friends.

All of us need people with whom we walk closely in faith, especially when life is difficult and confusing. Having one other person to accompany us through the dark and light times is a gift beyond words. Gregory and Basil had this in one another, and although their relationship was often under great stress, Gregory reminds us that their "great pursuit...to be called Christians" kept them together in love and hope.

Today, treasure the gift of a  soul friend.

With whom do you walk most closely in faith?