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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?