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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?