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Saturday, February 29, 2020

Desert Epiphanies

"Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil." Mt 4:1

Twice in Matthew gospel there is an Epiphany, a moment of enlightenment and clarity. for Jesus and all of us, his followers. The first occurs as Jesus emerges from the waters of the Jordan and hears God's words, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This is an Epiphany of a kind we all enjoy and seek. It is an affirmation, a light come to us from afar, a confirmation of our identity as God's child.

The second Epiphany is very different. Jesus is in the desert, the place of terrible cold at night and unbearable heat during the day, and he remains there for forty days and nights. This is a dark Epiphany, a time of affirmation surely, but accomplished in the shadows. Though Jesus is ministered to by angels, he is also among wild beasts. His life is being threatened and his integrity is being challenged. Today's Epiphany is daunting, one which most of us would rather avoid.

The challenge of the Gospel is clear. When we can allow God to be God and look for God in the dusty and suffocating corners of life, we are acknowledging that we are made in God's image. God is not made in ours. While we know that suffering is not something we seek in itself, we also know we cannot avoid suffering altogether. Every life is full of light and dark. Knowing that God is always with us, even when we cannot understand God's ways, is the key to our faith. The road to Easter joy must go through Calvary.

Today, return to an unhealed place within your heart and let God be with you.

Recount a time when you discovered God in the "desert."

Friday, February 28, 2020

Living the Sabbath

"If you call the sabbath a delight, and the LORD’s holy day honorable; If you honor it by not following your ways, seeking your own interests, or speaking with malice...Then you shall delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth." Is 58:13

Jews have always valued the Sabbath, both as a way to remember God's gracious love of them and to observe God's laws. It is important to remember that very few societies in the ancient world had time away from work. People, especially the poor, worked everyday and rarely had time for themselves. When God rested on the seventh day, God reminded all of us to stop, celebrate and rest. The Jewish people took this example very seriously, and their strict observance of the Sabbath is testimony to this.

At the same time, the law of God  about Sabbath rest should never be used as an excuse not to do good. We rest in order to remember God's love and respond to others as God did and does. If on occasion this means reaching out to help the suffering during an emergency, then we must act even on the Sabbath. There is no other way to observe the whole law and the prophets.

Today, rest completely and see how your refreshed spirit will urge you to do more good.



How do you obtain a balance in your life between work and rest?

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Authentic Fasting

"This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own." Is 58: 6-8

If anyone has been slow to enter Lent, Isaiah pushes hard. Only two days after we have begun the journey towards Easter and asked for the grace of transformation, the prophet's instruction is clear and demanding. We must be just and compassionate. Otherwise, Lent will be a futile exercise of self discipline that has nothing to do with God or God's desires for the world.

Being just is an attitude, a way of looking at the world. It does not begin with wondering whether someone deserves our care, but with fulfilling God's challenge to help those in need without regard to social class, race, religion or culture. People without a voice, a job or a position of power need to know that God cares about and for them, and we, God's people, are the way God shows this to the them and to the world. We are God's face, ears and hands, gazing upon, listening to and reaching out for anyone, but especially for those bound unjustly.

Hearing God's challenge and responding is not the work of a single day, week or month, but of a lifetime. When we make time and take time to listen to the world as it is, we cannot not hear and see those in need. More important, over time we learn to respond with compassion and humility. Most of us are only two paychecks a way from poverty.

Today, pray for the homeless wherever they live, but especially for those in your own city or town.



What is your attitude towards the chronically needy?

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Suffering for the Gospel

"First, he must suffer greatly." Lk 9:22

Rejection is always painful whether it comes from a superior, a coworker or a family member. Usually we become defensive and angry even if we saw the rejection coming for a long time. We also struggle to understand it and put it in a category that protects us from further harm. But rejection comes to everyone in life and unless we learn to accept it for what it is, we will struggle with it more than necessary.

Although the call to discipleship for Jesus' first followers and us involves suffering, we do not have to be afraid. The Lord promises to accompany his disciples until the end of time. As long as we stay close to the Lord through prayer, service and worship, there is nothing to fear, and we might even find that suffering for the good of others has made us better people and disciples.

Today, listen without fear even to difficult messages.

What has been your best response to suffering?

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Ash Wednesday

"Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God." Jl 2:12

External signs of penance are common in most cultures and religions. Kneeling on the steps of a church asking pardon of those entering was common. Dressing in sackcloth and ashes and abstaining from meat were other ways of asking pardon of God and the community for serious faults and sins. Each and all of these penances were encouraged by the church both to help the sinner repent and remind the church community to be transparent examples of Gospel living. The book of Joel, however, is careful to remind believers that the mere exercise of a public penance does not guarantee reconciliation with God and the community. While the external signs of sorrow might be in place, the need for penitent hearts is still necessary, and this is the work we all must do during Lent.

Sometimes it is best to keep things very simple during Lent. Think of a penance that, while stressful, helps you open your minds to new ideas and your spirit to real transformation. It might be as simple as sitting quietly for five minutes in the morning before you make coffee or plan your day. You don't have to do anything during this quiet time except make yourself available to God for God's work.

Today, don't just do something, sit there.

What have been your most memorable Lents?

Monday, February 24, 2020

Listening and Humility

“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” Mk 9:37

Knowing exactly what Jesus means by childlike is not easy. In the ancient world,  because children had little economic value until they could work, it was counter intuitive to imitate them. Nevertheless, Jesus holds them up for us as a model of faith life. Unless we are as vulnerable as children were in Jesus' day, we will think too highly of ourselves and the haughtiness that can accompany education, power and wealth get in the way of our witness to the Gospel.

Jesus does not want us to follow him for its social value. Otherwise, he would have told us to wear multiple tunics, carry money and wear fine sandals so that those who met us would be impressed with what following Jesus did for us. Rather, he tells us to take nothing for the journey so that all will see in us people whose only task is to announce the Good News. Like John the Baptist, we go before the Lord to prepare the way.

Today, listen to others like a child listening to a bedtime story.

Whose childlike faith helped shape yours?

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Knocking on God's Door

"Ask and it will be given to you." Mt 7:8

Most of us are too proud to ask others for help, except in the simplest matters. Determined to hold onto our independence for as long as possible, we miss some of the great delights of life. When we allow others to help us, everything changes. We realize that it is o.k. not to know certain things, not to be in charge, to be in charge.

More important, we often empower others when we ask for their insight or help. This is especially true with our children. I remember well when my parents asked me to help them with their finances. Although I had not had much experience in financial matters, there were plenty of friends who were more than capable, and they were only too happy to help me and my parents.

The Gospel today is reminding us to ask for help, to acknowledge our weakness and dependence, asserting all the while that God is waiting for our request and anxious to come to our aid, and while we might not always receive exactly what we think we need or want, the Lord will always be present to us as guide and companion. The 13th century Persian poet, Rumi, says it this way: "The door we are knocking on opens from the inside."

Today, knock of God's door just to tell him you are near.

What makes it difficult for you to ask for help?

Humility

"Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show his works by a good life in the humility that comes from wisdom." Jas 3:13

Most humble people have been humbled. Born into wealth or privilege, circumstances conspired against them and they lost everything. The proud complain or curse God; the humble realize that everything they had was a gift and not something they earned or deserved. The proud do almost anything to reclaim what they believe is theirs by divine right. The humble echo the Japanese proverb: When my house burned down, I could finally see the sunrise.

When Jesus "catches" his disciples arguing about who was the greatest among them, he cautions them to take the lowest place, to be servants of one another and never to forget the poor and the broken. Although his rebuke was not direct, we can be sure his disciples heard his challenge. Whenever we are overly concerned about our own voice or power, we forget our most important mission. Worrying more about others than whether we have been heard will keep us humble and lead people to Jesus.

Today, be grateful for all of life no matter how humbling.

What keeps you from humbly acknowledging your weaknesses?