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Saturday, May 2, 2020

Listening for the Shepherd's Voice

"The sheep hear his voice." Jn 10:4

Hearing the voice of someone you can trust is a very comforting sound, especially if you are in a difficult or new situation. The first time I traveled to Bolivia I got off the plane after 15 hours of travel, looked around and could not find a familiar face, but after collecting my baggage, I heard the friar I was intending to visit call my name. Although I was far from New York and very tired, I felt at home.

Shepherds in the ancient world did that for their sheep. Most shepherd's had a different whistle or sound for each of their sheep and when the sheep heard their master's whistle, they followed him. He was their guardian and would lead them to fertile pastures where they could eat and drink.

Most of us have had people in our lives who seem able to hear us on a level that both sustains and challenges us. Gifted with the ability not to speak too quickly or forcefully, our shepherds help us understand ourselves and the God who seems silent but always has a message. Although we often resist their insights, eventually we let go and trust the God who speaks through them.

Today, be grateful for the shepherds in your life who help you hear God's voice.

Whose voice was most important to your growth as a person?

Friday, May 1, 2020

Trusting Jesus

"Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, 'Do you also want to leave?'” Jn 6:67

When friends are not who we thought them to be, especially if they speak poorly of us, we are disappointed and disillusioned.  We might even be tempted to end our friendship, or at the very least step away from it for a while. Shock does that to us. Unsure of someone else, we also wonder how we missed something important about them. Were we so needy that we failed to realize that our relationship was not as secure or as deep as we imagined?

John's gospel reminds us that not all of Jesus' disciples remained true to him. Discipleship, like friendship, is built not on completely understanding the other, but on trusting that the relationship is authentic and rooted in God's love and the truth of the Gospel. Because we know that God is faithful, we can trust that whatever God teaches is for our good and glory of God. Trusting God is the root of our faith and faithfulness.

Today,  ask not for understanding but acceptance.

How do you manage the loss of a friendship?

Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Conversion of St Paul

“On that journey as I drew near to Damascus about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I replied, ‘Who are you, sir?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.’" Acts 22:6-8

Most conversions are not as dramatic as St Paul's, but almost all of us have Epiphany moments, times when the light goes on and we see clearly how God has been active in our lives, and most of these events come when we least expect them. At the same time, it is important not to focus too much on any single event or moment in our lives. Conversion moments are intended to give us a direction, not trap us in the past clinging to consolation.

It is important to take time regularly to reflect on our own conversion story. Asking ourselves how God has entered and redirected our lives, though distressing at times, helps us remember that God is always near, inviting us to move more deeply into the mystery of his love. When we do this with others, moreover, we build a community of faith that strengthens all who are willing to share and grow together towards the heart of God.

Today, take a moment to pray in gratitude for your own conversion moments.


What about your own conversion continues to guide your faith journey?

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Bible's Value

“'Do you understand what you are reading?' He replied, 'How can I, unless someone instructs me?'” Acts 8:30

Unfortunately, in a Twitter world where all communication is limited to 280 characters, too many believers cling to or focus on one phrase from the Gospel and use it as a lens for their spiritual lives. Doing this almost always leads to misunderstanding and confusion.  The New Testament cannot be fairly read or understood when we remove it from its own cultural context and setting.

The Ethiopian eunuch reading the scriptures alone knew he needed help and asked Philip to instruct him There should be little doubt that Philip responded to this seeker's request using all the information and skill he had. Blessed with so much wonderful scholarship and insight, we ought to follow Philip's example in the 21st century. Don't just read the scripture regularly or return to your favorite passages, taste the Word of God, chew on it and savor it.

Today, pick up a Catholic study bible and read the introduction to one of the Gospels.

Who or what most helped you to understand the scriptures more deeply?

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Accepting Ridicule

"Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the Church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment. Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word." Acts 8: 3-4

It is startling to hear about Saul's (St Paul's) violent assault on those professing faith in Jesus. It is one thing to attack men physically, but dragging women out of their homes and throwing them into prison tells us not only about Saul's vitriol, but about the level of upset the Jewish community had with those who would soon be called Christians. Violence against women, and others without social standing, is always a sign of a person or culture that is out of control.

At the same time, it is important for us to hear about and accept how difficult life was for the first Christians. Not only did the followers of Jesus venture forth into a hostile Gentile world, they felt enormous pressure from within the community out of which they came. In order to follow Jesus, they risked everything, and eventually lost everything, even their lives. But it was the promise that when they lost their lives they would gain eternal life that gave them the courage to let go, to continue to preach the Good News, and not worry about the results. Their task was to be faithful, not to be successful.

While too many people in the 21st century continue to be persecuted for their religious convictions, Christians know that suffering for the reign of God is worth it when done for the right reasons. Jesus' promise to give life to those who die for the sake of the Good News remains the ground upon which we build our lives.

Today, accept whatever ridicule comes your way for professing the Gospel.

Have you ever suffered for your Gospel convictions?

Monday, April 27, 2020

Religious Intolerance

"As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them;' and when he said this, he fell asleep." Acts 7: 59-60

The reasons we reject others are many. Sometimes we don't like or trust the person. At other times, their message annoys or upsets us, and unfortunately, there are some who reject others because of race, religious, ethnicity, culture or sexual orientation. Although most of us have been raised with the bromide, Don't judge a book by its cover, we all have our prejudices.

Stephen was rejected simply because he was preaching the salvation of Jesus Christ, a message that frightened traditional religious types who used their power to control others' lives. When Stephen's wisdom and spirit began to sway people towards Christ and away from the synagogue, his fate was sealed. Some scholars believe that Stephen had attended and worshiped at the synagogue in which he was preaching, making his sin even greater. To draw others away from the Talmud was bad enough but to do it to one's neighbors and friends was a much worse offense.

Today, be grateful for those who live and speak our faith with power no matter the cost.

Have you ever been attacked or rejected because of your religious faith?

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Feed the Hungry

"Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life." Jn 6:27

While Jesus accepted the people who followed him for who they were, he also knew that some sought him out for the wrong reasons, and he regularly corrects and challenges them and us not to look to him  only for miracles and food, but to pray and work for a food that will last.

Although we know this side of Jesus, it can be difficult to accept his directives, especially when we are struggling. Anxious to be free of suffering for ourselves or others, we pray for God's intervention without bothering to think or even wonder whether our desire will help build God's reign.

When we read the scriptures about the people Jesus healed, we are reminded not to focus too narrowly on the wonder of healing, but on the life of faith which the healed person led. Mark's gospel is especially telling in this regard. "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." (Mk 10:52) Ultimately, the healing of Jesus is for others. Jesus expect those he heals to "go" and announce the Good News by the way they live and care for others.

Today, feed someone with kindness.

What most interferes with your following Jesus freely?