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Friday, July 3, 2020

Fresh Wineskins

"People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” Mt 9:16-17

When we get stuck in the past, we cannot advance the Good News, and this happens to all of us from time to time. We know this is the case when we smile at ourselves or friends who remind us that we sound just like our parents! Caught up in the way things "used to be," we fail to recognize or fully appreciate the advances that the present generation is making.

Because the Jewish community of Jesus' time was so locked into a traditional understanding and interpretation of the Torah, they could not recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah. Although Jesus continually assured them that he had no intention of changing or doing away with even the "smallest part of a letter of the law," their defenses were up and their hearts were closed to how God wanted to renew them.

A good and healthy spiritual practice finds us asking regularly, not simply what we might do to preserve God's word, but how can we advance it to a new generation. Only when the young hear our excitement for them to be the face of a new Evangelization will they be unafraid to push the Gospel forward.

Today, drink deeply of the new wine of Jesus.

Who or what has helped you appreciate the always new wine of the Gospel?

Thursday, July 2, 2020

St Thomas, the Apostle

"You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone." Eph 2:19-20

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?

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Paralyzed by Fear

"Rise, pick up your stretcher and go home." Mt 9:7

Fear can be paralyzing, especially in the face of something or someone we do not know. Not infrequently, when I was ministering at a hospital in Boston that cared for many 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 paralytic, I cringed. Many at the time of Jesus would have avoided this person all costs, more concerned with their own cleanliness than with the paralytic's struggles to live a faith filled life. In the United States these days there are a host of communal fears. Many distrust Asians because of Covid-19, 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, take the opportunity to engage someone who looks different than you.

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

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Guilt's Purpose

"They cried out, 'What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?'” Mt 8:29

Sometimes our faults torment us, and this is not all bad. Our pride gets in the way of our seeing and acknowledging the accomplishments of others, or our judgmentalism makes it impossible to recognize the beam in our own eye. When this happens, God's presence and encouragement are the last things we think about. Rather, we become obsessed with our own success and image.

On the other hand, it is important not to forget God's saving mercy and rely on it more when we find ourselves so distracted by our own sins that we think of little else. Not infrequently, I suggest to people that they can be guilty for ten minutes a day, but after that their guilt becomes an impediment to God's desire for the world. When we spend too much time thinking about or planning a path to purity of intention and action, we risk believing that we are in charge of our own lives, and nothing could be further from the truth.

Guilt can help us reflect and change, but we need always to ask God to help us discern what most advances God's reign. Guilt's purpose is to call us back to the path of honest and transparency, and when we accept God's way, like the young man returning to the home of his father after wasting his resources, we find God waiting to welcome us and set us on the path of  new life.

Today, examine our conscience and ask God to redirect your life.

Has your guilt ever helped you change for your own good, and God's?



Monday, June 29, 2020

Remembering that God is Always Near

"They came and woke him, saying, 'Lord, save us! We are perishing!' He said to them, 'Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?'" Mt 8:26

The apostles, we sometimes forget, 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, and this is exactly what was going on when the boat they were traveling is was in danger. Could/would Jesus even preserve them from death?

Terror endured for the sake of God's reign saves us, and while it is natural to search for another path, we have only to ask God for the strength and integrity to endure and accept whatever comes to us in life, even when God seems to be sleeping.  That the Lord will always be at our side and give us the resilience to persist through every trial with him as our guide is the point of today's Gospel passage.

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?

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Sts Peter and Paul

"I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith." 2 Tim 4:6

St Paul uses sports metaphors regularly, urging his disciples to follow him in the race, and not to be afraid to compete with anyone who might be distracting God's people from their goal of unity with Christ. Most of us can relate to Paul in this regard, but we need to be careful. Competition has its pitfalls. Too often, when we are trying to be better than others, we diminish their efforts in order to exalt our own, and this is not Jesus' or Paul's intent.

Believers cannot measure their effectiveness in proclaiming the Gospel because the results of our efforts are God's work, and unless we can let go of our need to be right, we miss the point of Jesus' message. The Lord wants us to be passionate about the Gospel but reminds us that once we have done what we know is right, we must leave the rest up to God.

This simple rule of thumb is also good advice for leaders and parents. While we have an obligation to teach the fullness of our faith to all, especially our children, we must also allow them to interpret the Gospel and live it in a way that frees them to do God's work and not simply please us.

Today, live the Word boldly and let God work.

Who has been your best and most effective teacher in the ways of faith?