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Saturday, August 1, 2020

Feeding Others with what you Have

"Jesus said to them, 'There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.'” Mt 14:16

Fear is a powerful and dangerous motivator, so strong at times it can overwhelm our good judgment and cause us to harm ourselves and others. When a mother can't afford to feed a child, she might do almost anything to find food. Anyone who has lived among the very poor knows this. Women everywhere have sold themselves to support their children, and fathers have stolen money and goods for the same purpose.

We don't know how fearful the disciples were when Jesus told them to feed the hungry themselves, but they immediately resist his command to feed those who are following him. Afraid, perhaps, that they would not have enough for themselves, they try to reason with Jesus, but the Lord will have none of it. Jesus insists that there is always enough if we take not what we want to feel comfortable, but what we need to stay alive and healthy. Sharing the goods of the earth is a foundational Gospel principle.

Today, enjoy the Eucharist and feed someone who is hungry.

How do you understand Jesus' command to be the Body of Christ?

Friday, July 31, 2020

St Alphonsus Liguori

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

One of the most remarkable phenomenon in the Judeo-Christian tradition is how God uses the weakness of people to confound the wise. Not only is this uncomfortable for us, it often pushes away those who think of themselves as sane, centered and grounded. Christopher Hitchens, who in his last years was a loud and acerbic critic of religion, asserted that the dark night of the soul was nothing more than depression, a view that is shared by many who call themselves atheists.

Nevertheless, in Psalm 50 we read, "True sacrifice is a broken spirit: a contrite and humble heart, O God, you will not refuse." Only when we acknowledge our brokenness does God work, using our humility as a path to truth. We are all weak; we are all fragile; we are unable to live without others and creation. From a Christian perspective these are truths that set us free because they help us submit to God and God's ways.

Alphonsus Liguori, the founder of the Redemptorists, is a powerful example of this. Well educated, he finished his doctoral studies in canon and civil law before he was twenty, but was unhappy. Hearing God's call to share the good news in simple ways, he sought ordination, despite the opposition of his family. Badly bent over by rheumatism, and unable to stand erect, he managed to preach popular missions for 26 years. Though a renowned theologian, it was his humility and integrity that touched the hearts of ordinary believers most deeply.

Today, ask for the grace of not knowing everything.

What experiences have taught you the value of humility?

Thursday, July 30, 2020

St Ignatius Loyola

"This word came to Jeremiah from the LORD: Rise up, be off to the potter’s house; there I will give you my message." Jer 18:1

In a brief biography about Ignatius Loyola we read, "As a member of the Velazquez household, he was frequently at court and developed a taste for all it presented, especially the ladies. He was much addicted to gambling, very contentious, and not above engaging in swordplay on occasion." (Ignatius life) In other words, Ignatius was a typical young man of the privileged class. 

More concerned with his own pleasure and ephemeral power than the welfare of others, Ignatius was arrogant, entitled and aggressive, not someone his contemporaries would have imagined becoming one of the great and most revered saints of the Western Church. But God had plans for Ignatius, and God's desire for him won out. 

Badly wounded in battle, Ignatius had nothing to do but fantasize about a woman he hoped to marry. Unsatisfied and dispirited, when he began to read a life of Christ and the lives of the saints, his spirit quieted and he felt peaceful. Discernment of Spirits, for which he would become famous, was born. Ignatius knew that his heart was driving him away from his former life more deeply into the Gospel, and when he responded God drew him closer and led him towards other young men who were eager to life a Gospel life. Not long afterwards the Society of Jesus was born.

Today, let your heart speak its truth and ask for the grace to follow it.

Have you had religious experiences that changed your life?

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Letting God Shape Us

“Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.” Jer 18:6

Thinking and believing that we are like clay in God’s hands ought to be comforting, but it isn’t always. Because we so want to control our lives, we often push away God’s hands shaping us into what God wants. Though we believe that being “worked” by God makes us wonderful and transparent signs of God’s life in the world, we resist becoming God’s “pots.”

Many years ago, a potter friend of mine give a wonderful workshop on the craft of pottery and its relationship to our spiritual life. First she reminded us that the clay is formed into a pliable ball and then centered on the wheel where the lightest touch begins to shape the ball into the form the potter intends. God is not harsh she reminded us, and from the ball of all are faults and weaknesses, while allowing us enormous freedom in our spiritual journey, God makes us into beautiful and useful pots. At the same time, she noted, only after the pot is formed can it be glazed and fired. The same is true for us. Becoming the person God wants us to become is a long and slow, but ultimately beautiful and purposeful process.

Today, give the delicate and gentle hand of God permission to shape you.

What have been the most important moments in your becoming God’s work?

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

St Martha

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things." Lk 10:41

There is a series on anxiety that has been running in the New York Times for several years. (anxiety) Sometimes difficult to read because the writers suffer so from what to others might be insignificant situations, it is, nevertheless, insightful and demanding. I read it because I am an anxious person and want to learn more about the condition, but also because it reminds us that almost 20% of Americans regularly suffer from anxiety. Clearly, for anyone committed to a Gospel life, compassion for the suffering is essential.

Although it is difficult to know if Martha's anxiety is similar to what the Times' columnists write about, the text is clear. Martha is anxious to have Jesus address her discomfort and tell her sister Mary to help in the kitchen. Jesus responds gently enough, but reminds Martha that Mary has chosen the better part. Mary wants Jesus to free her from her anxiety and thinks having her sister help with the serving will do this, but those who suffer from anxiety know this is not the case. Unless we learn to enter and own our discomfort, it will always control us, and while we might want to blame others for it, it belongs to us and only we can engage it and live with it.

Today, stay with your anxiety or upset. Don't run.

What situations most often make your anxious or worried?

Monday, July 27, 2020

Asking for Help

“Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” Mt 13:36

In recent days, while trying fruitlessly to figure out the Corona Virus, I stumbled upon this Gospel text and wondered whether the apostles were as confused as I am these days. Viruses are like upside down parables. Our task is not to figure them out, but to learn how to live with them and let them speak to us.

This is not bad advice for most of us most of the time. Listening to others with open minds and hearts may not help us make sense of upsetting and baffling realities, but it does let others know we respect them and trust them. Perhaps that is what the Apostles were demonstrating in asking Jesus to help them understand the parable of the weeds, and perhaps that is what we need to do in the midst of this pandemic. Ask the Lord for insight, wisdom and acceptance and the explanation might take care of itself.

Today listen to someone who is confused even if you can't help them.

Whose presence in your life helped you live with confusion and upset?

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Mustard Seeds

"The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush,
and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.'" Mt 13: 31-32

Jesus continually surprises his disciples. Just as they get comfortable with the direction he is taking, he turns a corner and turns their world upside down, telling them that God's reign is like a mustard seed. When someone from the crowd, exultant and full of himself, proclaims that he will follow Jesus anywhere, Jesus reminds him that he has no place to lay his head. Is the fellow from the crowd willing to become a nomad and follow Jesus into the wilderness? Challenge after challenge faces the Apostles and disciples.

In claiming his identity as a pilgrim and an itinerant preacher, Jesus promises us that like the God of the Hebrew scriptures he will follow his flock anywhere and everywhere. Though he makes few demands, he is always imploring us to live like him, without family or wealth, but full of hope and compassion. God will guide us and care for us, he insists, but we have to trust. The emptiness of having nothing in Christ is a fullness beyond compare. Clinging to nothing, we have everything. The faith to believe this is the test we all face.

Today, empty yourself of everything that gets in the way of loving God and neighbor.

Have you known the glory of feeling rich even when you have nothing?