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Saturday, August 8, 2020

Living through Fear

"It had already grown dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them." Jn 6:17

Imagine yourself in a small boat at night when a sudden storm starts blowing you all over the place. The day has been long and you need to rest, but the storm is fierce and demands your attention. You need help, but feel very much alone. If this sounds like more than a few days and nights you have had, then you know how the apostles felt during the storm on the sea of Galilee. Very much afraid when they see Jesus walking on the water towards them, they want to take him into a boat and possess him when suddenly they reach land.

Today's gospel is best understood as a metaphor for life, and especially for those who are grieving. The bereaved often feel "lost at sea". Nothing they are experiencing after losing a friend or having a loved one die seems ordinary or understandable. Tempted to panic, they may seek solace in all the wrong places, when what they must learn is to wait for their "boat" to reach land again. This can be easier said than done, but it was very necessary for the disciples to experience what it would be like not to have Jesus with them all the time, and it is just as important for us.

Today, remember a time when you felt lost and discovered that God was with you in ways you did not know.

How do you respond to days when you feel lost?

Friday, August 7, 2020

St Dominic

"A man who governs his passions is master of the world. We must either command them, or be enslaved by them. It is better to be a hammer than an anvil." St Dominic

While preaching at the Eucharistic liturgy, with few exceptions, is confined to ordained men, much preaching in retreat centers and para liturgical settings is done lay women and men, and for those of us who have heard it, it is uniformly informed, powerful and challenging. The Dominicans especially have fostered this practice. Known as the Order of Preachers, they conduct workshops and seminars on preaching around the country in order to emphasize the importance of hearing a wide variety of preaching styles and voices so that everyday people might be attracted to the Gospel.

St. Dominic would have appreciated his followers efforts. Committed, like Francis of Assisi, to a deep reform of the church through simple living, care for the poor and careful teaching, Dominic is best known for his defense of the faith against the Albigensians. Successful, not simply because of his insightful and precise teaching, but because he was committed, like the Albigensians, to an ascetical life, Dominic appealed to ordinary people seeking to live the Gospel more fully.

It does not surprise people these days when Pope Francis encourages the church, especially its leaders, to live and preach more simply so that more and more people are attracted to the power of the Gospel lived with transparent joy and integrity. That women and men lay preachers, in the spirit of St Dominic, might lead this reform would be a wonderful gift to the church.

Today, pray for the ongoing reform of the church.

What do you think of lay people preaching?

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Denying Ourselves

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Mt 16:24-25

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.

The saints often struggled in this area. St. Francis, trying to imitate Christ in every way, punished his body so severely through fasting and work that he had to apologize to "brother ass" at the end of his life and ask God's pardon for abusing himself in the name of the Gospel. Practicing a prayer of listening each day can help us trust God more than our own disordered inclinations. Sitting quietly before God and asking for insight and generosity are the keys to leading an other centered life.

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, August 5, 2020

Transfiguration

"While he was praying Jesus' face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white." Lk 9:29

While change is necessary in all our lives, it always implies a struggle. Because we are often comfortable in a particular circumstance despite its difficulties, we sometimes choose to make excuses for not changing. Jesus experienced resistance in his apostles as he headed for Jerusalem, the seat of Jewish life and power. His followers, delighted by their master's healing power and message of liberation for the poor, wanted to stay in the Northern part of Palestine and go from town to town gathering new disciples, thinking they would strengthen their hand when eventually they would arrive in Jerusalem. But Jesus would have none of it.

Determined to move towards Jerusalem, and his death, Jesus reveals himself to his disciples on the mountain of the Transfiguration. Showing himself as the successor to Moses and Elijah, Jesus lets his friends know that he is more than they think and more than they bargained for. He is the Messiah of God, and his message and purpose go far beyond the liberation of the Jewish nation from Roman domination. Though it will be frightening and confusing, if Jesus' disciples want to continue to follow him, they must accompany him to Jerusalem and all that it implies. So must we.

Today, let the Lord show himself to you as he is.

What are your most challenging resistances to change?

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

God's Scraps

“Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Mt 15:27

The Canaanite woman in today's gospel who asks Jesus to free her daughter of a demon is a remarkable example of someone who, despite overwhelming odds. refuses to be put off by Jesus' insistence that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Far from allowing herself to be distracted by the rejection of Jesus and his disciples, she continues to advocate for her daughter. That she compares herself to a dog eating scraps from its master's table finally gets Jesus to look at her and acknowledge her faith. 

Giving into discouragement or despair is not an option for Christians when they advocate for the poor. No matter the cost, believers must continue to follow the example of the Canaanite woman and work together with other people of faith for a just life for all in our society and around the world. While we might not be successful all the time, the justice of our cause will surely move the hearts and minds of other believers to work for a society that refuses to allow some to live in destitution while others hoard resources.

Today, ask he Lord to teach you how to help the poor.

What aspects of life make you feel most powerless?

Monday, August 3, 2020

St John Vianney

"Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!' Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'” Mt 13: 29-31

How often we begin a project, hesitate or pause for a bit, and never return to it. We can claim we don't have enough time or excuse ourselves by citing more pressing priorities, but not finishing a project can be depressing and painful. Not completing what we have begun begins to stare us in the face emotionally and give us pause about beginning something new.

Peter's faith is tested when Jesus tells him not to be afraid and to come to him across thee water. Initially grateful and willing, after he begins to move towards Jesus, Peter realizes that the winds are stronger than he thought and his fear overwhelms him.

Forgetting that it was Jesus who called him and Jesus who would sustain him, Peter offers all a lesson about faith and trust in God when he relies on his own strength and begins to sink. Only when we accept our total dependence on God for life, for strength and for the gift of eternal life are we able to let go and not be unduly afraid of the "winds" of change, diminishment and death.

Today, ask God for the strength to walk across the troubled waters of your life.

What are greatest faith challenges?

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Doubt and Faith -- The Gospel for today and tomorrow are very similar -- Enjoy

"When Peter saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!' Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'" Mt 14: 30-31

Fear and doubt are ordinary and necessary aspects of faith. Only those who refuse to think about the mysteries of faith, or live in denial about the struggles with which faith presents us believe they will never be afraid or have doubts.  From St Thomas, the Apostle, to Mother Teresa, the great figures in our faith tradition had doubts with which they had to struggle continually.

In the Long Lonliness, Dorothy Day, in describing the struggles of her baptism in the Catholic church,  says it this way:
One part of my mind stood at one side and kept saying, ‘What are you doing? Are you sure of yourself? What kind of an affectation is this? What act is this you are going through? Are you trying to induce emotion, bring about faith, partake of the opiate of the people?’ I felt like a hypocrite if I got down on my knees, and shuddered at the thought of anyone seeing me…
Today, ask not to be afraid of your doubts. God can lead you through them into new hope.

What are your biggest faith struggles?