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Saturday, September 5, 2020

The Importance of Gathering

 "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Mt 18:20

There was an important, and in some circles, still controversial document that emerged from  the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1979. Entitled Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, and never formally approved by the entire assembly of bishops, it became enormously important for the principles it used to guide architects and liturgical theologians in redesigning Catholic churches after the Second Vatican Council.

One principle especially was very important to me personally. Architects, it suggested, must never forget that when we gather for worship nothing is more important than the assembly of believers. Therefore, they should make sure there was a place, whenever possible, for people to gather in faith in preparation for the Eucharist.  This principle resulted in many churches in the United States having large vestibules, sometimes called narthexes or foyers, and served to remind us that when we come together in faith, bringing with us all that has happened to us personally and communally during the previous week, we proclaim that Christ is always among us, always empowering us. 

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” changes everything. God is with us, not only in the person of the priest, in the word and in the breaking of the bread, but when we gather in faith to celebrate Christ among us.

Take a moment today to thank God for the gift of soul friends who walk with you in faith.

How important is the assembly of believers to you when you gather for the Eucharist?

Friday, September 4, 2020

The Sabbath without Mercy

"While Jesus was going through a field of grain on a sabbath, his disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them." Lk 6:1

When we feel cornered, we will do almost anything to defend ourselves. It is always easier to attack then defend a weak position. There seems little doubt that those accusing Jesus’ disciples of breaking the Sabbath were really trying to undermine the Lord’s authority.

The Pharisees must have known that David had demanded that his troops be fed even with the bread consecrated for temple use. David knew his men were “pure”, that they had avoided sexual relations, and were therefore worthy of eating the consecrated bread. He reminds the priests that he always demanded purity of his troops when they were on an expedition for the nation. 

In like manner, Jesus is challenging the Pharisees to find some “impurity” in his disciples. After all, the disciples had left everything to follow him and were told often that they should take nothing for their journey except the truth of Jesus’ message so that no one could question their motives. If they were “pure” in their desire to announce God’s Good News even if it meant their persecution, why would the Pharisees accuse of them of breaking the Sabbath?

Today, pray for “purity” of heart in being a disciple.

What are your greatest challenges to living the Gospel simply and transparently?

Thursday, September 3, 2020

New 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?

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Illusion of Security

 “To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.”  Lk 4:43


Changing cultures, jobs, cities or countries is always difficult. Most of us, even if life is difficult, prefer to stay where we are, physically, emotionally and spirituality, and it is this last dimension that is so contrary to the Spirit of Jesus. Knowing that the sick and struggling, as well as his own disciples, want him to stay in one place, Jesus resists their entreaties and reminds everyone that he was sent by God to preach the good news to all people.

Missionaries in the Church have always known this simple truth. We are all called to go two by two into the world to announce the Gospel. Because so many have yet to hear about the healing love and freedom of Jesus, believers will always find a way to let go of what is comfortable and secure. As Helen Keller famously wrote:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.(Keller)
Jesus continues to invite his followers to "a daring adventure."  We are to throw ourselves on his mercy, trust in his guidance, and fearlessly go about in the world with confidence and joy.

Today, introduce yourself to someone new.

What do you think are the most important qualities of a disciple of Jesus?

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Authentic Fame

"News of him spread everywhere in the surrounding region." Mt 4:37


Wise people remind us regularly that fame is fleeting. We lose our looks, our athletic ability, our fortune or our political power and people who could not get enough of us, forget our name and what we thought was a friendship. Fame that is based on our skills and appearance cannot last, but fame that is rooted in our honest other centeredness is something else altogether.

The fame that Jesus garnered and about which the evangelists write is often of a passing kind. His miracles especially attract those looking for a quick fix to their problems, but it is clear to those who read the Gospels as Good News that focusing on Jesus' miracles is fools gold. Only our willingness to listen to his transforming message and be moved by it to conversion of life will last. Intriguingly, when those following him focus too intently on his miracles, Jesus leaves them, finds on mountain on which to pray, and moves onto another place and people. His mission is not about impressing people but offering them a gift that is beyond an healing they may be seeking.

When people tried to focus on Dorothy Day's goodness and care for the poor by calling her a saint, she caustically replied: Don't dismiss me so easily. Saints know that living the Gospel is not about being famous or being called saint. Rather, saints know that their task is to conform themselves to God's dream for the world and to live it no matter the cost. Whether they experience extraordinary gift from the Holy Spirit is not he point. That they are faithful to the gospel is.

Today, pray for the gift of authentic humility.

What famous person do you most admire for living the Gospel with joy?

Monday, August 31, 2020

Keeping Hope Alive

 “'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.'” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, 'Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'”


Hope is an essential quality for Christians. Because we know, although we do not always feel it, that God is near, our faith calls us to be full of hope. Assured by Jesus that he has come to fulfill God's dream for his people and that he will always accompany his people through his Spirit, we live surrounded by God's promise.

A priest friend of mine insisted that every difficulty we face in life is at the same time an opportunity, and he lived his conviction. Bill had the ability to see every glass as half full. Although a priest in a place where he could have lived a comfortable life, he was deeply involved in Haiti, a country that has been struggling forever, but Bill never focused on the poverty of the people, but on their faith. He also had no doubt that the struggles of the church in the 21st century were simply a prelude to a powerful renewal that the Holy Spirit was engineering.

People like Bill challenge us to believe and hope, no matter how difficult the circumstances of our life. Taking the natural gifts of a positive personality, he wove them into his faith life. As a pastor he not only gently accompanied the poor, he encouraged people of means to share their bounty with others. Bill's witness was contagious, and whenever I find myself moving into a dark place, I think of him and remember to hope in the God who lives within and among us as a ground upon which to stand and dream.

Today, speak hopefully to someone struggling in life.

What helps you to keep hope alive when you face difficult problems?


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Perfectionism

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free." Lk 4:18

Like most Catholics born in the middle of the last century, I was schooled to believe that the best way to live a devout life was to get to mass as frequently as possible, and to confession every week. These religious practices, good in themselves, often led people of my generation to worry about trivial matters in a way that was out of proportion to the faults themselves. Worse, we often struggled every day to be better, not so much to honor God, but to "earn" our salvation. Unfortunately, while we became good practicing Catholics, our call to discipleship often got lost in the shadows of our compulsions. When the focus of the spiritual life becomes our personal holiness, union with God often takes a back seat.

Today's gospel reminds us that Jesus had a different perspective. God is not someone hovering over us, counting our sins, but a healer who wants to lay hands of hope on the blind and draw ever closer to the oppressed. When we accept the help of the divine physician everything changes. Facing our weakness and acknowledging our poverty allows us not to obsess about our faults like we once did, but to celebrate God's tender mercy. More important, admitting our sins each day reminds us to be humble and non judgmental, and to look at every person with God's compassionate eyes.

Today, accept your need for God and glory in God's desire to be with you in your poverty.

Do you obsess about being perfect? What has this to do with the Gospel?