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Saturday, September 19, 2020

Praying Faithfully

 "Seek the LORD while he may be found, call him while he is near." (Is 55:6)

Staying in the day, staying in the moment is an important spiritual practice. Being alert to everything happening around us, without trying to control or manipulate our environment is a contemplative exercise that can serve us well in everyday life. More important, if we fail to pay attention to each day, we run the risk of getting trapped in the past or day dreaming about the future, an activity that diminishes our acceptance of each day and often damages our relationships. 

There’s a story, allegedly about St Bernard of Clairvaux, but told in many religious traditions, that makes this point well. St Bernard was riding his horse one day and was stopped by a farmer. “I envy you,” the farmer said, “for being able to ride that beautiful horse and say your prayers. It’s a lot easier than my lot in life. I have to work so much there is no time for prayer.” Bernard paused and said, “Prayer is hard work. But if you really think it is easier to pray than work, I’ll make you a deal. If you can pray the Our Father once without distraction, I will give you my horse.” The farmer smiled, assured Bernard that it would be easy for him, and began. “Our Father who art in heaven….Do I get the saddle, too.”

Many think that a life of prayer and reflection would be easy, especially if they lived in a monastery and had four or five periods of prayer together each day. In fact, prayer is hard work as St. Bernard insisted. Learning to let go of all of our distractions is the first step in attending to what is happening right in front of us and the foundation of a healthy prayer life.

Today, pray the Our Father slowly and don't worry about being distracted.

From whom did you learn to pray faithfully?

Friday, September 18, 2020

Generosity

"The seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance.”

Years ago I remember a young mother of six exhorting her second youngest child to let his younger brother play with his toys. The little boy protested, but his mother only smiled and picked him up. If you let Jimmy play with whatever he wants, he will forget about it in a few minutes and you can have it back. Try to be patient and see what happens. The little boy took his mother's advice and learned a great lesson. If he did not cling to his own small possessions, he would be free, and soon enough he would learn that there were enough toys for him and his brother. Indeed, there is enough for all when we learn to let go.

When we allow our possessions, our power or our fear to possess us, it becomes impossible to hear Jesus or anyone else. We build walls and fences to protect what little we have and vow to defend it with our lives. It is clear that the leaders of the Jews saw Jesus as a threat who was stripping them of what little power they had and so plotted to trip him up, not because he was dishonoring God, but because he was threatening their security, and all this in the name of God!

Today, give something away to someone freely, and do not expect it to be returned.

Who is the most generous person you know? 


Thursday, September 17, 2020

Women in the Church

 "Some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources." Lk 8:2-3

In the United States, at least, women have almost always carried the burden of keeping our parishes organized, welcoming and functioning smoothly. Where would our parishes be without the women who lead and teach catechetics, organize celebrations and picnics, and make sure the parish is active in reaching out to the poor and needy? This is not to say that men haven't played key roles in the church, but it is women upon whom falls the daily and weekly tasks that make a parish live and go. They are its face, and during this pandemic I fully expect it will be women who lead us.

Pope Francis continues to move the church in this direction by encouraging what he called,
The indispensable contribution of women in society, in particular with their sensitivity and intuition toward the other, the weak and the unprotected." He also noted that "many women share some pastoral responsibilities with priests in looking after persons, families and groups" and he said he had hoped that "the spaces for a more diffuse and incisive presence in the church be expanded."
Today,  pray for a woman you know who has been generous but under appreciated in her service to the church.

What steps can and should the church take to highlight the contributions of women to our faith communities?

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

God's Merciful Eyes

 "Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears." Lk 7:37

Jesus is forever pushing us to look beyond people's past to see how they are behaving in the present. The woman who wipes his feet with her hair becomes an icon of what it means to be a Christian, But because most of us see sin in others first, especially in the powerful, it is difficult to see her with God's eyes. If an athlete or a politician is caught in an adulterous relationship or using public monies for his or her private gain, we pounce. See, we say, why do we trust people like this? When we do this, we ignore the mercy of God.

No doubt the leaders of the Jewish community were doing the same with the woman who is "wasting" money anointing Jesus' feet with costly perfume. That Jesus does not pull away or correct her annoys the Pharisees. They impose their judgmental eyes on Jesus and try to undermine him and his authority by suggesting that his inability to recognize that she is a sinner ought to condemn him. But Jesus turns the tables. He asks: Do you see this woman? The answer of course is "no". They have reduced her to her sin and do not value her humility or recognize her tears.  We need to avoid this error in our own lives.

Today, look at all people with God's eyes and don't get lost in their past.

Have you know people who turned their lives around and helped you?

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Sts Cornelius and Cyprian

 “He deserves to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.” Lk 7: 4-5

Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian were friends, and when the church was under enormous pressure in the third century, their friendship became an important tool for reconciliation and healing. When Novatian insisted that anyone who denied faith, along with murderers and adulterers, could not be reconciled under any circumstances, Cyprian interceded with his friend Pope Cornelius, and Novatian's position was condemned. The fragile nascent church, with only 50,000 believers and 50 priests, was sustained because of the friendship of Cornelius and Cyprian.

Not infrequently, like Cyprian and Cornelius, we do things for friends who ask a favor on their own or their family's behalf. It is not difficult to be gracious, especially when the request is something we do easily or naturally. Jesus is able to hear and respond to the request of the Jewish elders to heal the centurion's sick slave because they asked him to do something as a friend of the Jewish nation.  In the long run, however, while loyalty and friendship captured Jesus' attention, it was the faith of the centurion that moved Jesus to act. 

Not wanting to trouble Jesus with a visit to his home and being very aware of the differences between them, the centurion insists that he is not worthy of Jesus' care. When the centurion further suggests that a word from Jesus will be enough to heal his slave, Jesus uses the centurion's faith to teach the Jews saying, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Faith, like the centurion's, and friendship and faith, like Cyprian and Cornelius shared, can forge a church of great power and strength.

Today, be grateful for a faith filled friend.

How can a friendship, strengthened by faith, help us live the Gospel more powerfully?




Monday, September 14, 2020

Our Lady of Sorrows

 “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” Jn 19:25

Who stands by you compassionately when you are struggling or lost?

In the Office of Readings today, St Bernard of Clairvaux, writing in the 12th century, calls Mary “a martyr in spirit,” because of her compassion, never abandoning her son even on the cross. Bernard writes: “Perhaps someone will say: “Had she not known before that he would not die?” Undoubtedly. “Did she not expect him to rise again at once?” Surely. “And still she grieved over her crucified Son?” Intensely. Who are you and what is the source of your wisdom that you are more surprised at the compassion of Mary than at the passion of Mary’s Son? For if he could die in body, could she not die with him in spirit? He died in body through a love greater than anyone had known. She died in spirit through a love unlike any other since his.”

Standing with others in their suffering, not taking it away, not offering empty words of consolation, not trying to understand it, is a kind of death, a martyrdom. Helplessness is often the price of compassion and Mary, the mother of Jesus and our mother, helps us learn this vital Christian virtue.

Today, pray for those who have no one to stand with them in their suffering.

Have you ever been called to be a companion to someone who is suffering alone?

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

 "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." Jn 3:13

The cross of Jesus Christ, as St Paul says, is a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness for Gentiles, (1 Cor 1:23) but the believer continues to hold the cross high, to exalt it, as a sign of God's unconditional love for us. Never easy to understand or to penetrate its mystery, the cross remains for those who believe, as St Francis said, the only book we will ever need.

How we read the book of the cross is fundamental to our growth in faith. How, for instance, do we understand or interpret suffering? How should we approach death and dying? What can we expect from God when we carry our own crosses? Martin Luther King, speaking of what he labels unmerited suffering, writes, "Recognizing the necessity for suffering I have tried to make of it a virtue. If only to save myself from bitterness, I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation which now obtains." (MLK)

Today, ask God for the grace not to be afraid of the cross.

What about living a Gospel life causes you the most suffering?