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Saturday, October 17, 2020

Arguing to Win

 "Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or should we not pay?” Mk 12:14


Money is always a problem. Not only do some people have too much, many more have too little, and the ability to issue a currency that is recognized internationally is critically important for nations wanting to do business with other nations.

At the time of Jesus, while Jews were free to produce their own currency for use within the temple grounds, they were forced to use Roman coins to pay their poll taxes. The rabbis, however, reminded Jews that even to touch a coin with the image of the Roman emperor who claimed to be divine was idolatry. Trying to trap Jesus, they trapped themselves. Jesus knew of their prohibition against the possession or use of Roman coins, but also knew they would have some to pay their taxes. Merely by carrying Roman coins for Jesus to look at they condemned themselves as idolaters.

Intriguingly, not having a coin puts everyone on notice that Jesus had no intention of offending the law, the prophets or the interpretations of the rabbis with regard to honoring anyone who claimed divinity. There is only one God, his actions proclaim, and he will not enter silly arguments about whether to pay taxes to Caesar. Rather, he will honor the one God by dying for him.

Today, resist winning an argument, and pray for your opponent.

What helps you resist arguing with others for the sake of your image?

Friday, October 16, 2020

St Ignatius of Antioch

 "Whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops." Lk 12:3


One of the great qualities of saints is that they don’t bring attention to themselves. St. Ignatius of Antioch is a wonderful example of this. Famous for telling his followers, "I am Christ's wheat and shall be ground by the teeth of the beasts so that I may become Christ's pure bread,” Ignatius begged his friends not to stop his martyrdom. So confident that the Lord would protect him, the saint knew the strength he received from God would be a sign to others of God’s unconditional love. At the same time, as one reads further in Ignatius' letter, there is a hesitancy, a moment of fear perhaps. He says, "If then I should beg you to intervene on my behalf, do not believe what I say. Believe instead what I am now writing to you now."

Most of us, while admiring Ignatius’ faith, would be more likely to tell our friends to ignore our craziness in seeking martyrdom and write it off as the dream of a madman. Because we are afraid of the unknown and more concerned with the life we have and know, even if it is full of pain and confusion, we hesitate thinking about and asking God for the grace of a peaceful death, much less a martyr’s death.

Today, ask for the humility to let God be God and to trust that God's grace will be enough even when we face death.

Are you prepared to die?

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Do Not be Afraid

 "Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid." Mt 10 30-31

We all love inspiring stories, and the bible and church history are full of them. The Hebrews dramatic escape from slavery in Egypt and their search for the promised land, the faithful endurance of Job even when abandoned by his closest friends, and the willingness of the poor widow to put all she had in the offering box, thrill us. Drawn to the heroic like a fly to honey, we yearn to live big, and when we are moved to live completely for God everything changes. The small thoughts that trap us in fear of failure lift and everything becomes possible if only we trust God with our lives and follow God's direction.

Many years ago, one of our friars, Earl Gallagher, now dead, witnessed helicopter gunships firing on a group of Salvadoran refugees trying to cross a river into Honduras. Without thinking he jumped into the river and began to drag people to safety, especially children. Risking his own life without a second thought, he escaped death but became a target on the authorities in Honduras because he wrote to the NY Times about the slaughter in order to expose the awfulness of the crime against helpless people. 

At the same time, Earl assured everyone who would listen that he had no desire to become a martyr. Rather, he insisted that anyone would have done the same thing. Hearing him tell the story, I knew he believed what he said but also knew why he was a great man of faith. Earl was not looking for attention, nor did he want to be hero. He only did what the Gospel demanded.

Today, remember that God counts the hairs on your head.

What qualities do you think mark the lives of our faith heroes?

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

St Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church

“Let nothing disturb you, 
Let nothing frighten you, 
All things are passing away: 
God never changes. 
Patience obtains all things. 
Whoever has God lacks nothing; 
God alone suffices.” 
St Teresa of Avila

The bookmark of St. Teresa is fascinating. We wonder if she read it everyday. Tradition suggests it was written in her own hand and was a reminder to live in peace with Christ despite the struggles she would experience throughout her life.

Committed to the reform of the Carmelites in a Catholic world threatened by the Protestant Reformation, her life was difficult. Accused by some friends that her "visions" were diabolical, she also suffered deeply when the Carmelites forced her to retire to one of their monasteries for years before finally allowing her the freedom to spread her renewal to other convents and monasteries. In all, she founded 17 monasteries of reformed or discalced Carmelites and wrote treatises on the spiritual life that remain classics in the Christian west.

Whether Teresa reflected on her prayer and plea each day matters little.  On her feast, we can read and pray it with care hoping to interiorize her desire to let nothing disturb or frighten us, but to remain patient with ourselves and God in all matters of the spirit.

Today, pray for patience.

What most impresses or moves you about St. Teresa's prayer?

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Celebrate the Fruits of Gospel Living

 "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace and patience." Gal 5:23

Every person has faults, makes mistakes and loses focus. To do anything else would not be human, but we must never measure our life only by our failures; we must also celebrate its fruits, which Paul reminds us are love, joy, peace and patience. Jesus is clear about this, and though we sometimes are tempted to dismiss the good we have done, we need to listen to his guidance.

It is very clear in the scriptures that God is always willing to look past our sins and focus on our gifts, and this is true throughout the Bible. Very few people would forgive David his lust for Bathsheba and his willingness to put her husband Uriah in a position where he would surely be killed. But God forgives. Even more remarkable is the story of the forgiving father who embraces his younger son who has squandered his inheritance. God wants us to succeed and be reborn.

Today, accept the good God has done through you.

When was the last time you took the opportunity to praise someone for their good qualities?

Monday, October 12, 2020

Self Examination

 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence."

It must have been shocking and upsetting for the Pharisees and scribes to hear Jesus assert that only that which comes from within defiles a person. In fact, it is difficult for most of us to hear the great challenge of Jesus to put aside our desire to control ourselves and others with a rigid interpretation of the law. Jesus insists that salvation is not about discipline alone, but about asking God to cleanse our hearts of jealousy, resentment and suspicion of others.

More important still is whether we are willing to help others worry less about how they appear and more about the integrity of their faith lives. St Jerome says it well, "I bid you not to tear your garments but rather to rend your hearts which are laden with sin. Like wine skins, unless they have been cut open, they will burst of their own accord."(St Jerome on Joel)

Most believers know the truth of the gospel from the "inside." They realize that what appears to be a faith filled life is empty unless it reflects an interior commitment to live without guile. When each of us admits that a life of ritual rigidity and lawful integrity is hardly good news, we will begin to announce the gospel as Jesus did.

Today, don't be afraid of an honest self examination.

How do you resist an unhealthy dependence on the law as a substitute for gospel living?

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Sign of Jonah

 "There is something greater than Jonah here." Lk 11:32

When Jonah walked through Nineveh calling the people to repentance, the response was almost immediate. The king instructed everyone, even the animals, to join him in responding to Jonah's prophecy. Together they put on sackcloth and sat in ashes hoping that God would accept their acts of penitence and free them from destruction.

The scriptures are forever reminding us that God always listens and responds to our heartfelt cries. Not only does God lobby Moses to approach Pharaoh and demand the enslaved Hebrews be set free, God also listens to the cries of the poor who he reminds us are always close to him. It should not surprise us, then, that Jesus would be born of poor parents, and like Jonah, would go towards Jerusalem announcing God's desire for our conversion and transformation.

We need to learn to walk with Jonah and Jesus, and respond to their cry.  Unless we commit ourselves to repent of our sins, our selfishness, our failure to recognize a world bigger than the United States, our desire for a kind of security in things, and money and power that only God can give, we risk admiring Jesus' pronouncements but failing to live them.

Today, listen closely and without fear for Jesus' call to conversion.

What does it mean to you to listen and respond to Jesus in the 21st century?