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Saturday, December 19, 2020

Don't be Afraid

“"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.' But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.'" Lk 1 29-20


When the unexpected comes, it often unnerves us. News of a close friend's sudden death or the failure of a marriage we admired leaves us speechless and wondering what happened. In our busyness did we miss something important? Were we too self absorbed to notice the struggles others were having? 

The evangelist Luke paints a picture of Mary that emphasizes both her fear and her faith, a stance that encourages us not to be afraid of the unexpected, but to acknowledge our fear and pray for faith at the same time. Responding to God at times of crisis is made more possible when we develop a spiritual life on a daily basis. Praying and reflecting about God's life among us in word and sacrament, and celebrating and serving those forgotten or ignored makes is possible to prepare ourselves for life as it comes. If we want to have Mary's honesty and humility, we must practice our faith every day.

Today, listen for the voice of God embedded in every thing you do and everyone you meet.

What about Mary's life calls you to live your faith more deeply?

Friday, December 18, 2020

Barrenness

 "There was a certain man from Zorah, of the clan of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren and had borne no children."


Barrenness is a particularly difficult burden to bear, and in the ancient world it was often seen as a punishment for sin. Both the wife of Zorah, the father of Samson, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist were barren, and we can only imagine the pain they felt. No doubt both women were familiar with the words of Jeremiah who tells us that Rachel wept inconsolably because she was barren. For Jewish women not to have children meant they had no identity, no value, and no blessing from God.  Zorah's wife in today's passage from Judges isn't even named. How great then the joy of both women when, in their old age, God blesses them with children whose role in salvation history will forever help believers to appreciate the greatness of God who blesses us when we least expect it.

In these last days of Advent, the same is true of us.  Our roles in the ongoing story of God's love for the world, while sometimes muddy and confusing, are radically important to God.  God wants to speak through us, to announce good news, not only through the strengths and gifts we each have, but through our willingness to endure weakness and suffering for the sake of building God's reign.

Today ask God to "fertilize" your heart, which so often seems barren, with the the hope only God can give.

Do you know what it is to be barren?

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Becoming New for Christ

 "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David." Jer 23:5

When Jeremiah promises that a righteous shoot will come from the stump of Jesse, he reminds all believers that God can make something extraordinary from nothing. At the same time, the prophet is not speaking about a miracle in a classic sense. Rather,  Jeremiah wants us to remember what happens often in the natural world. There are trees with so much inner life that even when they seem dead, we can take one of their broken branches, stick it in the ground, water it often and before long  it takes root and becomes a young  tree.

Clearly, a branch of Jesse’s tree, even when it seems dead and lifeless after its exile in Babylon, is stronger than we think. God will plant it again so that his faithful followers might have life and believe in his promises. The challenge to believe that God wants to do something great and new in us, even when we are tired and feeling ragged, is uplifting. God’s love is enduring and, like a broken  branch, stronger than we can imagine. 

Plant a good deed in someone’s heart and let God do the rest.

Are there “miracles” in nature that remind you of God’s love?

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Family History of Jesus

 "Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Christ, fourteen generations." (Mt 1 16-17)

Genealogies are always intriguing and revealing.  The genealogy of Jesus is no exception. Matthew is intent on helping his readers understand that Jesus came from the tree of David and is the Messiah whose coming was promised long before his birth. 

Furthermore, a careful reading of Matthew's genealogy counts four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Women were rarely mentioned in Jewish genealogies, and the one's mentioned don't fit the mold one would expect in the genealogy of Jesus. Tamar was abused and only conceived when she disguised herself as a prostitute in order to bear a child with Judah who rejected her.  Rahab is a prostitute and a non Israelite who should not have married an Israelite. Neither is Ruth an Israelite but Boaz who is the grandfather of David marries her. Finally, David spies Bathsheba bathing and is so overcome with desire for her, he has her husband Uriah killed in order to satisfy his own lust.  

All this is pretty messy stuff. Jesus has lots of "black sheep" in his family tree and the point of the scripture is that it doesn't really matter. Every honest look at the human family, and Jesus was really human, is full of failure, ambiguity and sin. That Jesus would be born of Mary, a virgin, is consistent with his genealogy.  There is no cause of scandal here, only rejoicing.  Jesus is like us in all things but sin. That Jesus wept over Lazarus's death, ached for the widow whose only son had died, and was drawn to the sick and the suffering reminds us everyday of his full humanity and fills us with hope for ourselves and our world.

Today, ask God for the humility to accept yourself and your family as you are.

Is there anything in your family history that needs healing?

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Wisdom of John the Baptist

 "Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?" Lk 7:18b

John the Baptist is full of wisdom and good questions. Wanting only to please God and follow the Law, he sends two of his disciples to Jesus to ask if Jesus is the one for whom they are waiting. Rather than answer him directly and sound boastful, Jesus tells John's disciples to look at what he is doing. The blind see. The lame walk and the deaf hear. When John's disciples report Jesus' answers, John know that the one for whom is waiting has arrived and is only too ready to move aside and follow Jesus.

The same is true for us. When we look at how God cares for the world and all the people of the earth, we need to stop what we are doing and follow Jesus. Despite our faults and sins, our abuse of the earth and its riches, God continues to direct and guide us if only we will listen. That is the promise of Advent and Christmas and always.

Today, look for the Lord in the person next to you.

How has God spoken to you today?


Monday, December 14, 2020

Humility

 "When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him."(Mt 21:32)

Changing our minds is hard work, something that most of us do only reluctantly. Even when the truth stares us in the face, we resist. Perhaps we are afraid of losing something with which we are comfortable. Or we think that changing our minds might be interpreted as disloyalty to a friend or people in power. Whatever the reason for our resistance, letting go and changing our minds in order to follow the Lord more closely is a clear mandate in the gospel.

Today’s gospel portrays a community of Jewish leaders unwilling to change, even after seeing and experiencing the honesty and integrity of John the Baptist. When Jesus suggests that prostitutes and tax collectors are more willing to change than them, their resistance only deepens. To be compared to people at the bottom of the social ladder is an insult which they will not accept. Not only do they refuse to look at Jesus with open eyes and hearts, they begin to plot against him, not because of his ideas but because their power and standing in the community are threatened. All of us have reasons not to change. We have lived faithful catholic lives. We have followed the commandments and tried to live the beatitudes, but the Lord often demands more. Are we willing to take the next step?

Today, ask for a dose of humility that allows you to change you mind for the sake of God’s reign.

What helps you let go of old hurts and view others with God's eyes?

Sunday, December 13, 2020

St John of the Cross

 "The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness." Ps 145.1

St John of the Cross was a very young man when St Teresa of Avila saw qualities in him he could never have seen himself. Bright and insightful, an artist and song writer, above all John was drawn to the mystical path in the spiritual life and was not afraid of the dark night to which he was called. Teresa knew John was different and although she was thirty years older than John, she wrote, "He was so good that I, at least, could have learned much more from him than he from me."

John of the Cross was destined to be like Elijah the prophet, a fire and a flaming furnace of God's love. When he died at 49 he had helped found, despite enormous opposition from his own Carmelite brothers, many monasteries of discalced Carmelites who led an intense life of prayer and penance while also being hugely effective apostolic ministers, writers and preachers. The poet, Jessica Powers, shortly before she entered the Carmelites herself, wrote of John's books:
Out of what door that came ajar in heaven
       drifted this starry manna down to me,
       to the dilated mouth both hunger given
       and all satiety?
       Who bore at midnight to my very dwelling
       the gift of this imperishable food?
       my famished spirit with its fragrance filling,
       its savor certitude.
       The mind and heart ask, and the soul replies
       what store is heaped on these bare shelves of mine?
       The crumbs of the immortal delicacies
       fall with precise design.
       Mercy grows tall with the least heart enlightened,
       and I, so long a fosterling of night,
       here feast upon immeasurably sweetened
       wafers of light.
Today, ask God to let you see with God's own eyes.

What keeps you from a more intense prayer life?