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Monday, January 18, 2021

Sabbath

 "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." Mk 2:28

When Jesus reminds the Pharisees that his disciples are hungry and need not worry about a particular Sabbath prohibition about picking grain on the Sabbath, they are scandalized. How could this young rabbi presume to to interpret the law so loosely? Jesus is clear. While the Sabbath is important and necessary, it should no be an unnecessary burden on people's hearts, especially those who struggle to make a living.

The same is true for the obligation to celebrate the Eucharist each Sunday. While the law of the church regarding Sunday Eucharist is important because it helps us honor God, and remember we are a community of faith who travel together in Christ, it should never get in the way of common sense. If we are sick or age makes it difficult and dangerous to get to mass safely, we need to find other ways to honor God and support the community.  If we are more afraid of breaking the law than praising God, we can tie ourselves in knots and become totally self absorbed rather than celebrating the God who is always near.

Today, ask God to help you see the big picture about faith.

What does it mean to you to be an adult Catholic?

Sunday, January 17, 2021

New Wineskins

 "No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse." Mk 2:21

In the Hebrew bible a garment signified covering a person's sinful condition. Jesus was challenging his fellow Jews to put aside their old garments which were fraying and welcome the new. Jesus was the new garment of salvation, the new hope, the Messiah. Unfortunately, some see this passage as suggesting that the Old Law no longer had any value, while in fact Jesus always presented himself as an observant Jew who valued the Torah but came to announce a totally new interpretation of the Law.

It is always difficult to recognize and accept the need for change, especially if the status quo has been good to you. A labor union member never wants to give back hard won advances. A politician resists compromising on key issues and grocery stores do not want to lower their prices except to encourage people to buy what they don't need. However, sometimes substantive change is necessary for the good of the entire community. Jesus came to correct Jewish leaders especially and challenge them to step back from their policies and interpretation in order to take a new look at God's dream for the world. When they could not do this, Jesus condemned them.

Letting children grow up and discern how best they can live the values so important to their family is essential if we hope the next generation will internalize what they have learned. If we only do what we have been taught because questioning might lead to rancor and hurt feelings, we will never be able to take the next step in life and faith. We need to encourage one another to live adult Gospel lives. Asking hard questions, being open to necessary change and risking new ways of making the Good News known will serve God and the faith community well in the long run.

Today, take a step back from your faith practices in order not to miss the forest for the trees.

What do you think of Pope Francis as he asks Catholics to reimagine their faith?

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Serving the Elderly

 "When Samuel went to sleep in his place, the LORD came and revealed his presence, calling out as before, 'Samuel, Samuel!' Samuel answered, 'Speak, for your servant is listening.'” 1 Sam 3:10

Anxious to care for Eli, the high priest, as he neared death, Samuel, though just a boy, was like a mother with a small child, and woke easily from sleep when he thought Eli was calling him in the middle of the night. Each time Samuel heard his name called, he thought it was Eli asking for help but Eli assured him it was not him calling. Finally, Eli realized it was God calling Samuel and told him that when he heard his name called at night, to say: Speak, Lord your servant is listening. When Samuel next heard his name called, he obeyed Eli and listened to God but the message was painful. God tells Samuel that Eli's unwillingness to control his sons would never be forgiven. More painful still, Eli demanded that Samuel tell him exactly what God had said. Samuel obeyed and Eli heard God's awful punishment from the boy he had helped raise.

Sometimes we don't get the answer we want from God about our lives and our dreams. Samuel could not have expected that God would tell him that because of  the wickedness of Eli's sons, Eli's reign would soon end forever. How difficult it must have been for Samuel to tell Eli what God had said, but as a prophet, he had no choice. His only task was to speak God's word faithfully despite the cost to him personally, and his fidelity would be rewarded by God.

Telling the truth despite the cost is an important challenge for every believer. Unless we are willing to acknowledge our own failures, and the mistakes of our families, nation and church, we cannot expect God to make up for our faults. God wants to free us from fear and strengthen our resolve but we have to do our part.

Today, ask God to help you live without fear.

How difficult is it for you to speak the Gospel when no one seems to be listening?



Friday, January 15, 2021

Eating with Sinners

"Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Mk 2:16

Jesus' answer to the Pharisees who are complaining about his eating with tax collectors and other sinners seems so obvious, we wonder how the Pharisees could be so blind and deaf. They must have known that the law not only allowed conversations with sinners but demanded it. Like us, the Pharisees often heard and saw what they wanted to see and hear. Secure in their knowledge of the Torah and satisfied with their modest power, they wanted only to find something to criticize in Jesus' behavior in order not to listen to him, but when Jesus responds to their resistance and dullness, he teaches all of us.


Change is always difficult, and it is easier to criticize someone than to search for their goodness and compassion. Jesus sees past the sins of the tax collectors. Inviting them to supper and building a relationship with them makes it possible for him eventually to speak with them about changing their lives and turning away from their sin. Rather than attack their profession, he sits at table with them in the hope that they will be able to see the error of their ways and change.

Today, praise someone whose behavior often irritates you.

Have you ever been changed by someone's kindness and understanding?

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Friendship

 "They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying." Mk 2:3-4

Where would we be without friends? A paralyzed man who hears about Jesus has no way to see or visit the Lord unless friends help him. Though Jesus is  surrounded by needy people, the paralytic's friends are not deterred. They go up on the roof, dig through it and lower their friend in front of Jesus. It is really an amazing scene which the scribes cannot spoil with the mumbling about Jesus not having the power to forgive sins. So anxious not to lose their teaching role in the society, the scribes think nothing about the paralytic while the man's friends think of nothing else. Who doesn't yearn for friends like this?

The twelfth century monk and writer, Aelred of Rievaulx, says it this way:
No medicine is more valuable, none more efficacious, none better suited to the cure of all our temporal ills than a friend to whom we may turn for consolation in time of trouble, and with whom we may share our happiness in time of joy. ― Aelred of Rievaulx Spiritual Friendship
Today, be gracious and accept the help of your friends.

To which friends are you most grateful?

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Bold in Faith

 "It was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere." Mk 1:45

It is clear in Mark's gospel that Jesus was becoming so popular that he was bound to be challenged by the leaders of Rome and Palestine. Gathering large numbers of disciples was a threat both to civil and religious authorities that could not be ignored. The Roman leaders and Jewish hierarchy had found a way to coexist, and they resisted any attempt to upset the balance of power they had crafted. Though it was clear that the Jews had little real freedom, at least they controlled the temple and were free to celebrate their traditions.

When Jesus started to attract large numbers of followers he could have negotiated his own terms with the Romans and Jews, but he wanted none of it. Because he knew that his message was not political in a narrow sense, he sought deserted places to pray, regroup and commune with God, but the crowds would not leave him alone. Though he was not trying to gather people to himself but for his father, his power to heal and the strength of his presence were so influential that the civil and religious leaders had to stop him.

Is our faith and its practice ever agitating for others? Does the way we live challenge people to reorient their lives and lifestyles? When we remember that the gift of faith is not simply a personal treasure given to us for our own salvation but for the world to know the saving love of God, we can be sure that it will upset some. Nonetheless, God demands that we live a transparent and simple faith despite its consequences. Jesus modeled this and we have always to learn it.

Today, pray to be bold about your faith.

Whose practice of faith most agitated you? Did it help in the long run?

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Letting Jesus Heal Us

 "Jesus approached, grasped the hand of Peter's mother in law, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them." Mk 1:30

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 offers us a different perspective. God is a healer who wants to lay hands of hope upon us and draw ever closer to us on our journey. When we, like Peter's mother in law, accept the help of the divine physician everything changes. Having confronted our weaknesses, we are freed of our compulsions and return to our daily work more energized and committed to the only one who can make us whole.

Today, who yourself to God as you really are and ask for healing.

What happens when we acknowledge our weaknesses and submit to God?

Monday, January 11, 2021

To Whom do you Listen

 "The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes." Mk 1:22

While very few would suggest that education is unimportant, it can be overrated. Most of the adults I knew as a child had little formal education, yet they were respected in my neighborhood.  Anyone who worked hard, had a deep faith and understood life from the inside was trusted and revered.  Like Jesus, many of my neighbors spoke with authority.

Jesus did not seem to worry much about the education of the the men he called to be his apostles, but the leaders of the Jewish people seemed to think this was a soft spot in the life of the new community. Anxious to stop Jesus' disciples from speaking about their Lord, they called them in and threatened them, only to have Peter and John insist that they had no choice but to speak of Jesus. Clearly, Peter and John were not worried about their lack of education and were not intimidated by threats from the Jewish leaders.

It is always good to take a few moments and ask ourselves to whom we are most likely to listen. Do the highly educated intimidate us into silence about important matters? Are we unwilling to speak of our faith to people of power and prestige in the community?

Today, take time to listen to someone you might otherwise ignore.

What most impresses you about the faith you witness everyday?

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Follow Me

 “'Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.' Then they left their nets and followed him." Mk 1:17


Reading about the call of the disciples, it is natural to wonder if Jesus knew any of the men before inviting them to follow him. Did he notice something in them that would help announce the great salvific message of his Father? Did he know their families? Did he call them because he noticed them listening intently to him when he preached.

We have any number of reasons to hesitate when hearing the call of the Gospel. Discipleship, especially in the so called developed world, does not pay very well, nor does it promise fame or power, but resisting it can be difficult if not impossible for those who are honestly looking for a way of life that respects, even honors, all people.

The simplicity of the Gospel has not changed. Neither has its difficulty. Our task is to live its message of hope, transformation and submission to God with integrity and honesty. Admitting our dependence on God and being willing to serve others in his name remains a powerful invitation to anyone looking for a God who will never stop loving and challenging them.

Today, listen for the voice of the Lord in your life and follow it unreservedly.



Have you ever followed someone immediately without really knowing much about them?

Saturday, January 9, 2021

The Baptism of the Lord

 "I need to be baptized by you, yet you are coming to me?" Mt 3:14

With this feast, the season of Christmas comes to an end, but the challenge to give birth to the Christ begins in earnest and John the Baptist teaches us how to go forward. John's humility about his own role and his assurance that Jesus is the Messiah lifts us up and sends us forth in hope. Jesus, Isaiah and John remind us, has not come into the world to destroy it, but to assure all those listening, especially the poor, that his task is to heal the bruised reed and keep alive the flame of faith, but only if we accept his word and allow his power to transform us.

As Jesus begins his public ministry by having John baptize him, it is clear that he will risk anything so that his message from his Father will be clear and transparent. Jesus is among us to announce Good News, but his message will be difficult for those who want to cling to power, wealth and worldly prestige. Jesus wants to set us free from the domination of all systems that fail to create a just world. This message will be his downfall and our salvation.

Today, put aside your fears of being broken and weak. Our God heals.

Is it time to begin again your own ministry of service and freedom?

Friday, January 8, 2021

Gazing on God

 "The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease." Jn 3 29-30

What was it that John saw? What did the Spirit look like? Most of us have been in the presence of people with political or religious power. We know what that feels like, but Jesus was an itinerant preacher and minor prophet. Surely, John was talking about something more than the power we invest in hierarchies when he said of Jesus, "He must increase, I must decrease."

In order to see, we must look long and hard at ourselves, others and the world. This takes practice and discernment. We cannot expect to see what it is that God is doing within and among us unless we take time to gaze upon God and God's works everyday. Some call this prayer or contemplation but naming it is not as important as doing it. Finding time in our busy schedules to stop, listen, and allow the Spirit of God to guide us is essential to anyone who wants to live the Gospel.

Today, slow down and let the Lord look at you as you are.

What most keeps you from developing a daily prayer life?

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Hiding for God's Sake

 "Go, show yourself to the priest." Lk 5:14

Not wanting to be the focus of people's adulation, Jesus hides from the people after curing the leper because he knew that flattery rarely led to imitation and discipleship.  Jesus wanted the Jewish leaders and the people who first listened to him to fall in love with his Father and commit themselves to God's will.

This was and is a hard lesson for us. It is natural to want security and answers to life's problems and concerns. We go to doctors to avoid and address health issues and financial advisers to help us invest our money wisely and safely, but Jesus did not come to promise us protection from life's every day trials but to accompany us on every journey. He is the new Covenant, the fullness of God's love, the one who will always be with us as a guide. We should not expect him to shield us from difficulty but to be a light in the darkness.

Today, pray to be aware of God's unconditional love and presence.

Who has been with you through every dark night?

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Loving our Enemies

 "If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates his brother, he is a liar." 1 Jn 4:20

Christianity is dangerous. It is not a religion that lets us escape into a world on contemplation and prayer without actions. In fact, it demands that we love our sisters and brothers with the same breath and ardor that we love God.

We all know this, but it is important to remember, especially when we find ourselves enmeshed in political or religious arguments that tempt us to be right rather than in relationship. Real love demands that we listen with the ears of God to those with whom we disagree. Jesus did this with the leaders of the Jewish community and demands we do the same with those elected or called to lead us.

This can be much more difficult when it involves family members or friends with whom we disagree. As the 2020 presidential election nears, all of us will be tested not just to listen to God but to listen to all those with whom we differ and seek common ground. When Jesus found faith outside of Jerusalem, he honored it and challenged his contemporaries to do the same. He continues to do this if us and through us today.

Today, pray for someone with whom you disagree and ask for the faith to listen to them with God's ears.

Whom do you find it most difficult to listen to?

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Lost at Sea

"Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid." Mk 6:51

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 dies 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.

Stay still when you want to run or scream, and try not to panic. We may not be able to see the Lord all the time, but he is with us, guiding us to a place where we we will be safe and able to start over.

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

What would you tell someone who feels lost at sea?

Monday, January 4, 2021

St John Neumann

 "If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?" 1 Jn 3:17


St John Neumann knew well the truth of John's first letter. Because he saw so many in need, he did everything he could to respond, including learning Spanish, Italian, French and Dutch. As a missionary to the United States, he became a kind of itinerant pastor, but acknowledging his need for community, he joined the Redemptorists.

Named bishop of Philadelphia at 41, the young Redemptorist, anxious to respond to the needy and unlearned, approached the teaching brothers and sisters in the area and invited them to serve with him in the schools of Philadelphia. Determined to give immigrant children a chance at a better life, John immediately began to build Catholic schools. In less than a decade Philadelphia, which had only two Catholic schools when he arrived,  had more than one hundred.

Success stories like John's continue to lift us up with hope. When people of faith work together for the good of all, everyone benefits. The parochial school system that John helped build not only provided Catholics with a good education, it prepared them to make a difference in society, and taught them how a deep faith life could impact their neighborhoods and cities for the good of all.

Today, pray to know how best to announce the Good News with your lives.

What aspect of church life has been most important in your faith life?

Sunday, January 3, 2021

St Elizabeth Ann Seton

 "We have found the Messiah." Jn 1:41

Elizabeth Ann Seton had any number of firsts in her life. She founded the first American congregation of religious sisters in the United States, opened the first parish school and the first Catholic orphanage, but none of these is her greatest triumph. Despite being widowed at 30 with five young children, she decided to become a Catholic despite strong opposition from her staunch Episcopal family.

Elizabeth's courage at a time in her life that begged her to be careful and conservative remind us that when we depend totally on God wonderful things can happen. Not only are we able to make difficult decisions, we do so with conviction and serenity. When God is on our side, and God always is, no obstacle is too big to overcome.

In the United States women have always been the foundation stones of our parishes. They teach religious education, serve on every committee and week after week faithfully celebrate the Eucharist with devotion and passion. In all of this they have a wonderful model in Elizabeth Ann Seton. Not deterred by being ignored, dismissed or rejected, women know, like Elizabeth Ann, that God is their center and their guide. Nothing else matters.

Today, listen to a woman of faith.

What woman of faith do you most admire?

Saturday, January 2, 2021

The Epiphany of the Lord

 "Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you." Is 60:1

Searching for the living God is a life long adventure, and the feast of the Kings reminds us of this. Don't be afraid the astrologers from the East remind us. As long as you are looking for God, God will find you. Sometimes it will be a star in the sky. At other times, it will be a sunset in summer or a flower in winter that captures us with its beauty and reminds us to keep going, to keep searching. Though God is very near, we do not always sense God's presence, but as long as our spirits remain open, our journey will not be in vain.

The church may be very weak in the United States, and our parish churches almost empty in places during these days of Covid 19, but as long as we accept the call to discipleship, we cannot go wrong. Assuredly, the message about the Messiah came to God's people from beyond their shores, but for those who kept listening to the signs of the times there was no surprise. God will come to us as God wants. We have only to be ready.

Today, expect a surprise.

How has God entered your life in ways you did not expect?

Friday, January 1, 2021

Sts Basil the Great and Gregory Naziansen

"When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires, the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper....our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians." (1) St. Gregory of Nazienzen

The saints whose lives we honor today were, in contemporary language, "soul friends."  Basil, who is recognized as the father of monasticism in the East, could be fierce and unbending. Much like Mother Teresa of Calcutta in our day, he was a reformer and  made decisions quickly, often without much conversation with others. Gregory, on the other hand, was shy and retiring.  When appointed Archbishop of Constantinople, he lived with friends rather than take up residence at the city's center. Both men were accused of heresy and were slandered by those who resented their power and fortitude. Despite their differences, they remained friends.

All of us need people with whom we walk closely in faith, especially when life is difficult and confusing. Having one other person to accompany us through the dark and light times is a gift beyond words. Gregory and Basil had this in one another, and although their relationship was often under great stress, Gregory reminds us that their "great pursuit...to be called Christians" kept them together in love and hope.

Today, treasure the gift of a  soul friend.

How important have your friends been to your faith life?