Saturday, January 28, 2012

St Thomas Aquinas

"All that is true, by whomsoever it has been said has its origin in the Spirit." Thomas Aquinas (1)
Born into wealth, Thomas Aquinas was given by his parents to the Benedictines as an oblate when he was only five years old in the hope that he would one day become a monk and eventually be their abbot. Thomas, however, followed a different path. When he went to Paris to study, he joined the Dominicans, a mendicant community committed to simplicity and poverty.

Upset, his parents sent this older brother to "capture" him and forced him to return to their home, but Thomas, determined to remain with the Dominicans, left home after a year and returned to Paris and his studies. A student of Albert the Great, it was not long before Thomas outshone his mentor and became the most prominent teacher of the middle ages because he was able to integrate the wisdom of Aristotle and the Greek philosophers into Catholic theology.

Folding the wisdom of Aristotle into Catholic thought was a radical notion and project because it forced thinkers to look at the world, philosophy and culture in a fundamentally different way. The church was not the only fount of wisdom, Thomas's teaching implied. Theologians needed to study the scriptures and church teaching, as well as the discoveries of science and philosophy in order to know the fulness of truth at the center of God's revelation.

What a lesson for us. As Catholics we should have no fear of what the world learns about creation and the beginnings of the world. Neither should be resist what music, art, and literature teach us about beauty and wonder which for us only enhance the awe we have of God.

Today, thank God for a teacher who stretched your mind and imagination.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Process of Conversion

"Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear." Mt 4:28

Conversion is a process. We all know this, but continue to get fooled. Just as we think we can relax, sit back and enjoy where we are in life, change comes or is demanded of us. A parent or a friend gets sick, a child's life turns in a direction we never expected, and we have doubts about our vocations. There is no getting around it. Though we often resist it, change is necessary and inevitable.

In today's first reading, David's lust gets him in trouble. Almost like a peeping Tom, David, walking on his roof top, sees Bathsheba bathing. Smitten, he summons her, has relations with her and when she announces shortly afterwards that she is pregnant, he panics. David's pride or perhaps his fear of losing his influence in the community block his conscience, and he arranges to have Bathsheba's husband Uriah killed.

As our young people might say, you can't make this stuff up. Though David will be despised by God for sleeping with another man's wife and having her husband killed, his real punishment will be the death of the child he conceived with Bathsheba. Most of us would expect this to be the end of the story, but it is not. God relents, forgives David and Bathsheba gives birth to Solomon.

The lesson is clear. No matter how egregious our fault and sin, if we express true sorrow and are willing to change, God will forgive us and help us take the next steps in life. Conversion, like the land yielding fruit, is an ongoing process, "first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear."

Today, ask forgiveness of every sin, and the grace to change. There is much more life for all of us to live.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sts Timothy and Titus

"The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you." Mk 4:24

The word pastor, though ancient, is not always completely accessible to people in the 21st century, especially those from the so called "developed world."  Most of us don't know many shepherds and so are unfamiliar with their role and importance.

Shepherds in the ancient world, though from the underclass, played an important role in the society, especially for the poor. Because the poor could not afford their own shelters for their sheep at night, one shepherd would watch over the sheep of many other peasants, and it was his job to protect the sheep, even with his own life. At times, he would even lie down in front of the opening of the sheep pen at night to ward off predators. Thus, in the Old Testament, God is often pictured as a shepherd, someone who not only created us, but shelters and protects us, especially when we are in great need.

Timothy and Titus, whose feast we celebrate today, are recipients of the so called pastoral epistles, letters from St. Paul with lots of practical advice about how to help the people given to them for their guidance and protection. For example in 2 Timothy, Paul writes, "Avoid foolish and ignorant debates, for you know that they breed quarrels." (2:24) How different all our lives would be if we heard and interiorized this advice. 

Today, ask God to give you the gifts of a humble pastor.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Conversion of St Paul

"Saul, Saul, why are your persecuting me?" Acts 22:7

Almost everyone has a conversion experience or three. Struggling for an identity or reflecting on the scriptures, there is a moment that stops us and reminds us who we are. Though it is not always life changing, it can be.

For St Paul, who thought of himself as among the most observant of Jews, it surely was. Blinded by a great light on his way to Damascus to continue his persecution of Christians, he heard a voice telling him, "I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting." (Acts 22:8) Unable to see because of the great light, his companions led him into Damascus where Ananias healed him of his blindness and told him to return to Jerusalem and be baptized. Not long afterwards God told Paul to leave Jerusalem and go to the Gentiles among whom he would find his life's mission.

While it appears that for St Paul the memory of his dramatic conversion was all he ever needed, we can be sure that this is not true. While all who open themselves to the power of the Holy Spirit will be led more deeply into Christ and into mission, there will be moments of disabling doubt and confusion when we will wrestle with God and with life. Only after we lose the battle to be in charge of our own lives and throw ourselves again at God's feet and ask for mercy, will we find the path to the next stage of our journey. Indeed, God has a mission for all, but it is God's mission, not ours.

Today ask God to send you again on his mission, not yours.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

St Francis de Sales

"In whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to the life of perfection." Introduction to the Devout Life

Lawyer, bishop, and writer, St. Francis de Sales remains an important figure in the spirituality of the Christian West because of his personal commitment, despite a quick temper, to gentleness, understanding and compassion, and his insistence that everyone is called to holiness, what he called a "devout life."

Modern readers might quibble with Francis' metaphors and style, but it is difficult to overestimate his importance. Convinced that every person had a vocation with limitations and gifts, he wrote eloquently and convincingly about how everyone could practice devotion and grow closer to God, and all of this while living and ministering in Geneva, the spiritual home of the Calvinist movement.

It is sometimes unfortunate that when our church reminds us to pray for vocations, we focus almost completely on vocations to the priesthood and religious life. While these vocations are important, unless we celebrate marriage as the sacrament to which most people are called, we risk undermining the foundation upon which the church is built.(1) Francis de Sales would never have made this mistake.

Today, be grateful for your vocation.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Healing Power

"If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand." Mk 3:25

Years ago, a wise priest friend and mentor told me that if anyone has more than three non negotiables in a relationship, they shouldn't be in that relationship. At the time, he was helping me learn the art of pastoral counseling, and it was advice he often gave to married couples. Imagine, he said, what it would be like for you to come to my rectory and find little notes up everywhere about which cup to use for coffee, how to say mass, which vestments to use and exactly where to park your car. I don't imagine you would want to return to help in this parish. When married couples find themselves in this kind of relationship, especially with regard to how to raise children, the marriage really struggles.

Over the years, I offered my friends wisdom to our young friars about communal living. When one friar tries to control others by spoken and unspoken rules our sense of belonging breaks down and the friars find themselves looking for excuses not to be home and, in the name of ministry, absent themselves from common prayer and meals.

In today's gospel, Jesus is warning his contemporaries about much the same thing. In response to those who are upset by his casting out demons while at he same time accusing him of being possessed by a devil, he reminds his listeners that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Jesus drives out demons and cures people to bring them back into the community of believers, not to divide them. Clearly, it is the envy of the Jewish leaders that is dividing the community, not Jesus' power.

Today, listen twice as much as you speak, and see what healing comes to you and your family.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Jonah's Dilemma

"Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed." Jon 3:4

Jonah's challenge is both similar and very different from the apostle's. Jonah must walk through Niniveh and remind its citizens that unless they reform, their entire city will be destroyed. In this aspect of his ministry Jonah is a forerunner of the apostles, but Jonah is reluctant to assume his new role. In fact, he hopes he fails. His dislike of the Ninivehites is deep. He does not want them to reform and hopes that God will destroy them.

The apostles, on the other hand, while no doubt having their own prejudices, are not reluctant at all to follow Jesus, even though they do not know the fullness of their mission. Jesus' personality and power draw them like fresh water in the desert. They do not hesitate leaving their boats and their families to follow the one who promises a new reign and a new world order.

There is a bit of Jonah and the apostles in all of us. Because no one can escape hurt, especially broken relationships and friendships, like Jonah, we sometimes harbor and hold onto painful memories that cling to us like an ink stain on a new shirt. We scrub and launder the shirt over and over, but the stain remains. Though we know we have no choice but to find a new shirt, we cling to what seemed so clean and fresh but is now ruined. Unless we change shirts, we will be unable to begin again. 

The apostles, on the other hand,  are willing to put aside everything to follow the Lord. Somehow, though we can be certain that they experienced hurt and loss, they were able to cast aside their nets to follow Jesus. Because the apostles are able to focus on the new life, new horizons Jesus promises, they are able to let go of their  soiled “shirts” and become disciples of the Lord.

Today’s scriptures, while encouraging us to heal and begin again, give us a choice. Live in bitterness like Jonah or cast our nets into the sea of God’s love where Jesus promises us we will catch men and women who are anxious for the peace and security only God can provide. When we submit to God’s path, God will show us the way to fullness of life.

Today, listen for God calling your name