Saturday, February 4, 2012

"I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you." 1 Kings 12

Humility will get you everyplace and everything with God. Though Solomon is very young and anxious about how to serve God as King, he does know that despite his father David's faults, David was faithful to God and God was faithful to David. With that as his foundation, Solomon is secure and hopeful about how to be king, and remarkably, because God sees and acknowledges Solomon's humility, God tells Solomon to ask for anything he needs. Solomon does not hesitate in asking, not for increased wealth and power, but wisdom to lead God's people well.

Because Solomon remembers that the people do not belong to him as King, but to God, God grants Solomon's request for wisdom and gives him increased wealth besides.  The key to Solomon's wisdom is never to forget, even as King, that he is a servant to God and the people, and because he acts on this conviction, his reign is long and powerful.

Though Solomon will also struggle to listen to God at the end of his life, today we focus on his humility as a path we also must take. When we remember who are and live in dependence upon God for direction and wisdom, our lives are rich and rewarding. Only when we take ourselves too seriously and refuse to listen to the insights of others, do we lose our way.

Today, listen to someone else's faith journey.

Friday, February 3, 2012

St Blaise

"But when Herod learned of it, he said, 'It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up.'" Mk 6:16

The legend of St Blaise is fascinating and instructive. Called a legend since it was written 400 years after his death, the story that has made him famous, even today, tells us that as he was being led away from a cave where he was praying, a little boy with a fish bone stuck in his throat was brought to him. Blaise blessed him and the bone popped out, allowing him to breathe and speak again.

Today's gospel about the beheading of St John the Baptist makes us wonder about what Herod had stuck in his throat making it impossible to confront his daughter and wife who wanted John's head on a platter. Surely Herod's pride, his emabarrassment and his fear of being made a fool of in front on his guests made it impossible for him to refuse his daughter's request for John's head even though the gospel tells us that Herod like to listen to John. Little did Herod realize that in silencing John once and for all by killing him he would make his voice in death even louder than it was in life.

Today's feast and gospel give all of us pause to think and pray about the "bones" stuck in our throats that make it difficult for us to tell the truth. Whether it is our shame or fear of being seen for who we are does not really matter. God will help us in every aspect of life when we ask for help humbly.

Today, spit out your shame and help others find their voice.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Presentation of the Lord

 "The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him." Lk 2:33

One of the most joyous moments for many couples of faith is to have their child baptized at Mass on a Sunday morning. In many parishes, the parents are invited to approach the altar after the post communion prayer and hold their new born up before the entire assembly. The smiles on their faces and the loud applause of God's people gathered at Mass always lifts my spirit as I imagine God clapping, too.

The feast we are celebrating today might have been like this for Mary and Joseph as they approached the temple. We might imagine them being stopped by friends and strangers alike wanting to congratulate them and offer them a blessing and a prayer.  Surely, their hearts must have overflowed with joy when Simeon, full of the Holy Spirit, (Lk 2:27) took the infant Jesus into his arms and declared that he was gazing upon the "light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” (Lk 2:32) Though they could not have understood completely what was happening to them or what their own role would be, they knew that Simeon and Anna were filled with and delight, and so were they. Glory for Israel and a light to the nations had been born to them.  And to us!

Today, be a light to those around you.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"It is I who have sinned; it is I, the shepherd, who have done wrong. But these are sheep; what have they done?" 2 Sam 24:16

David is forever getting himself in and out of trouble and there are times when the reader wonders whether this great King of Israel is honestly sorry for his awful behavior or is repentant because he got caught. In today's passage he stirs up God's wrath by calling for a census, something that belongs to God. Israel's people are God's people, not David's or any other king. especially if, in their pride, they want to preen before other nations about how powerful they are. Only God can command that a census, and as Joab reminds David, God always makes Israel appear a hundred times stronger than they are. God will provide; God will defend. We have only to do God's will and not pretend that God's power is ours.

Whatever the case,  David's words are strong. He asks God to punish him, the shepherd, for his sin of pride, and not punish his people. No doubt David was able to ask God for forgiveness because despite all his faults, he never completely forgot who he was. God had called David, anointed him and empowered him. Whenever David forgot this, God would be angry with him, but as soon as he came to his senses, God was anxious to forgive him and reconcile with him.

The same is true for us. We never have to fear God's anger as long as we are willing to admit our foolishness. Psalm 73 says it clearly, "I was stupid and could not understand; I was like a brute beast in your presence." When we are able to acknowledge our stupidity God does not turn his back on us. Only when, in our pride, we pretend to have no need of God do we risk God's wrath.

Today, remember who you are and accept your limitations.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

St John Bosco

When when St. John Bosco was only nine years old, he had a dream in which he rushed into a group of children who were cursing and tried to stop their misbehavior by fighting with them. Failing to help them he look up and saw a man clothed in white who told him that the only way to change the children was through kindness and gentleness. John resisted the message for a long as he could, but the dreams kept coming.

Though many told him to ignore his dreams and others tried to have him committed to an institution for the mentally ill, John listened and began to develop skills like juggling and and magic in order to draw young troubled young boys to God. Kindness and gentleness, he learned, were much more effective than harsh words. Eventually, his dreams, confirmed by Pope Pius IX, led him to found the Salesians who continue to minister to wayward boys all over the world.

It can be very challenging and confusing to listen to our dreams, despite the evidence we find in scripture that God often uses dreams to attract, warn and instruct us. Who can forget Joseph's task in the book of Genesis? When Pharaoh was troubled by his dream and none of his wise men could interpret it, he sent for Joseph who told Pharaoh to put aside food during the years of plenty because a great famine was about to come upon Egypt. Because Pharaoh accepted Joseph's interpretation of his dream, the Egyptians avoided starving during the years of famine. While not every dream we have is important, some of them may be.  Paying attention to our dreams and talking about them with a trusted friend or director can help us discern God's will for us.

Today, listen to your dreams.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Different Wisdom

"A man named Shimei,...was coming out of the place, cursing as he came, (and) he threw stones at David." (2 Sam16: 5-6)

David's wisdom in today's reading stuns us. Threatened by his own son, he flees Jerusalem barefoot, but still has the presence of mind to listen to Shimei who is cursing him and throwing stones and dirt at him. David recognizes that Shimei is a prophet calling him out of his fear and into a renewed relationship with God.

Sometimes it is only the person who appears crazy and out of control to others who is able to get our attention, and literature is full of this kind of wisdom. Seneca the Younger unnerves us when he says,  "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful," (1) but after a few moments of reflection we realize that he is offering us a warning, just like Shimei warned David. Unless we are willing to acknowledge how unreflectively we can use false religion to enslave others, we will never benefit from the actual wisdom of our own religious heritage.

Today, don't be afraid to listen to those who seem crazy.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hard Hearts

"If today you hear God's voice, harden not your hearts." (Ps 95)

All of us have hard hearts from time to time, and while it is understandable, it hurts others, especially those close to us. Just as important it hurts us. When are hearts are hard we let nothing and no one in, and we pay for it. While we can hear others on the most superficial of levels, it is almost impossible to respond to friends and family with compassion and understanding. We are so wrapped up in our struggles that we ignore the needs of everyone around us.

The prophets knew this well, and it is the reason they regularly resisted God's call to announce good news and remind people to listen to God. When no one is listening, it is very difficult to keep speaking, yet that is what God demands of us. Because we never know when someone's heart will soften, we must continue to live and proclaim the Gospel. It does not matter if we are heard. It is not about our success. It is about being faithful to God as God is faithful to us.

It often surprises us, especially after a period of hard heartedness, that God never stopped listening to us and urging us to transformation. Neither do our closest friends abandon us when we fail to respond to them.  They may take a step away from us in order to protect themselves, but they do not abandon us, and it is then that we realize what true friendship is. When our hearts do soften, it is good to remember, especially when friends fail to respond to us, that their hearts might be hard for a little while, and our only task is to wait with patience as God waits for us.

Today, ask God to soften your heart.