Saturday, March 17, 2012

Thinking and Praying Big

"Let us visit Christ whenever we may; let us care for him, feed him, clothe him, welcome him, honour him, not only at a meal, as some have done, or by anointing him, as Mary did, or only by lending him a tomb, like Joseph of Arimathaea, or by arranging for his burial, like Nicodemus, who loved Christ half-heartedly, or by giving him gold, frankincense and myrrh, like the Magi before all these others." St Gregory of Nazienzen (From the Office of Readings for 3rd Saturday in Lent)

There are many forms of almsgiving, one of the three great Lenten practices to which we were directed on Ash Wednesday. Many in our society have little money, and some who had money for a while, are struggling now because they lost their jobs or had to accept work that pays their bills but little else. While the acceptance of these difficult circumstances is a real penance for those who have lost their ability to live and support their families in a manner to which they were accustomed, Lent demands even more.

For those who have money, giving some of it away is among the least testing of their penances. "Visiting" Christ in the poor and needy is the real challenge of the gospels, and as Gregory of Nazienzen suggests, it cannot be reduced to a single act, but must be an attitude we develop. Many of us where introduced to this kind of reflection by the Young Christian Worker movement which is still active around the world (CF YCW) Opening our eyes to what is in front of us and choosing how best to respond is difficult but necessary. That 1 billion people in the world have no access to clean water and 21/2 billion have no sewage is not something we can address by ourselves, but working together with others to feed, clothe and house the Christ among us without the resources to help themselves is a clear mandate of the Gospel.

Today, "see, judge and act" about a vital issue in your own community.

Have you had the privilege of helping the poor directly? What was it like for you?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Living the Law

"You are not far from the Kingdom of God." Mk 12:34

When one of the scribes is able to appreciate Jesus' wisdom and agree with the Lord that to love God completely and our neighbors as ourselves is the essence of the law, Jesus tells him that he is not far from the reign of God. It seems like a strange compliment, until we realize that while the scribes were likely to know the law and prophets well, they were often more interested in getting the law "right" than living the law well. While a deep knowledge of the law is an important foundation for our spiritual lives, it is no substitute for a life of love and service in the world.

Last week I was speaking with a priest friend about the saints we have known. Almost all of them were lay people. It was not that we were discounting the holiness of priests and religious we knew, but were clearly more touched and challenged by the integrity and faith we encountered in the people we had been sent to serve. Not incidentally, the people we both knew were not scholars, but parents, husbands and wives, grandparents and even some children. What they shared in common was their fidelity in the face of very long odds. They had faced sickness, death, and poverty with courage and honesty. They did not whine about how God had dealt them a poor hand, but were grateful for the God who had accompanied them in their struggles.

Jesus was tough on the Scribe, not because he lacked insight, but because he seemed only to know the law but said nothing about living it. He will be hard on us for the same reasons. In Lent we try to recommit ourselves to prayer, almsgiving and fasting because they are practices that put the law into action in our lives.

Today, ask God to help you know and live the law of Christ more deeply.

Who is the holiest person you know? Why?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Arguing for Nothing

"For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons. If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out?" Lk 11:19

It is always strange when we hear Jesus entering into what appears to be a silly debate with his opponents, until we remember that the text we read is as much about his first followers as it is about him. Frightened by the increasing demands made on them after Jesus’ death and by their exclusion from the synagogue, the early disciples of Jesus fought with one another and their Jewish brothers and sisters, and while it was foolish, it was understandable. Because they were intent on defending the purity of  Jesus’ teaching, they allowed themselves to squabble over an interpretation of the gospel, and  broke the bonds they had with one another. More important, while insisting on the truth as they understood it, they demeaned those around them.

The same can often be said of us. It is the rare person who has not found himself in a debate with a friend or family member that never seems to end. Even though everyone around us gets bored or loses interest, we keep insisting on our position and find ourselves saying things we really don’t mean or believe. Lent is a good time to develop “spiritual practices” that help us avoid these situations, or at least end them quickly.

The practice of discernment is a good place to start. People in twelve step recovery programs say it this way: “How important is it?” A young friend of mine went even further. Whenever he was faced with a situation that troubled him he asked three questions. Does something need to said? Does it need to be said now? Am I the person who needs to say it? This little exercise protected him from himself and his compulsions and helped him avoid senseless arguments and upset. While honest debate about the Gospel is necessary for clarity about who we are and how we are to go about in the world, it should never devolve into petty bickering or personal attacks.

Today, avoid all arguments.

When have you found yourself unable to extricate yourself from a silly debate?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Forming our children in Faith

"However, take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children's children." Dt 4: 9

The word tradition is from the Latin verb tradere, which means to hand over. It is an important word for Catholics because we insist that there are two fonts of revelation, scripture and tradition. Scripture alone, without an official commentary, can easily be misunderstood. At the same time, the less than careful use of tradition can become oppressive. Scripture and tradition are the two fountains out of which our faith flows.

Furthermore, when we read the scripture in concert with our Tradition, we should always remember that God's revelation is intended to set us free, not bind us up. Our Jewish brothers and sisters often say that the Talmud, or the commentary on the Bible, is like a fence. The intent of the commentary is to protect the integrity of the word in much the same way that our Constitution protects the vision of the founding fathers. Tradition lets us know we are on the right path, but it is more like a compass than a map.

Tradition is the compass we hand onto our children to guide and console them. In the light of our Tradition, they are challenged to become the living word of God by embodying the best of who we are as Catholics, and discover ever new ways to proclaim God's Good News in the changing world within which we all find ourselves.

Today, be the tradition. Be transparent in your love for Jesus Christ.

Who was your most important teacher about matters of faith?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


"You should know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up.”  Dn 3:18

The remarkable story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego always lifts my spirit. Thrown into a raging fire because they refused to to worship King Nebuchadnezzar's God or the golden statue he made, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego assure the king that their God will protect and save them even if he allows them to die in the fire. That they are protected from the fire, while spectacular, is almost incidental because they are living the simple truth that saints have always insisted upon. They serve God, pray and care for the needy, not to be successful, but to be faithful, and it is the failure to live faith in this way that condemns the servant in today's gospel who, after being forgiven a large debt, refuses to forgive his fellow servant in a small matter.

God protects, God forgives and God sets us free over and over to begin again. Made in God's image, we are to save one another from the "fire" of shame that reduces people to objects of need, rather than subjects of our compassion. If God is compassionate, understanding and accepting, so must we have hearts of kindness and mercy

Today, offer someone who cannot repay you an ear of compassion.

Has anyone ever stood with you in suffering without judgment?


Monday, March 12, 2012


"They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong." Lk 4:30

The setting of today's gospel is astounding. Imagine it. Jesus, preaching in his hometown synagogue, has been very direct with his neighbors, castigating them for not accepting him as a prophet, and reminding them that other prophets suffered the same fate. Hurt and angry at what they perceived as a slight, his community drives him out of town. Were they literally chasing him, forcing him to run away? Would they have actually hurled him over the hill and into oblivion? The gospel tells us that Jesus was able to slip through the crowd and escape. It almost sounds like a James Bond movie. People intent on murder, which was not justified by the Torah or Roman law, and the prophet finding  a way to avoid capture.

Clearly, the gospel writer wants his readers to know how much danger Jesus was willing to submit to in order to do his Father's will, and how angry the crowds were with him. Truth can do that to people. Truth drove Jesus to tell the truth, and the truth about their unwillingness to change so upset the people that they drove him out of town.

When we don't listen to common sense, to the law of God and to our own best instincts, when we refuse to listen to those with whom we disagree or dislike, we risk not hearing and responding to the God who lives at the center of every ordinary event and moment of our lives.

Today, listen to someone who annoys you.

Are there any difficult people or situations from whom you learned more than you expected?

Sunday, March 11, 2012


"He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables." Jn 2:15

Few gospel scenes are more dramatic than Jesus chasing the money changers out of the temple precincts, and with good reason. Jesus was angry, an emotion we rarely associate with him or Christianity, despite the fact that it is almost always anger that brings about change in a society. It was anger over taxation without representation that spurred the American revolution, and it is anger at oppressive regimes that is turning North Africa and the Middle east into hotbeds of change. Though uncomfortable, anger is an important emotion for all to feel.

Jesus is not angry that people are making a small profit exchanging one currency for another. His anger is at those who charge whatever they can get from pilgrims, most of whom were surely poor. In the Palestine of Jesus' day, pilgrims would come to the temple once in their life from all over the known world. If they were Greek, they would have to change their drachmas into shekels and then when they arrived at the temple they would have to change their shekels into temple shekels, and this last exchange was often usurious. Money changers, knowing those seeking temple shekels were not about to turn away from an impossible rate of exchange, would charge whatever their unsuspecting victims would pay. That this might mean the pilgrims and their families would not eat properly that day meant little to the moneychangers. Their profit ruled their consciences.

While all of us expect to pay more for basic services, like food and drink, when we visit a shrine or monument, gouging is never acceptable. That Jesus would defend those being abused by unscrupulous business men reminds us to do the same on behalf of the poor. Injustice and oppression, especially against the poor, is never o.k. Anger that leads to transformation is.

Today, examine your conscience regarding the practices you might employ to gain leverage over others.

Has the anger and outrage of others ever moved you to change?