Saturday, March 24, 2012

Words becoming Deeds

"Never before has anyone spoken like this man." Jn 7:46

It is always unnerving when people from whom we expect little make us stop and listen. Apparently, that is what happened to the temple guards as they listened to Jesus. When they told the chief priests and Pharisees what happened to them when they listened to Jesus, they were berated. No doubt they were confused, something that happens to most of us when others  correct or ridicule us. Still, the seed had been planted in the hearts of the temple guards, and it was up to them to nurture it.

Lent is a time when the seed of God's word is planted in us again, and we must ask ourselves whether we have done anything to help it grow. Most of us have moments almost everyday when we sense God's presence, or find ourselves being lifted up by the beauty of the day or the goodness of a complete stranger. Hearing about a nurse who spent hours on the phone helping a patient get insurance approval for necessary medical procedures, watching a 40 something woman give an arm to an older man struggling to climb the three steps into church, or seeing a 14 year old boy help his grandmother in her garden, are all moments of grace, seeds if you will, that need nurturing and nourishing.

Today, take an extra moment of gratitude for the ordinary ways that God speaks to you.

Have new seeds of faith and hope been planted in you this Lent?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Truth to Power

"The Jews were trying to kill him." Jn 7:2

There is a great deal of tension in today's gospel. At first, Jesus seems cautious, not wanting to go to Judea because the leaders of the Jews had threatened to kill him, but because it was the feast of tabernacles, he does go to Jerusalem and does not act like someone who is afraid. He "cries out" in the temple area and reminds his listeners that he is not speaking on his own, but on behalf of the one who sent him. This outburst draws more attention to Jesus and the Jewish leaders try to arrest him.

Dealing with tension is always difficult. Having learned early in life that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, we avoid tension whenever possible, and in most cases it is a wise course of action. But sometimes it is necessary to tell the  unvarnished truth and to accept the consequences of our behavior. 

During the Second World War, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was martyred because he could not ignore or accept the atrocities of the German government. Knowing he would probably die, he wrote to his friends and colleagues from prison. "There is not a place to which the Christian can withdraw from the world, whether it be outwardly or in the sphere of the inner life. Any attempt to escape from the world must sooner or later be paid for with a sinful surrender to the world." (1) Jesus knew this well, and the gospel of John is preparing us now for his death. Jesus cannot submit to an authority that denies God's will. Neither can we.

Today, do not hide from the gospel's demands.

Is there someone you admire greatly because of their willingness to speak truth to power?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Role reversal

"Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people?" Ex 32:11

Moses had a fascinating relationship with God. Today it almost seems like role reversal. Because Moses has passed through his anger at his own people, he becomes the peacemaker. God is enraged and ready to strike a death blow against the Jewish people because of their depravity, but Moses does what any of us do with good friends when they are about to act in a rash way and hurt themselves and others. He lets God express his anger, but then reminds God not to forget how good he is and how many promises he has made.

Moses says: "Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, and how you swore to them by your own self, saying, 'I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky; and all this land that I promised, I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.'" Helping God to remember his goodness and promises softens God's disappointment and we read, "So the Lord changed his mind about the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people." (Ex 32:14)

Moses' relationship with God is the key to his success. Because he has come to know God, and respects God's rage, he is able to intercede for his people.  The same is true for all of us. Trying to negotiate and make sense with others, especially if they have power, will only end in failure if we do not work at knowing and respecting them. Authentic relationships have the power to heal.

Today, listen with respect to those with whom you disagree.

Has anyone ever listened to you with acceptance and compassion when you were hurt and angry?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

God's maternal love

"Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you." Is. 49:15

Whenever we hear about a parent who seems to have forgotten or rejected a child it confuses us. How is this possible? Often enough, unfortunately, addictions can do this. Drugs, alcohol, gambling and so many other compulsions can rob us of common sense and, worse, compassion. Hearing about or encountering situations like this sickens us, not with judgment, but with sadness. The most important and foundational relationships we have flounder. Trust first weakens and then disappears altogether. It is an overwhelmingly painful situation when parents cannot trust their children and children do not trust their parents.

Isaiah, in trying to help us understand God's maternal love for us, goes even further. Even if it is possible for a new mother to push away her baby, God cannot and will not reject us. If we can ever let this striking and powerful image enter our hearts and spirits, life will be very different. All of us have secrets, compulsions or sins that we pray will never come to light. We are guilty and sometimes full of shame, and while this is understandable, we must pray for the grace to put aside the past no matter how dark it might be. Guilt slowly becomes self absorption and robs God of our love and fidelity. Guilt also so haunts us that we fail to live the gospel or reach out for others in need because we are so obsessed with our own faults.

Isaiah leaves no room for this kind of behavior. God loves us more than a mother loves her newborn. God wants to be near us and draw closer to us each day. In today's gospel Jesus insists, "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life." Belief leads to life. Forever.

Today, be grateful for the God who loves us more than our own mothers.

How do you manage those days when you doubt your own goodness and God's love?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Do you want to be well?

"Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me." Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your mat, and walk." Jn 5: 7-8

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Central America for the first time. I was excited about the trip and anxious for it to begin, but after a few weeks I was ready to come home. My body reacted against the water. Even though I was careful to drink only water that had been boiled for twenty minutes, I got sick and could not stay hydrated or keep food down. Ever since I have prayed and worked for people in the developing world to have clean water. Water is essential to every form of life, but impure water kills. Even today 400 children die in the developing world every hour. (1) Working for clean water around the world is an act of justice that Christians need to support.

Today's scripture texts are all about water. Ezekiel has a vision about water flowing from the temple until it becomes a river that supports and nourishes every living creature. God wants us to live, the scripture reminds us, and to have clean water that sustains us. The gospel is about the waters to which the man sick for 38 years was unable to reach. Remarkably, Jesus asks him, "Do you want to be well?"

This is a question we all need to ask. If God makes us well it is not simply for our own healing. God heals us to go out in an other centered way to announce the Good News of our ultimate healing. The sick man who Jesus heals must now walk towards others, and reconcile with those who failed to help him reach the water for 38 years. This is no easy task. Letting go of our hurt so that the waters of Baptism can cleanse us anew is a great challenge.

Today, ask God to heal you for his work.

Have you ever been healed by the compassion and understanding of others?

Monday, March 19, 2012

St Joseph

"Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly." Mt 1:19

A wise person once wrote, "Expectations are the seeds of disappointment." (1) How true this must have been for St Joseph. Although we don't want to impose our understanding of marriage on people who lived two thousand years ago, since marriages long ago were arranged not with a view towards romance, but with the desire to continue the family name, Joseph surely expected Mary to be a virgin. When it is apparent to him that she is not, after all she was pregnant, he responds gently and decides to divorce her quietly so that she would not be subject to the ultimate punishment of the law: death by stoning. Joseph's natural compassion, which is reenforced by the message of the angel who assures him that Mary is pregnant, not by another man, but by the Holy Spirit, is a powerful sign and challenge to us. Joseph's assumptions about Mary's behavior are shattered by grace.

All of us have expectations for ourselves, our families and, for those who are parents, for their children. It is natural, and most of the expectations are good ones. We want to succeed in life, to make our parents proud, to contribute to the society in a significant way, to please God, but almost always these expectations get us in trouble. We berate ourselves for failing and judge those around us for matters over which they have no control. Though we know that God's ways are not our ways, we make the fatal error of expecting God to see things as we see them. In other words, we act as if God is made in our image, and because we make this mistake over and over, we turn to people like St Joseph who, when his world was turned upside down, managed to trust God. Joseph's trust in God and compassion towards Mary give us the strength to be joyful even when our expectations remain unmet.

Today, ask God what God wants for you. Don't tell God how to act.

Who has impressed you most in life with the ability to do God's will despite overwhelming obstacles?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

From the Shadows

"Nicodemus said to him, 'How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?'” Jn 3:4

Nicodemus is one those shadowy figures who slips into Jesus' life at night to ask a few questions and then disappear, only to return again twice more, once to plead for Jesus' life before the ruling council of the Jews, and then to help bury him. Though he was touched deeply by Jesus' challenge to him to be born again, he remained a member of the ruling council and a voice for sanity and hope.

It can be very difficult and dangerous to stand in the margins. Sometimes we do this out of fear. Knowing our lives must change if we give ourselves over completely to God, we hesitate, not ready for the transformation to which the gospel calls us. At other times, we stand in the margins to act as prophets and mediators for others. Knowing that our relationships with important and powerful  people can benefit the entire community as long as we maintain our integrity, we are in a position to voice our concerns and objections to injustice.

This second position takes deep faith and a vibrant prayer life. Being willing to give voice to the heartache of everyday people can be agitational and upsetting to those who wield power, but it is vital to the hopes of those who are voiceless. In recent history, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Martin Luther King, Jr, lived this role. Though each of these key historical figures was personally flawed, they knew God wanted them to be prophets, and, at great personal cost, stood on the margins demanding justice for all.

Today, come out of the shadows and live a public life of faith.

Are there people in your life who were like Nicodemus? How did they affect your life?