Saturday, May 5, 2012

Praying the Darkness

"The Advocate, the Holy Spirit...will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you." Jn 14:26

If you have ever been to a courthouse for a trial then you know the setting for St. John’s gospel. John suggests that not only Jesus, but the entire church is on trial, and that both Jesus and the church have an Advocate, a spokesperson who will testify on their behalf. This Advocate is the Holy Spirit. In the ancient world, if you were accused of a crime, it was important to haven an important figure in town speak on your behalf, someone to insist that you were more than your faults. The Holy Spirit is the one John designates as our spokesperson.

Not infrequently, when our spirits are low, we forget all those who care about and love us. Overwhelmed by our own guilt or weakness, we slip into a kind of darkness that blankets every thing we do and are. Though we know that life is not all darkness, we have periods of time when it seems that way, usually because of the accumulation of burdens.

A sick mother, a child acting out, a husband who can’t find work, a mortgage payment due without sufficient funds, a small business that is struggling, a car that seems always to need expensive repairs are all events we have experienced. As long as we are carrying only one or two, we can usually find light in our darkness, but when they start to pile up we can feel overwhelmed and wonder where God is.

Today, scripture reminds us that no matter how heavy our burdens, there is someone, the Holy Spirit, who is prepared to speak on our behalf and whose job it is to hold up before others who might be judging us that we are people of  good character and commitment to God. The Holy Spirit will enumerate all our good deeds and insist that others see us as faith filled and honest. How wonderful to have such an Advocate.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Faith filled relationships

"Master, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?" Jesus said to him. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." Jn 14:6

Relationships are the key to a gospel life. Without relationships rooted in faith there is no Good News. Though Thomas claims not to know the way, it is only because he has misunderstood Jesus, thinking the Lord is talking about a place to which he is going when he reminds his friends that they know the way. In fact, Jesus is the way. It is only in and through our relationship with him and one another in faith that we witness to God's saving love alive in us.

Most of us, thank God, know this truth intimately. From our earliest years we have been blessed with guides, mentors and soul friends, people who not only instructed us in the formal aspects of faith by teaching us our daily prayers like the Our Father and the Hail Mary, but also witnessed to faith by how they cared for others and reached out to the needy. Today, when we think of them, we are more grateful for the way they lived faith and loved us despite our weaknesses than the catechism lessons they taught us.

Today, pause to remember those who blessed you with unconditional love.

From whom did you learn how to honor God and serve others?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sts. Philip and James

"Have I been with you for so long a time and still you do not know me, Philip? Jn 14:9

Sometimes it is amazing to acknowledge how little we know about ourselves and others with whom we live even after many years together. In part, this is a result of the culture of individualism and privacy that so pervades U.S. culture, but it is more than that. Too often, busy about so many things, we fail to spend time, even waste time, with ourselves, our families and God.

Being with others is rarely revealing all at once. Only time spent listening to others with our hearts over the course of many years affords us real knowledge of the other. Learning to waste time with God  and others each day, despite its frustrations, will allow us to know and love God and the people with whom we live more deeply. More important, it affords God the opportunity to tell us more about God.

It is a small, but significant, comfort to know that even the apostles suffered from spiritual “blindness" and "deafness.” Philip does not know the Lord after years spent with him, but perhaps after the Lord’s correction, Philip will listen more to Jesus’ teaching about who is and from whom he comes.

Today, take five minutes to be quiet. Do not worry about distractions.

Who most impresses you with their ability to be quiet and listen?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

St Athanasius

It is difficult to imagine what it must have been like for Christians at the beginning of the fourth century. For three centuries they had been persecuted. Welcome neither in Jerusalem's synagogues nor Rome's temples, they hid in the catacombs or died in the Coliseum, but within fifty years of the conversion of Constantine, Christianity became the state religion and anyone who sought office in the Roman empire had first to be baptized.

The chaos and confusion must have been overwhelming. Rejoicing on the one hand in the new freedom they had to worship in public, they had also to deal with divisions within their ranks, especially about the nature of Jesus, and how to live with the new riches and power available to them as prominent citizens of Rome.

St Athanasius was about 20 yrs old when Constantine first professed faith in Jesus and led a tumultuous life. Exiled five times from his see in Alexandria, he continued to defend the divinity of Jesus in a world that wanted compromise at any price, and held up St. Anthony of Egypt and his simple life as a model for all Christians. That he remained faithful to the most basic teachings of Christianity despite great personal suffering makes his life a challenge for believers everywhere.

The struggle to live a faith based life at the beginning of the 21st century is great. With the explosion of  the newly emerging social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, there is enormous competition for our attention. How the practice and life of faith fits into all of this is unclear, but with Athanasius we can recommit ourselves to live simply and transparently as witnesses to God's love for us in Jesus Christ.

Today, be grateful for anything and anyone who reminds you of God's love for us in Jesus

Who most impresses you with their simple life of faith?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

St Joseph the Worker

"My sheep hear my voice." Jn 10:27

Hearing the voice of someone you can trust is a very comforting sound, especially if you are in a difficult or new situation. The first time I traveled to Bolivia I got off the plane after 15 hours of travel, looked around and could not find a familiar face, but after collecting my baggage, I heard the friar I was intending to visit call my name. Although I was far from New York and very tired, I felt at home.

Shepherds in the ancient world did that for their sheep. Most shepherd's had a different whistle or sound for each of their sheep and when the sheep heard their master's whistle, they followed him. He was their guardian and would lead them to fertile pastures where they could eat and drink.

St Joseph was like that for Jesus. It should not be difficult for us to imagine Jesus, even as an infant, turning and smiling when he heard Joseph's voice, and it would have been Joseph's voice in his early years that would have instructed Jesus in the ways of the world and at work. Today as we celebrate St. Joseph the Worker, let us pray that workers around the world will find their voice and hear the voice of the church in their quest for safe and productive work places, and just wages.

Whose voice was most important to your growth as a person?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Spiritual Safety

"I am the gate, Whoever enters through me will be saved." Jn 10:9

Are your home and parish spiritually safe places? Are your family members and fellow parishioners free to speak, question and challenge the unexamined assumptions that underlie so much of who we are and what we do? 

No doubt for some these are threatening questions, but spiritual safety at home and in our parishes is critically important to our faith growth. Unless people can explore freely the foundations of their faith and question those in authority, not with intent to dissemble, but with the hope of learning more about God and entering more naturally into the life of the faith community, they will stagnate or wander away from the practice of faith.

In today's gospel Jesus reminds us that he is the source of safety for the sheep, and that whoever enters through him will be saved. Too many others, he insists, especially the leaders of the Jewish community, were not good shepherds to their flock. They did not look after them. They did not protect them against predators. Rather, they taught the law to reinforce their own power, not to advance the reign of God.

When Jesus makes these kinds of charges against the Jewish leaders he knows there will be push back, and yet he can do nothing less. He must protect the faith of everyday people, and assure them that the role of authority is not to control, but to lead the faithful to know, love and serve God more deeply. Only when parents and church leaders realize that their children must become adults can our families and parishes use God's power to transform the earth.

Today, be a place of safety for someone who is struggling with belief.

Who helped you to trust God's shepherd like care when you were confused or hurt?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Good Shepherds

"Jesus said: 'I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.'" Jn 10:11

God as our good shepherd has always been an attractive, inviting and empowering notion for believers. In the ancient world from which this image comes, shepherds were the underclass. Although they had no voice in the society, they played critically important roles, especially for the poor. Because the poor could not afford their own sheep pens, shepherds were hired to look over the sheep of many families in a common pen throughout the night, and  while they were able to rest, they could not sleep since it was their task to protect the sheep from predators. In order to do this effectively, shepherds would lie down across the opening of the sheep pen in order to protect the sheep entrusted to them. That the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament remind us that God and Jesus are shepherds, willing to give their lives for their sheep, is both comforting and challenging.

Parents are natural shepherds, willing to protect their children from anything and anyone who might threaten them. Parents almost always do this without personal concern or fear. They know it is their duty, especially in the first years of life, and would have it no other way. These days, because people are living so much longer, children often become parents to their parents, and it is these "children" caring for their parents who show us a new face of God's unconditional love. Every time I visit a hospital or nursing home and encounter people feeding and clothing their parents of a daily basis, I am moved and strengthened by their generosity and unselfishness. Theirs is a heavy burden, but like Good Shepherds, they do it graciously and compassionately.

Today, thank someone who has been a Good Shepherd to you.

What is your most helpful image of God?