Saturday, June 30, 2012

First Martyrs of the Church of Rome

"Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord." Lam 2:19

Grieving is a necessary and very painful dimension of every life. Whether it is the loss of a friend or the death of a child, we all know the awful pain of letting go into faith without condition. No matter how much we want to hold onto that which brings us peace and joy, we cannot. We must submit ourselves in faith to what life brings us.

This was surely true for the first martyrs of the the church of Rome. Only a generation after the death of Jesus, Nero blamed Christians for a fire that destroyed half of Rome and put them to death. What must have been these first martyrs thoughts as they became the target of the emperor's wrath? No matter how peaceful their cause, it did not matter to Nero who needed a scapegoat for his own failures.

Unfortunately, this pattern continues in our day as we grieve all those Christians who, like Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel, Jean Donovan and Oscar Romero continue to stand as witnesses in lands where their desire to live faith filled lives of compassion and justice expose them to ridicule and violence.

Today, gently mourn all those who have been lost to violence.

How have you learned to grieve deeply in faith?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Sts Peter and Paul

"All should regard us as servants of Christ...As I see it, God has put us apostles at the end of the line, like men doomed to die in the arena....We are the weak ones, you the strong." 1 Cor 4: 1, 8

Service of others is one of the most fundamental postures that Christians, and especially those called to leadership, must assume, even though this vocation is counter intuitive for most. While it is important that some among us make decisions for the good of all, leaders should never forget, while exercising authority, that the choices they make must both build up our communal bonds and extend the gospel to all nations.

Peter and Paul realized this, and today we celebrate Peter's call to remind us that we have a tradition to uphold, a message to proclaim that is Christ's not ours. Paul, on the other hand, takes this same message to the gentile world, never forgetting that he is a servant of the gospel and that his own word, no matter how eloquent in its written form, is empty without Christ as its foundation.

Whether we realize it or not, all of us are called to be leaders. All have been commissioned at baptism to witness to Christ who was priest, prophet and king, and when we remember our vocation to be servants of the gospel, the fears that come with any responsibility fade in the light of Christ's power.

Today, be counter cultural. Lead by example.

What do you think are the essential characteristics of a Christian leader?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

St Irenaeus

"God cannot be seen or described in his own nature and in all his greatness by any of his creatures....Through his word the whole creation learns that there is one God the Father, who holds all things together and gives them their being." St Ireneaus, Against Heresies

One of the most vexing problems for the early church was how to fold the Hebrew scriptures into the teaching of Jesus, especially as Christianity began to reach into the gentile world, since it would make little sense to non Jews to accept the Hebrew bible as their own.

Despite these difficulties, early Christians did not put aside the Hebrew bible, but embraced it in its entirety, and St Irenaeus was the most important champion of integrating what we call the Old Testament into our understanding of Christianity. His reasoning was clear. If Jesus was an observant Jew and claimed that not a "letter of of the law" (Mt 5:18) would be done away with, then we must find a way to celebrate and pray the truth of the Hebrew bible.

Reading Irenaeus helps us understand how this early Christian martyr, whose name means peace, did this. When we admit with Irenaeus that, "God cannot be seen or described in his own nature and in all his greatness by any of his creatures," we begin thinking and praying in the right place. While every story of God in the Bible offers us a glimmer of insight, none of them allows us to understand God completely. Only God's graciousness allows us to know God in Jesus who is the fullness of the Father.

In other words, while the scriptures are a marvelous help in knowing who God is, they can never, in themselves, reveal the fullness of God. Only God can do that. If, then, we enter into Jesus as the head of the body of Christ, the entire bible will be our most important took in knowing God and God's love for us.

Today, open yourself to the transforming power of the Bible.

Do you struggle with the tone or images in the Old Testament? How do you resolve these conflicts?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

People of the Book

"He had the entire contents of the book of the out to them...thus reviving the terms of the Covenant which were written in this book." 23:3

King Josiah was a powerful reformer, but he knew that no real conversion could happen to and for the people unless they were all involved in knowing and understanding the Word more deeply. Though it might not be appropriate in the 21st century, Josiah's order to read the entire contents of the covenant to the people was the first step in their renewal.

It is always important to renew our understanding and interpretation of the scriptures. Because the word of God will impact the people of the 21st century in very different ways than in past centuries, it is the task of modern believers to listen and proclaim God's word in a form that moves the people of this generation to discipleship and transformation.

We need also to grow our personal understanding of the scriptures by reading, listening to and living God's word regularly in order to become authentic people of the book!

Today, read the gospel for five minutes.

What is the best way you know to learn the scriptures?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dogs and Swine

"Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine." Mt 7:6

Not infrequently, gentiles and the poor were compared to dogs, people who did not appreciate the word of God, but Jesus turns this saying upside down, just as he does when he reminds us that the first will be last.

In Jesus preaching, the only criterion used to judge people was their openness to the fullness of God's word. In other words, the rich, the powerful, the interpreters of the law were all judging themselves if they refused to hear Jesus' call to reform their lives and return to the heart of the law.

For contemporary believers the same standard endures. Unless we are open to the transforming power of God's word, which is more inclusive than we often want to acknowledge, we are the dogs about whom the Gospel speaks. When we use the Good News as a hammer to exclude those who are racially, religiously, culturally and spiritually different from us, even when they are enemies, we judge ourselves.

Today, pray to be free of prejudice.

What practices help you not to judge others? 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Asking for New Eyes

"Remove the wooden beam from your eye first." Mt 7:5

It is a truism that the behaviors in others that bother us the most are the actions we dislike in ourselves. Nevertheless, recognizing this when it is happening is often difficult, especially if we are angry or hurt. Wanting only to be rid of the feelings that disturb our peace, we blame others for how we feel.

Jesus knew this well. When he corrected the leaders of the Jewish community about laying heavy burdens on peoples shoulders while doing nothing to help them, he was calling them to transformation. While it was easy for the leaders to spot small infractions of the law, because they were concerned more with their own power than the spirit of the Torah, they found it difficult to celebrate the good they uncovered. The gospel challenges these destructive behaviors.

Life is very different when we look for the good in others rather than their faults. Full of compassion because we recognize our own weaknesses in others, we ask for the mercy of God to help all who suffer from the blindness of blaming others rather than working and living together for the good of all.

Today, notice the good in the lives of those closest to you.

What habits of others most annoy you, and how does the gospel help you respond?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Birth of John the Baptist

His mother replied: "He will be called John." But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name." Lk I:59

What's in a name?  In the ancient world, everything. Names were given to children by their fathers to honor his ancestors and elders. Mothers had no role in this ritual, but Elizabeth does. Only when Zechariah writes the name John on a tablet is his "mouth opened and his tongue freed." Clearly, Elizabeth's child John would play an important role in salvation history. John, whose name means God is gracious, would usher in a new order and a new way of being in the world.

Unlike so many, John would have no doubts about his role. He knew he was not the Messiah, despite the desire of so many who accepted his baptism. Rather, his entire life would consist in pointing to Jesus, and announcing the coming of the Messiah. Admitting that he was not worthy to untie Jesus' sandal strap and that he needed to decrease and Christ increase, John becomes a symbol for every Christian.

Our task as believers is not to posture or pretend that we are important, but to be grateful for the name Christian, and recognize Christ in every person and prepare others to receive his Good News. Accepting that we are God's children gives every Christian an identity that is empowering forever. We need not have any fear about who we are or what we are to do. Like John, we are to point to Christ as Redeemer and hope for all humankind.

Today, help someone find Christ.

What are the biggest obstacles we face in announcing the Good News?