Saturday, July 28, 2012

Being Good Shepherds

"I will appoint over you shepherds after my own heart, who will shepherd you wisely and prudently." Jer 3:15

On Sunday last, our Africa pilgrimage group prayed the Eucharist with the desperately poor of the Mathare slum in Nairobi, Kenya. It was a compelling, joyful and beautiful celebration that was marked more by the inclusion of the assembly, the people of God than anything else. Although three of us were concelebrating, we were more like orchestra leaders than soloists. Led by children dancing us slowly and reverently into church, the entire assembly alternately sang, clapped hands and waved our arms to the processional song for about ten  minutes. The procession with the lectionary was even longer and more reverent. As they say, you had to be there!

Perhaps because there is no resident priest in this very large chapel, the prayer, ritual gestures and music were arranged by lay leaders who were, indeed, our shepherds. They were, as Jeremiah reminds us, wise and prudent, making sure everyone was included in the Eucharist. One little gesture was telling. No one living in the Mathare slum has more than a shack with no running water or electricity, but each person, or a member of each family, came from their place to the front of church to put their few Kenyan shillings into the collection box. I have seen this before in Protestant churches, but never in a Catholic setting. It spoke volumes. This is your church. Each of you, as best you can, must support it. Although the Eucharist was long and elaborate, one of our 17 year old pilgrims said it best: That could not have been two and half hours. I never lost my attention!

Today, be a wise and prudent shepherd. Include everyone in your love.

What does being a member of Christ's body mean to you in your daily life?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Producing for Others

"The seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold." Mt 13:23

Jesus is often sharp tongued with his own people. When they do not open themselves to new hope or allow riches, power and domination over others to control their lives, he reminds them that while they might be on rich soil, they are allowing the "weeds" in the soil to strangle their spiritual life. It is not very different in our own day.

In Africa these days where I have the privilege of visiting, it is not difficult to see the same dynamics at work, but in a much more obvious and destructive way. There are one million people in the Kibera slum, and while the rent might only $1000 KS a month, it is often paid to rich politicians who have no reason to address the unbearable conditions in Kibera since it is a source of their wealth and power. Making money on the backs of the poor and destitute is despicable, something that Jesus addresses often in the gospel.

In the light of what is so obvious and horrible in the slums of Kenya, we all need to examine our practices. Is it just to always be searching for the least expensive item in a grocery story or shopping mall without considering whether those who fashioned the item we want are making a just wage in their own countries?  Honest prayer about our own lives can only be a good thing, allowing the Lord to find the rich soil of our lives so that our good works might produce a hundred, or sixty or thirty fold.

Today, be just to the people around you. Do not speak negatively about them. Search for their good qualities.

How has God found the good soil of your life in order to make you productive for others?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sts Joachim and Anne

“ Go, cry out this message for Jerusalem to hear!” Jer 2:1

Although the names of Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne, only come to us from a late first century legend, it must have been wonderful  for them to give birth to Mary, and one wonders whether they saw in their daughter the special qualities that would help Mary say yes to God in all things and endure the horror of her son’s crucifixion and death. Only common criminals were beaten and led out of the city of Jerusalem to die on a garbage heap like Jesus was, and though it had to be awful, the image of Mary holding Jesus as he was taken dead from the cross is one of the most moving and comforting of icons in our faith tradition. Surely, Joachim and Anne would have been immensely proud of their daughter as she accepted the horror of her only son’s death.

Today, is a good day to be grateful for our own history, no matter how clouded. Our parents, often with limited resources, did the best they could by us. They fed us, made sure we had access to education and loved us as they knew how. Indeed, we can say this about all our ancestors.  They loved us in the manner than was acceptable in their families and cultures. It does us no good to berate or deny our personal and family history. Rather, we must be grateful for what is and ask God to help us, like Joachim and Anne, to pass on the best of our faith to the generation that follows us.

Today, be grateful for your family, no matter how broken.

What do you most treasure about your own family and faith?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Called to be Brother and Sister to All

"’Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers.’” Mt 12:49

When I was a young man this gospel unnerved me. It seemed like Jesus was ignoring his mother and brothers who wanted to speak with him. In fact, he is not so much ignoring them as he is including us, his people. When we listen with attentiveness to his word and let the transformation he desires occur in us, Jesus extends his arms to embrace all people as his own.

This text pushes us even further. It demands that we ask ourselves whether our desire for unity with all people in Christ is as intense as Jesus’ yearning for us to be his family.  Unless we take the gift of faith and offer it to others, we fail to live the gospel as it is proclaimed.

St Augustine, in a homily on the Psalms, entreats the people of his day never to look at another as less that a brother or a sister. In anyone, especially an enemy, asks, 
“Why do you seek us? What do you want of us?” we should reply: You are our brothers. They may say, “Leave us alone. We have nothing to do with you.” But we have everything to do with you, for we are one in our belief in Christ; and so we should be in one body, under one head.”
Today be a brother or sister to someone from whom you have been separated.

How you live the gospel command to be brother and sister to all people?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Walking Humbly with God

“Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Mi 6:8

It can seem overwhelmingly impossible at times to live simply for God and not worry about personal goals, wealth, property and even our health. God does not ask us to be successful, and the prophet Micah is at his wit’s end trying to convince the people to whom he was sent  that God does not want thousands of rams or burnt offerings from his chosen people, but only their fidelity to a life of gratitude before God for all God does.

Why won’t we believe this? What can’t we believe it? In the West, at least, competition between and among people, especially men, is still a driving force that often artificially props up our self image even if it does nothing for the life of the community, and we convince ourselves, sometimes with the help of televangelists, that God wants us to succeed. When we are really crazy with these ideas we convince ourselves that it is our success that pleases God, and unfortunately our success sometimes attracts clergy who see our wealth as a ticket to their own success as pastors.

Today, walk humbly and see how it feels.

What are your most difficult obstacles in living a life of faith in a culture of success?

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Bruised Reed

Although I wrote the reflection that follows before I left the U.S.,  it seems fitting as we move about Kenya, especially among its poorest people and places, that we think about bruised reeds everywhere. It is overwhelming to me that people who have lived their entire lives in huts with tin roofs, burlap walls, no running water, open sewage and violence, continue to seek peace and live in joy. 

The faces of the people we have met from the slums of Kenya glow with a hope that can only come from faith. They may have little, but they know God loves them. It is humbling and challenging to those of us living in the first world who sometimes live entitled lives. I am grateful to be here and ask God to work in me and among us as we struggle to find ways to build a more just world.

“A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory.”  Mt 12:20

The wonderful Australian writer and vocalist, Monica Brown, has a beautiful chant on her album, Holy Ground, called: In Jesus Name. Reminding us over and over again that Jesus does not break the bruised reed nor quench the wavering flame, she wonders: Cannot we do the same, in Jesus name?

Mary Magdalen is a powerful example of a suffering  woman, a bruised reed, who Jesus heals. Mentioned at least fourteen times in the gospels,  Mary (not the prostitute!) is the one from whom “seven devils went out.”  Grateful for her healing, Mary follows the Lord doggedly, and is the one who rushes to the tomb on Easter morning and hears Jesus say: “Go to my brothers and tell them that, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father.’” Because of this great commission, St. Augustine calls Mary Magdalen the Apostle to the Apostles.

Gratitude for the Lord’s mercy is an essential element in the Christian life, and there are few better than Mary Magdalen in teaching to teach us this.

Today, do not despair in your brokenness, but remember the Lord’s healing power.

Have you known extraordinary healing in your life or in the lives of friends and family?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Remnants Everywhere

“I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring  them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply.” Jer 23:3

The remnant of Israel is a name given to a group of exiled Jews, most of whom are poor, who remain faithful to God despite the terrible conditions in which they are living in exile. Their faith is so strong that even in the midst of oppression, they do not blame God for their suffering and continue to keep holy the Sabbath even if it means further punishment for them and their children.

The prophet Jeremiah recognizes these “leftovers,” this remnant and assures them that God will preserve them in faith and lead them back to the land of Israel where they will prosper and increase. It is a marvelous promise not only to the remnant of Israel but for us because God promises everyone, even those who have abandoned their faith, that the fidelity of the remnant will be enough for  the good shepherd to lead everyone home.

One of the great gifts of ministry is encountering remnants everywhere. They are the largely unrecognized and forgotten people in every parish who manage to survive and even celebrate the unwelcome change in pastors, liturgy or religious education programs. Their faith is rooted, not in a particular person, no matter how good a person they might be, but in the realization that God is present among us no matter how broken we might appear or seem.

Today, ask for the gift of fidelity no matter how difficult your circumstances.

How do you remain faithful to God in the midst of a church that is so obviously struggling?