Saturday, August 4, 2012

Poverty and Bread

"Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life." Jn 6:27

Only recently returned from Kenya and Tanzania, praying about today's scriptures came easily. All of us on pilgrimage were fed in ways we could not have anticipated or expected so that when Jesus reminds his disciples not "to work for food that perishes," the text resonates immediately.

Pilgrimages are about relationships with others on pilgrimage and the people upon whom you rely and meet along the way. Of course, this is true for all of us in life, but it is even more apparent when one travels in the developing world. Moving from place to place, sometimes so simple and efficient in the United States, is almost never easy in East Africa. There are "jams" (traffic jams to us) everywhere getting in and out of cities and it regularly took us more than two hours to travel eight kilometers.

There are, however, advantages to this kind of travel if you are not the driver. Creeping from place to place one has the opportunity to see much more and realize that there is a hierarchy of poverty in Africa that is startling.

Some poor people have only huge woven bags with which they travel the streets and fill with bottle caps and plastic wrappers. Others have simple wagons that they pull with impossibly heavy burdens. Still others might have a mule or a bike that allows them to carry whatever they have collected for recycling and resale.

Seeing the faces of people like this as one rides in relative comfort is challenging to say the least. Impatient, hot and annoyed that it takes so long to travel short distances, one must take a deep breath and pray. God invites pilgrims to listen to the cry of the poor along the way, and speeding from place to place would make this impossible.

Today, try not to rush and let the lives of the poor you encounter inform your prayer.

How do you manage the reality of poverty and poor people in your life?

Friday, August 3, 2012

St John Vianney, The Cure of Ars

"Strive for unity, for there is nothing better. Help all, as the Lord also helps you; suffer all in love (indeed, you are doing this). Pray unceasingly. Beg for wisdom greater than you already have, be watchful and keep the spirit from slumbering. Speak to each person individually, just like God himself, and like a perfect champion bear the infirmities of all. The greater the toil, the greater the gain." St Ignatius of Antioch to Bishop Polycarp 1st century C.E.
The sentiments of Ignatius of Antioch challenge all of us called to leadership in the church, and whether we experience it actively or not, we are all called to leadership. The documents of the Second Vatican Council are clear about this. So is Jesus. We are called to be servants. We are, like Jesus, to kneel and wash the feet of others and to discern how best we can help build the reign of God on earth.  As Thomas Sweetser, S.J. and Carol Holden argue, as leaders we are to develop skills in "information gathering, decision making, community building, conflict management, and evaluation," (Cf Sweetser and Holden) if we hope to empower everyone around us to live and function well in the 21st century church.

There is no doubt that St John Vianney did this in his life. More than anything else he listened and responded to people where they were, and while he did this in the confessional, we all need to learn this art if we want to help others take their rightful place in a church that increasingly depends of lay leadership for its survival.

Today, listen to someone without defensiveness or feeling pressured to answer?

Who or what has been most helpful to you in your understanding and call to leadership?

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Many of you have asked that I publish this blog the day before the feast or liturgical celebration. Today begins that experiment. What you read today will be a reflection on tomorrow's mass readings or other liturgical texts. 

"Now the priests, the prophets, and all the people heard Jeremiah speak these words in the house of the LORD. (And) laid hold of him, crying, 'You must be put to death! Why do you prophesy in the name of the LORD.'" Jer 26: 7,9

We always want to kill thoughts and feelings that make us uncomfortable. Whether it is painful memories about our families or religious communities, or anxious and dark feelings about life as it is, we resist. This is exactly how the people to whom Jeremiah offered his prophecy reacted. They wanted to kill him, thinking that by striking down the messenger, the message itself might change or fade away. This tactic did not work in Jeremiah's time, nor will it work in ours.

There is too much injustice, hurt, anger and rage around for us to ignore or change it. The countless women and men with inadequate food or housing, the battered people in every society, the abused, neglected and despised stare at us from every corner of the globe and our memories. Unless we learn to welcome the word of truth, it will continue to haunt us during the day and in our dreams.

Thank God there was alwasy a remnant around Jeremiah who listened and opened themselves to change, and although they were not able to radically alter the course of people lives nor the society in which they lived, they did not deny what they saw and experienced, and relied on God to help them. As long as we do the same, God can and will help us.

Today, listen to the signs of the times.

Who or what has helped you not to deny the signs of the times?

God's Clay

I write today from the United States. Thanks to all who prayed for us on our pilgrimage to Africa. It was a powerful and formative experience of learning from the poor.

“Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.” Jer 18:6

Thinking and believing that we are like clay in God’s hands ought to be comforting, but it isn’t always. Because we so want to control our lives, we often push away God’s hands shaping us into what God wants. Though we believe that being “worked” by God makes us wonderful and transparent signs of God’s life in the world, we resist becoming God’s “pots.”

Many years ago, a potter friend of mine give a wonderful workshop on the craft of pottery and its relationship to our spiritual life. First she reminded us that the clay is formed into a pliable ball and then centered on the wheel where the lightest touch begins to shape the ball into the form the potter intends. God is not harsh she reminded us, and from the ball of all are faults and weaknesses, while allowing us enormous freedom in our spiritual journey, God makes us into beautiful and useful pots. At the same time, she noted, only after the pot is formed can it be glazed and fired. The same is true for us. Becoming the person God wants us to become is a long and slow, but ultimately beautiful and purposeful process.

Today, give the delicate and gentle hand of God permission to shape you.

What have been the most important moments in your becoming God’s work?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

St Alphonsus Liguori

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price,  he goes and sells all that he has and buys it." Mt 13:46

Often great thinkers and saints come along at a time in church history when there is division, even chaos, and rage. Alphonse Liguori is one of those. Reacting to the harshness of Jansenism, which taught that everything of creation is intrinsically evil, Alphonse helped the church reclaim a moral theology that today might be called “virtue ethics.” More concerned with building up the good in people than rooting out every small sin, Alphonse brought civility, understanding, compassion and kindness back to moral theology.

The task today seems very similar. Sometimes the Catholic church is known more for what it condemns than what it promotes, but even a quick view of the bishops document on Faithful Citizenship reveals a comprehensive concern for the human family. While the press  trumpets the church’s condemnation of abortion (not the woman who aborts!), the bishops remind us that we must have an “option for the poor and vulnerable,” and promote workers rights, just to name two, if we are going to have an authentically formed Catholic conscience. Faithful Citizenship

Today, practice virtue and justice.

What do you think it means to be a faith filled citizen in the United States today?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

St Ignatius Loyola

St Ignatius Loyola is one of the giants of Western spirituality.  Badly  wounded while fighting for the glory of Spain, he had nothing to read during his recuperation except the life of Christ and a book about the saints. Slowly, the power of what he was reading began to touch his heart and convert him to a new way of life. Wondering whether he could use the same energy he had for fighting and carousing in the service of the Gospel, he had a vision of Mary and knew he had to change his life totally. Soon afterwards, he began to  write what would later be known as the Spiritual Exercises.

Exercises is an interesting work in English. It means we have to do something. We cannot expect results without effort. We must maintain a daily schedule of reflection, reconciliation and renewal. Because Ignatius taught these great truths, he became one of the most important teachers of the post reformation church, insisting that all real reform would begin with each individual’s commitment to living the gospel in a more transparent way.

One small, intriguing piece of Ignatius’ biography is telling. Thinking he was called to live in the Holy Land, he went to the seaport nearest Rome, but was unable to find passage to Jerusalem. After several failed attempts, he finally he decided to ask Pope Paul III for help and advice, and the Pope set him on the path that would alter his life and entire Christian West. Ignatius would be commissioned to reeducate and recatechize Europe in the fundamentals of faith.

Today, hand your life over to God and see what happens.

What are your most important moments of conversion?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Love Letters

“You are my letter, know and read by all, written on your hearts.” 2 Cor 3:

Most of us have received “living letters” in our lives, not all of them happy or pleasant. When someone approaches us to say that we have not passed our exams or been selected for the college we really wanted, it feels like a personal rejection, and it can be difficult to see past the hurt and upset we feel.

But we have also been recipients of wonderful living "love letters." The man or woman with whom we have developed a relationship tells us that they want to marry us, live with us, build a family with us, or children tell us at Christmas or on our birthday that they are so appreciative of our parenting. This can be especially moving if we married into a family and been recognized as a true mother or father.

St. Paul wants his disciples to be living love letters.  He prays that their lives will be such transparent signs of God’s love in them that the will radiate goodness and Good News. We can do this in our day when we work to promote the Good News of Jesus and not our own self interest. People who are like Bartholomew, the man without guile, do this naturally and powerfully. When others meet Bartholomew and people like him, they know they are hearing God’s message, not Bartholomew’s.

Today, be transparent in your care for others. Think only of their needs.

What practices help you remember you are a disciple of Christ, not the message itself?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Aroma of God's Love

“We are an aroma of Christ for God’s sake,” 2 Cor 2:15

St Paul is never boring. What can it mean that we are an aroma of Christ? What could it have meant at the time of Jesus? The scriptures often use the senses to help us understand God’s love for us. They remind us that God’s love is like the taste of honey, or is music to our ears.  God looks at us with compassion and touches us with his understanding and healing. For the people of Jesus’ time, the use of the word touch would have been intentional, as if God was actually putting his hand on our arm to quiet us and know of his acceptance.

When Paul tells us we are the aroma of Christ he wants us to think of sweet smelling incense or the aroma of a roasting lamb.  It is the only way he can help us understand that everything we are and do is important and ought to produce good. Incense and food are gifts from God and remind us of God’s love. We are to live the gospel in such a way that people might be moved to say the same thing about our lives. Our presence should be like the welcoming smells of Thanksgiving dinner.

Today, if it is not too outrageous, ask God to make you a sweet smelling flower for God’s sake.

How have your senses helped you to appreciate God’s love and concern for us?