Saturday, September 1, 2012

Freedom from Rigidity

"Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile." Mk 7:15

It must have been shocking and upsetting for the Pharisees and scribes to hear Jesus assert that only that which comes from within defiles a person. In fact, it is difficult for most of us to hear the great challenge of Jesus to put aside our desire to control ourselves and others with a rigid interpretation of the law. Jesus insists that salvation is not about discipline alone, but about asking God to cleanse our hearts of jealousy, resentment and suspicion of others.

More important still is whether we are willing to help others worry less about how they appear and more about the integrity of their faith lives. St Jerome says it well, "I bid you not to tear your garments but rather to rend your hearts which are laden with sin. Like wine skins, unless they have been cut open, they will burst of their own accord."(St Jerome on Joel)

Most believers know the truth of the gospel from the "inside." They realize that what appears to be a faith filled life is empty unless it reflects an interior commitment to live without guile. When each of us admits that a life of ritual rigidity and lawful integrity is hardly good news, we will begin to announce the gospel as Jesus did.

Today, don't be afraid of an honest self examination.

How do you resist an unhealthy dependence on the law as a substitute for gospel living?

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Wonder and Power of God's Love

"Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth." 1 Cor 1:26

When reminding the disciples of Jesus in Corinth that they were neither wise nor powerful nor of noble birth, St. Paul is not simply reinforcing the humility to which all the followers of Jesus are called, but reminding them that God can and will do great things through all of us despite our backgrounds, lack of education or wealth. 

How wonderful! God takes the ordinary in each of us and shapes if into something transformational for others. We have only to allow God to work in and through us as we are. God knows the gifts we have and they are not measured by human standards. In fact, what we might consider a weakness, God might call a strength.

The history of the bible and the church is replete with believers through whom God worked despite their weaknesses. David comes immediately to mind. So does St. Augustine who resisted God's work in and through him until God finally convinced him that it was not his learning that was important, but his humility. When Augustine finally let God teach him, he became one of the most important teachers in the history of the Christian west.

Today, let God use you as God wants.

Have you ever met anyone who seemed too weak to announce the Good News?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Strength of God

"I give thanks to my God always on your account." I  Cor 1:4

St. Paul knows what it means to write to the churches he helped found in a manner that focuses on them and not on him. He thanks God for them, for their faith, their faithfulness and the good works they do on behalf of the gospel.

What a powerful lesson there is for us in his greetings to the church in Corinth!  When we learn to begin each day with gratitude and hold our thanks before us like a light, we provide hope for those living in darkness and are reminded that a life of faith is simple. We need always to walk in the light of Christ who will show us the path to hope and thanksgiving because, as Paul further reminds us, "The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength."

Paul learned that his weakness, which often haunted him, was a gift which God could use to teach and form new disciples. When we accept this basic truth, our own faith lives become both easier and more intelligible. God will and does use our weaknesses to help others trust and let go into his hands.

Today, embrace your weakness and thank God for the gift of faith.

Have you experienced your weakness as a gift?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

God's Fidelity

"God is faithful." 1 Cor 1:9

Paul's reminder at the beginning of his first letter to the church in Corinth is stark, but hopeful and consoling. That God is faithful, Paul insists, is the foundation of our faith. It is not our faith practices that save us, but the gift of faith given to us by God, and Paul knows that, from time to time, every community of believers needs to hear this. It is no less true in our families.

Knowing that our parents and siblings are faithful to us gives us the courage to let go and strike out of our own. While some leave home and country to escape an oppressive life, most of us are able to reach beyond our own homes and families because we know that wherever we go and whatever we do, our families will support us.

Paul uses this image to help us understand that God, like a father, will always be there for us, and even more than we can realize or fully appreciate. God is faithfulness itself. God cannot be otherwise and Jesus is the ultimate sign of this truth. Even when God's people lack faith and turn away from its practice and beliefs, God is waiting, like a forgiving father, (Lk 15) for our return.

Today, pause and remember God's faithfulness in gratitude.

What keeps you faithful to God and the gospel?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Martyrdom of John the Baptist

"He must increase, I must decrease." Jn 3:30

Readers of John's gospel cannot help but wonder whether John the Baptist understood fully the import of his words about decreasing so the Christ could increase. Did he know he would die for the sake of the gospel? Surely he had enough time in prison to know that his prospects for a full life with Christ were small, and the evangelists remind us that it was John the Baptist's death that pushed Jesus to begin his public ministry.

When we are young and distant from the reality of our own death, it can be easy to make promises the depth of which we cannot really appreciate, but when we grow older, we know. If we are going to live the gospel with integrity there will be a price. The Good News might be good but it is not easy.

Living simply, avoiding wealth and power of a kind that fools us into believing we are in control of our own lives and futures is a great challenge. So many of us, sounding other centered, tell everyone that we are willing to endure whatever a gospel life brings, but we do not want to be a burden to others. How shallow these words can be upon reflection.  Allowing others to care for us as we would for them is essential to a fully human and gospel life. Not taking that care for granted is also important, but life must be accepted no matter what it brings.

Today, decrease so Christ can increase.

How do you manage the daily diminishment that comes to us all?

Monday, August 27, 2012

St. Augustine

"You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence." Mt 23:25

Self indulgence is one of our most common faults and sins. Not content with doing for others, we find a way to pamper ourselves, especially when we have been hurt or ignored. St Augustine is a perfect example of this. He tells us this in his own words, "I became to myself a wasteland." (Confessions) Lost in a wilderness of senseless self seeking and pleasure, Augustine writes, "I foamed in my wickedness as the sea and, forsaking thee, followed the rushing of my own tide, and burst out of all thy bounds."

The Confessions of Augustine is not only the most widely read autobiography in the Christian West, it reads as well today as it did 1600 years ago. Full of a brutal honesty, the Confessions makes us pause and realize the depth of our own futile grasping after pleasure and inner peace at any price. St Augustine's life, though cluttered with sin and silliness, is at the same time full of hope and promise. When Augustine finally stops and listens to God, especially with the help of St. Ambrose, everything changes. His life fills up with an authentic light, a faith that is pure gift and a promise that God, if only we give him a chance, can help us change in ways we could never imagine.

Today, stop running and ask God for help.

Who or what has helped you let go and let God do God's work in you?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

St Monica

"We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling." 2 Thess 1:11

Although we only know about Monica from St. Augustine's Confessions, she is a remarkable woman. Tricked by Augustine when he told her he wanted to say good by to a friend and then left for Rome, she followed him. When she couldn't find him in Rome, she pursued him to Milan, and that is where her holiness became apparent. Encouraged in North Africa to fast on Saturdays, she was able to let go of her spiritual practices in order to follow St. Ambrose's advice and adapt herself to a new environment.

Monica's willingness to change for the sake of the Gospel is a lesson for all of us. Although she was committed to Augustine's conversion, she was able to listen to St. Ambrose who assured her that Augustine's acceptance of the faith would be accomplished by God and that her role was to live in such a way that Augustine could not deny the power of God in his mother's life. Her openness to Ambrose's instruction made Augustine stop. He, too, respected Ambrose and eventually could not deny his mother's persistence and holiness.

Today, pray for someone who seems lost to you.

Has anyone's persistence and prayer been a factor in your ongoing conversion?