Saturday, October 20, 2012

Service and Discipleship

"Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mk 10:45

Service of others, even our enemies, is one of the great hallmarks of the Good News, and while some might not consider service of others good news, Jesus does, in the most emphatic of terms. Unless we learn how to serve others, even becoming like slaves in this regard, the message of the New Covenant will go unheard.

Gratefully, most of us have met and been moved by people whose entire lives are given in service to others. For years I had the great privilege of offering the Sunday Eucharist at a hospital in Boston that cared for people with serious mental and emotional problems. Being among the very ill was a blessing for me, but people who volunteered there Sunday after Sunday were an equal blessing. I never had to prepare anything but a homily. Everything else was done with love and dedication, and the service these women and men offered was only one of their ministries.

Anyone encountering this kind of dedication cannot help but be moved and lifted up. Whether it was distributing music books already opened to the proper page, or moving chairs so that those in wheelchairs might find a place among us, these loving men and women did everything they could to help create a sacred space for God's little ones to gather, worship and rejoice.

Today, thank God for the privilege of serving the poor.

When have you known the glory of God in serving others who could not repay you?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Reliance on the Holy Spirit

"When they take you before synagogues and before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say." Lk 12 11-12

Jesus makes a pretty big promise to his disciples, assuring them, even though they lack education or in many cases the ability to read of write, that the Holy Spirit will teach them what to say. While this might be the occasion for some of us to think we don't have to prepare a homily or a presentation on faith, there is no basis for this kind of thinking. Jesus is referring to those times when we are attacked unexpectedly and without provocation, not to the ordinary diligence we need to use to present our faith clearly and with passion.

Rather, the Lord wants us to trust in the Spirit of God to guide us, to direct us, to challenge us and to inform us everyday, and to realize that this is an essential dimension of our faith and its practice. Without this trust, we can only rely on ourselves or expert opinion, and no matter how knowledgeable we or our advisors might be, our insight will be insufficient.

Ultimately, faith cannot be reduced to apologetics. Rather, we must be committed to a lifestyle and an openness to live in the trust that Jesus promises despite our weaknesses. When we acknowledge that we are disciples and followers, who rely on the Lord for everything we are and do, the Holy Spirit can do the work of God in us.

Today, consciously commit yourself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Have you experienced the Holy Spirit's strength and direction in your life?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sts. John de Brebeuf and Isaac Jogues, Martyrs

"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body...You are worth more than many sparrows." Lk 12 4,7

It is easy enough for Jesus to tell us not to be afraid of those trying to kill us and that we are precious in God's sight, but when our life is actually threatened, it is another matter. Fear is natural and necessary. It can help us flee life threatening situations and warn us to be careful, but it is also dangerous, especially when our faith demands that we not run away.

Sts John de Brefeuf and Isaac Jogues knew both the challenge to follow Jesus everywhere and the fear of doing so. Because their lives seemed always to be in danger, these two valiant men not only did not avoid preaching the good news, they accepted its consequences. Isaac actually escaped to France for a time after being enslaved by the Iroquois and having his hands mutilated, but his fervor was not quenched. Returning to North America, he was captured and beheaded by the Mohawks while trying to bring supplies to his converts.

John de Brefeuf, even though he knew the Jesuits were being blamed for bringing smallpox to North America, continued to minister to the Indians, writing catechisms and a dictionary in the Huron language, and overseeing the baptism of 7000 people. Finally captured by the Iroquois, he was tortured and killed.

Stories like this always challenge our faith. While God never asks us to suffer unnecessarily, all of us will suffer for the gospel if we proclaim it simply and openly. In a world gone mad with accomplishment and material success, the gospel's demands to visit the sick, feed the hungry, and minister to the poor will never be easily heard.

Today, ask God to let you know what path, no matter how difficult, you must take.

Who do you most admire for living the faith simply and powerfully?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

St Luke, Evangelist

"Luke is the only one with me." 2 Tim 4:11

Luke's gospel is often called the gospel to and for the gentiles. The only gentile writer in the New Testament, Luke was a constant companion of St. Paul, and most scholars speak of the gospel of Luke  and Acts of Apostles as the gospel of Paul. More important for our purposes, Luke was faithful to Paul, and Paul was properly appreciative. As Paul says in second Timothy, Luke is the only one with me.

That Luke was a faithful and good companion to St. Paul is high praise. Paul is not shy is expressing his displeasure with some of his companions. He struggled with Peter about circumcision and dietary laws for gentiles, (Gal 2) and fought with Barnabas about whether to include Mark on their missionary journeys. (Acts 15: 36-41) Clearly, Paul had a vision about what it meant to announce good news and he did not brook much disagreement, must less interference.

All of us know what it means to have someone with us on our pilgrim journeys, and even though we may quarrel with our "soul friends" along the way, their steadfastness is a great gift. None of us is always easy to be with, and like St. Paul, we need Luke's around, friends who listen carefully to what we say, carefully disseminate what is really important, and help us remember that God is at the center of life and faith, not us.

Today, be grateful for those who always accompany you in faith.

What are the qualities of a good soul friend?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

St Ignatius of Antioch

"The time for my birth is close at hand. Forgive me, my brothers. Do not stand in the way of my birth to real life; do not wish me stillborn. My desire is to belong to God."

How you think you would spend your time if you were being led to your death? Ignatius of Antioch wrote seven important letters as he was transported from Antioch to Rome and his martyrdom, insisting always that he was ready to die and was not afraid. Jesus had overcome death through his resurrection and Ignatius was anxious to join the Lord in heaven. It is an amazing testament to faith, and his letters to the Romans say it clearly.
Fire, cross, struggles with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs-let them come to me, provided only I make my way to Christ than be king over the entire earth.
Although most of us will never have to face the specter of martyrdom, we must be ready for challenges to our faith. How to respond to the apathy about faith all around us, and how to live in a country that has so much material wealth are challenges we face everyday. Unless we keep our eyes on the prize like Ignatius of Antioch, we can get lost in the muck of materialism that masquerades as success.

Today, ask for an increase of faith

How do you respond to the daily challenges to your faith?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Washing our Hearts

"The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal." Lk 11:38

Ritual washing was important in the Judaism of Jesus' day, especially before a meal. Jesus would have known this and the reader wonders if he refused to wash his hands to make a point with the Pharisees who were often trying to trip him up.

Jesus is clearly concerned that the Pharisees while careful about the rituals of Judaism were failing to live the law's intent, and Jesus makes this clear when he tells his host to give alms and everything will be clean. Catholics must also be careful in this regard. It is not enough to go to mass each Sunday, fast and abstain during Lent, and vote as if we have no obligation to the poor or to people around the world.

While it is important to practice our faith each day with prayer and reflection, it is also necessary to let our faith guide us in the bigger questions that face as believers each day. How we budget our money both to live simply and generously, and how we mentor younger members to have reverence for all creation are everyday ways of practicing our faith that mark us as disciples eager to proclaim the good news with our lives.

Today, give alms without letting your right hand know what your left is doing.

What do you think are the most important practices of faith?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor

“Let nothing disturb you, 
Let nothing frighten you, 
All things are passing away: 
God never changes. 
Patience obtains all things. 
Whoever has God lacks nothing; 
God alone suffices.” 
St Teresa of Avila

The bookmark of St. Teresa is fascinating. We wonder if she read it everyday. Tradition suggests it was written in her own hand and was a reminder to live in peace with Christ despite the struggles she would experience throughout her life.

Committed to the reform of the Carmelites in a Catholic world threatened by the Protestant Reformation, her life was difficult. Accused by some friends that her "visions" were diabolical, she also suffered deeply when the Carmelites forced her to retire to one of their monasteries for years before finally allowing her the freedom to spread her renewal to other convents and monasteries. In all, she founded 17 monasteries of reformed or discalced Carmelites and wrote treatises on the spiritual life that remain classics in the Christian west.

Whether Teresa reflected on her prayer and plea each day matters little.  On her feast, we can read and pray it with care hoping to interiorize her desire to let nothing disturb or frighten us, but to remain patient with ourselves and God in all matters of the spirit.

Today, pray for patience.

What most impresses or moves you about St. Teresa's prayer?