Saturday, November 3, 2012

Love God and Others Completely

Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! 
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, 
with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Mk 12:29

The Shema, which affirms the oneness of God and the command to love God always and in all ways, is the foundation of Jewish morning and evening prayer, and many might say, the ground of its spirituality. That Jesus repeats the Shema when asked by the Pharisees about his opinion regarding the first and most important commandment of the law not only affirms its importance for Christians, it also reminds us that Jesus came and wanted to be seen as an observant Jew.

While it might be fashionable these days to emphasize spirituality over against religion, the simple practices of our religious tradition, rooted in the Shema, and Jesus' challenge to visit the sick, feed the hungry and clothe the naked, are important for an authentic Catholic life. Praying each day, celebrating the Eucharist on Sundays and serving others through simple acts of Christian charity and justice help us remember who we are, especially when we can do them together as a community of faith.

Finally, it is good for us to listen again to the Shemah and Jesus' use of it. We must love God with everything we are and do, with our whole hearts, souls, minds and strength. When we hold nothing back in our love for God and others, we witness to a God who has always done the same for us.

Today, love someone completely and pray for them.

Who or what has taught you most about what it means to love God and one another?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Take the Lower Place

"Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." Lk 14:11

When Jesus told the guests of the Pharisees to take the lowest place at a banquet in order not to be embarrassed if a more important guest arrives, he is not only offering them a strategy, but a challenge with a deeper spiritual meaning.

Authentic humility, rooted in God's power, demands that Christians see themselves as part of something much greater than their accomplishments. As part of Christ's body we have a dignity beyond our imagination, but only when we accept the role designated for us and do not pretend to be someone we are not, or that we are in control of life.

This message, like so many others that Jesus offers us, is counter intuitive. While most people bow to humility as a value, few wear the clothes of humility, especially in the United States. Citizens of our nation are trained from an early age to excel, and to accept both the accolades and privileges associated with "winning."

While wealth and power are by products of a successful life in the United States, this is not the goal of those who profess to live a Gospel life. Gospel success is measured, not in what it produces, but in the seeds of hope that it plants. Never far from the realization that all life is a gift, and all worldly success is temporary, Christians believe that our "success" is an integrated and other centered life, and this is no easy task.

Only those who pause each day to remember God's love in Christ and live in gratitude for all they have received, will be able to humble themselves with the conviction that Christ will reward them for a life committed to service.

Today, don't say something you are thinking. Listen first to others.

Have you had an experience of humility that changed your life?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

All Souls

"The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want." Ps 23

Anyone who has been to a funeral in recent years has most probably heard Psalm 23 read or sung more than once. Comforting and reassuring, it promises courage during our darkest hours and God's house as a place of hope and consolation.

As we pause to remember our dead, we focus not so much on the loss we feel when someone dies, but on their union in Christ and the promise of our tradition. The Preface to the Eucharistic prayer in masses for the dead reminds us that for those who believe "life is changed not ended." This is the source of our hope.

None of these promises are intended to deny the  emptiness we feel when a friend or family member dies, but to remind us that no matter how deep our sorrow, God draws nearer to us in our pain and will never abandon us. "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (Ps 38:18) Perhaps most important, we need to live our faith in a way that helps others know the reality of God as our benign shepherd by the kindness we show to the grieving.

Today, be compassionate to someone who has experienced the death of a family member.

What is your consolation in the face of death/

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All Saints

"After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue."  Rev 7:9
Sometimes an image speaks much more loudly and clearly than words, and icons can do this very powerfully. So can poetry. The song that follows is a good example of this, and while it might shock some because of those it includes, when we read it with an open heart it forces us to think, pray and live in new ways. Chanted yearly at the Episcopal Church of St Stephen and the Incarnation in Washington, D.C., you can read it yourself at (All Saints Song)

Stand Here Beside Us!
Abraham and Sarah,
Isaac and Rebecca,
Jacob and Rachel and Leah,
makers of the covenant, forebears of our race:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Elizabeth and Simeon,
Joseph, Monica and Helen,
exemplars in the love and care of children:

Stand Here Beside Us!
John the baptizer, map-maker of the Lord's coming:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Holy ones who showed the good news to be the way of life:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Thomas the doubter;
Augustine of Canterbury;
Francis Xavier;
Samuel Joseph Schereschewsky;
all travelers who carried the Gospel to distant places:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Bernard and Dominic;
Catherine of Siena, the scourge of popes;
John and Charles Wesley, preachers in the streets;
all whose power of speaking gave life to the written word:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Holy ones who gave their lives to the care of others:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Louis, king of France;
Margaret, queen of Scotland;
Gandhi the mahatma, reproach to the churches;
Dag Hammarskjold the bureaucrat;
all who made governance an act of faith:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Peter of the keys, denier of the Lord;
Ambrose of Milan, who answered the Church's summons;
Hilda, abbess at Whitby;
Robert Grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln, protector of the Jews;
Jean-Baptiste Vianney, cure d' Ars,
Patient hearer of catalogues of sins;
All faithful shepherds of the Master's flock:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Mary Magdalen, anointer of the Lord's feet;
Luke the physician;
Francis who kissed the leper;
Florence Nightingale;
Albert Schweitzer;
all who brought to the sick and suffering the hands of healing:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Holy ones who made the proclaiming of God's love a work of art:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Pierluigi da Palestrina;
John Merbecke;
Johann Sebastian Bach;
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart;
Benjamin Britten;
Duke Ellington;
all who sang the Creator's praises in the language of the soul:

Stand Here Beside Us!
David and the Psalmists;
John Milton, sketcher of Paradise;
William Blake, builder of Jerusalem;
John Mason Neale, preserver of the past;
all poets of the celestial vision:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Zaccheus the tree-climber;
Brother Lawrence;
Therese of Lisieux, the little flower;
William of Glasshampton;
all cultivators of holy simplicity:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Holy ones haunted by the justice and mercy of God:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Amos of Tekoa, who held up the plumbline;
John Wycliffe, who brought the Scripture to the common folk;
John Hus and Menno Simons, generals in the Lamb's war;
Martin Luther, who could do no other;
George Fox, foe of steeple-houses;
all who kept the Church ever-reforming:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Paul the apostle, transfixed by noonday light;
Augustine of Hippo, God's city planner;
Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, architects of the divine;
Charles Williams, teacher of coinherence;
Karl Barth, knower of the unknowable;
all who saw God at work and wrote down what they saw:

Stand Here Beside Us!
John, the seer of Patmos;
Anthony of the desert;
Julian, the anchoress of Norwich;
Hildegarde, the sybil of the Rhine;
Meister Eckardt;
Bernadette of Lourdes;
all who were called to see the Master's face:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Joachim of Fiora, prophet of the new age;
Johnny Appleseed, mad planter of Eden;
Sojourner Truth, pilgrim of justice;
Benedict Joseph Labre, priest and panhandler;
all whose love for God was beyond containment:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Holy ones who died in witness to the Christ:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Stephen the deacon, the first martyr, stoned in Jerusalem:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Justin, Ignatius, and Polycarp, who refused the incense to Caesar:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Perpetua and Felicity, torn by beasts in the arena at Carthage:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, and Nicholas Ridley,
Burned in Oxford:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein, put to death at Auschwitz:

Stand Here Beside Us!
James Reeb, Jonathan Daniels, Michael Schwerner,
Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo, shot in the South:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Martin Luther King, shot in Memphis:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Janani Luwum, shot in Kampala:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Oscar Romero, shot in San Salvador:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Martyrs of Rome, of Lyons, of Japan, of Eastern Equatorial
Africa, of Uganda, of Melanesia,
martyrs of everywhere:

Holy ones of every time and place:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Glorious company of heaven:
Stand Here Beside Us!
All climbers of the ladder of Paradise:
Stand Here Beside Us!
All runners of the celestial race:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Great cloud of witnesses:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Mary most holy, chief of the saints:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Mary most holy, yes-sayer to God:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Mary most holy, unmarried mother:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Mary most holy, gate of heaven and ark of the covenant:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Jesus our liberator, creator of all:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Jesus our liberator, redeemer of all:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Jesus our liberator, sanctifier of all:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Jesus our liberator, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and
the end:
Stand Here Beside Us!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Our Limitless God

"I do not know where you are from." Lk 13:27

How is it possible for Jesus to suggest that he does not know where some of his neighbors are from? Clearly upset with the leaders of the Jewish community, Jesus warns that those who have met him and seen his works on behalf of the poor without following him will have the door to the Kingdom of God closed in their face. Though this sounds very harsh, it is not unlike God's warning to the Egyptians of a terrible plague if they do not free the Israelites from slavery.

The theme of St. Luke's gospel is consistent and clear. Only those who recognize and accept Jesus as Messiah, including the gentiles "from the east and the west and from the north and the south..., will recline at the table in the Kingdom of God."  By expanding our understanding of God's plan to include all who follow Jesus no matter where they are from, Luke helps us recognize that any attempt to limit God's love will be condemned.

In the the end, what seems like a severe punishment for some is in fact a radical expansion of God's love, and only those who want to limit God will experience the pain of exclusion. Unless we are able to let God tell us who God is and open our hearts to God's redeeming love for all, we will fail to know the God who is revealed in the person of Jesus.

Today, ask to have your heart opened to the unexpected.

What limitations do you place of God's love?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bent Over

"A woman was there who for eighteen years...was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect."

A few years ago on a trip to Africa, we traveled to the highlands of Kenya to visit friars who had begun a new ministry. On the way, we passed a hillside on which women were picking tea. Bent over, they picked tea for hours and I wondered about their life and lifestyle. When I voiced my concern to the Kenya friar who was driving, he paused for a long while. Thinking he didn't hear me, I asked again about the women. Finally, he said they were like the bent over woman in the gospel. After years of picking tea their backs were so twisted, they could never again stand straight.

Shocked, I could not answer. In order to live, to eat, to feed their children, the women tea pickers risked damaging their backs forever and had a very difficult time looking up and seeing the world as others do.  Almost immediately, I began to look around, almost frantically. I was able to sit straight and see, but I realized that I was often so busy about thinking, reflecting and even praying, that I rarely noticed what was directly in front of me.

The women tea pickers taught me a great lesson. If you want to see and know the glory of God in all creation, be sure to use your eyes to enjoy the world each day. While you might also see people and situations that make you uncomfortable, that is the price of being human, and is always a reminder to do something for those in pain.

Today, stand as straight as you can and praise God.

What have you seen lately that startled you into deeper reflection?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Authentic Forgiveness

"Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ." Eph 4:32

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who was killed for opposing the Nazis, in his now classic work, The Cost of Discipleship, wrote, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance.  Absolution without confession.” While Bonhoeffer wanted to forgive the Nazis, he was not capable of it by himself. The Nazis had to repent, to be kind, to be compassionate and forgiving, and until that happened neither Bonhoeffer not God could do anything for them.

The same is true of us and it is a difficult part of gospel living that we need to face and engage. While God's love is unconditional and total, we must turn towards God to receive it. If we keep walking away from God and never turn to meet God's gaze, we are lost. St. Paul knew this and was warning the Ephesians to offer and accept forgiveness only when there was real conversion involved.

Spouses who are regularly abused in a marriage, either physically, mentally, or emotionally must be strong enough to turn away from the abuse and the marriage until their partner seeks authentic forgiveness and gives evidence not only of a desire to change, but is willing to seek the help they need  to act on what they know they must do. We should not be naive in this regard. St Paul is not a wimp. Neither should we be weak willed in this regard. Only when we are strong in facing our life as it is can authentic conversion occur.

Today, ask God for the grace of real discernment about your own sinful habits.

Have you ever admired someone who faced abuse and addressed it?