Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Widow's Mite

"This poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury." Mk 12:43

It is easy to forget that there were no supermarkets in the ancient world, no place to shop and buy supplies for a week or more. The people of Jesus' day would have used whatever they had on hand to prepare a simple meal and may have gone to a small, local shop for barley, oil and the like. All of this to say that the poor widow is most probably giving the money she would use for an evening meal into the temple baskets, preferring to honor God and support the priests and temple personnel rather than eat herself.  Her sacrifice is deep, and makes a lasting impression on everyone who reads about her.

Two matters emerge for us in the modern world. While it is rare in the United States that people have nothing to eat on a daily basis, there are very hungry people here. More than 50 million Americans do not have adequate food each day, and most of them are children and seniors.

Just as important, more than 2 billion people in the world do not eat enough nutrient food each day and even worse, they have what scientists call, "food insecurity."  They may eat today but are not sure they have the resources to eat tomorrow or next week. The stress this kind of living creates can be overwhelming.

Nevertheless, despite their own hunger, the poor are often generous and giving. More, they have faith that moves mountains. Unlike some of us who blame God for every difficult turn our life takes, the hungry continue to pray, worship and offer service to those more needy than themselves, and in this they are examples for the rest of us.

Today give from your substance.

Who has most impressed you because of their generosity?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

"The waters of the river gladden the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High!" Ps 46

Celebrating the dedication of a church is always important, especially parish churches. What a privilege it is to remember all the people of God, especially immigrants, who dreamed about building a place to worship that would help them praise God and honor all those who helped them settle in a new land. St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City is said to have been built by the dollar bills of Irish cleaning women who worked in the hotels and buildings around the Cathedral. Even today it is a place of pilgrimage for so many who visit, pray and remember the struggles of those who built this magnificent church.

It is the faith of those who have gone before us that we pause to remember today. Usually poor and often without work, the people who built our parish churches never forgot who they were even when life seemed unfair and overwhelming. Though they may not have had much to say in the society and land to which they came in hope of a better life, their faith sustained them and promised them, even if they failed to secure their dreams, that God would never abandon them.

The Lateran Basilica in Rome is no different. True, it is the church of the bishop of Rome, the Pope, but it is not only the Pope who prays there. Like every other pilgrimage site it is more than a place of beautiful architecture and art, it is the home of thousands of believers through the centuries who enter not to see the Pope but to encounter God.

Today, make a visit to a parish church and the let the faith of those who built it seep into your heart.

Do you have a favorite church or parish that continues to sustain your faith even today?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Repentance Revisited

"There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance." Lk 15:7

Repentance is simple enough, but always difficult and often painful. Repentance is not simply saying you are sorry to someone you offended or hurt. Neither is it just asking forgiveness. Repentance is turning towards God again and humbly asking for the help you need to change your life in a permanent way, and it always implies that you will do this a day at a time.

This last dimension of repentance is often the most stressful. Although we know that change takes time, there is a false hope in us that we can turn towards God once and for all and be done with it. This is never the case. As situations in our lives change, we encounter new struggles and not infrequently old patterns of resistance return, making it likely that old faults will return and discourage us.

That is why it is so important to incorporate daily spiritual practices that root us in the mercy and healing power of God and offer us a way to counter our tendency to slip into behaviors that hurt both us and those around us.

Today, turn towards toward God in joy and gratitude even if you don't like it.

What practices have helped you continue a Gospel life despite your faults?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Messianic Age

"If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." Lk 14:26

There are many "hard" sayings of Jesus, but none more difficult to grasp than his talk about hating father, mother, wife and children. What could this possibly mean? The prophet Micah gives us an indication and an insight.
Do not trust a neighbor; put no confidence in a friend. Even with her who lies in your embrace be careful of your words. For a son dishonors his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--a man's enemies are the members of his own household. (Micah 7:5-6)
The Messianic age, about both Micah and Jesus are speaking, will be ushered in by dissension, and traditional social networks like families will be broken apart because they fail to listen to God and change their lives. Though difficult to accept, the answer is simple, even transparent. Because the people of Jesus' day refused to listen to John the Baptist or him, they will hasten their own downfall, and the same warning prevails today.

Not unlike the warning on a package of cigarettes that if you keep smoking you risk cancer, Jesus, the prophet of God, another Micah, makes it clear that unless we open ourselves to the fullness of his message, we hasten our own demise.

Today, ask God how to live the fullness of the Gospel.

How do you interpret Jesus' hard sayings?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Cling to Nothing

"Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped."

Asking ourselves about what we cling to or grab for is always telling. Sometimes it is a false security that money or power seems to give us. At other times, it is relationships, even if they are not working for us, our families or our faith. Whatever it is that grabs hold of us needs to be examined in the light of what St. Paul tells us about Jesus, who clings to nothing, not even his Godhead. This startling assertion by St Paul has been the source of reflection and prayer for Christians from the beginning of Christianity.

Paul is helping us remember that when Jesus claims the role of a pilgrim with no place to lay his head, he is offering every Christian an important image and challenge, one that forces us to reexamine our priorities and live, not as if life will last forever, but with gratitude for each day God gives us. Although it might seem maudlin to some that today may be our last of earth, it is also a simple fact, one which reminds us to live each day in faith and with the realization that God is always near.

No matter how we try to parse it, life as we know it does not last forever. Death is either a terrifying reality looming on the near horizon, or another stage in the life of a believer. Because faith gives us the certainty that life is not ended by only changed, we need cling to nothing as Christians but the sure and certain hope that the Lord has gone before us to prepare a place for us.

Today, live as fully as you can with gratitude and hope.

Have you had an experience that reminded you of life’s brevity?


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Doing the Right Thing

"When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you." Lk  14:14

Luke's Gospel demands that we never forget who we are or where we came from. Addressed primarily to Gentiles seeking to know and believe in Jesus, Luke wanted his readers to know the fullness of the gospel, and though the message was not easy, it surely attracted those in the Gentile world who had little power, money or influence. 

Luke's gospel, however, was not just for Gentiles. It's message helped all the powerless: the sick, women, the poor and cripples to believe that they were invited to the "banquet of God." No one, even the rich, would be excluded who committed him or herself to a Gospel life, but herein lies the problem. If we feel no need for anything or anyone because we can care physically for ourselves without the help of others, we tend to forget how dependent we are on one another and God for all our gifts.

Only when we regularly reflect on our mortality, and accept the limitations of life no matter how fortunate we might be, do we realize how blessed we are in God. More important, we realize that we must not exclude those less fortunate, but invite them to share intimately at our plentiful tables.

Today, remember who you are and ask for the gift of humility.

Who or what has taught you best about living a grateful life?