Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Splendor of God

"Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever." Bar 5:1

Because we so often fail to live our values deeply and authentically, we find ourselves mourning and in misery, unable to see the glory of God all around us, and what a shame it is when this happens. We suffer a small hurt or don't feel especially well and we lose track of where and who we are. The Jewish people, unable to hear the prophets cries to reform their lives, find themselves in exile and slavery, but Baruch reminds them that all is not lost.

The prophet and Advent itself challenge us to let go of mourning and remember we are God's glorious creation. No matter what we do or how often we fail to live our faith, God is waiting and willing to be born in us again. We have only to let God dwell within and among us for everything to be different. Because a few Jews, even in exile, never failed to honor the one God and keep holy the Sabbath, God forgave everyone their sins. The same gift can be ours if only we ask for it.

Of course, this is often more difficult to do than we imagine.  When we enter personal or family dark periods, it can seem almost impossible to look up, recognize all the good around us and celebrate that even in our mourning we are loved, but the Advent readings urge us never to give up and always to try again.

Today, put on the splendor of God by taking a slow walk to appreciate the great gifts of creation.

What gifts of God usually help you to put off darkness and cloth yourselves in light?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Immaculate Conception

"The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it." Gen 3:13

Why do we blame others so easily when we are embarrassed or ashamed?  Uncomfortable and confused, we try to get out from under the microscope to bargain for time and examine why exactly we do this. Of course, there are any number of answers, all of which can teach us about ourselves, but at root we look for scapegoats in order to escape the consequences of our actions.

Countries and churches do this as well. Our own Catholic church was guilty of this fault when the sexual abuse scandal first surfaced. We blamed psychologists and psychiatrists who gave our leaders bad advice when they suggested abusing priests could safely return to ministry. We deflected attention from ourselves by reminding everyone that the worst sexual abuse offenders were family members, not priests, which is, of course, beside the point.

Honestly facing our failures and sins is made much easier when we have Mary, the Immaculate Conception, as our intercessor. This feast celebrates that Mary, without from sin from the first moment of her conception, is always free to pay undivided attention to us, her children. Free of self absorption, she reaches out for all those who look to deny their sin or turn away from their guilt, by inviting us to honesty and integrity, to admit our wrongs, and reach out in compassion for others.

Today, acknowledge one sin and ask for the grace to face its consequences.

How do you practice honesty and integrity in your life?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

St Ambrose

"Keep the word of God.... Do not forget to eat your bread, or your heart will dry up." St. Bernard of Clairvaux 

St. Ambrose knew that the scriptures were like bread for the heart. Unless we nourish ourselves regularly, we will certainly lose our ability to function. Anyone who has had an intestinal disorder knows this well. The first thing a doctor tells someone struggling with a stomach virus is to remain hydrated. Our bodies are radically dependent upon water to function properly and without additional nourishment we risk serious consequences even when we do not feel like eating.

So convinced was he that God's word had to be preached in clarity and power,  Ambrose was not afraid to take on Emperor's and Kings in defense of the faith, and  though he was often disliked for his directness, like a physician who insisst we eat and drink when we only want to sleep, he was convinced that the unvarnished word of God had to be preached and lived simply  if it was going to nourish us and keep our hearts from drying up.

Today, read a scripture passage as if it were bread.

Whose challenging preaching moved you to transformation?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

God's Rock

"Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock." Mt 7:24

What is the rock upon which we are to build our lives? God's fidelity is a good place to start. Though it seems natural to think about a sound financial footing and doing what we can do assure ourselves of good health, these are not the rocks about which Matthew speaks. God's living word must be the foundation of our lives, and God's word is true, lasting and clear.

When we listen and act on God's word, Matthew assures us that we are building on rock, not sand, but the struggle continues. At times, we interpret God's word in ways that do a disservice to the power of the word. When the gospel tells us to ask for whatever we want and need it will be given to us, we have to be cautious. Jesus is not frivolous. We cannot pray for a new car and expect it to be delivered the next day. Rather, the scripture demands that we pray for the strength to do whatever it is that will foster God's reign. When we pray to be strengthened for this role, we can be sure of a response.

Today, ask God to sustain you along the path of faith.

What gifts has God given you when you asked for help?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Giving of our Substance

"The LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines."Is 25:6

The generosity of God is a constant Advent theme, but we can only appreciate it if we stay attuned to our bodies. Because we too often reduce the spiritual life to peaceful "feelings" and what happens within us, we miss the power of God's goodness. Isaiah stretches us to think of God providing us not just with food and wine, but with rich food and choice wine because he has conquered sin and death.

In the ancient world people expected their kings and leaders to provide a great feast after a victory over their enemies or when a new covenant of peace was sealed, and Isaiah uses this image to help his listeners understand the fullness of God's love and God's inclusiveness. The feast which God provides is not only for those who participated in the battle, but for everyone, and Jesus reprises this theme when he insists that his disciples not send the people away hungry who have been listening to his message of hope.

We should have no doubt that Christ asks us to accept the same challenge. We must not be stingy, but give of our substance to those most in need, and we need to do this without regard to class, race, culture and background. God demands we give all who are hungry rich food and choice wine.

Today, share something you really treasure with a stranger.

What rich foods and choice wines have you received from God?

Monday, December 3, 2012

New Shoots

"A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse." Is 11:1

When Isaiah promises that a new shoot will come from the stump of Jesse, he reminds all believers that God can make something extraordinary from nothing. At the same time, the prophet is not speaking about a miracle in a classic sense. Rather,  Isaiah wants us to remember what happens often in the natural world. There are trees with so much inner life that even when they seem dead, we can take one of their broken branches, stick it in the ground, water it often and before long  it takes root and becomes a young  tree.

Clearly, a branch of Jesse’s tree, even when it seems dead and lifeless after its exile in Babylon, is stronger than we think. God will plant it again so that his faithful followers might have life and believe in his promises.

The challenge to believe that God wants to do something great and new in us, even when we are tired and feeling ragged, is upifting. God’s love is enduring and, like a broken  branch, stronger than we can imagine. We have only to plant and water it and it will take us to Christmas.

Plant a good deed in someone’s heart and let God do the rest.

Are there “miracles” in nature that remind you of God’s love?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

St Francis Xavier

"Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed." Mt 8:8

St Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Jesuits along with St. Ignatius Loyola, was the among the first Jesuit missionaries. With his mind and spirit focused on going to China, though opposed by many, Francis left Italy without language skills or money. Despite these difficulties, Francis kept his eye on the prize and at every stop along the way preached the gospel, baptizing thousands in India and Japan, and though he never realized his dream of preaching the gospel to the Chinese, left communities of faith scattered across his missionary path.

Francis Xavier is a powerful reminder of what we can become when we place our total trust in God and let God do God's work wherever we are sent. None of us walks the pilgrim path of faith without obstacles. St. Augustine reminds us that we are like pieces of pottery, shaped by instruction and fired by tribulation, and should never fear the kiln. Rather, he encourages us to focus on what God is making of us while we are being tried by fire. (Augustine sermon)
Today, ask God to tell you where you ought to go to proclaim the gospel.

What are your strengths when trials come?