Saturday, December 22, 2012

Asking for Help

"Blessed are you who believed." Lk 1:44

St Bernard of Clairvaux, in a remarkably moving and demanding sermon, begs Mary to help her sons and daughters:
Let humility be bold, Mary, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.
Reading Bernard's words always lifts my spirits. It is clear that the Saint thought of Mary as his sister, mother, and friend, someone to whom he could speak plainly and with abandon. Mary was not an historical figure, but a living, breathing companion with whom Bernard could plead and beg. His example should embolden us. Both Mary and Jesus are meant to be accessible players in our personal and communal lives. We should never be afraid to approach them and ask for help and guidance.

Today, imagine you are one of the people Mary passes on her way to see Elizabeth. Stop her and ask for direction.

What has helped you draw close to Mary and the saints?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Mary's Warning

"He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty." Lk 1: 52-53

Too often we idealize Mary, the mother of Jesus. So accustomed are we to seeing her portrayed in a perfectly clean and ordered room, holding Jesus and gazing at him with love, we forget how hard her life was. Consequently, we very easily pass over the words of the Magnificat which remind us that God will cast down the mighty and lift up the lowly.

When we assume or act as if we are in control of life, we ignore the cries of the poor, dismiss the complaints of the lowly and laugh in the face of God. Authentic humility demands that we submit ourselves to God, let go of the false signs of power, and beg God to show us the path we should walk.  Mary did this when she said "yes" to God even though she knew little about where God was leading her. Because she trusted God, she was able to offer herself as servant to God and help us understand our Gospel role.

Christmas is near. Do not hesitate to ask God to prepare you to say "yes" to God in order to celebrate the feast with joy and the power only true humility brings.

Today, practice saying yes to all that God is.

What or who has taught you most completely that you are not in charge of life?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Hark! my lover--here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills." Sg 2:8

It can be startling when the church invites us through the sacred texts to think of God as an ardent lover, someone who so desires our company that he will spring across the mountains and leap across hills. Is this possible? Are we to believe that God not only loves us, but like a young lover, is in love with us?

The last days of Advent assure us that there are no metaphors that adequately express God's love for us. That God is a lover, though beautiful and inviting, barely touches the fullness of   God's love for us. God is a nomadic God. No matter where we go to seek food and shelter, or to escape pain and suffering, God is there as companion, friend, advisor and lover.

It ought to be clear to every believer that unless we slow down each day to appreciate God's love, we will miss its force and import. While the last days before Christmas can find us scurrying around for one last gift, we need to take time to respond to the God who yearns to be nearer to us than we are to ourselves.

Today, take five minutes to waste time with God.

What most helps you to prepare for the love of God in Jesus?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mary's Delight

"Nothing will be impossible for God." Lk 1:35

Too many people try too hard to change themselves and change the world. They diet, get active politically, and encourage others but often for the wrong reason. Thinking, believing, even hoping that their efforts will be enough to make them comfortable and peaceful, they ignore the deeper reality. We live in God's world, and while it is important to work, pray and serve others with generosity, the results are not ours to control or distribute. We work for God's reign, not our own.

God can and will do anything, but the lens with which to view God most clearly is love. God loves creation, us, and all people. God's love is not weak, and is often deeply challenging. When we fail to witness to God's all encompassing love, our lives fail to announce the Good news, and God must remind us of this.

More often than not God gets our attention by allowing us to enter the unimaginable darkness that surrounds so many lives. When we have no answers to random acts of violence, we very painfully learn our limitations and realize that unless we turn our lives and life itself over to the all merciful God, we will walk a confused and distracted path that seems to have no answers or end.

Only when we let go and pray for the gift of acceptance can we be free. That's what happened to Mary when she said yes to the unimaginable, and it can happen to us as well.

Today, pause to remember in whose world we live.

How do you manage events and people you don't understand?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Zechariah's Silence

"But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words." Lk 1:20

In the ancient world of Israel, barrenness was a "disability, an unspeakable burden for women and a shame inducing cloud for men. Without a child, a woman was thought not to have an identity. Only children, especially males, would give her a voice and a place among others who gave birth.

On the other hand, men were rarely blamed for infertility, and the Talmud reminds men that if, after ten years, their wives could not bear children, they must divorce them in order to fulfill the law which commands men "to be fruitful and multiply."

No wonder Gabriel seems surprised after assuring Zechariah that Elizabeth would  bear a child in her old age. Sharp tongued, Gabriel rebukes Zechariah for not believing that God is about to lift his burden, and "punishes" him. Zechariah will not be able to speak until John the Baptist is born, and then only after he accepts God's name for the child.

It is difficult, especially when one has lived for a long time with a "disgrace," to believe that God will intervene. Most of us have prayed to have our burdens lifted without success and wonder whether our prayer is pure enough for God to hear. When our darkness deepens, we even wonder if God is listening at all. The key, of course, is to accept life as it unfolds and live with unanswerable questions, but this is often easier said than done.

Today, ask for the gift of speechlessness in the face of the unknown and undecipherable.

How you manage your darkness?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Joseph's Acceptance

"When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home." Mt 1:24

How many of us would be willing to listen to a dream and take a pregnant woman into our homes as our wife?  Joseph did and 2000 years later we continue to ask what kind of faith he had that enabled him to do this.

Joseph must have been a prayerful man accustomed to quiet reflection and a centered Jewish life. Nothing else makes sense. It would not have surprised us to learn that Joseph completely rejected Mary for being pregnant by another man, but this is not the case. Matthew's gospel assures us that before his dream Joseph was prepared to put Mary aside quietly, to divorce her without much rancor or vindictiveness, and after the dream he welcomes her, lives with her, leads her, nearing the end of her pregnancy, to his own town in order to register with the Roman authorities.

In his submission to the God of his dreams Joseph becomes an icon of obedience and submission, and a challenge to all of us who are tested by life's twists and turns and tempted, in our pain, to turn away from God, family and faith. That Joseph accepts a role about which he knew little because he was convinced that God was asking him for the total gift of his life reminds all of us not to be afraid, but to seek in prayer and reflection what it is that God has planned for us.

Today, accept life as it unfolds.

What helps you accept life's changes and upsets?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Doing Justice, Making Peace

"Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more." Ps 72:7

Justice and peace can be dirty works for some, even believers. Not convinced that the gospel is about establishing justice, they shy away from what sounds like political language, and when they do this they cheat themselves and others of the full force of the gospel.

The Jewish community into which Jesus was born and the Christian community that emerged from Jesus' life, death and resurrection are always concerned about justice and peace.  In the book of Amos we read: “Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing river." And St James says it clearly, "The harvest of justice is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace." (3:1) 

When we look at the actions of Jesus he is always working for justice. Turning over the tables of the money changers because they were unjustly charging pilgrims a usurious rate of exchange may be the clearest example, (Mt 21:12) but he also challenges the leaders of the Jewish communities who lay heavy burdens on the shoulders of the poor but do nothing to lift their burden. (Mt 23:4)

Today, lift another's burden because it is the just thing to do.

How do you feel about those who preach a gospel of justice and peace?