Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Work of the Spirit

"To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit." 1 Cor 12:6

Discerning how the Spirit of God works in our personal and communal lives is an important exercise in the spiritual life. Even more essential is to remember St Paul's caution. While the Spirit often consoles us, the grace is not for our personal benefit but for the church and world, and it is often not for us to say or even know how this happens. Most of us know this experientially.

Someone approaches us after an absence of many years and assures us that something we said or did a decade ago helped them, challenged them or empowered them to know God more deeply and to move ahead on their faith journey. Though we cannot deny their experience, we have no memory of the event, and even when we do our recollection might be very different from theirs. Encounters like this make it very difficult to deny that God's spirit acted through us in ways we never foresaw or imagined.

Events like this are important. They assure us that God is at work in the world all the time even when he seems absent, and faith demands that we trust that God is active within us and among us all the time. Our task is not to know how this is, but that it is, and to allow God the freedom to do God's work for the sake of a greater good than our peace.

Today, give the Spirit permission to use you for good.

How has the Spirit acting through others worked in you?

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Gift of Life

“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Mk 2:17

Wellness, so often lauded even in religious circles, is not always a gospel virtue. If being well means one ignores or denies one's need for God and the church than it is not of God. To be grateful for one's health is good. To take it for granted and forget to praise God for the gift of life, gets us in trouble.

It is clear in Mark's gospel that Jesus continually challenges the Pharisees and Sadducees because of their arrogance. Condemning Jesus because he eats with tax collectors and sinners exposed the Jewish leaders as men more concerned with undermining Jesus' growing power than with calling sinners to conversion. More important, they refused to acknowledge their own need of help, making it impossible for them to benefit from the healing power of Jesus' word and touch.

Although we often act as if we are in charge of our own lives, nothing could be further from the truth. The great privilege of being alive demands that we live in gratitude for all that is. Life is a gift to be shared,  not a right to be taken for granted.

Today, praise God for life in its simplest form.

What daily gratitude practices do you have?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Seeing is Believing

“We have never seen anything like this.” Mk 2:12

Seeing or learning something new is always exciting but also needs careful reflection. Just because something is new does not mean it is important or transforming. In fact, newness can be a dangerous illusion. Shiny and bright does mean deep and lasting.

There should be little doubt that the Jewish authorities were not worried about Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. False prophets and healers were a dime a dozen and it was rarely difficult to undermine the authority and power of popular healers by challenging them regarding their knowledge of and commitment to the Torah.

Jesus was different. Not only did he know the Law, he lived its spirit in challenging ways, and a reading of the New Testament demonstrates this convincingly. Jesus was not trying to undermine the authority of the Jewish leaders, but wanted them to reform their lives, put aside their fear of the Roman authorities, and see in him God's presence and power. Only when the Jewish leaders refused to acknowledge their own sins did Jesus condemn them and call them "whitened sepulchers." (Mt 23:27)

Today, let yourself be amazed at the healing power of the Lord.

Does the Gospel continue you challenge you to transformation?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

St Anthony, Abbot

"The Holy Spirit says: Oh, that today you would hear his voice." Heb 3:7

St Anthony, Abbot, was reputed to be so attentive when listening to the Scriptures that he never needed spiritual books or a bible because he remembered everything he heard. (Office of Readings)

In the 21st century, it seems, we are less and less attentive since we have so many resources to help us remember. The almighty Google knows all. Type in a question or even a few key words and there are usually more than one million places indicated where one might discover more information about the question asked. Is Google making us lazy?

When we examine our spiritual practices, it would be good to ask ourselves whether, even when we read the Scriptures, we rush to get through it rather than savor its delights. Although we have the freedom to pick up a bible anytime for reflection and nourishment, it is important not take God's word for granted. A slow reading of the scriptures can be enormously enriching.

Today, read one paragraph of the daily scripture slowly.

What is the best way for you to learn about and be transformed by God's word?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Never alone

"Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested." Heb 2:18

The incarnation, the teaching of our faith that insists that Jesus is truly human and truly divine, is sometimes difficult to understand or accept. Although we bow before the Lord as our brother and friend, that he is like us in all things but sin can be unnerving and even off putting. Many friends in faith tell me that is easier for them to relate to Mary than Jesus because there is no claim that she, though gifted in marvelous ways, is divine.

The author of Hebrews, however, pushes us beyond our comfort zone and insists that it is precisely because Jesus suffered that we relate to him in our own trials. It is Jesus, hanging on a cross with few friends around, who calls us closer to him in our own crucifixions, and while he does not take away our struggles, he accompanies us and assures us that we are not alone. 

In truth, that is all most of us really need. We can accept the ups and downs of life, but to be isolated from all that matters is too much to endure. Knowing that Jesus is with us in our suffering changes everything.

Today, stand with struggling with the unexplainable.

What are the most difficult tests in your life?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Fame and Truth

"His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee." Mk 1:28

In the 21st century, so enamored with instant communication, fame is more fleeting, and sometimes more dangerous, than ever. 50 years ago Andy Warhol spoke of everyone wanting 15 minutes of fame. Today it is more like five minutes, and famous people often pay a big price when they fail! One wonders if the story of Jesus would make the front pages today, and if it did, would it last?

It is not uncommon, when we are uncomfortable with someone's fame, to denigrate their accomplishments. He's on the perfect team, we say. The system is more responsible for his success than his own skills. We do anything to undermine another's success, especially if it seems to challenge our own, and it was Jesus' success at announcing good, simple and powerful news to his disciples that got him in trouble.

It should be clear to every believer that Jesus is not concerned with success, but integrity and truth. He came among us, not to be popular or well liked, but to assure us that all, even the poor and sinners, are beloved of God, and have only to open themselves to God's love to be saved. Salvation does not belong to the Jewish people, to Catholics or any one religious tradition. Salvation is God's gift to all people in Jesus Christ. Despite the cost, we must continue to announce this.

Today, live good news by inviting another to live in joy.

What do you think of fame?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Obedience Revisited

"They left their nets and followed him." Mk 1:18

Leaving people and places is always difficult, and always necessary. More often than not the leave taking is not geographical, but emotional. We need to stop clinging both to the grandest moments in our lives and to our sorrows. Letting go of a parent, friend, enemy or child who has died not only frees us to get on with life, it frees the person who has died.

There was a powerful article recently in the New York Times (Death) about a sheep farmer from Wales who had rarely left his farm or village but lived a rich life of faith and love, especially for the land and all creation.  The author of the article, when talking with the farmer's son, was especially impressed with the son's ability to return to his sheep and his farm soon after the death of his father. Realizing that the sheep needed caring for and the fields had to be tended, the son embraced the life his father bequeathed to him rather than cling to his father's memory.

The apostles seem to have done the same when Jesus called them, but it is unnerving to read. What happened to their wives and families? Did they take time to tell their families about Jesus' call or ask for their help in discernment? It seems not. Their call was so strong that they had to trust God with the details. So do we. When we let go and follow the Lord, God will guide and protect us.

Today, let go of one memory in order to make a memory for someone else.

What do you need to let go of today in order to get on with the life God wants you to have?