Saturday, March 2, 2013

Fig Trees

"For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?'

At the time of Jesus, Palestine was an arid land with little water and shallow soil. Farmers had to use their resources carefully. Because they could not afford to allow fruit bearing plants or trees that did not produce a good crop to litter the land, they became a ready example for Jesus to teach.

All of us must bear fruit. Given faith as a free gift, we need to spend it freely for the good of others. Faith is not something that merely calls us to personal holiness. It is a treasure intended to help others know God and the Good News of Jesus. Only when we live faith in a transparent way does it bear the fruit intended by God.

Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk committed to the silence of the Cistercian life, insisted that anyone who sought entry into the monastery to escape the world did not have a vocation. Even, perhaps especially, monks dedicated to silence must bear fruit by being attentive to all believers in order to bring the concerns of God's people before God in prayer.

Today,  reach out for someone lost.

What keeps you from producing fruit for all to eat?

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Right Thing for the Wrong Reason

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”  Lk 15:17-18

The story of the prodigal son or the forgiving father is one of the most remarkable in all of scripture. In order to demonstrate God's desire to forgive us, Luke's Jesus suggests that even if someone returns to God for less than pure motives, God will welcome her. More, God embraces and empowers anyone who seeks reconciliation.

When faced with this same kind of situation, most of us would try to discern the motives of the person seeking reconciliation, but God, the Forgiving Father, does not. Satisfied that his son or daughter is home, God reaches out and celebrates, apparently believing the power of his graciousness will convince his son or daughter that he must change his or her life.

We often spend too much time trying to figure life out when we would be better off entering its mystery and discerning more carefully what few issues deserve our response. Otherwise, we will waste our lives in fruitless obsession when we ought to be doing good. The Forgiving Father teaches us always to be looking for the good in the world, not bemoaning our losses.

Today, forgive someone unconditionally.

Is there anything that troubles you about the Forgiving Father?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Rejected Stone

"The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Mt 21:32

Whenever we fail to look at stones and people with the eyes of God, we fall into the trap of rejecting them because they don't fit our notion of perfection or beauty. What a shame and what a loss. Not only do we demean and objectify things and people who are "different," we expose ourselves as prejudiced and small minded.

We have no real idea what Jesus looked like, but we do know that he has been portrayed as a member of every race, ethnic group and culture, and while some may want to insist that he should always be a middle eastern Jew, the vast majority of  believers realize that Jesus is beyond any one culture or background.  In other words, we need to find the Christ everywhere and in every person, especially the poor.

This is not to say that difference doesn't matter. When we move outside our comfort zone culturally and socially there is always a level of disorientation, and while this is disconcerting we need to work our way through it in order to see and meet people where they are. Simply put, while inculturation is painful, when it is embraced it becomes a gift that opens us to a God who is beyond every culture.

Today, acknowledge your discomfort with difference.

Have you had a cross cultural experience that benefited you and helped shape your faith?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Listening Outside the Box

"If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead." Lk 16:31

The story of the rich man and Lazarus is always disconcerting. The rich man's refusal to listen to the "cry of the poor" condemns him, and will do the same to us if we are not more responsive to those most in need.

Jesus is clear in this story. The leaders of the Jewish community  are "rich." They are respected and empowered, but their refusal to listen "outside the box" of Torah interpretation condemns them. Resistant to the full power and freedom that Moses and the prophets proclaimed, they will also turn their spirits away from Jesus in his suffering, death and resurrection.

Care must be taken when reading this telling Gospel. In no way is it intended to undermine Jewish law or its people. Rather, it strikes at those in any religious tradition who hold onto to their power as a personal possession rather than as a gift from God. God has set us free and we should do nothing to deny this gift to any person. A faith filled life cannot be reduced to blind obedience but must express itself in joyful service of all God's creatures.

Today, live joyfully in the freedom from fear given to us by Jesus.

What is your best experience of the freedom of the sons and daughters of God?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Gospel Service

"Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mt 20:28

When the mother of James and John asked Jesus to put her two sons as authority figures on his right and left, she is only doing what seemed natural. Wanting her sons to succeed, to move up in the world and to be a part of Jesus' entourage, she reminds us of the father of St. Francis who so wanted his son to succeed that he outfitted him in the finest clothes in order to give him every opportunity to impress others and grow wealthy and powerful.

That the mother of James and John and the father of St. Francis get it all wrong should not surprise us since we have all misunderstood the Gospel from time to time. Their only concern and ours ought to be to listen more deeply to the Lord and change our ways.

Service of others is the hallmark of the Gospel, not wealth nor power over others, and authentic Gospel service means trying to make ourselves prayerfully and unconditionally available to God in order to build God's reign not our comfort or influence.

Today, ask God to know how to serve others with dignity and charity.

What are your biggest blocks to serving others freely?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Living Justly

"Hear the word of the LORD,...Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow." Is 1: 10,12

Any society, especially any local church or parish, if it becomes so concerned with maintaining its internal life that it fails to reach out for the needy, will slowly die. Lent reminds us of this simple truth over and over. All our Lenten practices, especially prayer, fasting and almsgiving, while at  first blush appearing to be about our inner life, are in fact about making our salvation known to others.

No matter how often we say it or reemphasize it, the Gospel is a gift that must be given away. While it is a rule of life and a guide for how to negotiate life's difficulties, it's primary purpose is to announce the saving work of Jesus by doing justice, redressing wrongs, and listening to the cry of the poor. These behaviors allow God to do God's work.

Though it can be difficult and agitational for those who demean the efforts of the poor on their own behalf, doing justice is always convincing. When Christians feed the hungry and care for the poor in the name of Jesus, their actions speak much louder than their words.

Today, decide to help someone in need without them knowing it.

Whose work on behalf of the poor do you most admire?

Sunday, February 24, 2013


"O LORD, we are shamefaced, like our kings, our princes, and our fathers, for having sinned against you. But yours, O Lord, our God, are compassion and forgiveness!" Dn 9:8-9

The heartfelt confession of Daniel demands our attention because Daniel does not excuse or try to explain away his sins and faults nor the sins of his people. Acknowledging and accepting his guilt and the guilt of the nation, he asks God's pardon, but expects nothing. He knows that if God acts on behalf of his chosen people it will be a totally gratuitous gift, and his confession and honesty are rewarded. While God punishes the people, he also promises to relent so that Jerusalem will be restored to the glory God intended.

The theme of God's justice and mercy is a constant one during Lent. If God, who sees everything, chooses to forgive, so must we. No matter the sin against us, if we are to act like God towards those who hurt and abuse us, we must forgive. This does not mean we must put ourselves in harms's way. Rather, it means we should let go of any harsh judgments we may have made against those who sinned against us and begin again. We may not be able to repair the  damage done to us or our families, but we need always to love others as God loves us. Moving on with out lives, despite its sorrows and pain, is essential if the life of the Spirit is to be known in the world.

Today, forgive someone who has sinned against you.

What is most difficult in offering others God's mercy?