Saturday, May 4, 2013

Finding Common Ground

"Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question." Acts 15:2

There will always be disputes and differences in the Christian community, some of them seriously debilitating to the life of the church. In the United States today there are more than a few. How to be authentically prolife, how to work together for a just economy; how to foster a full and active celebration of the Sacraments are just a few of the hot button topics that can cause a stir in any parish.
None of these issues needs to overwhelm any community of faith as long as believers are willing, like the earliest Christian community, to sit down in the same room and listen. Opening ourselves to the understanding and insight others have is always important for the life of a community. Only when we find ourselves fighting for what we believe is the only path to an authentic Gospel life will we lose perspective and respect for those with whom we differ.

The ability to articulate a particular position clearly and passionately can never be the ultimate test in community life. Only the common commitment to discern how best to live the Gospel will allow the Holy Spirit to act and  a community to live the Gospel authentically.

Today, enter any dispute as a listener first.

What most upsets you about debates in the church?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Saying No

"They traveled through the Phrygian and Galatian territory because they had been prevented by the Holy Spirit from preaching the message in the province of Asia." 16:5

It seems strange to read that the disciples of Jesus were prevented by the Holy Spirit from preaching the Gospel in a new territory. Was it dangerous for the disciples to go to Asia? Were the people of Asia unprepared for the message? Why would the Holy Spirit prevent the gospel from going everywhere, especially since Jesus commanded his first disciples to go into the whole world and baptize everyone who responded to the message of salvation?

People trained as spiritual directors give us some insight into the teaching of Acts about the Holy Spirit since one of their tasks is to discern with their directees the dangers of particular paths in the spiritual life. It is not so much that a spiritual director would forbid someone from pursuing a particular direction, but alert them to its difficulty and encourage them to look more deeply at what the Holy Spirit might be saying.

There are roads in everyone's life that ought to be avoided. Sometimes it is a matter of prudence. Age for instance might prevent or at least delay a 14 or 80 year old from pursuing a foreign mission vocation. At other times, the duty and burden of caring for a sick spouse might make it impossible for someone to be more involved in a parish ministry. Listening to the Holy Spirit in quiet prayer is everyone's responsibility. Only then can we be sure we are doing God's will.

Today, reexamine a difficult decision you might be facing.

What might the Holy Spirit be warning the church to avoid in our day?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Sts Philip and James

“Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip?" Jn 14:9

There's a sadness in Jesus' response to Philip that hurts us when we read it. Is the Lord also speaking to us, about us? Do we really know the God who came to us in Jesus as savior, friend, shepherd, bread and life? What is it that keeps us from entering more deeply into a life of faith and witness?

It is some consolation to remember that none of the Apostles was entirely faithful to the Lord. Distracted by their own fears, they sometimes lived on the edges of the community and it is not difficult to imagine them exploring other paths and the message of other prophets. Doubt is an ordinary phenomenon in the life every believer.

Our own doubts should not trouble us overly much because they are necessary for our faith growth. In every relationship there are moments of confusion and upset which when explored and resolved become the cement that binds us more closely to the people we love. Opening ourselves through doubt to the Christ who promises never to abandon us makes us more credible witnesses to the Gospel.

Today, ask God to let you know Christ more intimately.

What gets in the way of your trusting God totally with your life?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

St Athanasius

"Remain in my love." Jn 15

Staying in love is simple enough but demands steady discipline. People who remain in love remember that nothing is more important than time with the other and a willingness to listen without distraction. The same is true in the spiritual life.

Being faithful to prayer that is marked by more listening than talking is a very good place to start and stay in the spiritual life. Making time for quiet and reflection no matter how we feel on a given day demonstrates our fidelity to the most important elements of an enduring love relationship.

St Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria for 45 years spent 16 of them in exile and what marked his service to the church was faithfulness. Despite being under constant pressure to change his theological opinion about the divinity of Christ, Athanasius never wavered and his ascetical writings are marked by his appreciation of the simple and deeply prayerful life of the desert hermits who spent their lives in quiet and reflection.

Today take an extra five minutes for quiet prayer.

What spiritual practices help you remain in love with God??

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Negotiating Differences

"Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the Apostles and presbyters about this question of (circumcision.)" Acts 15:2-3

While it is always uncomfortable to dissent from what seems like the ordinary wisdom of a culture or church, it is also necessary. Novels abound in every culture about people whose gifts challenge the prevailing experience and discipline of the community.

My name is Asher Lev recounts the story of a young Hasidic Jew whose passion for art leads him to museums where he becomes fascinated by depictions of the Crucifixion and nudes. When his own paintings of these same subjects are discovered by his very devout father, a deep family dispute about religion, piety and art simmers and explodes as Asher tries to be both an artist and an observant Jew.

The early church had many of these same conflicts which in a paradoxical way help us to move past seemingly important differences into the heart of the Gospel. The challenge to the early church about how to preserve the essence of the Law without imposing circumcision on gentle converts was divisive and tension filled, but a model for us in the 21st century. Debate about how best to live the Gospel will, in the long run, always serve us well.

Today, listen carefully to both side of an argument.

What do you think are the big issues for 21st century Catholics?

Monday, April 29, 2013

God's peace

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you." Jn 14:27

All of us desire peace in our hearts, neighborhoods, countries and world. Unfortunately, we sometimes erroneously think that we can seize it, even violently, and this path to peace is especially present when we are under siege.

The people of Boston, full of fear after a terrorist bomb shattered a beautiful afternoon on Patriot's Day, one of their local holidays, will be tempted to believe they can enforce peace with more careful screening and a larger police presence, but they will be badly disappointed if they think peace is simply the absence of violence.

The first disciples of Jesus knew fear every time they preached the Gospel, but they armed themselves, not with knives and spears but the peace that Christ promised. Clothing themselves in the armor of God's love, they opened themselves to challenge and persecution and trusted that God's love would sustain them in all things. With God as their center they know nothing could undermine their peace.

Today, bring God's peace to someone seeking vengeance.

How do you understand the peace of Christ?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

St Catherine of Siena

"The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name– he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” Jn 14:26

Catherine of Sienna, unlikely doctor of the church, is one of those saints who challenges all our unexamined assumptions about wisdom, education and sanctity. The 25th child of parents who lost most of their children to early death, Catherine, though uneducated, became one of the most important writers of the 14th century. Her letters and mystical writings remind us to keep Christ close despite the cost.

In a letter to her spiritual spiritual director she writes: "You should not wish to turn your head because of the thorns of so many persecutions, for he is indeed mad who would abandon the rose for fear of its thorns." (Letters) Though unsaid here, it is clear that Catherine was able to ignore those who persecuted her because she knew that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, was her guide and protector and having the rose was more important than the thorns that tore at her life.

The Easter scriptures are forever reminding us that the Gospel, though liberating and empowering, is too difficult to live without the strength of an Advocate, someone who stands behind us, encourages us and assures us that God is with us no matter how heavy the burdens we might have to carry.

Today, be an advocate for someone who seems lost.

Have you ever experienced the strength and support of the Holy Spirit in your life?