Saturday, June 8, 2013

Widows and the Powerless

"A man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother and she was a widow." Lk 7:12

Compassion is a hallmark of the Gospel. Over and over, Jesus reaches out with mercy and kindness to those threatened with the loss of their identity, livelihood and voice. The widow he encounters whose only son has died is a powerful example of this. The vast majority of women at the time of Jesus, though honored and loved in their roles as wife and mother, lost everything if they were widowed and childless. Dependent on her husband's family for her survival, since it was her son who died, the widow has almost nowhere to turn.

It is true that a younger woman might seek a new husband, but most widows found themselves unsupported and lost. Jesus knew this and steps into the situation, seemingly without hesitation. A woman was in great need. He saw it. He saw her and responded with compassion.

The lesson for us is unmistakable. We must keep our eyes and ears open to and for all those without a voice, the poor, the ridiculed, the ignored and voiceless. For some this might mean finding a way to visit older people without families in their own neighborhood. For others, it might mean serving people with AIDS, especially those who have already been ostracized as drug addicts or homosexuals. While this is a tall order for most, the lesson Jesus teaches in reaching out to the widow whose only son has died is unavoidable. Those most in need, most deserve our love.

Today, show compassion to someone who expects nothing from you.

Who are the people in your life most in need of compassion?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary

"Prayer and fasting are good, but better than either is almsgiving accompanied by righteousness." Tb 12:8

Hearing that someone has an immaculate heart can be off putting to contemporary thinkers and believers but upon reflection we realize that it allows Mary not to worry or fret about her own burdens and concerns, but to be totally open to the needs of all her children. As Immaculate, Mary is completely other centered. Assured by the Angel that the Spirit of God had come upon her, she not only does not protect herself against the judgments of those who would question the source of her pregnancy, but relies on the Spirit for everything, especially the call to care for those given to her as her children by Christ on the cross. 

Most of us realize that it is almost impossible to have what are called pure intentions because our own needs and internal conflicts get in our way. People don't marry or respond to a vocation to religious life or priesthood simply because it pleases God. Rather, we are attracted to a particular Gospel path for a wide variety of reasons, all of which will need to be purified over time.  If someone marries, for instance, because of the physical beauty of the other, they gradually learn how fleeting this kind of beauty is and unless their hearts are converted in a manner that allows them to see the inner goodness of their spouse, they will find themselves growing distant from the one to whom they promised life long fidelity.

Of course, this is more obvious to most of us as we age. The smooth, vibrant skin that so attracted us to another is replaced by wrinkles and laugh lines which have their own beauty and story, but can initially be something we work hard to cover up or ignore, and this is when Mary Immaculate teaches us so much. Letting God cleanse our heart opens our eyes to see God in all of creation not just in that which please us.

Today, look in the mirror and pray, not to be made young again, but for purity of heart.

Have you been blessed to know people with undivided and other centered hearts?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

"I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest, says the Lord GOD. The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal." Ez 34:14

More than anything else the feast of the Sacred Heart is an antidote, a response to the theology and spirituality of 16th and 17th century Calvinism and Jansenism that denigrated all creation and condemned most of the human family to eternal punishment. How movements like this emerge is never easy to understand, but they clearly need a strong response from the church rooted in scripture and the best of the Catholic tradition. The Feast of the Sacred Heart is the church's rejoinder.

Insisting that the heart of Jesus has no limits and wants all people to be saved, the liturgy invites us to reflect on the powerful image of God as a shepherd who yearns to find us when we are lost, help us when are hurt and heal us when we are sick. What more could we ask of God?

Although the feast of the Sacred Heart was slow to find full church approval, it was everyday people who drove it. So many believers, overwhelmed by a world that was fast becoming unbearably complex and oppressive, believers embraced the feast of the Sacred Heart which offered them hope no matter how difficult their lives might be. It can continue to offer this same consolation in the 21st century. Everyone wants to believe in a God that seeks them out and embraces them with his heart.

Today, open your heart to someone lost.

How do you understand God's love for you?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Praying Honestly

"Tobiah arose from bed and said to his wife, 'My love, get up. Let us pray and beg our Lord to have mercy on us and to grant us deliverance.'”

For believers prayer is always necessary and essential, because it is prayer that allows us to acknowledge our dependence on God for all that is, both the good and painful.  Only when we commit ourselves to God without reserve are we able to understand more deeply that faith is a gift that will always sustain us, even when we are not sure where we are going or what God intends for us.

When Tobiah is told that Sarah will be his wife, he is also warned that Sarah had been married seven times and each of her husbands had died of their wedding night. What a burden? Who  would want to marry a woman so ill fated, and what of Sarah?  Would she be willing to give herself in marriage to Tobiah without reserve? How would she process the grief of seven dead husbands? 

For Tobiah and Sarah, the answer lies in prayer. When Sarah's parents leave the bedroom prepared for the young couple, Tobiah gets up from the marriage bed and invites his new wife to pray with him that God will deliver them from their struggles and have mercy on them. Their example continues to inspire readers even today.

Today, pray for someone who is struggling to understand loss.

What drives you to prayer?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

St. Boniface

"He is not God of the dead but of the living." Mk 12:26

The arguments between Jesus and the Sadducees often seem silly. Trying to trap Jesus, the Sadducees ask him to comment on the incredulous situation of a woman whose husband, one of seven brothers, dies. Knowing the Levirate law demands a man marry his brother's widow, the Sadducees fabricate a story in which each of the six remaining brothers marries the woman only to die, leaving the woman a widow.

Trying to prove that there is no resurrection, the Sadducees ask Jesus to whom the seven times widowed woman will be married at the resurrection, but Jesus undermines their preposterous scenario. Insisting that in the resurrection there will be no marrying or giving in marriage, he reminds them God is a God of the living not the dead.  In other words, pay attention to what is happening now. Respond to God in the present, and stop ridiculing others whose beliefs differ from yours.

Whenever we are trying too hard to be right or to a prove a point, we run the risk of distorting the truth. Only a commitment to live the Gospel well each day saves us from the foolishness of the Sadducees.

Today, ask for the grace to live each moment with delight and joy.

What situations tempt you to use silly arguments to prove your point?

Monday, June 3, 2013


"So she retorted: 'Where are your charitable deeds now? Where are your virtuous acts? See! Your true character is finally showing itself!'” Tb 2:14

Stress can make us say terrible things. Tobit, newly blind and no doubt feeling trapped and confused by his inability to see, hears a goat bleating and asks his wife where it came from. Hannah tells him that the goat was a bonus from her employers for her weaving, but Tobit refuses to believe her and tells her to return it to its rightful owner. Finally, Hannah responds angrily and asks Tobit where all his charity has gone.

How often when we are upset we look for a scapegoat, a situation or a person to blame for how we are feeling. Uncomfortable with ourselves, we even attack others, deflecting attention from our disquiet and allowing ourselves not to pay attention to whatever is troubling us. When Tobit attacks Hannah, he undermines all his good works, until he recognizes his sin and begins to weep and pray, asking God not to punish him for his cruelty to Hannah.

Acceptance of whatever we are asked to carry in life is the path to reconciliation with whomever or whatever we blame, and is the ground of renewal both for individuals and communities. Tobit's prayer should be ours whenever we lose our focus and begin to blame others.

Today, ask forgiveness from someone you have offended.

What burdens are most difficult for you to carry?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

St Charles Lwanga and the Ugandan Martyrs

"They seized him, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent them another servant. And that one they beat over the head and treated shamefully." Mk 12: 3-4

Charles Lwanga, a catechist who refused to renounce his faith even after seeing many of his Ugandan companions martyred, reminds us again of the power of God's grace. Despite being lured by King Mwanga into the royal court and promised real power over others, Charles would not deny  his faith. More, even after he was condemned to die, he continued to urge others to follow Christ.

Although it is sometimes forgotten or ignored by Catholics, Charles was killed along with nine Anglican young men who might not be called martyrs but certainly gave their lives for the Gospel, and deserved to be honored for their sacrifice. Although Charles is revered in Africa and throughout the world for his willingness to die for his beliefs, his life is also a good reminder to work together with other Christians for a just world. While we might disagree about how to speak of the Eucharist or the role of the Holy Father, we surely do agree about what it means to serve and cling God in the face of persecution.

Today, accept whatever suffering comes to you because of your commitment to the Gospel.

What do you most admire in people willing to give their lives for the faith?