Saturday, June 29, 2013

Following Jesus despite the Cost

“'Follow me.' But he replied, 'Lord, let me go first and bury my father.' But he answered him, 'Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.'” Lk 9: 58-59

The cost of discipleship is often high, and nowhere in the New Testament is this clearer than in Luke's Gospel. Jesus demands that those who hesitate or make excuses even if they think they are living according to the Torah, let go of their reluctance and follow him.

The challenge that Jesus places before those listening to him is an echo of this Sunday's first reading from 1 Kings. When God tells Elijah to anoint Elisha as his successor, Elisha knows what it means when Elijah throws his cloak over him. He has been chosen by God and will have to let go of everything to be God's prophet. Slaughtering his oxen, Elisha uses the meat to feed his people and follows Elijah as his attendant.

The challenges of discipleship at the beginning of the 21st century are many, none more difficult for many than staying in the church that is so full of scandal. When our leaders fail to protect the most vulnerable, we wonder how self serving other decisions they make might be, but the scriptures are clear. While we will be tempted to turn away from the community of faith because of the sins of a few, the Gospel's demands remain. No matter the cost, we must let go of our personal agendas, our shame and anger, and live the Gospel with passion and integrity.

Today, ask God what is demanded of you to be a disciple.

What Gospel challenges do you find most difficult?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Sts Peter and Paul

"I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me."

Discovering our role in life is always important. Some are called to be husbands and fathers, others women religious and prophets, still others leaders and community organizers. More important to remember, these roles shift, change and are sometimes turned upside down, and the measure of our  character is our ability to understand and eventually accept these role changes.

The challenge to change roles was important in the lives of both Paul and Peter. Peter was married, perhaps a father, and had a role in his society, even a prominent one, as a fisherman. Fishermen like Peter had to be savvy businessmen and multilingual if they wanted to compete with Greek speakers who would also have been fishing in the Sea of Galilee. They had also to be able to negotiate contracts about taxes with their Roman masters. Leaving all of this security to follow Jesus was difficult. Only someone who spoke with power could have convinced Peter to let go of everything he had worked for and treasured.

Paul, on the other hand, was a respected rabbi and teacher, especially among prominent Jews. When he was willing, after Jesus' death, to challenge Christians who appeared to reject the Torah and the authority of the rabbis, his reputation for fearlessness grew. Again, like Peter, only the power of Jesus to reach him in his blindness moved Paul to let go of his reputation among leading Jews and in his own words pour out his life "like a libation" for the sake of the Gospel.

Together today in the liturgical calendar, we hold these two men up as examples. Unless we are willing to listen with our hearts to the saving promise of Jesus we will be unable to accept the transformation to which Jesus calls us.

Today, examine the roots of your faith.

What kinds of experiences have helped you enter the mysteries of faith more deeply?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

St Irenaeus

"See how the Lord blesses those who fear him." Ps 128

St Irenaeus is honored each year not simply because he was a defender of the faith but because he was, as his name indicates, a peaceful man. Committed to addressing the dangerous heresy of Gnosticism which taught that a certain few Christians were blessed with knowledge about Jesus and the Gospels that was reserved only for them, Irenaeus worked diligently to speak respectfully with the Gnostics about their beliefs because he was more concerned with maintaining the unity of the church than winning battles with those who thought differently from him.

Gnosticism is still dangerous. When Christians, especially those very well educated, suggest that their extensive knowledge about faith not only gives them insight that others don't have but a special path to holiness, their teaching divides the community into haves and have-nots, and creates a kind of hierarchy not intended for the good of all but to elevate some over others. This danger is not reserved only to theologians but the hierarchy itself if their teaching suggests that some are holier than others simply because of the knowledge they have or the office they hold.

Knowledge is important and can be formative. It can also lead to deep transformation, but only when those with the knowledge follow the example of St Bonaventure, the 13th century Franciscan theologian, who struggled mightily to penetrate the most basic tenets of faith in order to teach them more clearly, only to realize that no matter how hard he worked at grasping faith, he had to accept the limitations of human insight and embrace it with humility. 

Today, study the scriptures and then ask God for insight about what you have studied.

What do you think are the biggest dangers to faith in the 21st century?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Cultural and Religious Difference

"Sarai said to Abram: 'The LORD has kept me from bearing children. Have intercourse, then, with my maid; perhaps I shall have sons through her.'” Gen 6:2

In a culture and country that claims to honor monogamous relationships between spouses, Sarai's willingness, at first blush, to allow Abram, her husband, to marry and sleep with her maid startles us. How can a woman open herself to this kind of infidelity without losing herself in jealousy and envy? For Sarai, the opportunity to mother a child, even if it was born from a second wife was sufficient motivation, but then we begin to wonder who Sarai sees herself to be by offering her maid to anyone, even her husband.

Of course, there are cultural reasons underlying this story, but they nevertheless unnerve us. Is it possible that God could be involved in a situation that seems so abhorrent ? Did God accept, even support, polygamy for the sake of the nation? Commentators suggest that though God held up the divine ideal of monogamy, God allowed polygamy as a human exception. Custom also dictated that Sarai, Abram's first wife, had jurisdiction over any other wives Abram might take. The birth of heirs was clearly more important at the time of Abraham than avoiding polygamy.

All of this for the sake of wondering aloud about how to move forward both with regard to marriage and women's roles in the church. While few would debate that polygamy makes no sense in the 21st century, the bible stories of Abram, Lamech and David to name just three, give us pause. How can we conform to the ideal of God's law while still respecting the integrity of cultures? Further, how best can we integrate cultural differences between and among people so that the Good News is heard by all peoples?

Today, make no judgments about cultural differences.

How do you manage cultural differences in your life and ministry?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

God our Shield

“Fear not, Abram! I am your shield; I will make your reward very great.” Gen 15:1

Like God with and for Abraham, we can shield others in a wide variety of ways. Speaking up for someone being verbally abused, giving a homeless person access to permanent housing and serving people at a soup kitchen with dignity and delight are just a few of the ways we can both protect others and live compassionate lives.

One of our young friars coordinates a community meal for the homeless and hungry people in the parish where he ministers. Many of the volunteers arrive early to set the tables, fill cups with juice or coffee and make sure everyone has a napkin. More touching still, the homeless are invited to take a seat and are served their meal, drink and a dessert, and are free to ask for a second helping. It is always moving to see the dedication and tenderness of the volunteers. They are real shields for the poor.

Most of us have the opportunity to defend others on a daily basis. Friends or family in need are all around us and we can shield them by offering compassion and understanding. Usually we don't have to say anything or ask a dozen questions about what might be wrong. Rather, offering a glass of water or an invitation to a meal says more than any words we might utter.

Today, be a shield for someone struggling with loss.

Who has shielded you in life when you felt very vulnerable?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Abraham's Generosity

“Let there be no strife between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land at your disposal? Please separate from me. If you prefer the left, I will go to the right; if you prefer the right, I will go to the left.” Gen 13: 8-9

How easy it could have been for Abraham to struggle mightily with Lot about land and property. That he chose, for the sake of a lasting peace, to offer Lot whatever land he wanted was evidence to God and us of his goodness. How powerful it is to read about someone who thinks, not first of his own power and prestige, but of the common good, and because of Abraham's generosity, after Lot has taken what appears to be the richer and more fertile land, God promises Abraham that his descendants will be more numerous than all the particles of dust all over the land.

Generosity is its own reward. When we have the good sense and grace to think more of others than ourselves, we become peacemakers and justice doers. More important, we offer others an example of God's love for all of us. How clear it is, when we gaze upon the gift of creation that all is gift. Abraham knew this and honored God by offering Lot his choice of land. When we remember his witness and live it ourselves, the world is a different place because God's generosity shines through us.

Today, be unconditionally generous with someone who does not deserve it.

What tempts you to be stingy?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Birth of John the Baptist

"The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name. He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm." Is 49: 1-2

The word picture of John the Baptist created by the evangelist Luke is both charming and challenging. Clear thinking, focused, lean and a little mean, John was not afraid to say what he was thinking to anyone, even if it put his life in danger. The Baptist is a traditional hero who both knows and accepts himself. Acknowledging that he is unworthy to untie the sandal strap of the Lord, John insists he is not the Messiah. Both honest and transparent, John's reward for his goodness will be a gruesome death.

John the Baptist is also the first to recognize Jesus when he leaps in his mother's womb as the newly pregnant Mary approaches his childhood home. Excited by the arrival of his Messiah, John senses even before his birth that his visitor will change everything about his life, and in this he becomes an example for every Christian.

John is the forerunner of Jesus, the one who will prepare his way and so must we in our culture, country and time.  John's insistence that "He must increase, and I must decrease," (John 3:30) will become a mantra for Christians throughout the ages.

Today, be yourself. Don't try to be God.

What most challenges you in the life of John the Baptist?