Saturday, July 13, 2013

Carrying out God's Will

“If only you would heed the voice of the LORD, your God, and keep his commandments and statutes... it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” Dt 30: 10,14

Moses' command to his people is clear. Examine your hearts and minds. God and God's law already reside there. We have only to attend to what has been planted in our hearts to know God more deeply and love God more completely.

Theologians often speak of conscience as the "still, small voice," within our hearts, but Moses' challenge is more extensive than this. While conscience can help us discern and decipher what God wants for us, Moses pushes us to act  and live with passion when we discover the God who dwells within us. Faith is not simply about making just and other centered choices that resonate with the voice within us. Faith is a commitment to rest in and rely on God everyday. Even more, faith demands that we let God seek and do with us what promotes God's ways and will for all.

Because we most often see only what is directly in front of us, we can easily err when trying to live a faith filled life.  When a friend is ill,  or people in the next town have been flooded out, or our children are struggling to stay in a difficult marriage, we pause and pray naturally, but God wants more of us. Only when we take time to fly at 30,000 ft can we begin to emerge from our own world, needs and family concerns, and think and pray more systemically with and for God. How, we ask, can we live in and help create a more just world? How can we adjust our life and life styles to be in solidarity with our sisters and brothers around the world?

Today, step back in prayer and listen to the cries and groans of people and the earth far from your home.

How can you become more aware of and responsive to the God who is already living within you and among us?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Fear No One

"What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul." Mt 10: 27-28

Fear is an incredible motivator. Threatened with losing our life or reputation, we might do anything. Some run away; others start a fight. Jesus asks us to transform our fear into action for good. Recognizing how natural it is to be afraid when faced with doing something new or agitating to others, we ask for the grace to discern how best to speak and live the gospel despite the consequences.

The saints have always done this. Francis of Assisi, afraid of lepers and his father, avoided them both for a long time. Only when Francis, led by grace, got of his horse (literally and figuratively) to kiss a leper did his fear turn into something new. In his Testament he writes, "what before seemed bitter was turned into sweetness of body and soul." Unfortunately, he was less successful with his father. Rejecting his father's life and lifestyle by stripping naked in front of him and the bishop of Assisi, there is little evidence that Francis ever really reconciled with his father.

Trying to avoid fear or deny it will never be a successful strategy in the long run. Either we confront our fears in an effort to discover where they might be leading us in faith, or we are haunted by them our entire lives. Jesus gives us an option by promising always to be with us, but it is up to us to accept his help and trust that the result will be for the good of all.

Today, face one fear and see where it leads.

What fears most immobilize you?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Heart Preparation

"When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say." Mt 10:19

Due diligence is an important quality in life. We ought to be prepared for whatever it is God wants of us. Preachers, for instance, should not presume or take advantage of God's promise to give us the words we need to confound our enemies or those who think differently than us about God or faith without adequate preparation. Reading, reflection and meditation on God's word are essential for anyone commissioned to proclaim God's word.

Everyday Christians, all of whom have a vocation or a call from God to live and speak Good News, must also prepare themselves by a faith filled life that values personal and communal prayer, spiritual reading, especially of the Bible, and good works of charity and justice. Pope St Clement says it this way, "There are many gates that stand open, but the gate of justice is the gateway of Christ."

At the same time, there will those moments in life when we are under enormous pressure not to live faith because the prevailing culture suggests that the acquisition of riches and power is the only way we can  be happy and have a voice in our society. For those faced with this struggle, the words of Matthew in the 10th chapter of his gospel are powerful. We should not worry about what to say. Rather, we should live simply, honestly and justly, and trust that when we need to say something about our choices, God will give us the words, not to condemn or diminish others, but to explain ourselves with compassion and joy.

Today, make a choice to live more simply for others.

How do you prepare your heart for the struggles that come with living your faith?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Joseph's lament

"His sobs were so loud that the Egyptians heard him, and so the news reached Pharaoh’s palace. 'I am Joseph,' he said to his brothers." Gen 45: 1-2

Most of us have done our share of sobbing. When a beloved parent or spouse dies, when a friend moves or turns away from us, when our government or church fails miserably at protecting the most vulnerable, we find ourselves weeping in sadness and fear. Joseph, the youngest son of Jacob sobs so loudly when he encounter his brothers who sold him into slavery, that everyone hears him, even Pharaoh.

Sadness is a necessary part of all our lives. Only the loss of something or someone precious allows us to know how blessed our lives are, and how important it is to treasure what we have when we have it. Too often we take for granted our health, our wealth, our family, our faith and our friends, failing to take time each day to be grateful for the simplest but most important aspects of life and faith.

Sadness can also be deceiving. As Longfellow reminds us, we can sometimes think of people as cold when they are only carrying secret sadness, and while we might be tempted to avoid them, they are friends in need of compassion. Joseph could have punished his brothers, but his heart, so full of sadness for so long, was also filled with understanding and tenderness.

Today, don't run away from sadness. Transform it into compassion.

How does faith help us understand and accept sadness?

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Compassion of the Shepherd

"At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd."

Jesus seems always able to summon mercy and understanding when meeting the poor and broken.  Somehow he sees those most in need with compassionate eyes and heart, and responds to them without judgement. While Jesus can be hard on those who should know better, he seems never to dismiss the struggling. In fact, the scripture tells us that he sees them as sheep without a shepherd.

Sheep are naturally communal and always anxious to hear the voice of the shepherd calling and leading them to places where they can graze and find safety at night. Without shepherds, sheep can easily become disoriented and wander from the flock, and when they do they are easy prey for predators. Jesus knows this and promises us if  we accept his guidance that he will feed us with bread that lasts for ever and lead us to streams that will always run free.

Jesus' mercy can easily be taken advantage of, but only those trying to control the world worry about this. While some will surely risk living an unfocused life thinking they have nothing about which to worry since Jesus promises undying love to all even the biggest sinner, Jesus continually seeks out sinners, inviting them to reconciliation and new life.

As C.S. Lewis reminds us in An Examined Life, "God was the hunter and I was the deer. He stalked me, . . . took unerring aim and fired,"(1). Captured by God's love, we find ourselves spending more time being grateful than worrying about our past faults, and discover, to our delight and God's, that we have very little time for wrong doing and sin. Filled with gratitude for all that God is and does, our joyful and free spirits shout Good News.

Today, ask forgiveness of God and move forward.

Which of your faults and sins do you find most difficult to avoid?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Holy Places

“Truly, the LORD is in this spot, although I did not know it!” Gen 28:16

Two things strike the reader of Genesis. Jacob's dream allows him to see God in places he did not expect. More important, the text implies that we often forget that God is everywhere and fail to see God or notice God's passing by or presence. There are any number of reasons for this. Sometimes we are so caught up with our own concerns that we fail to see anyone or anything else. We can rush past a needy person, not because we do want to help or don't have the means, but because we don't even see them. At other times, we are satisfied with the God we have and fail to look further.

Years ago, a well known experiment with young medical students made this point powerfully. A teacher whispered into the ear of each student the story of the man set upon by robbers, beaten and left to die. Then they told them to hurry through a passageway between hospital buildings in order to pass the message they had received to other students. Diligent and committed to their task, a large majority of the students failed to see or stop for a man who had fallen and was lying on the side of the passageway.  In fact, in their desire to be faithful to their commission, they failed to stop at a holy place.

There are holy places in all our lives which really challenge us to recognize that we can find God everywhere if only we slow down, pay attention, and attend to those directly in front of us. Every day there are opportunities to be amazed by God. We have only to notice and respond.

Today, make holy a place in your own home by noticing how God is present there.

Where do you most often find God?