Saturday, August 17, 2013

Muddy Lives

"There was no water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud."  Jer 38:6

Most of us can imagine giving our lives for good causes or good people. The lives of family members or friends who have been especially loving towards us challenge us to let go of anything that merely protects us from harm in order to reach out for those in grave danger. But thinking about responding to others we don't know or know too well because of their public failures is much more difficult. We are all tempted to echo the saying that '"what goes round comes round," in the hope that our enemies will get their just punishment even though Jesus tells us that judging others should be left to God.

There are other times when, like Jeremiah, we find ourselves up to our neck in mud for acting with justice and purpose for God. Jeremiah is reviled and lowered into a muddy cistern, not because he abandoned the law or God's people, but because he warned them of God's wrath if they did not reform their lives. Surely, Jeremiah thought his life was over and that God had abandoned him as he sank into the muddy cistern, but God had a different plan. Jeremiah would be rescued to prophesy another day by those who recognized their own errors and wanted to return to God's ways.

Jesus challenges us even more than Jeremiah. In his letter to the Romans, St Paul tells us, "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:6) Insisting that God wants to find us even when we are stuck in the mud of our own making, Paul helps us enter more deeply into the mystery of God's love. If Jesus is willing to die for all in order that they might know the promise and love of God, can we afford to do less?

Today, do something good for someone who has not earned it.

What are the muddy places from which you hope God will rescue you?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Our Inheritance from God

"You are my inheritance, O Lord." Ps 16

Many older people often find themselves wondering what kinds of gifts they can leave their children. Making wills that try to distribute their resources equally among their children, they sometimes deny themselves simple pleasures because they want their children to have more than they had. Even when their children are doing well, many still want to give them more. Whether this desire to help their children is rooted in altruistic love or their need to feel needed is never clear, but it gives us pause to think about the inheritance we receive from God.

The book of Genesis tells us that God made everything that is for us because God wants us to be happy and secure in God's love. Like a good parent, God wants us to have what we need to live, but creation is not God's only or best gift. God gives us the promise of never being alone, that no matter where we go or how much we struggle, we will always be in God's presence, and this promise can and will sustain us through every difficulty if only we embrace it.

Parents and others with an inheritance to share with their children and family would do well to follow God's example. When we are able to assure those around us that they are never alone, that no matter what they do what foolish path they follow, they can always return to us and God, they will have an inheritance beyond price, and the need to keep giving the next generation more than they can ever use will dissipate. Our children need our unconditional love, not our old books and china!

Today, treasure the inheritance of God's enduring love and presence.

What gift of faith given to you by God and your mentors do you most value?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hard Hearts

“Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so."

Divorce is always difficult and painful, but sometimes it is necessary. When there is physical or emotional abuse, the spouse being abused has little choice. The Gospel never demands that a person submit to abuse for the sake of any relationship, and while many married people struggle to stay in relationships that are empty, there are times when a spouse must leave a marriage.

That being said, the gospel is clear that divorce should be a last resort, and that all of us need to address our hard hearts. It is not only the married, but clergy and religious, too, who too often take life for granted, think too much about what is not working in their lives and become hyper critical of the people with whom they live. Jesus had it right. When our hearts get hard, we can justify anything we do and demonize others. Finding scapegoats rather than looking at ourselves is convenient but robs us of the opportunity for growth as persons and Christians committed by vow to a particular way of life.

Jesus wants the married to succeed, to be faithful, to forgive, forget and work through their difficulties. When marriage or religious life becomes something we can abandon or easily put aside when it hurts to take the next step, we deny God's power to heal and to shine a light on the dark path that we all must sometimes take. Learning from those who accept life as it unfolds because of their faith is a gift we should all treasure.

Today, recommit yourself to your baptismal vows, and pray for those struggling in marriage.

Whose commitment to marriage most enhanced your faith?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Assumption of Mary into Heaven

"A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth." Rev 12: 1-2

In recent years it is clear to me that the worst thing we can do to Sts Francis and Clare is to rob them of their humanity, and unfortunately many of their biographers do just this. The same is true of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Anxious to tame a strong, courageous woman, we make her in our image rather than God's, and when we do this, we strip her of her greatness and power. Listening to the Magnificat can help us avoid this travesty.

When Mary cries: "The Lord has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty," she reminds us to be humble and remember that there is only one God. Our task is not to control the world but to serve those most in need, and Mary demonstrates this early in John's gospel when she demands that Jesus help a young newly married couple who are running out of wine. Not only does Jesus respond, he makes enough wine to quench the thirst of an entire village.

The feast of the Assumption is the culmination of Mary's journey. Faithful her entire life to the Lord to whom she gave birth, she is exalted for living her life with absolute integrity, for suffering, for enduring, for celebrating all that God is. Mary is a model for us, not because she lacks passion or humanity, but because she listened to God despite the cost to her reputation and standing in the community. Mary feared nothing because she knew she was living a life of faith and love for all. More important, if we listen, she continues to teach us these lessons today.

Today, ask God to help you live the Gospel despite the cost.

What about Mary most moves you to live the Gospel without fear?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

St Maximilian Kolbe

"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Mt 18:20

Jesus' promise to be with us when two or three gather in his name is powerful, but not magic. Assuring us we are not alone no matter how we feel, Jesus asks us to trust him completely. His desire to be a part of our lives and to animate us to live in his presence never fails, but does not assure us of a worry free life.

St Francis made it clear in his Testament that once the Lord gave him brothers he knew that his vocation was from God and he no longer had to listen to those who doubted his vocation. God would guide him as long as he threw himself upon the Lord, lived a deep fraternal life and trusted God for direction. Francis believed this and acted upon it, but it was not always easy. His biographers tell us that once God assured him he need not worry, Francis literally came of the pit where he was hiding from his father, and almost immediately experienced new hardships.

Soon after his fear was lifted, Francis went to the piazza of Assisi to announce the Good News only to have people laugh at and throw stones at him. Not long after this harsh welcome, he was walking alone at night when robbers attacked him and threw him into the snow. Clearly, the promise of Jesus to be with him whenever he gathered with others in Jesus name would not be effortless. Though the Lord lived in him and among his friars, preaching the Gospel of simplicity and poverty was threatening to many.

Maximilian Kolbe, a son of St Francis, also knew the power of Christ's presence and trusted it, but his commitment to live the Gospel relying on the Lord for everything led him to death in the Nazi concentration camps. Because he hid Jews by the hundreds at his friary, the Nazis vilified, threatened and tried to intimidate him. Eventually, he was imprisoned at Auschwitz, and when a married man was condemned to death, Maximilian volunteered to take his place and was martyred.

Today, be grateful for the people with whom you share faith.

When is it most difficult for your to gather with other believers?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Becoming a child again

“I am now one hundred and twenty years old and am no longer able to move about freely." Dt 31:1 "Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven." Mt 18:4

Anyone living his or her golden years knows the perils of aging. Hips get stiff, eyes dim, skin sags and the freedom to move about either for work or play is greatly compromised. While some elderly do much better than others keeping themselves healthy, most older people struggle a bit with every day tasks. Moses admits to the Jews that he is no longer the man he was and urges them to seek new leadership. His time of being in the front rank is rapidly coming to an end and the Jews will need to find a new way to go forward towards the Promised Land.

Moses, like everyone else who is aging, must learn a new humility and become like a child. In fact, it seems Moses made his first steps well. Acknowledging his weakness and admitting his inability to do what he had always done, he listens to his body telling him he needs to change. Though it will be difficult for Moses and all of us, there is little choice but to ask the Lord for the strength to let go, accept help and learn to live fully in a different way.

When speaking with older persons who have aged well, there is often a common thread. Letting go of the past is not as important as entering the present with hope, dedication and a willingness to enjoy life as it comes, not as one would design it. Once again, Jesus is right. When we remember how to live each day with the delight of a child, all things are possible. Not only do we celebrate life more honestly, we become powerful witnesses to the Gospel.

Today, accept who you are before God.

What is your greatest challenge to live humbly before God and others?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Trying to Bribe God

"For the LORD, your God, is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving them food and clothing." Dt 10: 17-18
When we are struggling with life or with family or the church, there is a temptation to bargain with God. After all, we say, Abraham did it. (Gen 18) Moses did it. (Num 11) David did it. (2 Sam 24) I might as well try. Perhaps with a little clever talk and prayer we can get God to see things our way. At times, especially for those who travel, bargaining seems natural, even necessary. In many parts of the world, native people think visitors are foolish and naive to pay the retail prices listed. If bargaining is a way of life for many people in the world, why not try it with God.

But Deuteronomy reminds us that that we cannot bribe God, and that God has no favorites. Asking God for help, not just in difficult circumstances but always, is a form of prayer and we should never hesitate to ask for what we need. At the same time, we must acknowledge that God has always had our good in mind and that there have been and will be times in our life when we must endure darkness and confusion for the sake of God's reign. What makes these moments especially difficult is that we rarely have insight about God's way for us and almost never know exactly what God is doing.

What we do know, however, is that God looks our for the poor, the orphaned and widows, and will do the same for us. We may not know exactly how God is active in our lives or what God wants us to do for the poor, but we do know that God wants us to accompany those most in need as they seek justice in the world, and this is especially true for those people the scripture calls "resident aliens."  Because God did not want the Jewish people to forget that when he freed them from slavery in Egypt, they were "foreigners", "aliens", and a people without a land, God reminds them to care for those who still have no place, no country to call their own, and at the very least to give them food and clothing. 

Can we afford to do less for the undocumented in our country?

Today, remember those lost, and often forgotten, in the quagmire of refugee camps?

What practices help you remember to be grateful each day for all God's gifts?