Saturday, September 7, 2013

Selling Everything

"Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” Lk 14:33

The severity of Jesus' demand that we renounce all our possessions can be overwhelming, especially when we read it out of context. The best scholars of the bible always remind us that when we ask God for the strength to let go, to renounce everything for God, God gives us back what we need to live well and serve others. While God's challenge is daunting, it is also necessary. Belief demands that we learn to trust God with our entire lives despite the cost.

Those who accept the call to marriage, for instance, know that there is an immense amount of listening, responding and letting go, but the reward of a marriage well lived is the gift of a relationship that, as Paul reminds us, evokes Christ's love for the church. If either spouse becomes rigid and unbending, the marriage falters and fails to be the sign of God's love that the world needs. Likewise, those called to a communal life as vowed religious know the emptiness of holding onto ministries or positions of power when God says let go.

When trying to listen to the God who demands everything from us, it is also important to remember that most of us have more than we could ever use or need, and it is our fear and pride that causes us to worry about whether we have enough or how others see us. Rather than let go to simplify our lives, we acquire more and more ideas, stuff and baggage. Jesus might sound harsh, but his message is clear. Don't be afraid to give God everything. The reward is a Gospel freedom beyond anything we could imagine.

Today, recommit yourself to a Gospel life no matter the cost.

Which of your possessions or ideas are most difficult to renounce?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath

"The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." Lk 6:5

Sabbath and Sabbath law is complex, confusing, impossible and important. Unfortunately, in Jesus' day those who interpreted Sabbath observance lost sight of the purpose of Sabbath and attached so many proscriptions to it that the average person could never hope to know or observe them all.

The poor knew they could glean corn and other produce after the owners or tenant farmers had picked the field clean, and could do this on the Sabbath because gleaning was not considered work by most rabbis. The Pharisees, however, said that rubbing the grains of corn off the cob was a form of harvesting and preparing a meal, and this was forbidden on the Sabbath.

In truth, there were many rabbis who would have suggested that the poor be encouraged to glean on the Sabbath since doing deeds of mercy was not only permitted but required. Because Jesus knew this, he reminded his listeners that David took the bread of offering and gave it to his companions as an act of mercy.

Sabbath observances and rest have a very distinct purpose. Because we so often forget who we are and how much God loves us, we need to stop every seven days and remember the mercy of God. If God's mercy does not encourage us to act like God, especially on behalf of the poor, then the purpose of the Sabbath is lost, and we would be better off not observing it at all.

Today, look at the people around you, not with the eyes of the law, but with eyes of mercy.

How can you be an example to those around you of the mercy of God?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

New Wine

"No one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.'" Lk 5:39

Especially when we feel secure it is difficult to let go of what feels comfortable and settled. Besides wine connoisseurs tell us that old, aged wine has a richer, deeper taste. If we have the opportunity to drink a prized wine that is 50 years old, why would we choose a wine bottled last year? Jesus can often be confusing and disturbing.

Accepting that the Jews, and especially their leaders, would look for reasons to reject his new message and interpretation of the Torah, Jesus asks them to reexamine their roots and values. As he will assure the leaders of the Jewish community often, he did not come from his Father to destroy the old but to offer something more inclusive and complete. In a little used translation of Matthew's gospel, Jesus reminds all: "Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose." (Mt 5:17)

Until we look carefully at Jesus' motives and the purpose of the Torah and the prophets, we risk missing the power of his message and life. Jesus presents himself as God's son, not to exalt himself, but to ground his teachings. He has come to extend the joy of the law and the prophets to all people, places and cultures. His life is an icon for all to read, reflect upon and celebrate. God wills the salvation of all people. If we try to limit God's love, we deny God's very existence.

Today, ask the Lord to let you become a new wineskin.

How do you keep yourself open to the fullness of God's love and message?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Power of Fear

"They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, 'Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.'” Lk 5: 7-8

Fear is a complex emotion. Absolutely necessary at times, especially when we are in physical danger and need to escape quickly, it is also an emotion that causes us to turn away from people, places and situations that are challenging. The mentally ill, for instance, can frighten us because we don't understand what they are saying or how they are acting, and we can be afraid of leaving a hotel in a new country even if we are assured that the area is safe. Not knowing where we are can be overwhelming.

Like he so often does, St Peter helps us in this regard. The Gospels portray him as a man quick to act and speak, especially when he is unsure of what is happening to him or around him. When Jesus suggests the disciples cast their nets to a different side of their boat, Peter is perplexed but submissive, and when the nets are filled to overflowing, Peter asks the Lord to leave, very much like a leper or a sinner might tell someone not to come near them because of their sinfulness But Jesus, recognizing Peter's anxiety, tells him not to be afraid.

The message is clear. We cannot let fear or shame about our own sins and faults keep us from the Lord. Jesus tells his new disciples that they will be catching men and women if only they listen to him, accept his directives and follow him on the road to Jerusalem. This same invitation is ours if only we put our fear in the Lord's hands and follow.

Today, acknowledge your fear and stand still.

Which of your fears is most disabling in your call to discipleship?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Illusion of Security

“To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.”  Lk 4:43

Changing cultures, jobs, cities or countries is always difficult. Most of us, even if life is difficult, prefer to stay where we are, physically, emotionally and spirituality, and it is this last dimension that is so contrary to the Spirit of Jesus. Knowing that the sick and struggling, as well as his own disciples, want him to stay in one place, Jesus resists their entreaties and reminds everyone that he was sent by God to preach the good news to all people.

Missionaries in the Church have always known this simple truth. We are all called to go two by two into the world to announce the Gospel. Because so many have yet to hear about the healing love and freedom of Jesus, believers will always find a way to let go of what is comfortable and secure. As Helen Keller famously wrote:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.(Keller)
Jesus continues to invite his followers to "a daring adventure."  We are to throw ourselves on his mercy, trust in his guidance, and fearlessly go about in the world with confidence and joy.

Today, introduce yourself to someone new.

What do you think are the most important qualities of a disciple of Jesus?

Monday, September 2, 2013

St Gregory the Great

" I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living." (Ps 27)

Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and Gregory. These are the four great doctors of the Western Church. Called great because their insight about the Gospel as a living organism which could, when properly understood, interpreted and preached, influence people of every generation, the Greats of the Christian West have left a lasting imprint on the church.

Gregory, like so many others saints, lived fully in the world in his early days, but after five years as prefect of Rome, lost confidence in the society to direct or discipline itself. Hoping the monastic life would give him some clarity about how to live the Gospel, he joined the Benedictines, but  shortly thereafter the Pope sent him to Constantinople as his representative.

A success in Constantinople, he was called back to Rome, and elected abbot of the Benedictines. Walking through Rome one day he chanced upon a group of young Anglo Saxon boys who were being offered for sale. Moved by their plight and his conversation with them, he went to England with the hope of implanting the Gospel, but because of the upset of the Roman people, he was recalled to Rome and soon afterwards was elected Pope at the age of fifty.

Straightforward and scrupulously honest, Pope Gregory disciplined wayward priests, used monies from the papal treasury to care for Jews and the sick, and reformed the liturgy. but it was his instructions to bishops on how to conduct their office, read for a thousand years, that sealed his place among the Greats of the Christian community.
It is with profound sorrow we have to admit that though the harvest is great, the labourers are few, because, though the people are ready to hear the Word of God, there are few to preach it. Lo, the world is full of priests, yet in the harvest of the Lord a labourer is very rare, for we undertake, it is true, the office of the priest hood, but its duties we do not fulfill. Yet weigh well, dearly beloved, weigh well the words of the text : " Pray ye the Lord of the harvest that He send labourers into His harvest." Pray then for us that we may have strength to labour for you as we ought, that our tongue may not be slack to exhort, and that, having undertaken the office of preaching, our silence may not prove our condemnation at the tribunal of the just Judge. (Homily of St Gregory)
Today,  dare to be great in Christ.

What most keeps you from the living the Gospel with abandon?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

On Death

"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep."

Every major religious tradition reminds us that we cannot escape death, and all our attempts to deny this simple reality lead us nowhere. St Paul admonishes those who waste too much time worrying about death.  "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (I Cor 15:57) That Jesus has already rescued and saved us from ultimate death is a fundamental teaching of our faith.

Islam also insists that while death is inevitable, so is resurrection, but in order to be ready, we must work to get close to God now. “Though we know death is certain, we have not prepared ourselves for it. Though we know paradise is definite, we have not worked for it...What are you waiting for? Death is the first visitor from the Almighty bringing good or evil tidings… so get closer to your Lord!”(Hamid al-Qasyirasi)

Mark Twain reminds us that the fear of death is really the fear of life. Those of us who are afraid to live, even though we are breathing, are moving quickly towards death. In fact, if we don't resolve and ask God to help us live fully, we are already dead because we miss so much of life.

While all of us fear death since we know so little about it and often lack faith, the scriptures are clear:
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

Today, meditate on your own death and pray to accept what feelings arise.

Who has taught you most about death and dying?