Saturday, September 14, 2013


"I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry." 1Tim 1:12

It is almost impossible to speak or write too often about gratitude, particularly in an era of unearned privilege and entitlement. A doctor friend was telling me last week how grateful he is to be able to help people. Though working now in the New York City area, where he has access to the wisdom and experience of so many other practitioners, he still misses the people he served in rural Pennsylvania where he was the only gastroenterologist in a 200 mile square county.

St. Paul writes continually about his gratitude to the Christ who strengthened him during every trial. Neither shipwreck, nor imprisonment derailed nor discouraged him beyond hope because he knew that Christ had appointed him to his ministry, and no one nor any trial could take that away. Frederick Buechner says it powerfully:
“And now brothers, I will ask you a terrible question, and God knows I ask it also of myself. Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him the only life?” (F.B.)
When we realize that living without faith and without Christ is death and that living in him and for him is life, we cannot fail to be grateful.

Today, thank God for the marvelous gift of faith and ministry.

What in your faith most moves you to gratitude? 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

(This feast marks the 33rd anniversary of my father's death. I still miss him.)

"God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." Jn 3:13

The cross of Jesus Christ, as St Paul says, is a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness for Gentiles, (1 Cor 1:23) but the believer continues to hold the cross high, to exalt it, as a sign of God's unconditional love for us. Never easy to understand or to penetrate its mystery, the cross remains for those who believe a book of life, or as St Francis said, the only book we will ever need.

How we read the book of the cross is fundamental to our growth in faith. How, for instance, do we understand or interpret suffering? How should we approach death and dying? What can we expect from God when we carry our own crosses? Martin Luther King, speaking of what he labels unmerited suffering, writes, "Recognizing the necessity for suffering I have tried to make of it a virtue. If only to save myself from bitterness, I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation which now obtains." (MLK)

The gospels make it clear that Jesus' suffering was unmerited. Refusing to accept Rabbinic interpretation of the Torah, Jesus challenged any law that diminished the poor or blamed them for their disease or their poverty. When the Rabbi's sought to undermine Jesus' power and dismiss his teaching, he suffered. His family thought he was crazy (Mk 3:2) for confronting the Jewish leaders and for risking persecution, but the Lord was not deterred.

Neither should we be turned away from a full Gospel life because it makes others uncomfortable and us suffer. Many younger friends of mine have been discouraged by their friends and families when they decided to leave the United States to minister to the poor overseas. "There are plenty of poor people here in the U.S.," they are told, and, "Why do you have to be so radical in your convictions?" Hearing this, these young people suffer, but often enough, when they read the cross of Jesus, they are comforted, especially when they hear him say: "Take my yoke upon you, for I am gentle and humble of heart." (Mt 11:29)

Today, ask God for the grace not to be afraid of the cross.

What about living a Gospel life causes you the most suffering?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

St John Chrysostom

"I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry." 1 Tim 1:12

Considered the greatest preacher in the early church, St John Chrysostom is also sharply and justly criticized for his antisemitic homilies.(1) His legacy provides us with an opportunity to pray and write about the importance, power and danger of preaching today.
Since the close of the Second Vatican Council, which mandated the use of the vernacular in the liturgy, preaching in the Roman Catholic Church has become increasingly important. Encouraged to offer a brief homily each day and to root them in the sacred texts preachers, many priests try to do this, but with mixed results. North Americans want both an insightful and brief homily even on Sunday's, and while this is understandable, it risks missing the primary teaching of the Second Vatican Council which reminds us the Eucharist is the source and summit of Catholic life.

When preaching, no matter how lively, profound and articulate, pushes the liturgy of the Eucharist to the background, it needs to be reexamined. Good Catholic preaching ought to break open the sacred scripture, attend to what is happening in society and the world, and lead seamlessly into the breaking of the bread. When the liturgy is planned carefully with the preacher, something wonderful and exciting can happen, but when preaching overwhelms the listener and fails to remember that we are a people of word and sacrament, it fails as Eucharistic preaching.

Today, pray for preachers.

Have you ever heard preaching that helps you enter the liturgy of Eucharist more fully?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


"Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do." Col 3: 12-13

The Congress of the United States is debating whether to give President Obama the freedom to defend the helpless people of Syria against their own President by strategically attacking key military sites in Syria. It is a difficult and painful conversation. While everyone acknowledges that the world cannot stand by as people are slaughtered or forced to leave their country in terror, how to assist those in harms's way is a muddy and confusing maze.

Pope Francis, speaking as a concerned world religious leader with his heart embedded in the Gospel, has literally begged all involved not to resort to violence as a means to address the awful situation in Syria. Echoing the words of Pope Paul VI at the United Nations, Pope Francis cried: "War never again! Never again war! Peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected."

When we take time to put aside our own narrow political lenses and listen, especially to the people of Syria, we stumble upon others imploring our president not to attack Syria. A group of  SyrainTrappist nuns penned an open letter to the President, "The people are straining their eyes and ears in front of the television: all they're waiting for is a word from Obama! A word from Obama? Will the Nobel Peace Prize winner drop his sentence of war onto us? Despite all justice, all common sense, all mercy, all humility, all wisdom?" 

As the world once again struggles to move away from violence as a means to justice and peace, we continue to pray that those charged with these decisions will establish relationships between and among themselves that will allow them to continue to dialogue even when anger, rage, frustration and egregious acts of violence blind them. 

Today, put aside violence in your hearts and homes.

How do you make decisions when faced with overwhelming problems?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Empty Praise

"Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.” Lk 6:26

In recent years in the United States, many people, especially parents, work very hard to support their children by praising them for the simplest tasks. A quick look at Facebook will confirm this. A recent post read: Congratulations to my amazing son who graduated from kindergarten today. Again, a big hug to my wonderful daughter as she continues to change the world.  Although these remarks are innocent and heartfelt, one wonders whether they tell the whole story.

All of us have faults. All of us sin, and when we fail to acknowledge or accept this in ourselves or others, we risk ignoring or denying the reality of life as it unfolds, and harm ourselves and those who need us to help them repent and renew their lives. In other words, we need to be prophets. Prophets listened closely to God and, though it was difficult for them, warned the people of Israel that they were straying from God's path. They told the truth despite the cost.

In Luke's beatitudes, Jesus warns his listeners to take everything said about them with a grain of salt. Though parents may not be trying to manipulate their children or make up for a hurt they caused, words of praise can fill our heads and hearts with a fullness that is not of God or good for us. Life is about conversion, not basking in the empty praise of others but being grateful for the gift of each. Overwhelming praise, when taken too seriously, can compromise our ability to see or tell the truth and trap us in a world of make believe. When this happens our baptismal call to be priest, prophet and king gets lost in the muck of dishonesty about ourselves and others.

Today, ask Go for the gift of honesty with yourselves and others.

Do you want help to see the truth in yourself and address it?

Monday, September 9, 2013

God's Inclusive Compassion

"The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works." Ps 145:9

When we are able to rest in and be quiet in the midst of suffering and destruction, we often sense God's compassion and support. It is not so much that God gives us answers to every questions, but that we know we are not alone. Only when we frantically try to fix things ourselves do we risk missing the God who is always among us. Twelve step friends often speak this truth humorously when they ask: Do you know the difference between God and you? God never thinks he is you!

The word compassion, in its Latin root, means to suffer with. It is a powerful notion, especially when we have experienced it as a simple gift from God. The matter about which we are worried or which causes us suffering does not matter. Our compassionate God walks alongside us without judgment or arrogance as a companion, someone upon whom we can rely, who asks for nothing in return. 

When the psalmist extends God's compassion to all God's works and creatures, we hear the challenge. While it is not difficult to acknowledge that God suffers with us, that God suffers with all creation stretches our faith. Created in God's image, we must also try to be a compassionate presence to all that is. While our love for creation is different than our love for friends and family, it is of God and something for which we strive each day. 

Today, be grateful for all God's gifts, especially Mother Earth.

How do you understand God's compassion?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

St Peter Claver

"I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church." Col 1:24-25
People of a certain age were introduced to the saints as children, and St Peter Claver captured my imagination when he wrote, "I must dedicate myself to the service of God until death, on the understanding that I am like a slave." That our religion teacher was Fr Peter Claver Eich also helped. A smiling and athletic friar priest, Fr Peter Claver encouraged everyone he met with a boundless energy and kind spirit. I wanted to be like him and St Peter Claver.

It's good and important to remember how our spirits were shaped. Although we were carefully and deeply catechized with the aid of the Baltimore catechism, it was the people we met along the way who brought the catechism and the scriptures to life and most shaped our early spiritual lives. People living the Good News with passion and hope do more to spread the Gospel than any sermon.

Another Jesuit, Alonso de Sandoval, cared for the slaves of Columbia for forty years before St Peter Claver arrived, and it was Alonso's example that shaped and formed Peter. That Peter learned from Alonso is clear, but he took service to the slaves another step. While Alonso visited and cared for the slaves where they worked, Peter met them at the docks with medicine, water, and food. Though opposed by some of his fellow Jesuits who believed slavery was justified, Peter continued to care for and love the slaves and worked for their civil rights by preaching to slave traders and businessmen in the city square while staying in the slave quarters at night.

Today, pray for those enslaved by their fears and rage.

Whose passion for faith most helps you to live the Gospel?