Saturday, September 21, 2013

Who is your Master

"No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other." Lk 16:13

In the tenth chapter of Luke's Gospel an expert in the law asks Jesus: And who is my neighbor? Jesus answers with the story of the good Samaritan, a parable that reminds us to live our faith not debate it. Jesus is not concerned with ethnic origins or religious sensibilities, but with the believers' willingness to do what is right before God. The Good Samaritan is held up as an example of someone with the "wrong" religion, but the right attitude towards those in need.

Luke's Gospel might also have asked: and who is my Master?  Determined to remind his listeners that too many religious leaders have divided hearts, Luke insists that living the Gospel is about making choices which bind us to the good despite the cost. If Jesus' followers were too concerned with the traditional signs of God's love, if they were overly worried about money, property, family and health, they could not follow Jesus with full hearts.

These days we seem tempted to have not two but many, many masters. Whether it is money, our reputation or our influence upon or over others, there are multiple concerns that distract us from living the Good News with the power Jesus offers us as gift. Unless we learn to let go of that which divides our hearts, we will be running in four directions at once, not even knowing that we are lost. Taking time each day for reflection and quiet prayer not only alerts us to the competing voices within us, it can steady us on the Gospel path and be a compass that directs us into the heart of God.

Today, examine your conscience carefully about matters which divide your heart.

What fears most distract you from a full Gospel life?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Saints Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest, and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, and Companions, Martyrs

"Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources." Lk 8:2-3

Of the 98 Korean martyrs who Blessed John Paul II canonized in 1984, more than half were lay women, among them Anna Park Agi. Abandoned in prison by her husband and son who could not endure the torture imposed on them, Anna was steadfast. Even when her husband and son visited her, imploring her to remember her children and family, Anna refused to renounce her faith and begged her son and husband to return to the faith even if it meant a new imprisonment.

Women like Anna, even if they are not as well known or celebrated as Andrew Kim and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, who wrote and preached publicly in defense of the faith, continue to offer us a great challenge. How many people, especially women without the freedom to peach, continue to offer us an example of fidelity and courage despite the limitations imposed on them by the society and the church!

Luke reminds us that there were many women who accompanied Jesus and provided for him and his disciples from their resources as they went about the work of announcing the Good News. Because these women did not seek a more public role in a society that was often blind to their insights and sanctity, we do not know their names or histories, but we continue to benefit from their witness and faithfulness. 

Today, thank a woman who has encouraged you in faith.

Who are the people without loud voices to whom you need to listen more?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Seeing Others as They are

"Do you see this woman?" Lk 7:44

Look closely at this Tissot painting. Do you see the woman? While Jesus is clearly pointing towards her, recognizing her, perhaps even inviting her to look at him, her head is bent over his feet, washing them and drying them with her hair.  We do not see her face, nor do we know her name, but she is at Jesus' feet as a servant, begging for forgiveness and hoping for his blessing.

The woman who no one sees becomes an icon for all. Called to be servants of compassion who recognize our own sin and seek a new way of living, the woman in today's gospel beckons us to conversion and transformation. Speechless, her voice and challenge are loud. Unless we humble ourselves and accept our need for God and others in faith, we will be like the men in this painting who are busy about everything except what they ought be doing. Jesus holds up the woman washing his feet, who is invisible to those whose arrogance sets them above others, as an invitation to seekers. Do not look down on anyone because of their public sin. Rather, gaze with compassion on all those whose sin acknowledge their sinfulness but seek conversion. Only in this way, will we be able to see ourselves with God's eye and seek God's mercy.

Today, bow in humility before the all forgiving God.

What areas of your life lead you to pride?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Celebrating our Gifts

"Do not neglect the gift you have." 1 Tim 4:13

St. Paul, like every good mentor, regularly reminds those he helped form in faith that each person has a gift that is given to them to build up the body of Christ. To forget this, to take it for granted or to deny it harms the whole body. Worse still, we can undervalue the gifts God gives us, especially when they come naturally.

This is a particular danger for those whose gifts are hidden from public view. The volunteer sacristan for a parish community who opens and closes the church everyday, and creates lists of lectors, eucharistic ministers and mass servers, quietly helps everyone to prepare and fully participate in the Eucharist. While rarely acknowledged publicly, her gifts enhance the life of all in the community, and it would be a disservice to herself and the church if she failed to appreciate them as integral to the vibrancy of the body of Christ.

At the same time, our gifts can cause us both to suffer and rejoice. The gift of a compassionate heart, which leads believers to reach out without judgment towards the needy, can often bring suffering. Furthermore, to stand with those who speak and live the truth on behalf of the poor can make believers very vulnerable to the criticism of those who want to protect their wealth and power at any cost.

On the other hand, living with integrity, despite the suffering it brings, causes us to rejoice. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta knew this joy deeply. Unable to ignore the dying poor on the streets of her adopted city, but unsure of how to change the political and economic climate that allowed such suffering, she dedicated herself and her sisters to care for each dying person as if they were Christ, and wrote:
The greatest fulfillment is in doing God's will. We do not have to do great things, only small things with great love. We do not have to be extraordinary in any way, I can do what you can't do and you can do what I can't do. Together we can do something beautiful for God. We can be the little pencils in the hand of God. (Mother Teresa)
Today, be grateful for whatever gifts you have been given.

What blinds you to the gifts of others?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


“To what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.’" Mt 11: 16-17

All of us enjoy something for nothing. Walking the streets of New York City, there are often salespeople offering new varieties of sports drinks or chocolate to passersby, and it is the rare person who doesn't take the "gift," even if they don't want it or need it. It's free, our unconscious says, take it! Because the distributors of these handouts hope that a percentage of the people who take them will enjoy the taste and become regular buyers of their products, they risk losing a good part of of their inventory in order to lay a foundation for big gains in the future.

Unfortunately, in this kind of environment, we can also get to a point where we think we deserve certain "perks," or fringe benefits even if we don't work for them. Like children who set the dinner table expecting to receive an extra portion of potatoes, we hope everyone recognizes our goodness and rewards us, but Jesus challenges this notion. The gift of faith is entirely free. We did not earn it. We cannot enhance it. We can only receive it with gratitude and give it away. More important, when we share God's gifts with others without expecting a return, the gift itself increases.

Jesus' command is clear and demanding. We must never take for granted the great gifts of faith and belief. That we should rejoice and enjoy what the Lord graciously provides is clear, but so also must we announce the goodness of God's largesse to all peoples, and do this, not so much by what we say but by how we live. When our lives shine with the joy of being God's beloved children, the world cannot deny what they experience. God's love freely received and given to others transforms the believer.

Today, put aside your expectations and let God treat you lavishly.

What expectations of God and others most get in the way of your living your faith more deeply?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Lost and Found

  1. "'Young man, I tell you, arise!' The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother." Lk 7:14-15

When I was a boy, I remember being in a large department store and seeing a young woman running around frantically looking for her child. When finally she found him, she was ecstatic. Whether she had lost sight of him while shopping or he had wandered off wasn't clear, but her relief was full as she hugged and kissed him, and her joy left a lasting impression on me.

Imagine how the widow in today's gospel felt when Jesus responded to her grief by raising her son from the dead! Overwhelmed by the Lord's gracious compassion, she says nothing. Her life which appeared to be over, is restored. Without a means of support after her son died, she can begin again to live with dignity and hope.

The most basic teaching of baptism is that we have all been found and reborn. We have been returned to our mother, the church, the community of believers, many times over through the sacrament of reconciliation, and we can be sure that God will never give up on us. Appreciating these simple but profound truths is the stuff of everyday spirituality and when they lead us towards a life of gratitude and service they make us the Christians we were called to be.

Today, celebrate a memory when God found you even when you did not know you were lost.

To whom are you most grateful for never giving up on you?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Saints Cornelius and Cyprian, Friends

“He deserves to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.” Lk 7: 4-5

Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian were friends, and when the church was under enormous pressure in the third century, their friendship became an important tool for reconciliation and healing. When Novatian insisted that anyone who denied faith, along with murderers and adulterers, could not be reconciled under any circumstances, Cyprian interceded with his friend Pope Cornelius, and Novatian's position was condemned. The fragile nascent church, with only 50,000 believers and 50 priests, was sustained because of the friendship of Cornelius and Cyprian.

Not infrequently, like Cyprian and Cornelius, we do things for friends who ask a favor on their own or their family's behalf. It is not difficult to be gracious, especially when the request is something we do easily or naturally. Jesus is able to hear and respond to the request of the Jewish elders to heal the centurion's sick slave because they asked him to do something as a friend of the Jewish nation.  In the long run, however, while loyalty and friendship captured Jesus' attention, it was the faith of the centurion that moved Jesus to act. 

Not wanting to trouble Jesus with a visit to his home and being very aware of the differences between them, the centurion insists that he is not worthy of Jesus' care. When the centurion further suggests that a word from Jesus will be enough to heal his slave, Jesus uses the centurion's faith to teach the Jews saying, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Faith, like the centurion's, and friendship and faith, like Cyprian and Cornelius shared, can forge a church of great power and strength.

Today, be grateful for a faith filled friend.

How can a friendship, strengthened by faith, help us live the Gospel more powerfully?