Friday, September 27, 2013

Bad News

"Jesus said to his disciples, 'Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to his enemies.' But the disciples did not know what he meant.” Lk 9:44

It is difficult to hear bad news. We resist it, deny it or simply interpret what we hear in a very different way than the speaker intended. This often happens when a doctor tells us he is alarmed by our test results, and when he suggests we need further tests to pinpoint exactly what is happening to us, we readily assent expecting that a new test will bring different results.

The disciples of Jesus had a very hard time hearing the Lord when he told them he would be handed over to his enemies, suffer and die. Some no doubt heard him clearly and slipped away to seek a different healer and prophet, one with a less frightening message, but others either pretended all would be well or postured about protecting Jesus from his antagonists. When Peter, hearing Jesus speak of his own death, insists that he will not let Jesus be subject to any attacks, Jesus calls him Satan and tells Peter to get behind him.

Bad news comes to us all, whether it be the announcement of a terminal illness, the divorce of close friends, or the loss of a job and the Gospel insists that we listen, accept what we hear and find a way to accompany those whose lives have been turned upside down. Just as important, we are challenged to allow others to accompany us when we are in need, confused or upset by our own struggles. 

Today, listen closely to Jesus even when he insists that life will be hard.

How do you respond to bad news?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

St Vincent de Paul

"Once, when Jesus was praying in solitude..." Lk 9:18

Too often otherwise committed Catholics find it impossible to take time for prayer in solitude. Busy about important things, they cheat themselves of a richer faith life. For some, solitude is unnerving, even frightening. So used to the noise of life in the United States, they are very uncomfortable with deep silence. More sadly, they have not learned or asked for the gift of quiet meditation.

Jesus does not speak much about prayer in the Gospels but the Gospel writers tell us that he often prayed, especially before making a decision (Lk 6: 12-13) and during his passion in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. Jesus also taught his disciples to pray, but it is his escapes to mountains and deserted places that tells us so much about his dependence on his Father and the strength he gained from slipping away to quiet places to pray. (Mt 4: 1-2)

Silence and solitude can be transforming. Even when we are distracted continually by the events of our lives and in the world, if we take time to seek a quiet place and sit in silence, God will do God's work. Prayer in solitude is mostly about submitting ourselves to God's ways and God's plans. It is not a time to figure life out or plot strategies for our faith lives, but to hand our lives over to God in trust and hope, knowing God has a plan for us which only slowly unfolds. Resting in God through quiet prayer opens us to whatever God wants from us, and assures us that we are listening to the only One who counts.

Today, take 10 minutes away from the busyness of the day and sit in silence.

Why don't you pray quietly more often and consistently?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Rebuilding the Temples of our Lives

"Consider your ways! You have sown much, but have brought in little; you have eaten, but have not been satisfied; You have drunk, but have not been exhilarated; have clothed yourselves, but not been warmed; And whoever earned wages earned them for a bag with holes in it." Hg 1: 5-6

If you have ever had a bag with holes you know how difficult it can be to carry anything. Most of us have carried groceries from our car to the kitchen, all the while hoping that the one remaining handle will hold out before everything spills on the floor. While we can recover from these kinds of accidents, having a faith life with holes in it is more difficult as the prophet Haggai reminds us.

As the Jews returned from Babylon after an exile that lasted more than sixty years, they got very busy rebuilding their homes and land and Haggai challenges them. Rebuild the temple first, he insists, otherwise you will forget who it was that sustained you in exile and the One who led you home. In other words first things first.

Reflecting regularly about our priorities is a hugely important practice in the 21st century. With so many distractions, not the least of which is the internet and social media like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, we can get lost in the overwhelming waves of information being hurled at us 24 hours a day. Stopping often and stepping away from our computers and smart phones gives us an opportunity for prayer and reflection, without which we can easily have lives like bags with holes in them. Remembering that we are temples of the spirit and our community of faith is God's tabernacle helps us focus anew of the priorities laid out for us in the Gospel.  Be grateful for God's enduring love and in response feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked and visit the lonely in prisons, hospitals and homes.

Today, stop and pray about your life and lifestyle, especially your unexamined priorities.

What is your biggest distraction when you pray?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Everything for God

"Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there. And as for those who do not welcome you, when you leave that town, shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them.” Lk 9: 4-5

Letting go of our work and its success or failure is never easy, but the gospel is clear. It is our obligation to preach the Good News in word and deed and leave the results to God. Gospel spirituality is demanding. Called to be pilgrims going from place to place and taking nothing for the journey, we strive to live and speak the Gospel in such a way that God's direction can be clearly seen and experienced by those to whom we are sent.  

Demanding a radical humility, a total putting aside of everything that is not of God, we need always to remember that the Gospel is God's good news, not ours. Our task, like John the Baptist's, is to clear the ground before the Lord and make his path straight. Everything else is superfluous. 

This is not to say that we cannot be good instruments in God's orchestra. Each of us is gifted and our talents are the means God uses to invite people to know and love the Lord. Our insights, compassion, and thirst of justice can be wonderful signs of God's love for the world, but unless they always point towards the Lord, they can get in the way of God's glory. 

Today, let God's light shine and get out of the way.

What blocks you from being Good News?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Parched Hearts

"Like a parched land my soul thirsts for you." Ps 143

John Steinbeck's, The Grapes of Wrath, graphically helps us understand what happens when a land is parched. Not only does the earth fail to support any kind of crop, it forces farmers, especially poor ones, to pick up their families, their few belongings and search for a place and a community where they can use their skills to rebuild their lives. Already under stress because of their poverty, families in a "parched land" find themselves struggling to stay alive physically and spirituality.

Every believer finds himself or herself in parched land from time to time. Whether struggling with too much or not enough to do, with family members who have lost their way, or the fear of losing friends to death, we wonder where God has gone. Unable to find a peaceful place within or without, we rush through our prayers, find ourselves short tempered with others, and fail to respond to those in need. Desperate for a drop of water or a word of comfort and hope, we beg God to show us a place or lead us to a situation where we can make sense of the senseless.

The psalmist reminds us to be honest when our spirits are dry, to strip ourselves before the Lord and beg for relief. Acknowledging how needy we are and how desperate we are for God's help transforms our struggles into a prayer. Whether or not God answers in a way that helps us immediately, at least we have presented ourselves honestly to God and spoken of our desire for God's intervention.

In a recent interview, Pope Francis challenged religious leaders not to judge people who are struggling in this way and who are thirsty and lost, but to accompany them. We cannot do less.
The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost. The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind. But they must also be able to accompany the flock that has a flair for finding new paths(Pope Francis)
Today, accept the dry places within yourself and ask God for a drop of water.

What parched place most troubles you in life?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

St. Padre Pio

“No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light." Lk 8:16

What must we do when our inner demons urge us not to display the light God has given us? This is no idle question, but a deep struggle of conscience that many saints have had to face in their lives. The doctor of the church, St. Hildegaard of Bingen, very much wanted to ignore the dreams and visions she had from an early age, but her confessors and spiritual directors, convinced of their value, insisted that she share them. Eventually they reached St Bernard of Clairvaux, the great founder of the Cistercians, who brought then to Pope Eugenius III. When Eugenius read them, he knew they were a gift from God that would enlighten many peoples hearts with the power of the Gospel.

Padre Pio is another saint who struggled mightily with the gifts God gave him. Blessed with the Stigmata, Pio was frightened when first presented with the gift of Jesus' wounds appearing in his own body. Writing to his friend, Padre Benedetto, Pio told the priest that when he first received the Stigmata he thought he was dying, and would have died had not God intervened. Worried about the reaction of others, Pio asked God to take the outward sign of the Stigmata from him. Willing to endure the pain of the wounds, he did not want to face the questions and doubts of his confreres and superiors about their authenticity.

With both saints, there was no choice. God wanted to speak and be a light in the world through them. Neither Hildegaard nor Pio was permitted to extinguish their light or avoid public scrutiny. More important, while not as dramatic, none of us are free to let the light of God shining in and through us be extinguished. Rather, our lives of faith are designed to be a guide for others seeking to know God's Good News.

Today, let your light, no matter how weak, shine for God's glory.

What most troubles or unnerves you about being God's light in the world?