Saturday, October 12, 2013

Learning from the Despised

"One of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him." Lk 17: 15-16

It can take a while to realize how present God is, especially during times of struggle. So concerned with feeling our way through the dark rooms of confusion, anger and hurt, we often forget to notice or thank people who walk quietly with us. Good friends don't expect a thank you and are embarrassed when we express our gratitude, but they deserve our appreciation.

Imagine the emptiness lepers felt in the ancient world. Shunned as unclean, they lived on the edges of cities like animals, hoping someone would show them pity. When Jesus assures them they need not fear the priests, they hurry off in the hope that they might rejoin their families and friends. Even when they realize that Jesus has healed them, they don't stop to thank him but rush to pick up their lives again. We understand this instinctively, and many commentators suggest they returned later to thank Jesus, but Jesus uses their initial ingratitude to teach us.

Samaritans were despised by the Jews. Expected to defend Jerusalem against invaders from the north, the Samaritans not only did not fight for the Holy City, they intermarried with their conquerors and eventually built their own temple, thus incurring the wrath of the neighbors to the south. When Jesus lauds the gratitude of the Samaritan leper, he challenges everyone to look not at where a person comes from, but how he lives as a child of God.

Today, be grateful for God's forgiveness.

Who are the people from whom you expect little?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Doing Justice with Gratitude

Light dawns for the just;
and gladness, for the upright of heart.
Be glad in the LORD, you just,
and give thanks to his holy name.
Ps 97:12

Being just and doing justice is an essential element of the Christian vocation. At the end of the 19th century, when the world was changing more rapidly than anyone could understand or accept, and workers were being used and abused by the newly emerging assembly line technology which left them exhausted at the end of a working day, the church, under the leadership of Pope Leo XIII wrote,
"Justice, therefore, demands that the interests of the working classes should be carefully watched over by the administration, so that they who contribute so largely to the advantage of the community may themselves share in the benefits which they create – that being housed, clothed, and bodily fit, they may find their life less hard and more endurable. (Rerum Novarum # 34)
Forth years later, Pius XI wrote even more succinctly, "In the first place, the worker must be paid a wage sufficient to support him and his family," (Quadregessimo Anno, #71) and near the end of the twentieth century, John Paul II reminded everyone, "Work is in the first place 'for the worker' and not the worker 'for work.' Work itself can have greater or lesser objective value, but all work should be judged by the measure of dignity given to the person who carries it out." (Laborem Exercens, #6)

In a world in which too many people, without work and the dignity work can offer the worker, are hungry, thirsty and naked, Jesus' command to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, becomes increasingly important,(Mt 25:32-46) and our obligation to do justice gratefully an even more powerful sign of God's love for all. When we live a just life, everything and everyone changes. Not only do we practice the Gospel in everyday life, we witness to others the joy we experience in being Good News.

Today, be grateful for the food and work you have.

How do you think justice should proceed in the world?

Thursday, October 10, 2013


"I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he because of his persistence" Lk 11:8

Persistence in the spiritual life is important. Most people, especially as they age, develop spiritual practices that help them but do not always bring them comfort or solace. Nevertheless, they continue to pray, reflect and serve others. They do this because they know that the spiritual life is a pilgrimage that demands consistency and faith. When pilgrims learn to accept the difficult roads they are asked to travel, they discover ways to seek God and God's will even when they experience few consolations. When believers place all their trust in God, they know and come to accept that even when God seems very far way, they need not despair.

The mission of St Francis de Sales to the Calvinists is a good example of this. When Francis proposed to his friends that they organize themselves and go to Switzerland to preach to the Calvinists, everyone laughed at him. Undeterred, Francis left for Switzerland with a cousin only to be rejected everywhere he turned. People slammed doors in his face and threw rocks at him, but Francis persisted even when no one listened. After three years he had not made a single convert but, convinced that his was the work of God, he slipped his sermons under people's doors. Eventually the Swiss listened, and many thousands returned to their Catholic faith.

Today, keep praying even if it feels like no one is listening.

What are you most persistent about in the pursuit of God?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Learning to Pray

"Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray.'" Lk 11:1

What did Jesus' disciples see or sense when Jesus was praying? What did they want to learn from him? Did he seem especially quiet or reflective when he prayed? Were his disciples afraid of what they were experiencing?

Learning to pray, while simple, is difficult. Most people are easily distracted when trying to pray, and wonder whether their prayer makes any sense to God. More important, praying daily can lead believers to question whether God hears their prayer at all, and because of this some abandon quiet prayer altogether, preferring to pray the rosary or go to mass. At the same time, the Our Father is powerfully instructive.

Acknowledging God's sovereignty before all else is important because it reminds us that God is always among us, aware of our needs and anxious to be near us. Only after we put all our trust in God do we ask for forgiveness and our daily bread. In other words, asking for help is secondary to honoring the God who is always near. When we follow these simple directives, no matter what prayer we say, we will be praying as Jesus taught us and the results will not matter.

Today, say the Our Father with gratitude.

What are your biggest obstacles to a more consistent prayer life?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Justifiable Anger

"The LORD asked (Jonah), 'Have you reason to be angry?'” Jon 4:4

Jonah's anger is understandable but misplaced. Angry at God for forgiving the people of Niniveh, Jonah tells the Lord to take his life. From Jonah's perspective Niniveh deserved the punishment God had threatened but God sees things otherwise. God always seems to have a different slant on life rooted, not in power and wealth, but the needs of those who have no voice.

Community organizers often speak of "cold anger" as a necessary strategy in the face of injustice, insisting that unless the poor agitate the powerful and force them to reconsider their policies, nothing will change. Several years ago many of us working on health care reform in Massachusetts knew that unless we were able to demonstrate to the State that the poor did not have the monthly income to pay for health care, they would continue to sink deeper into debt. Although we had the numbers to prove our point, the state dismissed us, but cold anger sustained us. After finally being able to present our research, which had been vetted by Brandeis University, the state cracked, listened and changed, and the poor had a place at the table of those who determined just health care rates for everyone. 

Anger that seeks to intimidate or dismiss those without a voice has no place in the proclamation of the Good News, but anger that seeks justice for all can often be of God.

Today, sit with your anger to discern whether it is of and for God. 

How do you think justice should be sought for the poor?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Honesty with Oneself

"If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who then stand?" Ps 130

When we are very honest with ourselves we realize that our intentions, no matter how pure, are not the same as actions. Even though we are committed to change, we fail more often than we succeed. Determined to eat more healthily and slowly, we get caught up in a conversation or realize we are late for an appointment and begin shoveling food into our mouths, swallowing before we have chewed, and all our resolutions are out the window.

The spiritual life, especially the life of prayer, is often like this. We begin a simple Lectio Divina, a practice that calls for a slow, thoughtful reading and reflection on the scriptures, and before we know it, we are rushing through the text or our minds begin to wander to a task we must complete later in the day. It is, as they say, what it is, and as long as we are conscious of our faults, God seems not to mind. If, however, we find ourselves criticizing others for their posture or lack of reverence in church, we condemn ourselves, and only when we admit this do the words of the psalmist take hold of us. Acknowledging that God knows us better than we know ourselves, we realize, at the same time, that God does not mark our sins and we hear God's challenge to view the actions of others with the same compassion God shows us.

Today, examine your conscience.

What area of your life is most difficult to acknowledge?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Our Lady of the Rosary

“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.”  
(Lk 10:27)

Learning to pray by rote is important. Repetition allows the substance of the prayer to seep slowly into our psyches and souls, and repetitive prayer like the rosary teaches us that we do not have always to be conscious of every word we speak to God, but we do have to be faithful. 

Just as parents repeat maxims to their children to help them understand their deepest values, so we pray to God in a way that lets God know we have not forgotten or ignored his importance in our lives. We may not always know what we are saying, but we want God to know we are faithful even when we can't find the words to express our commitment to the Gospel. Memorizing the command of Jesus to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, helps us never to forget that what might seem impossible to us is possible for God when we let God show us the way.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen, one of the most dramatic and effective preachers of the twentieth century and now a candidate for canonization, one wrote:
"The rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men (and women); it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the rosary is beyond description." (History of Rosary)
It does not matter if we are blind, simple or old as long as we keep praying as best we can, and the rosary is a wonderful way to do this.

Today, say a decade of the rosary with an open spirit.

What are your best experiences of repetitive prayer?