Saturday, October 19, 2013

An Inconvenient Gospel

"Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching." 2 Tim 4:2

Convenience is huge in the United States. Convenience stores are everywhere and although they charge more for ordinary products, they are easy to find and use, especially in an emergency. Health care providers also offer urgent care centers where anyone can go for medical treatment without cluttering up emergency rooms in hospitals, and many office workers can find exercise and fitness centers at their place of work. St Paul would be amazed and perhaps horrified.

Trying to make the Gospel convenient and accessible can be helpful in many parishes, but it can also be very dangerous. Reducing the Gospel to another commodity can lead people to think that the Good News is only valuable if it is useful and productive. Most of us know, although we sometimes wish it were otherwise, that the Gospel is not a commodity, and living it is often inconvenient. The Good News is not something we can buy and compare to other products. It is a way of life that offers us a set of values, and a ritual system to help us pray, while only demanding that we offer service to others without cost and despite its inconvenience.

Friends recently told me that the most enjoyable and fulfilling day of their week were visits to a homeless shelter where they met people with real needs who were almost invariably grateful for their service, and were able to have honest conversations about their values and dreams. At the same time, while they it was often inconvenient for them to get to the shelter, they knew it was a Gospel demand they wanted to fulfill.

Today, do something inconvenient for someone else.

What aspect of Gospel life most sustains you?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

St Luke

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest." Lk 10:2

St Luke is credited with writing Acts of the Apostles as well as the Gospel, in all  more than 25% of the New Testament. Sometimes called the Gospel of St Paul because Luke often traveled with Paul and was his disciple, Luke wrote primarily for Gentiles. Not as concerned as Matthew's gospel with demonstrating that Jesus was a Jew and the new Moses, Luke writes about the poor, women, the sick and the underclass, assuring the Gentiles that the Gospel of Jesus was intended for all people, not just the Jews.

How we proclaim Jesus to people from different cultures, nations and races is critical to inserting the Gospel into places it has never been heard. We know this not only because so many believers before us lived the Good News with passion, but also by their mistakes. If Christianity is proclaimed as a religion of the West, especially the European West with all of its cultural symbols and rituals, it will never become the Good News about which Luke wrote.

The early church struggled mightily with this issue. Not sure how much Jewish law should be imposed on Gentiles, St Paul was a strong advocate for the Gentiles when he insisted that those who were not born Jews did not have to become Jews in order to know the Lord and be baptized.

We need to remember this lesson as 21st century disciples. As nations around the world find their own identity, they need to know that the Gospel will marry with their culture without destroying it, and the Christianity they embrace can celebrate the great mysteries of faith in a way that makes cultural sense to them. Knowing this will free those new to the Gospel to hear and embrace, in their own cultural context, the freedom that Jesus promises to all.

Today, ask St Luke for the grace to know how to speak the Gospel to all those struggling with faith.

What do you think missionaries in the 21st century ought to emphasize about the Gospel?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

St Ignatius of Antioch

"Does God belong to Jews alone? Does he not belong to Gentiles, too?" Rom 3:29

One of the most startling aspects of Christian faith is its inclusiveness. Paul, in writing to the church in Rome, insists that God does not belong to the Jews alone, but that Jesus came for the salvation of all. No one is excluded. Jesus assures us that when we see him, we see God. Further, when we see Christ in others without regard for their religious affiliation, culture, race, gender, or sexual orientation, we meet the God who desires our love and transformation. This is what it means, in part, to be Catholic or universal. All are welcome to the table of plenty, all are loved, all must be treated with the justice of God.

In his own time, Jesus pushed his contemporaries even further, insisting that they go beyond Jewish hospitality laws and customs which were very demanding. The Torah reminds Jews that because they were once "strangers in a strange land," (Lev 19:34) they must welcome strangers and weary travelers, even and especially, the poor. Offering hospitality to the poor, some rabbis taught, is even more important than prayer. Jesus further demands that we must love our enemies. This is what makes us unique and, when we live this challenge, powerful.

When we turn away from those who make us uncomfortable or annoy and anger us, we fail to live the fullness of the Gospel. Only when, like Abraham and Job, we open our homes on all four sides (Jewish hospitality) to make it easier for strangers to approach us in their need, and like Jesus we welcome our enemies to our tables, (Mt 5: 43-48) do we know the God who belongs to all people.

Today, be kind to a stranger.

What most keeps you from loving your enemies?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Imposing Burdens on Others

“Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.” Lk 11:46

First the Pharisees, now the scholars of the law. Anyone who imposes burdens on others without helping them to know and do better, has no place in the heart of Jesus. Committed to freeing people from the burdens of the law, and the weight of poverty and illness, Jesus assures his listeners that God wants to set them free. God does not seek to punish us for our faults, even less for our illnesses, but to heal us and fill us with hope.

Why some people seek to make God into a soldier protecting the law from intruders as if it were a hidden treasure entrusted to them alone, and punishing anyone who interprets the law leniently, is always troubling. The God of the Scriptures, while sometimes demanding and hard on leaders, is nonetheless merciful, kind and endlessly forgiving. The story of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32) assures us that God, even when we have wasted our inheritance, waits for and embraces us when we return to our senses. God does not want to punish, but to fold us back into the family of faith and help us to live lives of compassion and service.

Sometimes, by insisting loudly on our opinion, we lay heavy burdens on peoples' backs.. The force with which we present our point of view is intimidating and dismissive of others whose speaking skills are weak, and makes it impossible to recognize or acknowledge the insights they have. Worse, when we ignore the uneducated, we make them invisible, and fail to profit from the wisdom they have gained "on the streets" of life.

Jesus insists that we treat every person with dignity, even awe. (Lk 7:44) Only then can we avoid the condemnation visited upon the Pharisees.

Today, listen to someone from whom you expect nothing.

Have you ever learned about life and faith from the poor and uneducated?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church

“Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil." Lk 11:39

Imagine being a Pharisee. Respected, admired and listened to, you invite Jesus to your home for a meal and a conversation, and not long after your guest arrives you begin to wonder why he has not performed the ceremonial washing before the meal, a clear violation of the law. Jesus notices your discomfort and attacks. “Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil." What is happening? People don't attack the hand that feeds them. Not only is it impolite, it lacks social sensibility. Could not Jesus speak quietly with the Pharisee about his practices? Why does he have to use the Pharisees as an example.

At the time of Jesus, the Pharisees had a loud voice in Jewish society. Committed to a careful and rigid observance of the law, they believed the Messiah would come from among them. He would not be divine, and he certainly would not break even the smallest part of the law. That he would seek out and even praise the sick, women, the poor and Gentiles was unthinkable. Because Jesus knew the Pharisees were imposing the law on everyday people without mercy, he used them to help others know the limits of the law. Unless our hearts are transformed by the law and our lives become models of compassion, the observance of the law makes no sense and has no value.

Today, wash your hands and clean your heart.

What do you think is the best way to live the law of Christ?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Everyday Epiphanies

“This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah."

How we miss the everyday Epiphanies in our life is always a mystery. The wonders of creation, the gift of faithful and faith filled friends, and the power of common worship all offer us opportunities each day to celebrate God's presence within and among us, but we fail. Admitting these faults allows us to begin again, but Jesus is angered with those who fail to see God all around them and have the gall to ask for new signs. Until we learn to slow down enough to celebrate the presence of God is so many people and places, we cheat ourselves and God of being grateful.

The saints are those who recognize their faults, ask for help to overcome them and are humble enough to begin their pilgrimage over again each day. King David took God for granted, lusted after his friend's wife and when she became pregnant by him, arranged to put her husband in the front lines of battle knowing he would be killed. But David repented and after God punished him, God gave him a second change.

St Augustine resisted God's call for years because he preferred to live comfortably and without responsibility, thinking he was better than others. His mother, like most mothers, knew better. She prayed that he might open his eyes, see God and be captured by God's love. Eventually, her prayers were answered and Augustine became one of the most prolific and effective preachers of the early church.

Today, open your eyes and let them slowly move around wherever you are to discover God's presence and promise.

What distracts you most from the presence of God within and around you?