Saturday, November 2, 2013

Zacchaeus Come Down

"You rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing,
that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!"  Wis 12:2

The Gospel passage about Zacchaeus, the tax collector, perhaps because of the detail it offers us, is easy to picture. A little man in body and spirit, Zacchaeus climbs a tree in order to see Jesus, and his efforts are rewarded. Willing to "stick his neck out" and risk ridicule, Zacchaeus catches Jesus' attention, and when the Lord calls him to come down from the tree Zacchaeus responds quickly. Jesus wants to eat at his home despite the protests of the leaders of the Jews, and Zacchaus is moved to transformation. Filled with an honest recognition of his faults,  Zacchaeus promises to make amends to all those he has defrauded, and Jesus invites all present to rejoice because someone who was lost has returned to his senses and his faith.

Blessed John XXIII writing with great wisdom in his personal Journal reminded those in authority to, "See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little." Reading Pope John's admonition reminds us of the Jesus we encounter in the scene with Zacchaeus. Refusing to reduce Zacchaeus to what he does, Jesus sees the tax collector as a seeker, and when Zacchaeus experiences Jesus' compassion, he begs pardon and shames those who criticized Jesus for having dinner with him. Corrected gently, Zacchaeus knows Jesus is giving him a second chance, and when he takes it his whole life changes. 

As believers we have two opportunities. We can, like Jesus, correct a little in his name, but perhaps more graciously and honestly, we can accept the Lord's invitation to change our lives.

Today, overlook something that bothers you.

Who taught you most about transformation and renewal?

Friday, November 1, 2013

All Souls

"They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace." Wis 3: 2-3

In one of the Prefaces to the Eucharistic prayer when celebrating mass for the deceased, we read: "Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven." These words always bring me great comfort. Realizing, even as I pray these words for others, that I have allowed myself to slip into sloppy thinking when I forget that life as we know it now, no matter how rich or satisfying, is temporary. This is not to say we should not enjoy life as it unfolds, but that it is important to remember that life on earth is fleeting. 

Regularly, when trying to console a grieving family I remind them that though we can no longer see our family and friends who have died, faith assures us that they are alive and with us in a way no longer limited by the constraints of the flesh. 

I often experience this simple truth when I think about and celebrate my Dad's life. If I happen to be driving to Newark Airport in New Jersey, I wave as I pass Sealand, the place where he worked for many years. A mail room worker, my dad traveled by public transportation most of his working life. Always grateful to have work, my father enjoyed his job and especially the people with whom he worked and the delight he felt touches me still. I know he is alive in Christ, and I believe I will see him again when my own life ends.

All Souls day invites us to celebrate all those powerful women and men who went before us in faith about whom we know little but who faith assures us are alive. While the foolish might think of them as dead, our faith promises us that they are at peace, and in this we rejoice with grateful songs of praise.

Today, "speak" with someone, now dead, who was especially important to you in life.

What do you think heaven will be like? 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

All Saints

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven." Mt 5:2

What makes a saint? Some say the ability to get up after being knocked down. Others insist that humility and acceptance in the face of struggle is the mark of the great saints, and the church often speaks of heroic virtue as the defining characteristic of sainthood. But whatever criteria one uses, today we celebrate all those holy women and men, unknown to most but precious to God and the church, who listened to God's word, embraced it and let it change them.

The saints learned, often at a very young age, that pride, which so often insists that our way and our opinion is right, is the biggest obstacle to authentic transformation. Listening with an open and humble heart is the only way to real freedom. When we allow God to direct our lives for God's purposes. we open ourselves to experience the full sweetness of God's unconditional love and begin to know the delights of a simple Gospel life. The saints teach us a simple truth: only when we learn to live in gratitude for all that is will we know the depth of God's eternal embrace, and celebrate it everyday.

Today, ask God to make you a saint.

What do you think are the marks of sanctity?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Christ Always With Us

"What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?" Rom 8:35

When we are very honest with ourselves and others, almost everything separates us from the love of Christ from time to time. Whether it is anguish, distress, anxiety, busyness or confusion, is not the point. Struggling to control our own lives, and too often the lives of others, we forget who we are and "play God." The results are never pretty. Our anxiety spikes, our confusion deepens and before long we are lost in a maze of unanswerable questions.

Whenever we resist God's call and act as if nothing is wrong in our lives or try to be or become someone other than who God has made us to be, we fail, and not only hurt ourselves, we hurt others. Marriages and friendships fall apart and too many people, lost in the confusion of their own pride, rush into new projects or new relationships as a response to the loneliness they feel.

When, however, we let go of our need to control the whole world, we rediscover the humility to ask God to show us the path to peace. Only then do we realize that while we turned away from Christ, he never forgot us. Indeed, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

Today, ask Christ to guide you.

What most often separates you from Christ?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Learning to Pray as Adults

"The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings." Rom 8:26

It is the rare adult believer who does not yearn to pray more deeply. As we age and review our life as it has unfolded, we realize that though God has always been present, we have too often taken God for granted. Sadly, changing this pattern is difficult. As St Paul reminds us, we don't know how. Frustrated, we sometimes return to prayers we learned as children, but soon realize these devotions no longer offer us the consolation we once experienced.  Our hearts want more.

The first and perhaps the most important task in learning to pray more naturally as adults is to practice silence. Learning to sit quietly and to let go of the busyness of our everyday lives, while fundamental to the spiritual life, can be unbearably difficult and confusing. For most, as soon as we begin our minds start to clamor and drift. Easily distracted by almost anything, we wonder if we will ever learn the simple skill of being quiet in the presence of God and all creation.

When, however, we endure our frustrations in learning how to stop thinking and analyzing, we should have little doubt or fear that God will hear us and draw near to us. Nevertheless, we may not feel God's closeness or experience the changes for which we yearn, but this should not overly concern us. Praying is about giving time to God without conditions and remembering that the Spirit is praying in and for us even when we feel nothing. Our fidelity is our prayer.

Today, sit quietly for 10 minutes. Try not to worry about what happens.

What are your favorite ways of praying?



Monday, October 28, 2013

Gospel Hope

"For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance." Rom 8:25

Rightly, St. Paul insists that hope requires endurance. We must wait each day, sometimes each hour, to be filled with what God hopes for us. Anything else or less is a hope of our own making which Paul reminds us is not the hope of which the Gospel speaks.

This is a hard lesson. Most of us want what we want when we want it, and sometimes in a cosumerist world this seems possible. We can go to a local food market and buy a favorite bread, cereal or meal and convince ourselves that with a little more prayer we can do the same in the world of the Spirit. When we do this for others it even seems laudable. Praying for the health of sick child is good, but expecting that our prayers will be answered in the way we design is a mirage.

Gospel hope demands that we place ourselves before God and ask only for what is best for all and to proclaim God's reign. When we do this we are filled with hope because we know that God wants only what is good for us and for all, and will provide us with the strength we need to do what brings glory to God. Painfully, this prayer does not assure us we will receive what we pray for, but only that God will be with us in all that we do and become. Endurance in this kind of prayer assures us that our faith is growing and of God.

Today, pray for God's hope for the world.

What is your biggest struggle in faith??

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sts Simon and Jude

"You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God."

It is always difficult to write about the apostles. In Luke's gospel, Jesus gathers his disciples and, seemingly in a random manner, chooses 12 of them as apostles. Though we know nothing of Jesus' criteria when selecting his closest associates, we can assume, since all of them died tragically and violently, that he saw something in these men that suggested they would be faithful and straightforward, which is always the bottom line in the Christian life. 

No matter what rank or office we hold in the church, life in Christ always comes back to Baptism. When the church lays hands on our heads, anoints us as priest, prophet and king, plunges us into the waters to die so as to live in Christ, and challenges us to be a light in the world, we receive the same gifts and difficult tasks the apostles received directly from Jesus, and like them our only responsibility is to share our new power and hope with those to whom we are sent.

Very few of us will have our names inscribed on churches or memorials around the world, but all of us do have a role in the church every bit as significant as the one to which the apostles were called. We must live simply and honestly in Christ as a sign of the Spirit's presence in the world and serve, like Jesus, those most in need. When we accept this challenge, our lives and the lives of those to whom we minister change because of the power of Christ working in and through us.

Today, be an apostle. Announce the Good News with simple gestures.

What keeps you from accepting your important role as proclaimers of the Good News?