Saturday, November 30, 2013

Starting Over

"They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again." Is 2:4

Starting over is never easy, but often unavoidable. Ask any Filipino trying to rebuild his or her life after the recent typhoon or an alcoholic who has had a slip. Acknowledging one's powerlessness over nature or alcohol and committing oneself again to live a day at a time, while painful and frightening, is absolutely necessary, and the only way out of chaos.

The same is true for Christians. No matter how far we fall or how often we turn away from the Lord, we can always begin again, and Advent is the perfect time to try. As we begin a new liturgical year, the church reminds us that God always welcomes his people to renew their faith by focusing on the great of gift of Jesus at Christmas. More important we are challenged to give birth to the Christ in our daily lives, and this is no small task. As the years since Christ lived on earth fade, it becomes more crucial for believers to live the Gospel and allow Christ to be born through their actions and prayer. But we must be patient.

While a woman becomes pregnant in an instant, the child growing within her needs time to grow, to mature and to be made ready for birth. The same is true for us. As Advent begins, the seed of God's love is planted in our personal and communal lives, but we must nurture the seed and wait for it to mature. Every good act is not immediately received with joy, delight and full growth. In fact, most of our kindnesses are taken for granted or ignored, but this should not deter us. God is living in and changing us, and making us, despite our faults and failures, into powerful witnesses of Christ still alive in the world.

Today, pray for patience with oneself and others.

What areas of your faith life are the most difficult to begin again?

Friday, November 29, 2013

St Andrew, Apostle

"How can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?" Rom 10: 14-15

Too often we reduce the ministry of preaching to the ordained or those specially trained to proclaim and interpret God's Word for retreats and day of prayer, and people who preach the word formally ought to be well trained. There should be no doubt of this in the United States. More than any other aspect of church life, poor preaching is cited as the primary reason that people stop attending church on Sunday's. Close behind preaching is a lack of warmth and welcome in our parishes, and this is the "preaching" that we should look at very closely as foundational to the ministry of Jesus.

Most people are not called to preach the Word of God formally, but all are called to "preach" with their lives. When we spend our time, talent and treasure for others, we preach loudly about our values, and often people ask about this. Why, they say, do Bill or Barbara, Juan or Minh spend so much time volunteering in soup kitchens, hospitals or homeless shelters? And the answer is faith. Because Jesus sends us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned, we preach when we offer anyone solace, comfort, food or drink, and we should never underestimate the value and power of these actions. If all we do is preach the word formally, but fail to live the Gospel, the faith will be empty and shallow.

Almost daily since his election, Pope Francis has insisted on this. Only yesterday the Holy Father wrote: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” The message for Catholics is unmistakable. "Preach" the Gospel with your lives. Get dirty doing it and the message of Jesus will be be heard as a transforming promise, not a sterile set of rules.

Today, do something simple for God.

What keeps us from "getting dirty" in our efforts to proclaim the Gospel?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

I Will not Leave You Orphans

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Lk 21:33

A recent article in the New York Times assured us that the Philippines was returning to normalcy because the children were playing again in the streets after Typhoon Halyan. Children playing spoke dramatically about the great strength of the Filipino people and reminded the world that life within and among Filipinos had not been irrevocably broken, that the Filipino spirit was bigger than any storm and that the Filipinos would rise again to plant crops, erect buildings and laugh together in the face of impossible odds.

For Christians, this truth is at the heart of Jesus' preaching. No matter what happens to us, no matter how many natural disasters batter us or how much suffering we endure, God's promise of life for ever in and through Jesus can never disappear or be taken away. God's love and his Living Word Jesus Christ will never pass away. Remembering this simple truth changes everything. Knowing the Lord is near, within, around and for us strengthens us through every trial and reminds us to be Christ's presence for all those who think of themselves as foundering or lost.

In the 8th chapter the letter to the Romans St Paul says it plainly and powerfully. Listen to him and rejoice.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (37-39)
Today, ask God for the faith that leads to hope and the memory of God's promise to love and be with us always.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


"Bless the God of all, who has done wondrous things on earth; Who fosters people’s growth from their mother’s womb, and fashions them according to his will!" Sir 50:22

Thanksgiving is not always easy, especially if your family has suffered death very recently, but we need to stop and thank God no matter how heavy life is at any given time. God has done wondrous things within us and among us. God has created and nurtured us, challenged and directed us, loved us unconditionally and promised to go before us to prepare a place for us. What more could we ask?

In fact, many want to ask for much more. Struggles at work or with family, sickness and poverty, or wealth and success can be great burdens. Unless we find a way to accept and be grateful for all that is, we cannot hope to find the path of light that God has marked out for each of us. This is no easy task. God's ways are often confusing and upsetting, and feel very dark, but the memory of how God has guided us in the past reminds us that there is a purpose to everything. That it is God's purpose, not ours, is painful but rewarding in the end.

Whether you eat turkey with all the trimmings or spend time with a loved one in a hospital this Thanksgiving, take a few minutes to list all the people who have been gifts to you this year. Let their faces and goodness come before you like photos in a digital photo frame. Pause and pray for each of them. Doing something like this will make your Thanksgiving rich no matter what it brings.

Today, take five minutes of silence and be thankful.

What has made Thanksgiving day memorable for you through the years?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Heroes of Faith

"Not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

We all love inspiring stories, and the bible and church history are full of them. The Hebrews dramatic escape from slavery in Egypt and their search for the promised land, the faithful endurance of Job even when abandoned by his closest friends, and the willingness of the poor widow to put all she had in the offering box, thrill us. Drawn to the heroic like a fly to honey, we yearn to live big, and when we are moved to live completely for God everything changes. The small thoughts that trap us in fear of failure lift and everything becomes possible if only we trust God with our lives and follow God's direction.

Many years ago, one of our friars, Earl Gallagher, now dead, witnessed helicopter gunships firing on a group of Salvadoran refugees trying to cross a river into Honduras. Without thinking he jumped into the river and began to drag people to safety, especially children. Risking his own life without a second thought, he escaped death but became a target on the authorities in Honduras because he wrote to the NY Times about the slaughter in order to expose the awfulness of the crime against helpless people. 

At the same time, Earl assured everyone who would listen that he had no desire to become a martyr. Rather, he insisted that anyone would have done the same thing. Hearing him tell the story, I knew he believed what he said but also knew why he was a great man of faith. Earl was not looking for attention, nor did he want to be hero. He only did what the Gospel demanded.

Today, remember that God counts the hairs on your head.

What qualities do you think mark the lives of our faith heroes?

Monday, November 25, 2013

End Times

"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified." Lk 21:9

We are always looking for signs. Is there a red sky in the morning? Will it be a rainy day? Iranians threaten to develop nuclear arms. Will there be another war in the middle east? The stock market passes 16000. Will the country finally be able to produce new jobs? Many people work very hard at reading these signs and as often as not there are so many variables that their prognostications are worthless, but we don't stop trying. We want to know in order to control life and in the end our efforts are fruitless.

While all of us must be diligent and caring about creation and our relationships in Christ, trying to control them like toys in a game not only does not work, it is wrong. Life belongs to God and the church challenges us to work hard and then let go into God's hands, trusting that like a Father he will watch over his children, guide them and show them the path to life.

Especially at the end of another liturgical year, the church reminds us that though we have a long road to hoe, God will never abandon us. There is nothing we have to fear as long as we keep trying to turn towards the light and trust God's direction. While this can be difficult, especially when we have been disappointed by life or our religious leaders, faith demands we enter the mystery and let go.

Today, accept your sinfulness and wait for God.

What about life do you most try to control?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Faithful Catholics, Faithful Citizens

"So the steward continued to take away the food and wine they were to receive, and gave them vegetables. To these four young men God gave knowledge and proficiency in all literature and science, and to Daniel the understanding of all visions and dreams." Dn 1 16-17

When Daniel, trying to be both a faithful Jew and a faithful citizen, refused to eat the foods and wines of the King that his faith thought unclean, he begged the chief chamberlain to let him and his companions live on vegetables and water. At first the chamberlain refused but after Daniel asked him just to see how he and his fellow Jews would do with this very modest diet, the chamberlain agreed and was soon surprised at how healthy these men were. 

It should be clear to all of us that we can be faithful Catholics and faithful citizens of the United States, but it is not always easy. Discerning what we ought to accept and support in our country is a serious responsibility that we cannot take lightly. That our country interprets its Constitution in such a way that offends our religious practice is something we must all accept but, at the same time, challenge. Life issues, including not only the protection of human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death, but abject poverty for some and exorbitant wealth for others need to be a part of our Catholic agenda, especially for those called to public service. To do this we need to examine our spiritual practices.
Do we have a daily regimen of quiet prayer? Do we occasionally fast in order to be more grateful for our food and in solidarity with the hungry? Are we conscious of sharing our time, talent and treasure with others? All of these practices can be helpful for the Gospel journey we are all called to take, but there is another practice that the church holds up before all others. The regular participation in the Eucharist is considered the source and summit of Catholic life and we should not excuse ourselves lightly. Getting together with other Catholics for reflection and worship that challenges us to service is a powerful form of prayer that helps in all our discernments.

Today, pray to love our country and our church.

What about our country's policies most challenge you to live the Gospel more deeply?