Saturday, December 7, 2013

Second Sunday of Advent

"Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God." Rm 15:7

Few people have the skill and patient endurance to welcome others as their primary ministerial role. When I was a boy, welcoming visitors was an especially important element in my home if you wanted to live there in peace. Although we did not have a television when I was young, we did have a radio and it often played in the background as we went about our daily chores and life. If, however, someone knocked on our apartment door, the radio was turned off immediately. There could be no distraction from welcoming whoever visited, even if it was a salesperson.

St Conrad of Parzham, the Capuchin saint who is patron of the friary where I live, is often pictured with a ring of keys in his hand or on cord that encircles our Capuchin habit. Conrad spend almost his entire life as a porter, the friar who responds to the front door bell. It was Conrad's task to welcome any and every visitor with the compassion of Jesus. Whether it was a beggar asking for food, a troubled wife needing to talk for a few minutes, or a donor wanting to give the friars something to help them live and serve the church, Conrad welcomed them all. It was his only job, and he did it with such reverence for those who came to the front door of the friary that the entire town where he lived knew him and knew of his gentle person and presence to everyone without regard for power, wealth or prestige. Everyone was equal to Conrad.

When we welcome others with delight and warmth, especially those with whom we struggle, we change their lives and ours. It is a simple but very difficult role, but when we do it for the glory of God, God's name is announced with joy and hope.

Today, welcome the first person you meet for the glory of God.

Have you known people whose warm welcome of all changed people's lives?

Friday, December 6, 2013

St Ambrose

"No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: 'This is the way; walk in it.'” Is 30 20-21

St Ambrose is one of those fascinating characters who populated the early church. Known for his keen political sense and theological caution, he tried to act as mediator in Milan when it was divided between its Arian proponents and the hierarchy of the Catholic church.

Arius proposed that Jesus, because he was created by God the Father, was less than the Father, and Catholics argued that Father, Son and Spirit although distinct persons, were one God, coequal and coeternal. The battle became fierce and when Ambrose tried to help the two sides reconcile, the people, not wanting bloodshed, called for him to be bishop.

Ambrose reacted strongly. Not yet baptized, he wanted no part of the church hierarchy. Only after the Emperor Gratian encouraged him to accept the call to leadership did he seek baptism and ordination, becoming one of the most important figures in the early church. Learned in philosophy and rhetoric, Ambrose impressed St Augustine with his oratory and insight. More important, he was unafraid to confront those, even emperors, who ignored the Gospel while claiming to be Christian.

Today, be a reconciler.

Who do you most admire for their wisdom and savvy?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Seeing or Hearing?

"Two blind men followed him, crying out, “Son of David, have pity on us!”

A older friend, struggling with his hearing and beginning to feel very isolated, told me he would have preferred to lose the use of his eyes than his ears. Embarrassed to ask people to repeat themselves, he found himself not participating in conversations and shying away from communal gatherings. Though he has hearing aids, he still often feels alone in a group and ignored by people with whom he often had enjoyable conversations.

Whether one is struggling with blindness or deafness is not the point of today's Gospel. The isolation and loneliness that accompanies the loss of any our faculties is painful, unnerving and confusing, especially in a society that often looked at physical infirmities as punishment for sin, and it is this to which Jesus addresses himself. The Lord wants us to feel and be an integral part of his body, the church. Anything that inhibits or limits this participation is his concern, and should be ours.

Sometimes, although we see and hear perfectly well, we fail to respond to others who are struggling. Too busy, too self absorbed or too compulsed by the need to succeed, we are blind and deaf to the needy. Advent is a good time to open our eyes and ears to anyone, especially members of our family, who is struggling.

Today, listen to someone you normally avoid.

What have you been privileged to see or hear that opened your heart to the Gospel?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

God our Rock

"Trust in the LORD forever! For the LORD is an eternal Rock. He humbles those in high places, and the lofty city he brings down; He tumbles it to the ground, levels it with the dust. It is trampled underfoot by the needy, by the footsteps of the poor." Is 26 5-6

When Isaiah calls God a rock he is trying to help us understand the God he has experienced as a prophet. God, the rock, is Isaiah's foundation, the one upon whom he stands to announce Good News and the one who will never fail him. Without his "rock" Isaiah would be lost, and so would we.

Though God can never be reduced to a single image, calling God our rock does help us understand the God who is always there for us, always beneath our feet and always willing to be our foundation. Though we often stray from our rock, thinking we are stable enough to negotiate life on our own, God does not forget us when we wander. God waits for our return and is always anxious to welcome us home.

Advent is a time to remember who and what is our foundation, the rock beneath our feet. When we build our house on rock as Jesus reminds us, (Lk 6:48) we can be sure that neither wind nor storm, no matter how strong, will be able to dislodge our house from its foundation.

Today, plant your feet firmly on the ground and pray in gratitude for the God who is your foundation.

What are your experiences of knowing God as your rock?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Everyday Miracles

"On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, The web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever." Is 25 7-8

Isaiah promises us that someday God will unite all peoples, that nations now at war, or who hate one another culturally or tribally will have the veil that separates them lifted. It is a wonderful and powerful promise, one that seems too good to be true.

Nevertheless, most of us have known healing in our lives that we could never have expected. Whether it was a long and painful separation from a parent, sibling or friend, something or someone intervened and made that which seemed beyond imagination happen. St Monica followed her son from North Africa to Italy all the while praying for him and hoping that God would move St Augustine's heart and help him to turn from his sinful life. Monica could not be sure when or if God's grace would change her son's lifestyle, but her faith would not let her stop trying and eventually she got her miracle.

For many Catholics the election of Pope Francis has felt like a miracle. The Pope was largely unknown when he was chosen by the college of Cardinals to lead the church, but his early months in office have been met with surprise, delight and new hope. Is this the man who will help God's people lift the veil that separates them one from another? Is there a possibility that centuries old divisions between East and West might actually be bridged? Will women be invited to use their gifts at the highest levels of church life and governance? While we do not know the answer to any of these questions, our faith demands that, like St Monica, we keep praying that God's will be done within and around us.

Today, let yourself dream God's dream of unity for and among all people.

What have been the biggest miracles in your life?

Monday, December 2, 2013

St Francis Xavier

"Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, But he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted." Is 11: 3-4

It is easy to judge others. We see someone throw something from a moving car, hear a woman scream at a small child in a grocery store, or listen to a sermon that sounds unprepared and canned, and we judge all the people we see or hear as less than us and less than virtuous. Why do people disrespect the environment, one another and their congregations?  While this is a reasonable question, the answers may surprise us.

Isaiah assures us that God does not judge by appearance or hearsay, always acts with compassion, and has a soft spot for the poor and broken. More important, the prophet reminds his contemporaries to act like God, and Jesus reinforces this notion. It is easy, he reminds us, to see the speck in the eyes of others but miss the beam in our own. (Mt 7:3)

Advent is a time to remember that God chose to be born to people who may have been judged harshly by the people in their own village. Poor and unable to pay for a decent place to rest and wait for the birth of their first son, no one would have thought them worthy to be parents of the Messiah, but God had other plans.

Today, pray not to judge others about whom you know nothing.

What are the primary reasons you judge others?

Sunday, December 1, 2013


"The centurion said in reply, 'Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” Mt 8: 7-8

Most humble people have been humbled. Born into wealth or privilege, circumstances conspired against them and they lost everything. The proud complain or curse God; the humble realize that everything they had was a gift and not something they earned or deserved. The proud do almost anything to reclaim what they believe is theirs by divine right. The humble echo the Japanese proverb: When my house burned down, I could finally see the sunrise.

Remarkably, the centurion in the today's Gospel is not asking Jesus to help him but to heal his servant, and Jesus, obviously moved, is willing to respond to the centurion's request. But the centurion becomes an icon of humility for the ages when he acknowledges Jesus' power to heal without touch or physical presence. Not wanting Jesus to risk the condemnation of the rabbis for entering his house, the centurion asks Jesus only to speak a word of healing.

Humility is a good place to begin Advent. Aware that Christ's coming among us as a human child is pure gift, the believer kneels in adoration and admits how often he or she has taken this gift for granted. Ironically, this kind of humility raises us up.

Today, be grateful for all of life no matter how humbling.

What keeps you from humbly acknowledging your weaknesses?