Saturday, December 14, 2013

Tell John What You Hear and See

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

Although tradition tells us that John the Baptist and Jesus were related, the scripture also seems to suggest that, for a time at least, John was unsure of Jesus' identity. Why else would he have sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the "one who is to come?" Jesus' response is clear. He assures John that he is the one spoken of by Isaiah the prophet and Jesus' answer sets the tone for his entire mission and ministry. He will be a healer who does justice, and it is his commitment to justice that will lead to his death.

John the Baptist, like Jesus, believed that the Jewish leaders had failed the poor and he was not afraid to voice his displeasure both in his preaching and lifestyle. John was a hermit who lived in the desert. His preaching attracted large crowds from among the poor because he spoke to their hearts and defended their rights, but when he attacked Herod for his marriage to Herodias, the wife of his half brother Philip, John was a marked man.

Both John and Jesus remind us that speaking the truth, despite its consequences, is an essential element of embracing the Good News. This is not to say, as Pope Francis reminds us, that we should be strident and overly focused on one or the other issue. Rather, we need to read the signs of the times and speak up on behalf of those whose lives are most threatened.

Pope Francis mentioned the unemployment of the young and the loneliness of the old as growing problems in the 21st century to which the church must address herself. His concerns need not become normative for us, but ought to stimulate our thinking and action. In this way, we all become committed to the needy and forgotten.

Today, ask the Lord to free you from the fear of speaking truth to power.

Have you known a John the Baptist? What attracted you to him/her?

Friday, December 13, 2013

St John of the Cross

"In those days, like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah whose words were as a flaming furnace." Sir 48:1

St John of the Cross was a very young man when St Teresa of Avila saw qualities in him he could never have seen himself. Bright and insightful, an artist and song writer, above all John was drawn to the mystical path in the spiritual life and was not afraid of the dark night to which he was called. Teresa knew John was different and although she was thirty years older than John, she wrote, "He was so good that I, at least, could have learned much more from him than he from me."

John of the Cross was destined to be like Elijah the prophet, a fire and a flaming furnace of God's love. When he died at 49 he had helped found, despite enormous opposition from his own Carmelite brothers, many monasteries of discalced Carmelites who led an intense life of prayer and penance while also being hugely effective apostolic ministers, writers and preachers. The poet, Jessica Powers, shortly before she entered the Carmelites herself, wrote of John's books:
Out of what door that came ajar in heaven
       drifted this starry manna down to me,
       to the dilated mouth both hunger given
       and all satiety?
       Who bore at midnight to my very dwelling
       the gift of this imperishable food?
       my famished spirit with its fragrance filling,
       its savor certitude.
       The mind and heart ask, and the soul replies
       what store is heaped on these bare shelves of mine?
       The crumbs of the immortal delicacies
       fall with precise design.
       Mercy grows tall with the least heart enlightened,
       and I, so long a fosterling of night,
       here feast upon immeasurably sweetened
       wafers of light.
Today, ask God to let you see with God's own eyes.

What keeps you from a more intense prayer life?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

St Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

"If you would hearken to my commandments, your prosperity would be like a river, and your vindication like the waves of the sea; Your descendants would be like the sand, and those born of your stock like its grains." Is 48:18

Rivers are fascinating bodies of water. Some flow fast and hard. Others meander through fields slowly and methodically. Isaiah knows this and uses the river as a way to speak of God's graciousness. Whether with fierce power or gentle kindness, God will reward those who live the spirit of the law. More, God will grow the righteous like the sands of the sea and spread their glory over the entire earth.

Faithfulness, the most basic way God tells who God is, is the great challenge of the Gospel. We must be faithful, not only to God, but to all God's people, and fidelity is not simply a function or series of actions, but a way of life, an attitude.

St Lucy, about whom we know very little, was faithful. Despite the rejection she felt from her friends because of her faith in Jesus, she never turned away from her Savior, and when she refused the sexual advances of a man who thought of her as an object of his desire, not a person or a believer, her fate was sealed. Disingenuously accusing Lucy of being a Christian, a charge that led to her martyrdom, her "suitor" assured her salvation. Lucy, whose name means light, continues to challenge us to fidelity no matter the cost.

Today, be faithful to someone who you dislike for the sake of the Gospel.

Who most challenges you with his or her fidelity to God despite the consequences?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Our Lady of Guadalupe

"You are the highest honor of our race." Jdt 13:18

Comparisons are usually odious. They make for winners and losers, and while this is perfectly acceptable in sport and other contests, comparisons between and among people leads to envy, resentment and occasionally violence. Unfortunately, our political system in the United States is an unfortunate example of this. So consumed with winning and losing battles over legislation, our Congress has lost its way, and the people who most depend upon government for work, help and a sense of stability are the losers.

When the scriptures remind us that Mary is the greatest of humans, they are not comparing her to anyone, but are honoring  her as first among all.  Mary, the mother of Jesus and God, has been such a consolation to people through the centuries that many could not imagine life without her protection and guidance, and this is particularly true in the developing world.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas, is dressed as peasant woman and appeared to St Juan Diego, an indigenous weaver, farmer and laborer. Speaking in Juan Diego's native language, Nahuatl, the young girl first told him to go the archbishop and ask that a basilica be built in her honor at Tepeyac. When the bishop asked Juan Diego for a sign of the young girl's identity, Juan Diego returned with a cloak or tilma filled with flowers not native to the area. When Juan Diego presented them to the Archbishop an image of Mary was on the Tilma. Now the most visited Marian site in the world, Guadalupe continues to inspire countless pilgrims to believe in their own goodness despite their poverty and and powerlessness, and to celebrate God's love for all people.

Today, ask Mary to guide you to her Son.

Is there an image or story of Mary that inspires you and strengthens your faith?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


"The LORD is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint nor grow weary, and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny."

Weariness afflicts us all from time to time. An adult child can't find a job or worse, a path of peace to walk. A marriage has become drudgery or a friend seems always to be needy, and no matter how often we try to stay positive, our energy seeps away and life becomes an unending series of tasks to complete, not an adventure. We smile thinly when friends ask how we are, but the best part of the day is getting in bed and going to sleep. Some of our struggles come to everyone, but others seem never ending and we wonder where God is in all that is happening within and around us.

How good it is to hear Isaiah tells us that God never grows weary and is always ready to walk with us even when the road seems endless. Isaiah knows what he is talking about. In his day, the Jewish nation, forgetting God and God's law, slipped into idolatry and turned their back on God. Dragged into exile, God went with them into Babylon because God had promised to be with them always and would not break the Covenant. Though God's people are unfaithful, God remains vigilant, content with the anawim, the few, poor believers who refuse, even in bondage, to turn away from God, and because of their fidelity God saves the entire nation.

We can be sure that God will always be as faithful to us as he was to the Jews of old. While we might grow weary and seek solace in places and people that offer only temporary relief, God will not abandon us, and Jesus' coming among us is the proof.

Today, take a few moments to remember how faithful God has been to you in "exile."

What circumstances in life make you most tired and doubtful?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Leaving the Sheep

"What is your opinion? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray?"

What's your opinion? While Jesus seems to think that it makes perfect sense to leave the ninety nine sheep to care for themselves as he goes in search of the one lost sheep, one wonders how the disciples might have answered if Jesus had simply posed the question and let them respond. What do you think they would have done?

At first glance, it makes no sense to leave ninety nine sheep alone to search for the lost one, but Jesus is making an important and challenging point with his followers. The lost are important. The healthy, he says in another place, don't need a physician. The sick do. (Mk 2:17) Jesus wants us to let go of the security of wherever we are to look for those who have lost their way, and this is often a hard challenge. Knowing who and where we are, especially in relation to power, is important. Otherwise, we will never be able to speak truth to power, but Jesus pushes us nonetheless.

Often in Christian terms we must be people who are both/and. We must so deeply know who we are that we are unafraid to let go of our security to seek those who forget or reject their own heritage and faith. Because we are rooted in the memory of Jesus we know that wherever we are, we are in Christ who is the source and summit of our lives, and can risk anything in order to proclaim the message of Jesus. The apostles knew this. So did the great saints. We can learn it a day at a time.

Today, open your spirit to the lost and do it without judging them.

Are there places, people and communities that you avoid?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Immaculate Concemption

"Hail full of grace. The Lord is with you!"

Eugene Peterson, a scripture scholar seeking to help people who either cannot access the power of the Greek text of Luke's Gospel or have read the scriptures so often that they have  grown bored, offers us a different view of Gabriel's greeting to Mary.
Good morning! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, Beautiful inside and out! God be with you.
While some might be confused, unnerved or upset by Peterson's translation, there should be little doubt that his translation forces us to enter Mary's world in a very different way, and this can only be good. Like so many other saints, Mary's uniqueness and importance to believers has often been lost by the trappings of sanctity with which a particular culture or spirituality adorn her. Reducing her to a young frightened girl or portraying her in a manner that strips her of her humanity and femininity cheats believers of meeting the powerful woman she was. First acknowledging her fears, then questioning the angel's announcement, Mary helps us identify in faith with every person asked to assume a new responsibility, especially one for which we feel unprepared. Listen to Peterson's translation again.
Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus....Mary said to the angel, “But how? I’ve never slept with a man.”
Only after Mary experiences fear and asks questions is she able to do what all of us must do, say yes to God. As we struggle to put aside the fears and confusion that come to all of us, we have Mary as companion, guide and mentor. Fear, Mary teaches us, is natural and necessary and wrestling God is sometimes inevitable, but if we listen deeply like Mary, we can be sure that God will show us the path to freedom and a deepened faith.

Today, re-imagine Mary's role in your spiritual life.

What stories of Mary most embolden you to live your faith with passion?