Friday, January 3, 2014

St Elizabeth Ann Seton

"What are you looking for?" Jn 1:37

Rejected by many in her own staunchly Episcopalian family when she decided to enter the Catholic church, Elizabeth Ann Seton never looked back. A widow at thirty with five small children, she was determined to make a difference in the world. Credited with founding the first religious community of women in the United States as well as the first parish school and first orphanage, Mother Seton remains an icon of integrity and zeal in the American church. Ironically, though he was not a religious man, it seems it was her father's commitment to justice that inspired her to do something for those who had little or nothing.

Her writing, moreover, is rich, simple and direct. In a conference to her spiritual daughters, she writes:
You think it very hard to lead a life of such restraint unless you keep your eye of faith always open. Perseverance is a great grace. To go on gaining and advancing every day, we must be resolute...By what name shall we call our (trials)? One cuts herself out a cross of pride; another, one of causeless discontent; another, one of restless impatience or peevish fretfulness...Yet we know certainly that our God calls us to a holy life.(Office of Readings)
No doubt all of us have crosses, and whether it be pride, discontent or impatience does not matter. For Elizabeth, the knowledge that God called her to motherhood, religious life and work among the poor was enough to sustain her journey even after she contracted tuberculosis. With her example and conviction, we pray the same will be true for us.

Today, put aside the small everyday crosses you bear and focus rather on the enduring presence of God in your life.

How do you sustain your faith during times of rejection or confusion?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Power of God's Spirit

"John testified further, saying,...‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’" Jn 1: 28, 29

What was it that John saw? What did the Spirit look like? Most of us have been in the presence of people with political or religious power. We know what that feels like, but Jesus was an itinerant preacher and minor prophet. Surely, John was talking about something more than the power we invest in hierarchies when he said of Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God...He must increase, I must decrease." Whether it was a simple matter that Jesus had no sin to confess when he came to John for baptism, or the confidence with which Jesus carried himself, we do not know but we do know John saw something and so must we.

In order to see, we must look long and hard at ourselves, others and the world. This takes practice and discernment. We cannot expect to see what it is that God is doing within and among us unless we take time to gaze upon God and God's works everyday. Some call this prayer or contemplation but naming is not as important as doing it. Finding time in our busy schedules to stop, listen, and allow the Spirit of God to guide us is essential to anyone who wants to live the Gospel, not just know about it.

Jesus often left his disciples, even for entire nights, to commune with his Father in prayer, and in this he offers an example. Because we can easily get so close to someone or something that we see them as if through a microscope, we need to step away and let God guide our eyes and hearts. In this way, perhaps we can see the Spirit like Jesus did.

Today, slow down and let the Lord look at you as you are.

What most keeps you from developing a daily prayer life?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sts Basil and Gregory

In supplication meek
To Thee I bend the knee;
O Christ, when Thou shalt come,
In love remember me,
And in Thy kingdom, by Thy grace,
Grant me a humble servant's place.
Gregory of Nazienzen

Sts Basil and Gregory, both of whom are considered among the most important theologians of the Eastern church, had a deep friendship which unfortunately was not able to withstand the antagonism engendered by the Arian heresy. Isolated in his last years, Basil turned to writing poetry as a way to enter, process and integrate the losses he experienced. Art and beauty are powerful ways both of learning about ourselves and following God's path.

A bed ridden brother friend of mine has collected thousands of nature images from the internet and stored them on his Ipad. Each day he looks at a few and marvels at the glory of God so fully alive in creation. No longer able to move about in nature, he is able to access its beauty digitally and praise God for its wonder.

Others use music to transport their spirits into God's world. Whether it is Gregorian chant, the symphonies of Mozart, Bach and Beethoven, or, for the young, hip hop music, we experience delight and fascination at the ability some have to create sounds that lift us beyond ourselves into God's presence. While St Basil wrote poetry as a way to be with and in God despite the desolation he felt, we can all discover God through beauty if only we open ourselves to all that our senses tell us of the grandeur of God.

Today, sit in nature for 10 minutes and let it speak to you.

How has beauty helped you know God more deeply??

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

"The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child." Lk 2:16-17

Every year the church begins the New Year by holding up Mary, the Mother of God, as a model for believers everywhere. Mary, as mother, is first of all present to Jesus, something that is more difficult than it seems. Being present to another does mean we try to fix or help them, but serve them. Like a good waitperson in a restaurant who does not hover or keep asking how your food is, she makes you feel comfortable. His or her only purpose is to help you enjoy your dining experience Mary is like this for Jesus and us.

Servants also know their place. This is not to say they should be willing to be treated poorly or abused, but because they understand their role, they realize and accept that their purpose is to make space for the other, to encourage, empower, and highlight anything about the person or country they are serving that is good, admirable and trustworthy.

Christians do well to remember Mary's lessons. When we realize that our primary task is to witness to the truth and transforming power of the Christ, we never have to be center of attention, we listen more than we speak, and we live faith as a verb: an action, and a lifestyle, that invites others to live for others. We do this more naturally and simply when we are grateful for the great gift our our faith and our salvation.

Today, serve someone with joy.

Do you have a special devotion to Mary? Why?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Tablets and Tablets

"I write to you not because you do not know the truth but because you do, and because every lie is alien to the truth." 1Jn 2:21

We often know the truth, but must always be careful to speak it at a time in a way that others can hear. It is equally clear that we often don't know the truth. Unfortunately, when we make the mistake of judging a book by its cover, or we misinterpret something another says, we jump to conclusions that are not based in fact, but in our interpretation of what was heard without testing its veracity.

There was a word in last week's readings that offered a good example of this. Zechariah, unable to speak after John the Baptist's conception, was asked what name he wanted for his child. Contrary to custom, Elizabeth, his wife, said that her son would be called John, and Zechariah confirmed his wife's choice after calling for a tablet. Even though no one in his family had the name John, Zechariah assured the crowd that Elizabeth's choice was a good one.

Smiling as I read the text, I realized that the word tablet to twenty first century young people meant a small computer like device with a touch screen that they could use to access the internet and the digital world. Though the bible and today's young people use the same word, they mean something very different, and there is a lesson for us in this. While we always have to listen carefully and discern how and when to speak, we cannot avoid the most important demands of the Gospel. Loving our enemies, reaching out for those most need and living simply are Gospel truths we all know, and when we live them with passion, we proclaim Good News.

Today, examine your conscience in the light of the Gospel.

What Gospel truths are most difficult for you to face?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Anna's Fidelity

"There was a prophetess, Anna,...(who) never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer." Lk 2: 36, 39

There are people, even today, who are called to live in almost total silence and dedicate their lives to prayer. The Poor Clares, for instance, are powerful women all around the world who live quietly, usually on the outskirts of towns and cities, and work to create a sacred space where God can work in them and for us. They pray in common, before the Blessed Sacrament and privately, and usually make altar breads or sew vestments for the Eucharist to support themselves. Remarkably, although they rarely make enough money to pay their bills, many believers, grateful for their deeply committed lives, are happy to bring them food, money and other necessities because they realize how important their lives are in the church.

Anna, the prophetess, might have been a Poor Clare or a member of one of the other contemplative communities in the church. Anxious to know God and do God's will, and even more anxious to proclaim God's desire to all who yearn for a Messiah, Anna would have slipped to the background in order to offer her prayer and serve God, and in all of this she offers contemporary people powerful lessons.

Life is not about being seen, recognized or lauded, but about being faithful to the vocation to which God calls us. If that means listening more than talking, praying as much as working, and living compassionately with other like minded women in an enclosed space, or working the streets tirelessly among the poor, we have only one responsibility: Be faithful to our call to live the Gospel and let ourselves be drawn more deeply into the mystery of God.

Today, take five minutes to remember that you are, before all else, a child of God.

Do you know an Anna in your life?