Saturday, January 25, 2014

Unnecessary Divisions

"I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you." 1Cor 1;10

Most divisions in families and parish communities are harmless. More political than theological, we experience them all the time. Someone claims to be a life long democrat or republican, a Met fan or a Yankee fan, a Vatican II catholic or a John Paul II catholic. As long as we respect the natural differences between and among us, they are innocuous and can even bring some life and fun to our communities.

At the same time, these small divisions can become yawning craters if we cling to them too rigidly or recklessly and that is what concerned St Paul. In Paul's day, too many new converts, eager to develop their faith or shape their faith practices, found d themselves attracted to one or the other spiritual devotion or ritual practice and began to judge or look down upon other people and their choices. When this happens to our families or parishes, the entire community suffers. We become defensive of our own positions and dismissive of others, and this never helps a community grow and find the unity that God wants for us.

Opinions, no matter how carefully researched and studied, are still opinions. They are our interpretation of the data we uncover and cannot be normative for others. Opinions, especially those honestly and openly offered to others, are natural and good, but only when they lead to further discussion and conversation can they lead to a deeper unity among us. Deciding together as a community of faith how all can gather in peace, reflect on our faith tradition and serve others will lead to a deeper common life and help our families and parishes become the faith communities Christ intended us to be.

Today, ask yourself if your positions and how you express them invite others to know and love God more deeply.

What kinds of people and positions are most difficult for you to understand and accept?

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Conversion of St Paul

“On that journey as I drew near to Damascus,about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I replied, ‘Who are you, sir?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.’" Acts 22:6-8

Most conversions are not as dramatic as St Paul's, but almost all of us have Epiphany moments, times when the light goes on and we see clearly how God has been active in our lives, and most of these events come when we least expect them. At the same time, it is important not to focus too much on any single event or moment in our lives. Conversion moments are intended to give us a direction, not get us stuck waiting for more insight and consolation.

Most important, we need to remember that conversion is a life long process which will have its dark and light moments, and that God is in the middle of them all. For St Paul, the terrible memories of persecuting Christians, or people of the Way as he called them, never left him, but shaped his entire life. Knowing how violent and committed he could be to eradicating what he perceived to be error, helped him use the same energies for good. Though painful, St Paul's memories served as a constant reminder to change his life for the sake of  God's people and the Gospel.

It is important to take time regularly to reflect on our own conversion story. Asking ourselves how God has entered and redirected our lives, though distressing at times, also helps us remember that God is always near, always involved and always wanting us to move more deeply into the mystery of God's love. When we do this with others, moreover, we build a community of faith that strengthens all who are willing to share and grow with others towards the heart of God.

Today, take a moment to pray in gratitude for your own conversion moments.

What about your own conversion continues to guide your faith journey?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

St Francis de Sales

Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him. Mk 3:13

In many ways St Francis de Sales seems like a perfect example of what Pope Francis wants present day bishops to be. Pastorally active even after being ordained a bishop, he was anxious to work with children, preach and teach. To do this, he wrote two books that remain important today, The Introduction to the Devout Life and A Treatise on the Love of God, both of which were intended for lay people. In addition, he wrote dozens of catechetical and spiritual pamphlets which he hoped would help Calvinists especially realize that all of creation was a gift from God intended to help us attain salvation.

Physical things were not to be avoided, as Calvin seemed to imply, but embraced. If God took human flesh then our bodies must be reverenced and celebrated. The spiritual life is not a journey during which we escape our bodies in order for our spirits to be one with the Spirit of God, but a time to sit at the table of the Lord to feast on the body and blood of the Lord so that some day we might enjoy the eternal banquet in heaven.

Because of people like St Francis de Sales, who planted the seeds of lay spirituality, Catholics today know they are called to holiness in and through their everyday lives. Not all are called to be priests or religious brothers and sisters. Marriage, family, and the single life are all important paths to the heart of God, along which we meet God with every crumb of bread we share and every drop of water we offer to the thirsty. God is discovered in the small, everyday acts of prayer and charity we offer on a daily basis.

Today, let the sounds, sight, smell, touch, and tastes you experience teach you about God.

Who introduced you to a form of spirituality that made sense for you in everyday life?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


"Saul was very angry and resentful of the song, for he thought: 'They give David ten thousands, but only thousands to me. All that remains for him is the kingship.' And from that day on, Saul was jealous of David." 1 Sam 18:8-9

Jealousy is among the most destructive of emotions. Often rooted in our unhealthy need to think of ourselves as better than others, jealousy destroys relationships and can lead to a kind of violence that is both random and overwhelming. When one group, tribe or race in any society has infinitely more opportunities and resources than another, violence is almost inevitable.

Saul's jealousy of David emerges from a seemingly innocuous event. The women of Israel, celebrating David's victory over Goliath, hail David for slaying tens of thousands of their enemies, and although they honor Saul their song only mentions that he killed thousands. Saul is so jealous that he begins to plan David's murder but is undermined by his own son Jonathan, who warns David about his father's intentions.

Jealousy emanates from comparisons between and among us, which always diminish one or more people. Saying someone is stronger than another person or more intelligent, while strengthening one person, slights the other and encourages unhealthy competition. Jesus and the great saints made it a point to celebrate whatever strength a person had. Rather than compare one to the other, they lifted up the gifts God gave each person to build up the body of Christ. We can all avoid the sin of jealousy by doing the same.

Today, pray for the grace to see the gifts each person has.

What situations tempt you to be jealous of others?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Healing on the Sabbath

"Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, Jesus said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out and his hand was restored." Mk 3:4-5

The loss of a limb, even for a brief period of time, is a heavy burden. A friend had surgery on his hand a couple of weeks ago and found himself answering a dozen questions from caring people and accepting help from strangers. Knowing that people really wanted to help did not make it any easier.

Imagine what it must have been like for the man with the withered hand. Ignored by most and pitied by others, Jesus reaches out in compassion for him, but the Pharisees, looking not at the man's need but his sin or the sin of his parents, want Jesus not to heal on the Sabbath. Any reasonable person, especially those unfamiliar with the narrow interpretations of the law by the Pharisees, knows to respond to those in need even on the Sabbath. It is clear that the man with the withered hand is not the concern of the Pharisees, Jesus is, and the Pharisees want to undermine his growing power.

While it can be difficult to understand any religious leaders who hesitate to help those in need, all of us understand the desire not to let our "enemies" get the upper hand.  Unfortunately, too often we allow governments and churches to use almost any means to protect us from those who threaten our power, influence and or financial stability. This is not the way of Jesus and cannot be ours. Only when we make the most vulnerable our primary concern will we know and live the Gospel with power and compassion.

Today, ask God to free you from any fears that inhibit your response to the most needy.

Do you make excuses to condemn others who make you uncomfortable?

Monday, January 20, 2014

St Agnes

"The LORD said to Samuel: “How long will you grieve for Saul, whom I have rejected as king of Israel?" 1 Sam 16:1

The loss of a dream can be overwhelming. A sudden illness that makes it impossible to complete one's education, the collapse of a small business as economic times change, or the failure of a marriage can shatter the strongest among us. Although we have heard wise friends tell us that expectations are the seeds of disappointment, we somehow believe that we are immune from the emptiness of failure, until it happens.

Samuel loved Saul who at first became a great king but then let his power go to his head. God became disillusioned with Saul and told Samuel that he longer wanted him as king. Naturally, Samuel who had anointed Saul, wanted Saul to remain as king but knew that because Saul had disobeyed God,  he was no longer a worthy king, and even though Saul tried to repent, Samuel knew that God had rejected him as king and chosen another to lead Israel. Samuel's dream died hard.

The death of a dream is not the end of the world. When we ask for and live by faith, the end of one dream can be the start of another. The simple saying that when God closes a door, he opens a window is true, but we cannot know this until we ask God what God wants next for us. While our personal dreams might die, God's dream for us lives on, and we have only to follow it.

Today, ask God what God wants for you.

What dream of yours has been the most difficult to let go?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

New Wineskins

"No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse." Mk 2:21

In the Hebrew bible a garment signified covering a person's sinful condition. Jesus was challenging his fellow Jews to put aside their old garments which were fraying and welcome the new. Jesus was the new garment of salvation, the new hope, the Messiah. Unfortunately, some see this passage as suggesting that the Old Law no longer had any value, while in fact Jesus always presented himself as an observant Jew who valued the Torah but came to announce a totally new interpretation of the Law.

It is always difficult to recognize and accept the need for change, especially if the status quo has been good to you. A labor union member never wants to give back hard won advances. A politician resists compromising on key issues and grocery stores do not want to lower their prices except to encourage people to buy what they don't need. However, sometimes substantive change is necessary for the good of the entire community. Jesus came to correct Jewish leaders especially and challenge them to step back from their policies and interpretation in order to take a new look at God's dream for the world. When they could not do this, Jesus condemned them.

Letting children grow up and discern how best they can live the values so important to their family is essential if we hope the next generation will internalize what they have learned. If we only do what we have been taught because questioning might lead to rancor and hurt feelings, we will never be able to take the next step in life and faith. We need to encourage one another to live adult Gospel lives. Asking hard questions, being open to necessary change and risking new ways of making the Good News known will serve God and the faith community well in the long run.

Today, take a step back from your faith practices in order not to miss the forest for the trees.

What do you think of Pope Francis as he asks Catholics to reimagine their faith?