Saturday, March 1, 2014

Keeping Up Appearances

"Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them." Mt 6: 28-29

There is a very funny British comedy that airs most weeks on the Public Broadcasting Stations around the country which focuses on a woman who is desperate to impress others with her clothes, her home, her china and her sophistication. As she manipulates her husband to go along with her zany schemes and avoids her less than proper sister and brother-in-law, we are invited to laugh at what happens to us when we are more interested in how others see us than in becoming the people God wants us to be.

Unfortunately, our desire to impress others with our wit, wisdom intelligence, money, power or influence can lead us far from the path of faith. When we allow ourselves to obsess about how others see and experience us, we risk living a lie. Overly concerned with impressing friends and foes with our good life and lifestyle, we wear an unrealistic mask that traps us in perfectionism and often leaves us exhausted.

Jesus is clear when asking us not to worry about appearances and other matters we can't really control. In his day, his disciples were under constant pressure to be "good Jews", and were regularly assailed by leaders who rejected Jesus' interpretation of the law. In the end, Jesus reminds us to stop worrying about how others see and only pay attention to how God views us. When we are committed to those in need, and help those without power, we please God and have no need to worry about the judgments of others.

Today, pray to be yourself before God and others.

What area of life do you still want others to see you as successful?

Friday, February 28, 2014

Praying for Healing

"Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful." Jas 5:16

Admitting our mistakes and sins against others is often the first step towards healing. Only when we take responsibility for what we have done to hurt others, especially when we have seriously harmed their reputations, are they able to accept our apology and begin to recover. James knew how devastating back biting, slander and calumny could be to the health of the early Christian community and was determined to address it. Fissures within and among ourselves can soon become unbreachable divides if we don't recognize them for they are and seek ways to reform our lives.

The early church struggled with serious differences of opinion about how to welcome new converts to Christianity from the gentile world, and we can only imagine the conversations between leaders like Peter, Paul and James, the Elder. Some believed that every convert had first to commit themselves completely to the law of Moses. Others, like St Paul, in the fifteenth chapter of the book of Acts writes, "Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? (Acts 15:10)

In our day, we continue to struggle with how best to look at and treat other religious traditions. Pope John Paul II, no doubt because he personally experienced the horrors of the holocaust against Jews, worked hard and long to help Catholics address their antisemitism. Pope Francis is following in John Paul's footsteps. In his address to the newly created Cardinals, Francis strongly encouraged them to work for peace and to against discrimination imposed on minorities and other people who are "excluded" by attitudes of superiority and condescension.

The work of healing unnecessary divisions between and among Christians and other religions continues to be hugely important in a world so divided by sectarian and religious violence. With St James we must remember that the prayer of the righteous is very powerful.

Today, pray for the strength to seek healing with anyone against whom you have sinned.

What do you think are the best means to heal the unnecessary divisions among religions?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Searching for God

"He pardons all your iniquities, he heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction, he crowns you with kindness and compassion." Ps 103: 3-3

Knowing or grasping God completely is impossible, but we must keep trying, and the scriptures offer us any number of images of God all of which can help at different times in our lives. Psalm 103 asks us to imagine God as a healer, someone who is anxious to be with us and make us whole. No matter how broken our life might feel, God's compassion and kindness will triumph over the darkness if only we only God to be God.

At the same time, no matter how hard we try, there are times when God's healing seems far away. A friend has recently been diagnosed with cancer of the bone and the doctors are not yet sure how much the cancer has spread. Living with this kind of uncertainty is trying at best, and depressing at worst. When news of our own frailty or the serious illness of friends emerges, it strikes us like a hammer, and our spirits are often numb as we try to process what is happening,

In between times, those moments when we do not know what we are facing, are frightening and confusing. Some friends will encourage us to think of the glass as half full. Other will push us to face the reality of our life leaking away, and while both can be helpful, we may not be able to handle much of anything until our spirits catch up with your minds and bodies. The unembellished truth that God wants to heal us may feel like empty words.

The simplest response we can make to times of struggle and confusion is usually the best. Ask for the grace to accept whatever is happening in your life and you can be sure, no matter how weak your prayer might feel, that it is what God ask of each of us. If we only thank God when we are feeling good about ourselves or our families, if we only praise God when life is going according to our plans, our faith will be unable to navigate the turbulent waters of doubt. God is merciful. God is kind. God understands and wants only to be close to us at all times, no matter where we are.

Today, ask God to let you know how close God is.

What images of God help you most to live life honestly as it happens?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Giving to others in God's Name

"Jesus said to his disciples: “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward. 'Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.'" Mt 9: 41-42

To live the Gospel and gain its benefits is simple. Give a thirsty person something to drink in the name of the Christ. But it is also simple to break the law.  Anyone who teachs an innocent person to sin, to reject the Gospel, to disparage others, to steal another's reputation, to control others for their own gain rather than announce the Good News, will reap the wrath of God.

To avoid leading others into sin, the saints have often encouraged their followers to stay busy (this is not to say obsessed and compulsed with getting things done) in order to avoid being an example of laziness and entitlement to others. St Paul is clear about this. In his first letter to the church in Thessalonica he writes: "Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you." (1 Thess 2:9) A proud man, Paul did not want those interested in following Jesus to think that he expected them to support him, and he was very quick to correct those who disrupted the community for their own gain.

Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty and caring for the sick and needy is a privilege. It is how the Gospel teaches us to witness to what we have learned. Knowing that faith and all it contains is a gift helps us to remember never to think of our faith as a private possession for our own salvation but as an offering from God that we need to share with the same gracious love God shows us.

Today, offer someone a drink of water.

How would you teach the young not to take faith for granted but to share it?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Working Together

"There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.” Mk 9:40

Competition, especially between and among men, is natural and can be fun. Who can find and wear the loudest shirt or jacket, which football team plays the best and the smartest (even if they lose most of the time) or who knows where the least expensive restaurant is are only a few of the ways we compete, but the Gospel challenges us not to be competitive about power.

Newly called as an apostle, John is troubled when others claim they are acting in Jesus' name but do not follow the Lord and asks Jesus how he should respond. Only concerned with helping others, Jesus cautions John not to worry about having control of every situation, but to broaden his perspective. As long as others are not preaching or acting against him, Jesus is content to encourage them to do good, especially on behalf of those who are struggling in life.

The simple wisdom of the Gospel reminds us not to over complicate the teaching of Jesus, nor to make it something that must exclude other religions. When we can find areas in our faith traditions that allow and encourage us to work together for the good of all, we should eagerly embrace them. Nothing that helps the lost and gives voice to those to whom no one listens should be ignored in the name of Christianity or to prove that we are right. Only when we focus of those in desperate need can we be sure we are following Jesus.

Today, pray for those who work for interfaith cooperation.

How do you avoid unnecessary competition?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Becoming as innocent as a Child

“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” Mk 9:37

While it is clear that Jesus treated children with dignity and respect and his contemporaries often did not, the Gospel is not so much about children's dignity but about the importance of every person, women and slaves especially, in the eyes of God. Because many societies exclude people because of gender, class, ethnicity or disease, it was important for Jesus to demonstrate to his followers and his enemies that no one was less in the sight of God.

The power and challenge of Jesus' teaching remains difficult. Early in life we learn that some people don't work as hard as others, are lazy, or are welfare cheats, and this just about the people in our country. The people of other nations, especially those with whom we have been at war, are "gooks," towel heads and savages without regard for human life. As children we simply absorb this language without thinking, but as adult Christians we have to make a conscious effort to let go of our dismissive labels which can protect us from acknowledging our fears about people of other races, classes or cultures.

It is clear in the Gospels that Jesus will not tolerate reducing any person to a class, a race or a religious background. The best known example of this occurs in the tenth chapter of Luke's gospel when Jesus tells all who will listen that a hated Samaritan, by caring for someone unjustly attacked, lived the Law better than many Jews.

Today, examine your attitudes towards anyone who is "different" from you.

Have you had to face prejudice in your own life because of your gender, race or culture?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Wisdom and Humility

"Beloved: Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show his works by a good life in the humility that comes from wisdom." Jas 3:13

Success in the spiritual life is not measured by traditional standards. It does matter to the seeker whether he or she has rich and consoling experiences at prayer. Neither is the recognition of others important. Aware that every gift she has is God given and to be spent to announce the Gospel in word and deed, the only thing that matters is that God's mercy is proclaimed to all.

An attitude like this is rooted and grounded in the simple truth of God's sovereignty and gracious love for all, and when we acknowledge and accept this grace, we cannot not be humble. Like a child seeing snow for the first time, we are filled with delight in the miracle of water falling from the sky and covering the ground. God is working in us, through us and around us, and we can only pause, reflect and rejoice, not in our own triumphs, but in God's graciousness.

God's goodness to us is all the more remarkable when we consider our own faults. God seems to ignore our sins, to look beyond them, to use them in ways we could never imagine. When David admitted his sin, God first punished him appropriately and then loved him even more. Humbled, David begins life again and lives the law fully. The wisdom to trust God in every circumstance and to accept whatever God wills confirms David's new found humility. We must do the same.

Today, pray for humility.

How do you counter your own pride?