Saturday, March 15, 2014

Faith and Fear

“'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.' When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid." Mt 17: 5-6

The gospel tells us that Jesus took Peter, John and James apart from the other apostles on at least two occasions, but one wonders whether he invited them to accompany him even more often. Most of us have people who we trust deeply and share with on a more intimate level, and there is every reason to believe that Jesus would have done the same.

At the same time, the apostles who accompany him to the "high mountain," a reminder that Jesus is the new Moses, are afraid. Not sure what Jesus is about and unprepared spiritually and emotionally to accept the Jesus they are coming to know, the apostles are so busy running around "building tents" that we wonder whether they even hear God tell them that Jesus is his beloved Son.

Our own desire to please others and to get things done often has the same effect. So alert to what others think of us, and so afraid that we will not please God or others, we fail to hear God's voice urging us to come closer and to know him more deeply. Lent is a good time to slow down, to think, to pray, to listen, and to put aside the unnecessary fear that God will ask us to be or do something beyond us.

Today, take time to be quiet when you want to speak.

Is there anything about faith that frightens you?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Perfection not Perfectionism

"Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

To be perfect like God is impossible for humans. Jesus knows this even as he commands it and he makes us wonder what he might mean. Some suggest that perfection here refers to uprightness and sincerity of character. Others remind us that in the Old Testament, perfection is the same as maturity, but the simplest interpretation, that we must strive to live the law as completely and totally as possible, is the best.

Trying our best is always important, and is the mark of the great saints and biblical figures. Working only to be adequate Christians, or finding a way to wiggle out of the Gospel's most demanding challenges, is unacceptable. As Jesus reminds the rich young man, we must sell everything and follow him. There is no getting around this, but we should not interpret it narrowly. 

Selling everything means letting go of our attachment to what we believe we have earned and deserve. That many have worked hard is not the question, but when our "possessions" cause us not to see those in need with God's eyes, and ignore or reject their legitimate cries for help, we sin. We can only be "perfect" like God by responding to the broken with compassion and love

Put another way, what would most of us claim as our rightfully earned reward if we were born in poverty in the South Sudan or Zimbabwe? Would we be less in God's eyes if we struggled to eat, to protect our children and feed them? At the same time, the children of the poor must also live the Gospel perfectly by working to care about and respond to others unconditionally just as God cares for them in the middle of their poverty. God's perfection means finding the ground upon which rich and poor alike can work together to create a more just and peaceful world.

Today, pray to live the Gospel fully and transparently.

Have you known anyone who lived the Gospel perfectly?

Thursday, March 13, 2014


"If you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God." Mt 5: 23-24

Even as a boy, I loved this section of St Matthew's Gospel. Imagine what a nightmare it must have been for a poor person, making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the first and probably only time in his life, to stop, pray and realize that he is not in what his Jewish tradition would call right relationship. Perhaps his prayer unveiled an unresolved hurt or conflict or reminded him that had undermined another person's reputation. Whatever the situation, Jesus demands that anyone discovering his fault return home and reconcile with whomever he is at odds with before presenting his gift at the altar.

Theologians have often spoken of conscience as the still, small voice within that alerts us to our own dishonesty or sin, and demands we pay attention to it even if it might be impossible to formally heal the wound we have created. A tender (not to say scrupulous) conscience is a gift because it helps us pay more attention to others than ourselves, and helps us work towards a peace filled world. That Jesus insists we seek reconciliation before approaching the altar reminds us to strive to make the Eucharist a celebration of unity and healing, and a gathering of believers committed to renewing themselves in Christ.

Today, ask forgiveness from someone you have hurt.

What has helped you seek reconciliation even when you did not feel like it? 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Asking God for Help

"Everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asked for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asked for a fish?"

Most of us are too proud to ask others for help, except in the simplest matters. Determined to hold onto our independence for as long as possible, we miss some of the great delights of life. When we allow others to help us, everything changes. We realize that it is o.k. not to know certain things, not to be in charge, to be in charge. More important, we often empower others when we ask for their insight or help. This is especially true with our children. I remember well when my parents asked me to help them with their finances. Although I had not had much experience in financial matters, there were plenty of friends who were more than capable, and they were only too happy to help me and my parents.

Jesus is inviting us today to ask for help, to acknowledge our weakness and dependence, asserting all the while that God is waiting for our request and anxious to come to our aid, and while we might not always receive exactly what we think we need or want, the Lord will always be present to us as guide and companion. The 13th century Persian poet, Rumi, says it this way: "The door we are knocking on opens from the inside."

Today, knock of God's door just to tell him you are near.

What makes it difficult for you to ask for help?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Walking with Jonah and Jesus

"Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation." Lk 11:30

When Jonah walked through Nineveh calling the people to repentance, the response was almost immediate. The king instructed everyone, even the animals, to join him in responding to Jonah's prophecy. Together they put on sackcloth and sat in ashes hoping that God would accept their acts of penitence and free them from destruction.

The scriptures are forever reminding us that God always listens and responds to our heartfelt cries. Not only does God lobby Moses to approach Pharaoh and demand the enslaved Hebrews be set free, God also listens to the cries of the poor who he reminds us are always close to him. It should not surprise us, then, that Jesus would be born of poor parents, and like Jonah, would go towards Jerusalem announcing God's desire for our conversion and transformation.

Lent is a time both to walk with Jonah and Jesus, and respond to their cry.  Unless we commit ourselves to repent of our sins, our selfishness, our failure to recognize a world bigger than the United States, our desire for a kind of security in things, and money and power that only God can give, we risk admiring Jesus' pronouncements but failing to live them. The gospel of the first Monday of Lent says it clearly: Whatever we do in justice and charity for the least of Jesus' brothers and sisters, we do for him.

Today, listen closely and without fear for Jesus' call to conversion.

What happens to your spirit when you feed the hungry and cloth the naked?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Making Sense of Suffering

"From all their distress, God rescues the just." Ps 34

Distress and upset comes to everyone. We can curse it, fight it, deny it or cry over it, but we cannot avoid it, and our faith tradition is clear. Until we learn to accept suffering as an ordinary part of every life, we will waste time trying to elude it. If Jesus, the God man, was not immune to suffering, neither are we.

At the same time, the Gospel does not ask us to seek suffering, but to accept it when it comes, often without warning or obvious meaning. In a poignant and demanding book, Where the Hell is God, Richard Leonard, an Australian Jesuit, explores suffering from the inside. Devastated and lost after a car accident that left his sister a quadriplegic, Leonard reminds his readers that God does not will our suffering, but will enter it with us if we allow it. Avoiding easy answers and cliches about God testing us, Leonard invites his readers to walk together in faith as they seek meaning in darkness.

The psalmist also suggests that when we are just, especially in the face of evil and anger, God will find us and show us a path through suffering into a place of peace. Confronting our confusion and occasional rage at the randomness of suffering allows us to discover the God who, like a mother, holds us in the palm of his hand.

Today, revisit an incident of suffering in your life and ask God for healing.

How do you make sense of random suffering?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Come, Inherit the Kingdom Prepared for You

"Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me." Mt 25 34-36

It is always good to revisit St Peter Chrysologus (5th century) and his wisdom. He writes:
Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.

When we pray and fast without giving alms or showing mercy, we cannot hear the overwhelming power of Jesus' message in today's Gospel. Teaching ourselves to respond naturally and spontaneously to the hungry, thirsty, sick and imprisoned is at the heart of Jesus' message.

Sometimes, however, we are too busy or cynical to live Jesus teaching instinctively. It is not for us to judge whether a hungry person is hungry because they have not tried to find work or wasted their resources on gambling or drinking. Even if this be true, the person is still hungry and the Gospels of Lent will demand we ask to see those in need with the compassion of God.

Today, do a good deed without thinking. Just do it.

How often do you reach out spontaneously for the hungry and sick?