Saturday, April 12, 2014

Palm Sunday

"They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them. The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: 'Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" Mt 21:8-9

Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem is festive, big and frightening all at once. For a local healer and rabbi like to Jesus to accept the adulation of the crowd was dangerous. There is little doubt that Jesus knew he was in trouble with the leaders of the Jewish community who now had evidence that Jesus was not correcting those who were hailing him as Messiah. It would not be long before they hauled him before Pilate demanding that Jesus be put to death for the sin of idolatry. All of this makes Palm Sunday a schizoid kind of feast.

One moment we are shouting with the crowds welcoming Jesus into the holy city, and just a short while later, we are witnessing his trial and condemnation. The church offers us these confusing scenes on Palm Sunday for an important reason. Things rarely are as they seem. It was difficult for Jesus' disciples to understand that Jesus would suffer and die in his role as Messiah, and it is difficult for us. Though we all know we have grown through suffering, and sometimes even found our true identity, when we are suffering, growth in faith seems far away. That is why we have Holy Week each year. We need to remember how far God is willing to go for us. That God would send his son makes sense. That the Lord would have to suffer does not until we realize that God will do anything to convince us of his love.

Today, pray to hear the power of God's love for us throughout Holy Week.

What about Holy Week most speaks to your spiritual heart?

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Forever Covenant

"I will make with them a covenant of peace; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them, and I will multiply them, and put my sanctuary among them forever." Ez 37:26-27

Covenants are the hallmarks of God's love for us. When God makes a covenant with Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, God promises fidelity not only to the Covenant itself but to the People of the Covenant. God cannot break the covenant because God promised never to abandon the people he claims for his own. God's covenants are irrevocable and so strong that God assures his people if ever he breaks the Covenant, the people to whom he has promised his love can abandon him, even kill him.

Unfortunately, the security the Jewish people should have felt through the Covenant did not last. The book of Exodus reminds us that soon after the Hebrew people were set from slavery in Egypt, they began complaining about the food, the lack of water and the loss of their security. Nevertheless, although God gets angry with them, he does not break his word. His covenants endure.

The same is true in Jesus, the one we call the new and everlasting Covenant. In God's goodness, Jesus comes among us as the incarnate word, a living person who is also God to promise that God will do anything to assure his people that he is faithful even to allowing Jesus to suffer and die for us. It is this covenant upon which our entire faith rests.

Today, thank God for promising never to abandon us.

Have you experienced God as an unconditional lover?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

God, Our Rock, Our Fortress, Our Deliverer

"I love you, O LORD, my strength, O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer." Ps 18:2

The psalmist is forever trying to find new ways to speak to and of God. God is our rock, the foundation upon which we build our homes, the ground upon whom we stand, the wall that protects us from our anyone who might harm us or distract us from God's ways.

God, David also assures us, is our fortress, the one behind whom we stand in safety, the one who is anxious for us not to be attacked, the one within whom we are safe. And God is our deliverer, the one who stands in our place to defend us and our reputation. More prosaically, God is like a limousine driver who provides a "ride" for us on our journey into mystery.

The psalmist, asking us to use our imagination to understand and appreciate the God of revelation, also reminds us that God is beyond words, a mystery into whom we must enter in silence and to whom we must listen. In fact, if we try too hard to describe God, we run the risk of idolatry. God cannot be reduced to any single word, image or metaphor, but that should not preclude us from addressing God with an image that helps us speak with God along the way. Because God is anxious to hear from us, anything we do to try to be closer to God is good for us and for the announcement of God's Kingdom.

Today, pick any image of God and speak with God through the image you choose throughout the day.

Which of God's names is most attractive to you, and which draws you closer to God?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Openness of Spirit

"When Abram prostrated himself, God spoke to him: “My covenant with you is this: you are to become the father of a host of nations." Gen 17:3

In the ancient world, people often had their name changed to indicate a new status or importance. Abram becomes Abraham when God announces to him that he will not only be a father (Abram) but the father of many (Abraham). Remember that Abram was 99 years old when God renamed him. The message is clear. God can do anything. Our task is not to doubt but to be open to whatever God wants of and for us. God's dramatic promise to Abraham should embolden all of us.  As long as we are willing to welcome God and God's desire for us, we have nothing to fear. The Patriarchs, prophets, kings and saints all demonstrate this.

Julian of Norwich, a 14th century anchoress and mystic is a powerful example of this. When a woman entered the anchorage, a small room attached to a church or monastery, she committed herself never to leave. The idea of living our entire lives in an anchorage is daunting for most of us, but Julian, who some commentators thought had lost her entire family in the plague, not only wrote a theology that was optimistic, she insisted that illness was not a punishment for sin but something everyone had to endure and accept in life. So committed to the God who spoke to her, Julian called Jesus her father and mother and, with Abraham, proclaimed that God fills all who believe with joy and compassion if only we open ourselves to these gifts.

Today, no matter how you feel, ask God to make your life a sign of God's love for all.

What must you do to open yourself to God's dream for you?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Faith without Miracles

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, "If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue that you set up.” Dn 3: 17-18

Almost everyday in the newspapers or on the internet we hear about people praying for miracles. Diagnosed with an inoperable cancer or struggling with a failing heart or kidneys, the sick or the families of the sick send out urgent requests for prayers. For many this is a natural response. Not knowing how to help themselves or cure friends and family, they return to a kind of faith that is desperate and anxious, and they ask, and sometimes demand, that God perform a miracle.

Testing God like this is fruitless. God loves us unconditionally and will forever walk with and accompany us, but it is not always in God's plan to radically enter human history with a healing hand. That God can do this is clear, but it happens rarely, and while we might pray for this kind of help because of our fears or guilt about the past, we should not depend on it.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego witness to the kind of faith we ought always to pray for. Assuring King Nebuchadnezzar that their faith is stronger than he can fathom, they tell the King their trust in God is such that even if they must die, they will not abandon their God for a golden statue. The God they worship has accompanied the Jews through every trial and proved trustworthy. They have no need of another God, even one that promises miracles.

Today, pray for the grace to live with a faith that demands nothing from God but his presence.

What kind of faith do you have? Has it sustained you through life's trials?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Surrounded by God

Jesus said: "The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.” Jn 8: 30

Jesus is our model for everything in life, but never more so than when he reminds us that he is never alone, that his father is with him always. We may not always feel the presence of God, especially when we are worried or fretting about matters we cannot control, but we must keep acting as if God is with us. The great saints in every religious tradition teach this consistently.

Ghandi counselled his followers not think of prayer as the work of the old or the weak, but as an act of submission to God and the food that strengthens us along the way. Rooted in this conviction, he writes: "Nothing is so aggravating as calmness." Committed to non violence, Ghandi knew he would be tempted to act aggressively, to abandon calmness, especially in defense of the poor and voiceless, but he reminds us, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent."

Jesus does not fight the Jewish leaders or the Roman authorities who are committed to putting him to death, nor does he allow his followers to act violently in his defense. When Peter cuts off the ear of the high priest's servant, Jesus demands that Peter put his sword away because violence will only beget violence. That he must "drink the cup" of suffering is clear to him, and it should be clear to us. We can only endure unjust suffering if we remember always to call upon the One who has gifted us with faith and  demanded that we love our enemies.

Today, allow yourself to sit quietly surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses. (Heb 12:1)

What spiritual practices help you remember that God is always near?

Sunday, April 6, 2014


"The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle." Jn 8:2

When we talk about adultery in the abstract, few would defend or promote it, but adultery does not happen in the abstract, and this is the issue Jesus confronts. When the leaders of the Jews drag a woman caught in adultery before Jesus, they show little concern for her person. Determined to trip Jesus up, the Scribes and Pharisees use a woman as an object for testing Jesus commitment to the Law, and in the process become adulterers themselves.

Many years ago a priest mentor of mine corrected me sharply and pointedly. I had come home from a prison where I was interning and announced I would be working with a group of prostitutes. "There are no such things as prostitutes." he almost shouted, "There are women and men who sell themselves, and I expect a Franciscan would know this by now."

Embarrassed, I learned an important lesson, the same lesson Jesus taught the scribes and Pharisees two thousand years ago. Respect for every person is the foundation of the law and the Gospel. Catching someone in error or sin is not the point of the law. Helping people overcome their sinful ways is.

Today, ask God to see as Jesus sees.

What helps you avoid the error of treating people like objects?