Saturday, August 30, 2014

Resisting God

"I say to myself, I will not mention G-d, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it." Jer 20:9

It was hard to be a prophet in the ancient world, and it still is. Speaking God's word clearly and without equivocation is a challenge that we often try to resist, especially when it is costly, but until we pay attention to the fire burning in our hearts, God will keep knocking at the door of our heart.

So many of the saints speak about the impossibility of ignoring God or dismissing God's call to transformation. St Augustine literally ran from his mother who was imploring him to listen to the God who was calling him to an authentic faith life, and St Francis avoided lepers at every turn until God intervened and changed his life. St Ignatius Loyola tried to distract himself by daydreaming about his past success as a Romeo only to finally hear God's voice calling him to transform his fantasies into faith.

God will never stop trying to win the battle for our hearts. We can try to banish thoughts of God from our consciousness, and for a time succeed, but if we are true to ourselves, God will always win. Praying not to be afraid of what God wants from us or where God wants to lead us is the only path to authentic freedom.

Today, ask God to let you return to God's path for you without fear.

What happens when you try to resist the fire of God's love burning in your heart?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Wise and Powerful in God

"Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful... God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God." 1Cor 1:26-28

It can be difficult to acknowledge and honor God if we were born to privilege, like most of us from the so called Developed World. We take clean water, adequate food, housing and health care for granted. It is only when these gifts are not in place that we realize how fortunate we are and learn not to complain too loudly about our poorly functioning systems but to pray in gratitude for all we do have.

St Paul warns his disciples to take nothing for granted and because his converts were, for the most part, from the underclass, they already knew what it meant to be humble. Dependent on the charity of the rich, it made perfect sense to them when Paul taught them that God was "rich" beyond their dreams and always ready to help them spiritually.

It is important to admit each day how dependent on God we are. Some days this is easy. Because we know that God is the source of all life, and the one without whom we cannot live, we offer a simple prayer to begin our day and let God take us where we need to be. At other times, for St Paul and all of us, it is more difficult. We wrestle with God trying to understand what God wants, but no matter how we feel, allowing God to be with us in the good as well as the painful moments is the key to an authentic Christian life.

Today, humbly thank God for all that is.

How has God led you through the dark and murky waters of life?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Passion of John the Baptist

“'I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist.'... So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison. He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl."

The beheading of John the Baptist has always been one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament to read. Horrific and barbaric, we cringe and withdraw from the image of someone bringing the head of another human being to a banquet to satisfy the rage of a woman whose marriage has been condemned.

Unfortunately, to the horror of most people in the world, this scene has been repeated recently with the death of James Foley, an American photo journalist, as an act of retribution against the United States for its involvement in Iraq and Syria. Full of rage and triumph Foley's killers insist there will be more executions, and there is no doubting their commitment. At least three other men identified as Christians were beheaded in July 2013 as young people watched and the crowd cheered.

Pope Francis, in responding to these atrocities, reminds believers that despite the awfulness of what we are witnessing, we must continue to live the Gospel: "Wars are always madness: All is lost in war, all is to be gained in peace, In deploring all of these, I wish to assure my prayers and my solidarity for those who are being held in captivity and for their families, and I appeal to the humanity of the kidnappers to free their victims,"  Solidarity with all people trapped by war and the willingness to seek new roads to peace is the only Gospel response.

Today, pray for anyone, especially children, caught in wars they cannot possibly understand.

What do you think is the Gospel response to overwhelming violence?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

St Augustine

"Stay awake...for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." Mt 24: 42,44

Almost always we listen to the scriptural injunction to "stay awake" and, because of its context, we hear the Lord telling us to be ready to die. It is a hard reminder, but an important one. None of us likes to think about death, although as we age, it is all around us. Our friends and family are dying and often the friends we are losing to death are younger than us. Death is nearer than we like to think, but as our Buddhist friends remind us, anyone who has not thought about his or her own death has not really begun to live

At the same time, Jesus' reminder to be ready for God to call us home is not only about dying, it is about living. When we spend so much time denying death, we miss opportunities for a fuller life, and Jesus condemns this in all people. That Americans have two to three times as many cosmetics as they can use at any given time is a scandal. Wanting to appear as if we are not aging not only takes too much of our time, it can cheat us of a full life. Aging is natural and only when we embrace it as another part of our spiritual journey will we be able to enjoy and celebrate life at every stage.

Today, pray for the grace to live each day with all its struggles and triumphs.

Do you have spiritual practices that help you "stay awake" to what life brings?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

St Monica

"In toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you." 2 Thess 3:8

Like most parents of independent and self destructive children, St Monica tried tough love on her son St Augustine. Unable to control his life, but unwilling to sit idly by, Monica refused to let Augustine eat or sleep in her house after he embraced Manicheism, and it took a dream to change her mind.

Convinced that Augustine would someday return to the practice of his Catholic faith, Monica softened her harsh treatment of him, but began to follow Augustine from place to place. Annoyed by his mother's meddling in his life, Augustine left for Rome after telling her he was going to the docks to say goodbye to a friend, but Monica would not be stopped. She followed Augustine to Rome and Milan, praying all the while for his conversion.

St Monica is a powerful example of an ordinary saint. Famous, not for her learning, insight or piety, Monica is a saint because she was persistent. Determined, despite the cost to her personal comfort and security, to do what she believed God wanted of her, Monica follows Augustine to demonstrate to him that she had changed. Still certain that God wanted Augustine to return to his faith, she listened to her own spiritual advisors when they told her that her prayer for Augustine was the best weapon she possessed in her love for her son and for God. If she "backed off" they suggested, Augustine could move forward.

Today, pray for someone whose behavior annoys or upsets you.

How do you respond to someone whose life and lifestyle seem self destructive?

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Essential Gospel

"You have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity." Mt 23:24

The wise person knows he or she cannot do everything, and discerns how best to live a healthy and faith filled life. Some are able to celebrate the Eucharist everyday and this powerful spiritual practice can be grounding and enriching. Others take time in the car or on the train to begin their day with prayer, but when push comes to shove, it matters little what practices we have if we forget mercy and fidelity, and unfortunately that is what happened to the Pharisees.

The Pharisees sometimes get a bad name as a group while in fact most of them were considered progressive interpreters of the law. They tried to offer people a reasonable way to live the law, but Jesus was concerned, not with their politics, but with their unwillingness to show the kind of mercy required by the law, and he condemned them for laying heavy burdens on people's shoulders without making an effort to help them.

It's important for us to think about "the weightier" matters that ought to occupy Christian believers in the 21st century. How can be exhibit fidelity and mercy to those most in need, and how might the church work for justice in a world that is so divided by politics, religion and culture? Unless the Gospel is experienced as a path that proclaims the dignity of all people, Christians will fail to respond to Jesus' demand that our faith always express itself in mercy.

Today, be gentle and faithful to anyone who needs mercy.

What do you think are the weightiest concerns of the modern world?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Boasting about God

"We ourselves boast of you in the churches of God regarding your endurance and faith in all your persecutions and the afflictions you endure." 2Thess 1:4

Often I find myself praying in gratitude for the people I have met along the way, especially people who could easily have walked away from faith because their journey was so difficult. Many of these people are the cornerstones of our parishes and faith communities, but many others are from the developing world where their contact with parishes as we know them is limited. Strong in their faith, these powerful and committed believers continue to study, reflect and celebrate the mysteries of faith despite their poverty. They are, for me, contemporary heroes who I not only admire but try to emulate.

St Paul regularly boasts about the believers who came to faith through his ministry. Never claiming them for himself, but for Christ, Paul celebrates their endurance and fortitude despite the persecutions they suffered. Knowing how difficult it is to live their faith when few support them, Paul holds up the glory of their witness to Christ as an example for all to follow.

Endurance is not usually seen as a great virtue, but there is much to be said for holding fast to Christ and God's holy people in the face of great obstacles. It is endurance that marks most of our lives of a daily basis. The husband who continues to visit and serve a wife with deepening dementia, and the wife who stands with her husband when he can't seem to find work to support their family, are everyday saints whose daily witness to their vows encourages us on our pilgrim journey.

Today, boast about someone others ignore.

What helps you endure in faith on a daily basis?