Saturday, September 27, 2014

Nehemiah, Leader

“How could I not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been eaten out by fire?" (Neh 2:3)

The book of Nehemiah offers us a wonderful map for leadership even today. The prophet’s first task was to face the reality of Jerusalem’s destruction in the context of prayer. After acknowledging his pain and desire to help, he approaches King Artaxerxes, who he was serving as cup bearer, to ask for a “leave of absence” so he can return to Jerusalem and help the people rebuild the holy city.When Artaxerxes grants his request, he asks for letters of protection on his journey to Jerusalem which the King also grants. Finally, on arriving in Jerusalem, he quietly surveys the damage to the city and realizes he cannot address the devastation by himself. Consequently, he organizes the people already there and assures them that if they work together they can both rebuild the city and protect themselves from their enemies. Miraculously, Nehemiah and all his compatriots rebuild Jerusalem in 52 days.

Nehemiah’s steps as a leader are clear. Pray, reflect, assess and discern what can be done. Organize those most affected, and act together. For those of you experienced in community organizing, these steps are self evident, but they have not always been followed carefully in our church and nation. While I do not think we can impose prayer on our civil leaders, surely it must be the foundation of church leadership. Only with prayer can we come to terms honestly and openly with the struggles our church is experiencing in the United States today. Without prayer, which can free us of the strangling fear that makes new initiatives die on the vine, we will be using old models and paradigms which are overly hierarchical and clerical to address the needs of our church in the 21st century. The Second Vatican Council was clear when it urged bishops and pastors to seek out qualified lay women and men, who are called by baptism to serve the entire church, (Lumen Gentium, Chapter 4, #31) to take their rightful place alongside the hierarchy in leading the church. (1)

Today ask Nehemiah for honest hearts with which to face our problems as a church and work together to address them.

What do you think makes a good leader?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Love the Poor

"It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them." St Vincent de Paul (1)

St Vincent de Paul has always been one of my favorite saints. His words are clear, direct and uncompromising. Two of his more noteworthy sayings are: “Extend mercy towards others, so that there can be no one in need whom you meet without helping. For what hope is there for us if God should withdraw His mercy from us?” And, "Make it a practice to judge persons and things in the most favorable light at all times and under all circumstances."

These days I often revisit Vincent's wisdom when I need to forgive myself and remember that God always judges us in the most favorable light. The image of the Forgiving Father seeing his prodigal son returning home after years of infidelity never fails to comfort me. It also challenges me to offer the same mercy to others that God has given me so many times.

But no saying of Vincent has impacted me more than his demand that we love the poor, not just feed them. In truth, one can only know the power of this directive by experiencing it. Of all the ministries to which I have been called, it is my encounters with the poor that have been most life changing.

“Charlie”, a fellow I came to know at the Shattuck Hospital in Boston,  loved the men and women with whom he spent his final days and his last effort was to agitate the administration of the hospital to put a handicapped ramp to the smoking gazebo outside the hospital, the only place where patients were allowed to smoke. Although not a smoker himself, Charlie realized that most of the disabled at the Shattuck had very few pleasures of any kind, and because he loved them he wanted them to have access to the place where others socialized and enjoyed themselves. Though St Vincent de Paul may have preferred that "Charlie" advocate for something other than smoking privileges, I am sure he would have been proud of him.

Today, ask God for the grace of merciful eyes and a forgiving heart.

How do you think you can love and serve the poor?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Coming Home

“Old men and old women, each with staff in hand because of old age, shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem. The city shall be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets.” (Zec. 8:4-5)

Many years ago on a trip to Honduras I had the privilege of visiting the Mesa Grande refugee camp where more than 30,000 Salvadorans were encamped. Despite being in a virtual prison the people were filled with joy as they built a community of faith and solidarity which sustained them as the waited to go "home."

One refugee story, told to me by priest friend who was ministering there, remains in my heart. Even though they were in grave danger, one community that he accompanied back to Salvador had taken the time to bury their church bell before fleeing, promising to ring it again when they returned from exile. Imagine their joy, he said, as they watched men from their village exit the buses, dig up the bell, hoist it to the tower and ring it in order to call everyone to a homecoming Eucharist.

Today’s text from Zechariah reminds me of the stories I heard in Honduras. The elders of the Hebrew community who have been in exile for more than seventy years are finally home to sleep in their own beds and can ”sit in the streets” of Jerusalem, the promised land, the gift of God, the city of peace. Imagine the effort and creativity it took for the elders to keep alive the stories, rituals and life they knew in Jerusalem. Like the refugees of Honduras, they wrote songs of lament in the hope that their children might never forget God’s love for them as they sang the songs their ancestors has written.

Today, pray in solidarity with the 40 million refugees in the world, more than 10 million of whom are hungry, sick and exposed to the elements.

What does "home" mean to you? How do you pass on your values to your children?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Changing Our Minds for God's Sake

When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him. (Mt 21:32)

Changing our minds is hard work, something that most of us do only reluctantly. Even when the truth stares us in the face, we resist. Perhaps we are afraid of losing something with which we are comfortable. Or we think that changing our minds might be interpreted as disloyalty to a friend or people in power. Whatever the reason for our resistance, letting go and changing our minds in order to follow the Lord more closely is a clear mandate in the gospel.

Today’s gospel portrays a community of Jewish leaders unwilling to change, even after seeing and experiencing the honesty and integrity of John the Baptist. When Jesus suggests that prostitutes and tax collectors are more willing to change than them, their resistance only deepens. To be compared to people at the bottom of the social ladder is an insult which they will not accept. Not only do they refuse to look at Jesus with open eyes and hearts, they begin to plot against him, not because of his ideas but because their power and standing in the community are threatened.

All of us have reasons not to change. We have lived faithful catholic lives. We have followed the commandments and tried to live the beatitudes, but the Lord often demands more. Perhaps we have been hurt by a colleague, a friend, even a spouse and we refuse to believe that they can and have changed. We avoid them, speak dismissively of their good works or smirk at their efforts to change. The problem is ours, not theirs, especially if they have discovered a way to follow Christ which might help us on our pilgrim journey.

Today, ask for a dose of humility that allows you to change you mind for the sake of God’s reign.

What helps you let go of old hurts and view others with God's eyes?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Listening with Love

“Pay attention to what I am telling you.” (Lk 9:44)

Paying attention to others, especially when they speak, is a simple act of courtesy that every person deserves, especially children and the elderly. Nevertheless, for any number of reasons, we often fail in this regard. We are busy, distracted, and anxious or have a cluttered mind or schedule. Unfortunately, because children and the aging have less to distract them, they notice when we are not listening, and while they may not say anything, they are often hurt and confused by our failure to be fully present to them.

The Venerable Solanus Casey, a Capuchin friar who died more than 60 years ago, and whose cause for sainthood has already begun, was best known for his ability to listen to others with compassion. Each day at the Capuchin friary in Detroit, Michigan, people would line up for an opportunity to speak with Fr Solanus. Some wanted him to intercede with God to cure them. Others wanted prayers for a job. Most simply wanted to be with him because he had a calming effect on people. As is often said about the people who go to Lourdes, they might not all be cured, but all of them are healed.  Solanus Casey healed people by listening with openness of spirit and compassion to all those who came to the friary, and his gentle listening reminded people that God listens, too, and will never abandon us. Perhaps that is why more than 20,000 people came to his wake and funeral.

Today, try listening to someone intentionally. Don't search for answers. Just listen.

Are there practices you have developed that help you listen to others without distraction?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Padre Pio

"But who do you say that I am?" Lk 9:20

One of the most important and uncomfortable steps in the spiritual life is letting go of the ideas and practices with which we grew up.  As a child I was taught, or believed, that morning prayers, prayers before class in the parochial school, meal prayers and night prayers were all I needed to learn and do as a good Catholic boy.  Of course, I was also expected to go to Mass on Sunday, confess my sins most Saturday's (as long as I could avoid Fr. D who was loud and harsh!), and learn to serve mass. But none of  these practices were my prayers. They were obligations  I had to fulfill, not celebrations to enjoy.  To be a catholic, I thought, was to wait upon God's grace and be thankful when it came.  I went to mass, waited for the priest's word to which I would respond and waited for his absolution, all actions done to me, not something I initiated.

Of course, these practices and my attitude were supposed to change as I grew into adulthood, but it was difficult.  Becoming responsible for myself, not just in the prayers I spoke or recited, but for finding time to pray quietly and enter more deeply into the mystery of God's love was a stressful transition.  Like most of us, I imagine, I preferred that mother church prepare and serve the evening meal, and I would eat gratefully and joyfully.  But the church pushed me, especially after the Second Vatican Council, to learn how to cook, to take responsibility for feeding myself and others.  It was difficult, and sometimes still is but clearly it is our personal responsibility to gather with other people of faith, reflect on the scriptures and mysteries of the church, and live an active and responsible Catholic life. We are not called to be passive recipients of grace, but active players in the mystery of salvation.

Today, let go of the God of your childhood and embrace the God of today.

Who and what has challenged you to "grow up" in faith?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Being Light for Others

Because I have been blogging on the scriptures for three years, today I will begin to rewrite previous blog posts and repost them. I will also occasionally be posting new blog entries about aging with faith and the new evangelization.

“No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.” (Lk 8:16)

Today we have an opportunity to reflect on one of the most accessible images in the entire gospel. The word Light appears almost 100 times in the New Testament. Not only are we encouraged to light a lamp and put it someplace so that others can see, the gospel also calls Jesus the light of the world and reminds us that John the Baptist was the light who prepared the world for Jesus' coming. 

Electricity has become so natural and so accessible to life as we know it that we often take it for granted. A couple of years ago, after Hurricane Irene swept through the Northeast of the United States, millions of people were left without electricity. However, almost everyone with whom I spoke simply said we have no light. Living without light was not only difficult, for some it was dangerous. Not having light, especially at night, made life for the elderly and disabled dangerous. Not able to see where they were going or get out of their homes easily, they felt frightened and trapped. 

We can be light for one another simply by standing near those in need. We do not have to do anything. We have only to let the light Christ which enlightens our life, shine on those beside whom we stand. Could anything be more simple?

Today, let your light shine on others by walking with them in spirit but saying nothing.

Who do you allow to walk with you in faith?