Saturday, October 4, 2014

Jonah's Rage

“But the LORD asked (Jonah), "Have you reason to be angry?"

God’s question to Jonah is stark, direct and demanding. It could be addressed to any of us. Put another way, God says: Are you angry with me for forgiving people? Have you been so hurt by another’s sin that you cannot, will not let go? Clearly, Jonah did not expect the people of Nineveh to listen to him or God when he walked through their city demanding repentance. When they listen and repent, he wonders about their sincerity. His caution is such that he will not allow himself near those who sin or the God who forgives. How awful, but how ordinary

Unresolved anger can be a terrible cancer in our families, churches and world. Although understandable, Jonah’s anger is unacceptable. Jonah holds onto the awful memory of the armies of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, destroying Jerusalem. As long he clings to his anger, he cannot imagine anyone, even God, forgiving. Unfortunately, when this kind of anger takes root in us and remains unaddressed in our families and churches it becomes like a resistant weed that we tear off on the surface, but fail to dig deeper to remove the roots.Think, for instance, about the rage some continue to hold against Muslims everywhere because of ISIS or Al-Qaeda.

Anger extended over a lifetime rots our spirits like a piece of fruit left too long off the vine. The single most important aspect of life in the Spirit is to remain connected to the vine who is Christ. This dimension of our spiritual lives necessarily involves forgiveness and letting go. Jonah could not do it. Can we?

Today ask God not just to free you from the entanglement and twisted thinking that is the result of unresolved anger, ask to be free of the buried memories that slowly kill us a day at a time.

What about our faith helps you let go of anger?

Friday, October 3, 2014

St Francis of Assisi

As children and young adults we are regularly imprinted with memories that mark us forever.  We see, for instance, how others treat the poor with compassion or dismiss them as lazy, and these experiences are like seeds that grow in us and form the basis for the critical decisions we make in our lives and lifestyles.

Something like this happened to St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast we celebrate today. Born into a merchant’s family, a new class of people that began to emerge after the year 1000 in Europe, Francis regularly traveled with his father to the cloth fairs of southern France where he encountered thousands of poor and homeless people who surrounded the great fairs begging. While most people could dismiss what they saw or patronize the poor as weak and lazy, Francis saw something else. At first, he did not know what he was feeling, but gradually he realized how awful he felt when he saw poor people, especially lepers. A seed of doubt about the dignity of the poor had been planted in his spirit, one that eventually would change him and his society forever.

Riding his horse one day, perhaps daydreaming, Francis came upon a leper. Compelled by grace he dismounted and kissed the leper and later exclaimed, “What before was bitter was turned into sweetness of body and soul.” Kissing the leper changed everything for Francis. The seed of discontent sowed in him at the cloth fairs of southern France was beginning to bear fruit. While others felt free to dismiss lepers as sinners and think of them as less than human, Francis, with a simple kiss, knew that he had become part of a new family. He would join the poor, the lepers, and the forgotten. He would take off the clothes his father gave him as a gift and don the garb on the poor as a pilgrim. His life and the life of those who eagerly followed him, would never be the same. All creation was holy, Francis proclaimed. Every person had dignity and the Gospel of simplicity, lived so powerfully in Jesus, was reborn for a new age.

Today pray that the seeds planted in you as a child will bear fruit for the good of the world.

Have you had a moment of conversion that has marked your entire life?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Letting Go into Death

The Transitus of St Francis is a Franciscan ritual celebrated each year on October 3.

The Transitus or celebration of the passing of St Francis from this life to eternal life has become an important moment of celebration in the communal life of Franciscans everywhere. Although the celebration of a Transitus does not belong to Franciscans exclusively, (1) it is a time when Franciscans stop, breathe, remember and honor the Saint who is so responsible for our life, lifestyle and vision. More important, it helps us mark a time in St. Francis’ life that reminds us of his humanity, frailty, faults and glory.

For the first friars, and especially those who were with him as he prepared to die, it was a time to grieve, to let go, to weep and feel the pain of his loss. Anyone who has had the privilege of helping another die, especially a family member, knows the importance of this time. Bitter memories can be recalled and gently released. Powerful moments of transformation can be remembered with gratitude. And the key moments of our faith life and journey can be revisited in order that they become the memories we rely upon when we feel lost or empty.

I remember the last time I saw my father alive with great clarity. He had been moved to a nursing home not of our family's choosing because he was a Medicaid patient who had to accept whatever Medicaid allowed. Though not terrible, it was a dark place and stuffy with the heat of September. Dad had been unable to speak after suffering a debilitating stroke in early July, but he could squeeze your hand and open his eyes in recognition of your presence. I was about to leave him for the final time and return to New York but God gave me the grace to tell him goodbye and that I did not expect to see him alive again. He squeezed my hand in what I took to be acceptance. I kissed him and left in tears, but also with a great peace. Dad had been hanging on for months and it was time for him to let go and receive the rewards of his gentle life. Saying goodbye is painful but important and God had allowed me this gift.

Today, pray to let go of anything that holds you back from living an authentic gospel life.

How do think Christians ought to think about and celebrate death?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Being Gracious

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Phil 5:8

Paul’s epistle to the Philippians is one of his most tender letters. Weak and in prison, he writes to the community of Philippi thanking them for supporting him and reminding them that they ought to enjoy and celebrate the lovely and the gracious gifts of God all around them. What a wonderful challenge and opportunity.

For years I have had the privilege of working with a lay woman colleague and friend. Gaynell Cronin has a genius for creating sacred space. With a cloth to cover an old table, a flower, a piece of drift wood and a candle or two, she can take the ordinary things we see everyday and arrange them in a such way that those who gather with her are drawn to quiet and prayer.

On occasion, I have tried to replicate her work but with little success. No matter what I do, it never seems to reach the standard of loveliness she is able to create. What is wonderful about her gift is that it is like a metaphor or a sacred image, always inviting the viewer into the space, never telling them what to think or how to feel, but urging them to let go into the loveliness of God. A beautiful environment quiets our spirits, softens our edginess and reminds us not to obsess about our weaknesses, but to celebrate the wondrous all around us.

Today, be gracious especially to those who annoy you.

Who do you most admire for their gracious way of living the Gospel?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

St Therese of Lisieux

“I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” (Lk 10:21)

Therese of Lisieux, who came to prominence at a time when the world was experiencing two world wars and violence of a kind never seen before, was one of the most popular saints of the 20th century. Therese’s “little way” made sense to the people of the United States who were overwhelmed by the loss of husbands, children, brothers and friends in wars fought far from home. Living each day with simplicity, handing one’s life over to God, and offering “every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love,” helped people who were being bombarded with painful news on a daily basis.

In recent days, our President has announced his and our country's intention to push back ISIS both in Iraq and Syria, and last week he asked for support in this fight at the United Nations. Although many are sympathetic to President Obama's initiative, we cannot help but wonder where the violence will end, and whether there isn't another way of responding to aggression around the world. Unless we search for new responses to those with whom we disagree, we will surely become numb and unable to to respond with a Gospel heart to those with whom we differ.

Perhaps Therese’s little way can still help us. If we commit ourselves anew to a simple path of prayer, conversation and patience, without denying the horrors of war, famine, disease and hunger, we might discover a God who is only too anxious to help us.

Today, live simply so that others can simply live.

How do you respond to violence against you in your own life?

Monday, September 29, 2014

St Jerome

"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." St. Jerome

St Jerome is one of the most important scripture scholars in the history of the church. His translation of the bible into Latin, known as the Vulgate, was the basis of every translation into modern languages until the middle of the 20th century. His brilliance and discipline were such that he was able to produce not only a translation of the bible that continues to be a resource for contemporary students of scripture, he also wrote dozens of commentaries on the bible, and more than a hundred letters. An advisor to Popes, he was also often called upon by theologians as they grappled with heresies and misinterpretations of the bible.

This being said, Jerome was a volatile, tempestuous and driven man. Reading a few of his letters makes you glad you were not in his sights! Jerome lived at a time and in a church that badly needed reform and his answer was a rigid asceticism. In what many consider his most famous letter, he warns St. Eustochium about every possible threat to her virginity while also acknowledging that even when he went to the desert to escape the insanity of the Rome of his day, he was tormented by fantasies of Roman dancing girls.While no one denies the importance of virginity and celibacy in a world obsessed with sex, it is not the only or even primary avenue to salvation.  Marriage and family, which Jerome seems to dismiss as less than the call to virginity, (1) remain the vocations to which most people are called, and their path to holiness.

I write all this about Jerome because for me he is a powerful example of how God works with us as we are and uses even our faults for the good of others. Jerome’s life reminds us that when we submit ourselves to God, great things happen, and that God and history remember all the good Jerome did and underplay his shortcomings. What a wonderful lesson for us.

Today, ask for forgiveness of your sins, but don’t forget to be grateful for the gifts God has given you.

How do you emphasize the strengths of others, not their faults?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Be an Angel

Angels have three basic functions or roles in the Catholic tradition. They protect, guide and announce good news, all of which are rooted in God and God’s will for humankind. The archangels who we celebrate today, the only ones named in Scripture, remind us of these three roles. Michael symbolizes protection, Raphael guides and Gabriel announces good news. All three, like all the manifestations of God’s love for the world, are given to us to be imitated.

Today, I was thinking how important it is to protect the good name of others from slander and detraction. To be sure, if we refuse to gossip, we are like angels for those who are often talked about, even in the public arena, and our silence becomes very loud. I had a classmate in grammar school who was well schooled in this kind of angelic behavior. Whenever we began to talk about others in a negative way, especially our parents or teachers, he would get very quiet, and the frozen smile on his face reminded us to be more careful in speech.

Secondly, we have all had guides, some of whom may have tried to get us to risk, to think outside the box, in order to announce good news. My friend, Fr. Bill Quirk (RIP) an angel for me many times over, once reminded me that I had no business preaching if I did not have at least three Epiphanies a day. When Bill first spoke of epiphanies to me, I thought he was teasing, but he was very serious. Again, his face gave him away. We were playing golf and I was getting angrier and angrier at my clubs, the golf balls, and the golf course itself without accepting any responsibility for my poor play. With an awkward smile, Bill told me it was all right to get upset, but that I wasting a perfectly beautiful day by not paying attention to the glory of creation all around me. Lesson learned, at least for the day!

Today, be an angel for someone in need. Try not to use words.

Who has been an angel in your life?