Saturday, October 18, 2014

God's Fire

"Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division." Lk 12:51

Fire in the bible, always a sign of God's presence, often purifies and cleanses. Sometimes the lesson is simple. When we get distracted by concerns that we can do little about, like the weather on a day we are flying, we need to be cleansed and purified. We need to let go, enjoy the day as it unfolds and remember the wisdom of an old saying: Things that are important are rarely urgent and things are urgent are rarely important.

But our need for cleansing and purification can cut much more deeply. When we hold grudges for months or years, expecting the other person to ask for forgiveness, when we ridicule the weak and take advantage of the poor, we need to be cleansed. In the film, The King’s Speech, the Duke of York is a terrible stutterer. Though born to nobility, the man who would eventually be known as King George VI, cannot even read a speech on the radio. Battered by his father to try harder, and to speak more slowly, his stammer only gets worse, but what is most difficult for him is the ridicule he is subjected to, even as an adult, by his own brother.

Exhausted and ashamed by his struggles, the future king submits himself to the “cleansing” and “purifying” skill and friendship of a commoner. Slowly he gains some control of his stammer and emerges humble and grateful, and able to play a key role in leading England through the Second World War. This is, of course, exactly what the Lord did for his first disciples and continues to do for us today.

Today, ask not to be afraid of the fire of God.

Has the Gospel felt like "fire" to you? Did it cleanse you?

Friday, October 17, 2014

St Luke

"Do you see this woman?" (Lk 7:44)

Luke,the author of his own Gospel,  tells us about an unnamed woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, a story that convinces us that God is merciful beyond our imaginations. The story is so dramatic and compelling, and so full of detail that we wonder whether Luke actually knew the woman or her children.

Jesus, Luke tells us, allows himself to be touched and washed by a woman who had lived a sinful life.  Any observant Jew watching this scene would have wondered what Jesus was thinking, but it is the Pharisee who takes the bait. Immediately concluding that Jesus could not be a prophet since he allowed a sinful woman to touch him, wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair, the Pharisee has Jesus in his sights.

But Jesus reads the Pharisee's heart, and asks him a critical question. “Do you see this woman?” The answer is simple and shaming. Of course not. The Pharisee was trying to test Jesus and saw nothing but his possible triumph over an imposter. He could not see the woman as a person. He only saw Jesus failing to keep the law by allowing a sinner to wash his feet and rub them with expensive oil. The Pharisees shame reminds us to listen more deeply to every person we meet, not to judge but to seek to understand them and offer mercy.

Today, take a second look at someone you have judged quickly.

What do you do when you feel shame?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

St Ignatius of Antioch

"Whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops." Lk 12:3

One of the great qualities of saints is that they don’t bring attention to themselves. St. Ignatius of Antioch is a wonderful example of this. Famous for telling his followers, "I am Christ's wheat and shall be ground by the teeth of the beasts so that I may become Christ's pure bread,” Ignatius begged his friends not to stop his martyrdom. So confident that the Lord would protect him, the saint knew the strength he received from God would be a sign to others of God’s unconditional love. At the same time, as one reads further in Ignatius' letter, there is a hesitancy, a moment of fear perhaps. He says, "If then I should beg you to intervene on my behalf, do not believe what I say. Believe instead what I am now writing to you now."
Most of us, while admiring Ignatius’ faith, would be more likely to tell our friends to ignore our craziness in seeking martyrdom and write it off as the dream of a madman. Because we are afraid of the unknown and more concerned with the life we have and know, even if it is full of pain and confusion, we hesitate thinking about and asking God for the grace of a peaceful death, much less a martyr’s death.

In fact, most of us think Jesus is talking only to foolish rich people when he says, "You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong? Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God." Amazingly, we often cling to the little we have rather than remember God’s mercy and throw ourselves upon him. Ignatius' example challenges us to reexamine our priorities

Today, ask for the humility to let God be God and to trust that God's grace will be enough even when we face death.

Are you prepared to die?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Winning arguments, losing Friends

“Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?" Mt 22:17

The tax rate in the Palestine of Jesus’ day was high. Occupied by Rome, Jews had to pay a poll tax, equivalent to a day’s wage, an income tax of one percent and a ground tax that demanded they give 10% of all grain to their Roman rulers and 20% of all wine and fruit. Some scholars suggest that by the time the poor paid all their taxes it amounted to almost 40% of their income!

It was no surprise that the Pharisees and Herodians, enemies in most things, used the issue of taxes to try to entrap Jesus. If Jesus agreed that the taxes should be paid he would be accepting the legitimacy of the Roman occupation and offending the leaders of the Jews. If he suggested Jews should not pay taxes, he might please the poor who were so heavily taxed, but would expose the Jewish community to punishment by the  Romans who ruled Israel.

Jesus escapes the trap by asking for a coin. That the leaders of the Jews had a Roman coin was an offense in itself since it bore the image of Caesar and the inscription, “Tiberius Caesar, Augustus, son of the divine Augustus, high priest.” The Romans demanded that taxes be paid in Roman currency and for a Jew to have any currency bearing the image of someone who claimed divinity made him or her unclean. Jesus has turned the tables on the Pharisees and Herodians. To both of his adversaries he suggests they are more concerned with winning silly arguments than pleasing God. Is this still true of us?

Today, ask for the grace to listen to others with reverence.

Have you fallen into the trap of trying to trip others up?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Healing Among Religions

“He (Abraham) is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed.” (Rom 4:17)

Among my great delights during the years I was stationed at our friaries in Boston was the opportunity to work with Jews, among others, inside of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. Together we worked as community organizers in the areas of health insurance, youth violence, and elder care. Getting to know my Jewish sisters and brothers through joint action for justice was a powerful way to challenge the assumptions and prejudices too many of us harbor. Advocating and organizing together for the good of all was not only a bromide, it actually helped heal relationships we did not even know were broken.

As Pope St John Paul II reminds us: "In the Christian world--I do not say on the part of the Church as such--erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people and their alleged culpability (for the death of Christ) have circulated for too long, engendering feelings of hostility towards this people." In 1993, the Pope wrote: “As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing to the world (cf. Gen. 12:2 ff.). This is the common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to be first a blessing to one another (L'Osservatore Romano, August 17, 1993).

Clearly, Christians and Jews together follow the faith of Abraham and Pope St John Paul II further reminds us that Jews are our “elder brothers,” and that the first Covenant was “never revoked by God [cf. Rom. 11:29].” Thinking of our Jewish brothers and sisters as our “elder brothers” and sisters can change everything. Separations between us as communities of belief are natural, but unnatural fissures built on prejudice and anti-Semitism must be faced and overcome, and one good way to begin is to work together for justice.

Today, pray for healing between and among religions.

Have you had the opportunity to work for justice with other religious traditions?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Learning not to be Afraid

“Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows." Lk 12:7

The disciples were drawn to Jesus for many reasons. He spoke to their hearts. He addressed them with dignity. He was a healer and prophet. He spoke with power. But they were also cautious and afraid. When Jesus spoke to and about the Pharisees he was dangerous. Because the Pharisees were able to intercede for them and help them with a meal or clean clothes, the poor were not going to bite the hand that fed them. That is why today’s gospel from Luke is so telling.

Luke tells us that there are so many people trying to get close to Jesus that some are being trampled. No doubt Jesus’ disciples were impressed and hopeful. The prophet they were following was popular and powerful. More important, he was a rabbi who cared about them, but his warning about not being swayed by the leaven of the Pharisees had to make them very anxious. No doubt some moved to the background where they might escape the wrath of the Pharisees if necessary. Jesus’ suggestion that some of them might die as a result of following him was not what they wanted to hear. But others heard him at a deeper level. Rather than retreat, they moved closer to him where there was no reason to be afraid. Since they were worth more than many sparrows, God would protect them, guide them and strengthen them when they were threatened.

Being willing to hear Jesus’ word today is no different. There will be times when we want to fade into the background, afraid that we might lose the little we have. Jesus’ assurance that we should not fear those who can kill the body but not the soul will fall on deaf ears. When we feel threatened it is natural to retreat, but we should resist. Allowing ourselves to feel the fear will help dissipate it. More important, when we ask the Lord to enter the fear with us, we will sense a kind of companionship that is empowering and helpful.

Today, ask God for the faith to believe in your own worth and not to let your fear get in the way of a deeper relationship with the Lord.

Do you believe that God cares about you and all people personally?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

God's Gifts to us are for Others

"For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery." Gal 5:1

It is easy for our to become slaves to the praise of others. Someone kindly offers an affirming word. Another says how much they like a homily we gave. A friend drops a note of gratitude for a kindness shown them. We walk around in the glow of appreciation, all of which is normal, natural and understandable, but when we fail to give God the credit for life, goodness and our own successes, we risk becoming full of ourselves.

Paul’s reminder that Christ sets us free from this kind of slavery is a good and important one. At the same time, while boasting is always inappropriate, we can be so defensive about our tendency to pride that we forget to be grateful for all God’s gifts. Each of us, Paul also reminds us, have a gift that does not belong to us but is given to us by God for the good of all. It is impossible, I think, to meditate too often on the image or metaphor of the Body of Christ.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes. 1 Cor. 12: 7-11
Clearly, Paul does not want us to boast about any gift we have received, but he does want us to be grateful. Whether we can read a spreadsheet and help a company grow or we know how to fix a car just by listening to the engine is not the point. Remembering that these gifts are given to us for the good of all makes all the difference.

Today ask God to show you again the gifts you have received for the building up of the Body of Christ.

Do you ever feel enslaved to your own reputation or the approval of others?