Saturday, November 15, 2014

Our Worth in God's Eyes

"I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away." Lk 19:27

As we near the end of another liturgical year, the church offers us scriptural texts that help us reflect on the the year that is fast slipping away.  How have we used the gifts we received?  Have we spent them to help build God's kingdom?  Are we richer for having given them away?

For those of us raised during the Second World War and as children of parents who experienced the Great Depression, fear was a constant companion. Supplies of meat,  butter, sugar and gasoline were very limited and were used sparingly for fear there would be nothing for tomorrow.  Sometimes forgetting this, the children of friends often tease their parents for shopping at BJ's or Sam's Club and buying 50 rolls of paper towels when they only use one roll a week. 

When young people snicker at their parent's habits, they fail to acknowledge the fear their parents often carry, even after fifty years of relative prosperity.  Fear leads to hoarding and lack of trust in a system that failed to protect the poor.  Fear leads to shopping for bargains all the time even if the store with the best prices is 25 miles away and the cost of travel wipes out any saving they might realize from the bargain. And it was fear that got in the way of the leaders of the Jewish people trusting Jesus and following him.

When Jesus suggested that he did not need a place to lay his head or a bank to protect his wealth, the Jewish leaders thought he was insane, and their fear of his growing power got in the way of their hearing the gospel.  Unless we learn to trust God in all things, knowing that we are worth more than many sparrows, (Mt 10:31) our fear will allow us to cling to our possessions and justify our greed.

Today ask yourself how you can give the gospel away in a way that will attract others to do the same?

Which of your fears gets in the way of living the Gospel more simply?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Imagination and Faith

"Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Lk 19:5
Every time I read the story of Zacchaeus, I smile. Imagining Jesus' rueful look as he spots Zacchaeus in the tree, I wonder whether Jesus might have whispered: "I know you are fascinated by me, Zacchaeus, but you didn't have to climb a tree, especially at your age.  You could have killed yourself. Be at peace, brother.  I know you are a tax collector and have probably overcharged many, but now that you have demonstrated your willingness to seek a different path I will help you."

This kind of imaginative writing would have been called midrash at the time of Jesus.  It was a common practice for the rabbis to "fill in the untold story," in their commentaries on the Torah. Because so much of the scripture was written after the fact, the scribes and evangelists would have had to fill in the details of the stories about history long past and the life of Jesus.

While today I smiled as I imagined a whispered conversation that Jesus might have had with Zacchaeus,  at other times I thought of myself  as a tax collector who, though intrigued by Jesus, didn't have the humility to climb a tree and risk embarrassment to "see" Jesus more clearly.  Imagining the untold stories inside the life of Jesus helps us draw closer to the Lord and enter more deeply into the great mystery of faith. He is the ground beneath our feet, our food along the way and the breath of God's love that keeps us alive.

Today, use your imagination to enter a gospel story more completely.

How has your imagination helped you grow in faith?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What do you want from God?

"What do you want me to do for you?"

That Jesus asks a blind man what he wants is amazing.  It seems so obvious that the man wants to see, but Jesus asks anyway.  When the man says that he wants to see, Jesus heals him but at the same time reminds him that something even more important has happened.  The young man can see because he believed in Jesus' power.

The story, which first seems to be about a blind man recovering his sight, becomes a story about all of us.  When we place our trust in and hand over our lives to the Lord, we are saved.  The humility that allows us to let go of our fear and our pride and ask for help, makes it possible for the Lord to change our lives. Asking for help is difficult and can sometimes make us feel weak, but it is a necessary step in the spiritual life.

In our society, the desire and willingness to help others with compassion and understanding is strong. Most of us feel better about ourselves when we reach out to those in need. Accepting others help, however, is difficult for most, and causes us to wonder what we would say to Jesus if He asked what we wanted him to do for us.

Today, ask the Lord for the help you need to live the Gospel more fully.

Are you able to ask for help, even financial assistance, when you need it?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sharing our Talents

"To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one-- to each according to his ability." Mt 25:15

That everyone has a talent is probably self evident to most of us, and oftentimes we are very grateful for the talents of a friend who can tweak a computer, fix a faucet or sit with us when we are lost.  While the talent might not seem very important to them, when we are in need, the talents of generous friends are precious gifts.

What is not self evident, however, is that our talents, in a gospel context, are not for ourselves.  Each of us has been gifted by God for the sake of others.  We are part of a community, we are the body of Christ, and as a community of faith we can only be ourselves and function well when all the parts are playing their proper role.  We do not need a hand to be a foot, or an ear to be a mouth.  We need each part of the body to be itself for the good of the whole.

The gospel today reminds us that there is no reason to fear.  God is with us, will protect us and only demands that we give away our talents no matter how anxious we might be about having enough for ourselves.  If we use our talents only to satisfy our own needs for power or security, we condemn ourselves.  Jesus uses the person with one talent, who buries it for fear he will lose it, to challenge us to go beyond our fears. All of us, no matter how poor or wealthy, must guard against greed. It is in this way that we witness to the power of Christ living in us and continue to build the Kingdom of God.

Today, rejoice in your talent and share it with whomever needs it.

To whom are you most grateful for sharing their time and talents with you?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

St Josaphat

"Pray always without becoming weary." Lk 18:1

In the 17th chapter of St. John's gospel, Jesus prays that his disciples may be one, but even a cursory glance at the history of the church reminds us that unity is not uniformity. There are 13 rites, many of which have multiple subdivisions, in the Roman Catholic Church and each of these rites, "possess their own hierarchy, differ in liturgical and ecclesiastical discipline, and possess their own spiritual heritage." l In other words, while the liturgy, language, law and spirituality may differ markedly, the Christ who is their center is the same. It is this unity that St. Josapha worked so hard to attain.

Josaphat, working 500 years after the Great Schism between Eastern and Western churches of 1054, spent his entire life in pursuit of the unity for which Jesus prayed. Now almost 1000 years old, the task of unity, not uniformity, remains a vital goal of the church. At Vatican II, the Council fathers made it clear Christian unity was one of it's principal concerns,2 and though elusive, the unity among the churches as a sign of Christ's unbroken love, remains remains a goal of the 21st century church. How very important then to listen to Jesus' command to pray always without becoming weary. No matter how difficult life in the churches might become, we must continue to pray and trust that God will bring us to a new unity as Christians.

Today, quietly examine the issues that divide your family and/or your parish and ask God for a path of unity and peace.

What do you think are the marks of unity in the Church?

Monday, November 10, 2014

St Martin of Tours

"For the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires." Ti 2:11

St Martin of Tours was a "conscientious objector." Conscripted into the Roman army against his will at 15 , Martin was discharged 8 years later after refusing a bonus given to soldiers on the eve of battle. Severus quotes Martin's response to his commanding officer. "I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight."(1)

Imprisoned for his refusal to take up arms, Martin offers to stand unarmed at the front of the troops as they ready themselves for battle, but when the two armies forged a peace, his gesture was never needed and Martin was discharged from the army. This story was so compelling in the early church that Martin became and remains one of our church's most popular saints.

Like Jesus in today's gospel who reminds us, "Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it," Martin challenges us not to cling even to that which we have earned. How many coats, unworn for years, hang in our closets? How much food sits in our pantries or cupboards unused for months? While most of us will not be asked to lay down our lives for the sake of the gospel, we need to pray regularly to be ready for whatever the Lord does ask.

Today, let go of a worn out thought that troubles you.

What gives you the courage to live the Gospel despite the cost?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

St Leo the Great

"In Wisdom is a spirit intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, agile, clear, unstained, certain," Wis 7:22

When I was younger and became agitated or anxious with too many things to do at the same time, I would panic and do whatever was directly in front of me. I would wash a dish, clean a floor, anything to get away from the feeling of helplessness. This was not the best way to proceed, but it happens to most of us at least occasionally, and when it does we are very far from the ideal of wisdom spoken of in today's first reading. We do not act intelligently, clearly, certainly. When we need to stop, breathe, pray and seek help and guidance, we too often rush to complete tasks that are not a priority and often wind up making a bad situation worse.

St. Leo, Pope and Doctor, received the title great because he didn't panic, didn't act rashly, but somehow kept his focus at a time in the church's life that would have been overwhelming for most of us. With the Pelagian and Manichean heresies gathering steam and attracting followers and Attila the Hun threatening to overrun Rome, Leo did not panic. Rather, he became an ambassador. He wrote direct but kind and inviting letters to those proposing heresy and met with Attila directly to dissuade him from plundering Rome. More important, in a Christmas sermon, he spoke not with the arrogance that can sometimes accompany power, but with the humility that insists we are equal as sinners. Only humility, Leo reminded his listeners, allows us to search for ways to work together for the good of the entire church.

Today, ask for patience and deeper trust in God.

What helps you slow down when you are acting rashly?