Saturday, November 29, 2014

First Sunday of Advent

"No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him. Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!" Is 64:3

Sometimes we watch too closely, pay attention to too many details and get ourselves in trouble.  Not only to do we miss the forest for the trees, we get increasingly anxious about things we can’t control.  Parents sending their children to school for the first time often do this, and it can happen to me when to help a friend work his way through a troubling or difficult personal situation.  Both situations, while understandable and for some unavoidable, remind us of something wise people have said for a long time: Look but don’t stare.

The prophet Isaiah asks God not to stare at his people and punish them. Rather, the Prophet suggests that God could have been more forceful in helping the Israelites remain faithful to the covenant. “Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” I can only imagine God smiling at Isaiah's intervention.

But Isaiah doesn't give up. Rather, while acknowledging the sins of the people, and admitting that they deserve condemnation, he also reminds God that God is the potter and the people are the clay.  Surely, God must know that no potter ever discards her clay.  Rather, she reworks it and shapes it into something new.  That is what Advent is all about, asking God to reshape and mold us into heralds of the Great King.

Today, imitate God by looking at yourself and others without staring.

What situations cause you to obsess about matters you cannot control?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Last Days

"Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” Lk 21:36

Today is the last day of the liturgical year and a good time to make a simple review of our faith life. Four actions ought to mark the life of a faith filled Catholic and we can reflect on them through a series of questions. Have we been faithful to God and the community of believers by gathering regular for prayer and worship, especially on Sundays? Have we taken time to reflect on the mysteries of faith, especially as they are articulated in Scripture? Have we celebrated God's gifts with joy and gratitude? Have we served others as if they were Christ? 

Coming together regularly, studying and praying about God's care for us and serving those most in need are visible signs that God matters in our lives and that we want to witness to God's mercy before others. For most of us the only way we preach is through our actions. We can talk about faith all day, but if we never act on it, we are as Paul reminds us a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. We make a lot of noise but don't do anything for others but annoy them.

On the cusp of Advent, we have the opportunity to be honest with ourselves and God and recommit ourselves to God's dream and desire for us. Going to mass, picking up a bible and offering a helping hand to the needy is a great way to begin. 

Today, be honest with yourself and God. Make no excuses for your faults. Ask to begin again.

Which dimension of our faith life most attracts and empowers you?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

God is Always Near

"The poor are not alone in their distress; God is here to help them." Office of Readgings

A couple of years ago, there was a painful and troubling piece on 60 minutes. Called, Hard Times Generation: Families in Cars , it chronicled the lives of homeless children and families in Florida where one third of the 16 million homeless children live. Listening to children talking about the fear they have at night living in cars and trucks, often in poor neighborhoods, is sobering. Graphic and clear, their testimony got me to thinking about the millions of other children who do not have the parental help, education or social skills to express their feelings in what the program called, the "hidden America."

Listening to these homeless children, I was reminded of an antiphon from the Office of Readings for today, "The poor are not alone in their distress; God is here to help them." When we "listen to the cries of the poor," (Prov 21:13) and accept our own poverty of spirit, when we acknowledge how often we fail to live the gospel, and identify with those who are physically poor and homeless, we find God waiting and anxious to be with us in our aloneness.

Today, stand in solidarity with people everywhere who are hungry, homeless and lost.

Who has stood near you in your need?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Day

"Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?" Lk 17:18

The feast of Thanksgiving is a time to return to the God who has so often healed us, to pause and remember all those who God has given us as companions in faith, who have accepted our faults and lifted up our strengths.  Honestly, if any of us began to name all of these people today, the list would stretch around the world. Today let us sing alleluia for friends and enemies who showed us God's face even when we were distracted by self absorption or lost in self pity.

We also thank God today for allowing us to play a small role in the healing of others.  Broken families, shattered marriages, lonely teenagers, desperate older people and the mentally ill, to name just a few, have all been given to us as gifts. Today we thank God especially for never thinking that the healing relationships we have been privileged to share with the lost have been our doing.  Most of the time the only thing we had to give others was time itself, and to our surprise, that was more than enough.  Though most of us could never have imagined the path God would set us upon, today we acknowledge that all is grace, all is gratitude, and all is rooted in the unconditional love of God because, in truth: Those we have served have given us more than we could ever give them.

Today, find a quiet place to breathe in gratitude for all God has given you and breathe out hope to those who find life an overwhelming burden.

Who or what forces you to your needs in gratitude?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

God's Garden

"Consider the fig tree and all the other trees. When their buds burst open, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near; in the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near." Lk 21 29-30

Paying attention to nature is a simple path to insight and reflection.  Jesus often invites us into the mystery of God's ways in this manner.  Today it is the fig tree. Tomorrow it may be the farmer sowing his seed or the power of the sea in a storm.  Unfortunately, in a society as frantic as ours and as fascinated with technology, we often fail to appreciate the wonders of nature all around us, but we can change.

Should we consider intentionally shutting down our computers, cell phones, and  Ipads for half an hour a day, and take a slow walk.? While it might be difficult to begin and stay faithful to a practice like this, eventually our bodies and spirits will yearn for the "breaks", the quiet times and the rest.

Life unfolds in patterned ways and cannot be rushed.  It takes nine months for a child to be born.  It often takes five years for an apple tree to produce fruit and those of us getting older know that we are very different people at 60 than we were at 20. The task for the Christian is to continue to enter life as it comes, not rushing or pushing, but accepting life on its terms, and attending to God's presence at every stage of life.

Today, wherever you are, pause for a few moments and be amazed at the variety of ways God speaks.

What in nature most often alerts you to God's creative love?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Unity not Uniformity

"The great cannot exist without the small; nor the small without the great. A certain organic unity binds all parts, so that each helps and is helped by all." St Clement to the Corinthians

Because here were serious disputes in the Church of Corinth about the role of authority, Pope St Clement, while reminding the Corinthians that that needed to accept the authority of the bishop and priests, also assured the entire church that everyone had a role in the community of faith.  Good governance was not simply a matter of a bishop deciding disputed questions, it required that bishops respect everyone in the church. Only when decisions taken by the church foster unity among bishops, priests and people will everyone be helped.

The church fosters mutual respect not only as a path to good governance, but as a sign of Christ's presence in the assembly of believers.  Jesus prays that "all might be one," (Jn 17:22) so that the world will know that he was sent by God.  Real unity, not simply uniformity, is often an elusive goal in our lives.  It demands that we listen with respect and openness of spirit to those with whom we have difficulties or disagreements.

In recent years, a friend suggested, because unity is so important in the church and is a sign that Christ is presence among us, that I take another step when listening to people. "Pray for them as they speak, especially if you disagree with them,"  she said.  "Pray that they will be able to articulate clearly what is bothering them.  Pray that you might be able to help them in doing what God wants of them." Good advice then and now.

Today, pray for unity in your families, communities and our beloved church.

What must you let go of to foster a deeper unity with God and others?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Saint Andrew Dŭng-Lạc, Priest, and Companions, Martyrs

"These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been ransomed as the first fruits of the human race for God and the Lamb. On their lips no deceit has been found; they are unblemished." Rev 14: 4-5

Often when we read the history of the church we are startled. When the church first went to Vietnam she did so, not first to announce the Good News to the Vietnamese, but to minister to Japanese Christians who had been driven from their homeland. This simple and innocent act of compassion attracted the Vietnamese but threatened Vietnamese leaders who insisted that the Vietnamese renounce their new found faith by stomping on a crucifix. 

Compassion can be dangerous, especially when it is offered as a free gift to those whom others think of as unworthy. Countless Christians have been martyred because of their desire to be merciful to the lost and lonely. Nevertheless, the openness to offer God's love to those who feel abandoned is a fundamental value of Christian life. Whether our willingness to live the Gospel despite the danger leads to persecution is not the point. That we hand our lives over to God for God's desire for the world is.
Today, ask for the gift of openness to God despite the cost.

Have you known people willing to give their lives for the sake others no matter the price?