Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Holy Family

"Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." Col 3:12

Family life at the time of Jesus was very different from how we understand family life in 21st century North America. Gender roles were sharply drawn, leaving women especially with few rights, and although women and mothers were honored, they rarely owned property or had any education, making Jesus' relationship with women, many of whom became important disciples in the earliest community of believers, all the more interesting and challenging.

The letter to the Colossians reminds us that the so called feminine virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience are foundational to Jesus' vision. If we are going to be in what the scripture's call "right relationship" with one another, we must put on these virtues, especially in our families. Unless parents are humble in their guidance of their children, their offspring will inadvertently learn that power is something to be used over others rather than with them. Only when everyone in a family senses their own dignity, even when receiving correction, can we avoid creating an "us" against "them" mentality which can never be good for family life.

Today, practice humility. Ask for guidance.

What do you think are the most important family values in the bible?

Friday, December 26, 2014

St John, Apostle and Evangelist

"We are writing this so that our joy may be complete." 1 Jn 1:4

Bickering, rigidity and unfettered competition can drain the life out of any community which is precisely what was happening in the community to which St John was writing his first letter. Struggling to understand how Jesus could be both fully God and fully human, some believers dismissed the mystery altogether by proposing that Jesus was not really human but only God in a human disguise.

John takes a different tack. Trying to help the community see that the mystery of the incarnation could never be reduced to words, John encourages them to put aside their disagreements and serve others on behalf of the Gospel.  In this way, he assured them, they would begin to appreciate more deeply the mystery of God's presence in the world as they saw its "truth" living in those they served.

This simple lesson is still true today. There are times that we get stuck inside our heads, especially when we are trying to convince others that our insights and opinions are correct and important. Perhaps if we followed St John's advice to help the needy when we are in turmoil, we might reach a more peaceful place. Care for those most in need often settles our spirits in ways we could never have imagined or articulated and brings us a kind of joy beyond words.

Today serve someone in need. Your joy will be overwhelming.

Has service of those in need ever brought you joy?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Martyrdom of St Stephen

"They threw Stephen out of the city, and began to stone him... As they were stoning Stephen, he called out 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'” Acts 7:59

It is always a shock to get up the day after Christmas to celebrate the martyrdom of St. Stephen. Though I understand the necessity of emphasizing the cost of discipleship, I wish we could wallow for a day or three in Christmas warmth before being overwhelmed by the horror of Stephen's death by stoning. But this is how it is.  We have enjoyed, even delighted in, the memory of Christ's birth, of God become human, and now we must face the reality of gospel life as most people encounter it.
Witnessing to his faith cost Stephen his life and few speak more eloquently about this most challenging gospel demand than the 20th century Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis because he could not keep silent in the face of Hilter's atrocities, especially against the Jews. "Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ." Bonhoeffer was hanged for cooperating with a German Resistance movement that believed the gospel demanded Hitler's removal from power, even if it meant assassination.

Discipleship, even on the day after Christmas, must be our first goal as Christians. Being a "good Catholic" does not simply mean obeying the dictates of the church hierarchy alone, no matter how laudable its teaching. Rather, discipleship demands that we seek justice for all despite the cost.

Today, filled with Christmas hope, ask for the grace to die for sake of God's reign.

Does living your faith cost you anything on a daily basis?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Contemplation

"Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart." Lk 2:18

Contemplation is a gift that allows us, like Mary, to ponder, to sift through, to accept everything that comes to us.  For Mary, who was a very young woman when she first heard that she would be the mother of the Messiah, is was a necessity. Without a commitment to quiet prayer and reflection, without the ability to live with ambiguity, without the willingness to let go of certainty, Mary would not have been able to hear the angel's request of her.

For many Christmas is not an easy, gentle family time.  For some excessive drinking will blot out the joy. For others, finding a way to meld multiple families after a divorce will prove impossible, and when faced with the pain of shattered hopes Christmas often descends into loud arguments and further hurt.  Mary's ability at Cana to act on behalf of the beleaguered couple who were running our of wine despite Jesus' reluctance to help is a reminder to us that a quiet response, rooted in contemplation, is always more effective that a prolonged debate.

Christmas is intended as a time of overwhelming joy for all, but when the joy seems shallow, do not despair.  Remember Mary's willingness to move ahead with silent conviction.  Mary does the right thing. So can we.

Today, take time, don't rush, pray to hear the "stream beneath the stream.

What will it take for you to have a contemplative Christmas?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Freedom and our Imagination

"Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free." Lk 1:67

Freedom is the most precious gift of the sons and daughters of God, but because most of us have experienced political freedom in North America, we rarely appreciate fully the freedom God gives us.  Only when we have been trapped inside a foreign country or considered as less than human as the Jews of old were in Egypt and Babylon, can we begin to understand the precious gift of freedom that God gives us, not only in our national lives as citizens of a democracy, but spiritually.

When God sets God's people free it is not a license to do anything we like, but a privilege that we have to live and celebrate with joy.  The freedom of the sons and daughter of God  is rooted in God's promise always to be our ground, our heart, a mother who holds us in the palm of her hand and a father who, like a shepherd, watches over us at every turn. Because God claims us as God's own we are free from fear.  God's love is everlasting and can never be taken from us.

Using our imaginations to help others is the fruit of God's great gift of freedom. When we let ourselves dream about a better home life, neighborhood, country and world, we open up possibilities for ourselves and others to change the structures that limit freedom and live as God desires.

Today, pray for all peoples who have no political or spiritual freedom.

How have you used God's gift of freedom for others?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Taking Grace for Granted

"What, then, will this child be?" Lk 1:66

Sometimes, especially when we are busy, we take God, family, friends and faith for granted. We rush about internally and externally trying to get everything done, often enough out of pride. We want everything just right and will be disappointed in ourselves if it isn't. Perhaps that is why today's gospel is about John the Baptist's birth. John is the one who will "prepare the way of the Lord," in clear and unambiguous ways. Reform your lives, he will shout. Stop living as if nothing matters but your own safety and pleasure. Our task, John insists, is to sweep the roads, filling in potholes and smoothing out rough spots so the Lord can enter human history.

A few days ago, while working on a homily for Christmas, my computer beeped, alerting me that another email had arrived. Glancing down I noticed it was from an old friend so I opened it immediately only to learn that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Shocked and alarmed, I put aside my homily writing and prayed for a few moments. The clutter of trying to write the perfect homily vanished quickly as I sat in solidarity with my friend.

John the Baptist was right. I was living in a bubble as I prepared for Christmas and someone had to yell at me to stop. Only when we respond to grace and push aside the frantic grasping after all manner of "stuff" do we realize that God is always with us, and it is only our willingness to pause in the middle of the mess that alerts us to the presence of light.

Today, take some extra time to say thank you to God for all the grace in your life.

What practices help you not to take yourself too seriously?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Gift of Time

"Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home." (Lk 1:56)

Time is a precious gift and often our most important asset. Most of us have been trained since childhood to use time well, to be well organized, to be on time and to give our time to others whenever possible. On the other hand, sometimes we hoard our time and make ourselves emotionally unavailable to people who need us to be present to them, especially in their confusion and anxiety.

Thank God, Mary was not like this. Luke reminds us that when Mary visited Elizabeth it was not for a few hours or days, but for "about three months."  Somehow Mary was able to put her own needs aside to attend to the cares of her older relative who was pregnant for the first time, and in her compassion becomes a model for all of us.

Too often in North America, time is a commodity which we buy and sell, not a gift of God that allows us to share the Good News with our contemporaries. As Christmas nears, it would be good for all of us to give ourselves and others the gift of time, freely and without counting the cost. No doubt this is the best gift we could give to ourselves and others as we await the birth of the savior.

Today, stop, reflect, and pray quietly for the grace to give your time to others as a gift.

Who gave you time freely when you really needed help?