Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Baptism of the Lord

"You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." Mk 1:11

Although today is called the Baptism of the Lord, we might also think of it as the Lord's Confirmation.  While his baptism is significant because it reminds us that Jesus wants to identify totally with the human family in their brokenness, it is also his confirmation because we hear his Father say, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." Blessed by his Father, Jesus is now ready to go to the ends of the earth and preach the Good News.

For all the baptized, although we sometimes forget this because so many of us were baptized as children, a life of faith is not complete or whole without ministry.  For those who learn and know that God's love for them is never ending and complete, ministry is a natural and necessary aspect of their faith life.

Jesus demonstrates this by insisiting, in opposition to the leaders of the Jewish community, that his mission is not simply to reinforce the teaching of the Torah in word, but to live it in service to those most in need. Jesus' ministry to the poor, blind and oppressed reminds us that the only way others will know we are his disciples is by the love we have for one another, especially those who are without an identity or a voice.

Today, talk without someone who others ignore.

Who helped you understand that faith needs to express itself in action, especially on behalf of the poor?

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Best Man

"The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice...He must increase; I must decrease.” Jn 3: 29-30

My life has been blessed by countless women and men, especially in my ministry with and among Hispanics, who have helped me negotiate the pitfalls of culture and language. I am especially grateful to those women who have translated my homilies simultaneously from English to Spanish so that I could concentrate on helping everyone understand and be moved by the scriptures. Because my Spanish is adequate but weak, without people like this, I would have been lost. Like John the Baptist, they decreased so that I and Jesus could increase. 

John the Baptist reminds us that he is like the best man at a wedding. He does not want or need to front and center. Rather, he clears a space for the bridegroom to be the focus on everyone's attention. More important, at least in the Gospel, is the joy the joy John brings to Christ the bridegroom just by listening to him with delight. 

Straightforward about his role and alert for the voice of Jesus, John becomes the model for believers everywhere. Not concerned for his own safety or fame, John wants to decrease as Jesus increases. How important it is for all to live in the same manner.

Today, be grateful for anyone who helps you in your work and life, especially your children or grandchildren's teachers.

Who do you most value for their ability to stand in the background so that God's word can be heard?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Avoiding the Spotlight

"He would withdraw to deserted places to pray." Lk 5:16

What do you think Jesus prayed about when he withdrew to deserted places? In the Gospel of Luke, it seems clear that he wanted only to be his Father' emissary. Rejecting what we would call a personality cult that focused on him and his miracles, Jesus withdraws in order to avoid the spotlight that might mislead his disciples and hearers.

Committed to announcing the Good News of God's unfathomable love, Jesus reminds all not to worry or be afraid because God is and will always be among us, and desires reconciliation before all else. It is not our sins and faults that worry God, but our unwillingness to turn to God in our need.

More important, it seems likely that Jesus' prayer in "deserted places" was a time of union with his Father during which he prayed for all humankind. Jesus cannot and will not force our hand or demand that we repent. Rather, he prays that we will all see the light of God's love and live in it.

Today, avoid drawing attention to yourself; pray for someone else.

Does your prayer for yourself, your family and others reflect the prayer of Jesus? 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Welcoming the God of the Poor and Oppressed

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free." Lk 4:18

Like most Catholics born in the middle of the last century, I was schooled to believe that the best way to live a devout life was to get to mass as frequently as possible, and to confession every week. These religious practices, good in themselves, often led people of my generation to worry about trivial matters in a way that was out of proportion to the faults themselves. Worse, we often struggled every day to be better, not so much to honor God, but to "earn" our salvation. Unfortunately, while we became good practicing Catholics, our call to discipleship often got lost in the shadows of our compulsions. When the focus of the spiritual life becomes our personal holiness, union with God often takes a back seat.

Today's gospel reminds us that Jesus had a different perspective. God is not someone hovering over us, counting our sins, but a healer who wants to lay hands of hope on the blind and draw ever closer to the oppressed. When we accept the help of the divine physician everything changes. Facing our weakness and acknowledging our poverty allows us not to obsess about our faults like we once did, but to celebrate God's tender mercy. More important, admitting our sins each day reminds us to be humble and non judgmental, and to look at every person with God's compassionate eyes.

Today, accept your need for God and glory in God's desire to be with you in your poverty.

Do you obsess about being perfect? What has this to do with the Gospel?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Seeking New Solutions

“'Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!' He got into the boat with them and the wind died down."

God is always calling us. The scriptures are clear about this, but we are not always listening, and even when we are listening, we sometimes misinterpret what God wants from us.  Today's New York Times noted that the military involvement of the United States in Afghanistan had officially ended, and though I was grateful, I couldn't forget another article about soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are unable to drive our streets and highways without great fear. (1) Many of these soliers cannot drive at all, and when they do drive they often speed up at intersections and go through stop signs for fear there are people ready to fire upon them.  Others feel threatened by tunnels, overpasses and work crews along the road.

Rereading the article I realized I was breathing very shallowly. I don't want to know about these soldiers problems, because I do not want to face the horrors of war, especially as it impacts the lives of children. But unless we face these issues, we will never come to terms with the long term disabilities these men and women face, and the terrible effects upon our society. Dwight Eisenhower wrote, "I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity." Today's scriptures remind us not to act on our fears when we are threatened. Otherwise, we will rush into war again and never find ways to establish peace on the earth.

Today, ask God to help you be a peacemaker.

In what area of life do you most need the courage of Jesus?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Eating whatever is Placed before Us

"The all ate and were satisfied." Mk 6:43

Knowing who you are and to whom you belong is a foundational first step on the road to spiritual health.  Every adult believer has struggled mightily at times with their identity as Christians and Catholics. Sometimes it is a particular belief or practice that makes us uncomfortable or leaves us full of doubt, and this is especially true when we are struggling with other issues in our life. When a marriage collapses or a parent nears death, we can wrestle with the teaching of the church or its beliefs and practices. Why can't I remarry, some ask?  Doesn't God want me to be happy? Or why is my mother suffering so?  Doesn't God care?

It is at times like this that that we need to remember that God wants to feed us,  but we must present ourselves to him as hungry.  When we are able to remember that God is in love with us, and is our companion through every dark forest or imposing mountain climb, we are able to put aside the particular stumbling blocks along the way and eat the food he offers us. Even Jesus, as he neared his death, asks his father to lift his burden and let his disciples to pray with him.  That his father allowed him to die a terrible death and his apostles fell asleep was immensely painful, but did not distract him from his mission. We may not always know exactly where we are going or what we are to do when we get there, but when we remember that God is like a mother who holds us in the palm of her hand and will never abandon us, we are comforted.

If we remember that to ask God for help everyday, not just when we are need, God will give us the faith to live with the questions and burdens which have no easy answer. That God is with us in the middle of the doubt, fear and anger is the promise upon which we rely.  God is here. God lives within us and among us. God is enough.

Today, ask God to help you live with the questions you face.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

St John Neumann

"Beloved: We receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him." 1 Jn 3:22

Fig trees were important symbols of peace and fertility in the ancient world. Our Jewish ancestors knew that the freedom to sit under a fig tree meant their nation was safe and productive. All of us should have fig trees in our lives, places where we can go to sit, be quiet, pray and seek peace. Unless we ask regularly, even everyday, what it is the Lord would have us do and be in order to be fruitful disciples, we risk seeking our own fulfillment rather than God's reign.

When St John Neumann came to the United States from what we now call the Czech Republic, he had enormous energy and imagination. Soon, however, he realized that there were no "fig trees" where the children of immigrants could go to learn peace and be fruitful disciples. Hence, though he was not a good preacher, thought of himself as uncultured, and was willing to resign as bishop, he is credited with establishing the parish school system in the United States which for more than a century has been recognized as the shining star of the American church.

Though today the Catholic school system is struggling to stay alive, we need not despair. Rather, we should ask God for the imagination to discover new "fig trees" for the education and formation of our young, and the good of our nation and world.

Today, go to your fig tree and pray to be a person of peace who bears fruit for the good of all.

Were Catholic schools an important part of your faith formation?