Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Struggle of Faith

"Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted." Ps 147

Having our hearts broken is pretty difficult to avoid if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to life as it comes each day. Standing by with nothing to say to a young man or woman whose marriage has collapsed is painful and unnerving. Helping an older woman bury a beloved husband after 50 or 60 years of marriage is a privilege but a very painful one. Most difficult for me has been burying babies who live only a few weeks or years, and teenagers who take their own life. While the people who have had to endure this kind of suffering wonder if they will ever recover, the psalmist is clear: God heals the brokenhearted.

Job didn't know this when he said, "I shall never see happiness again."(Jb 7:7) His heart was broken and he did not know why. Though he had tried to live an upstanding life, even his best friends had no answers for him. It felt to him like God, who promised always to be his guide, had abandoned him. He had no answers and was hurt and angry. Job wanted God to see life as he saw it, and to reward him for living according to the dictates of the Torah, but God does not see life as we see it, and therein lies the rub.

God promises to be faithful, to walk with us, to guide us, but not to interfere in the normal course of human life. God is with us, not as a fixer of broken lives, but as a companion to the brokenhearted. Only when we realize that God is with us at the center of our emptiness and loss will we find enough light and strength to hear the words, "I am with you always, until the end of the age," (Mt 28:20)

Today, walk with someone whose heart is broken and say nothing.

How does your faith help you face loss and disappointment/

Friday, February 6, 2015

Resting in God

“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

There are advantages living in a friary where everyone is over 70. No one is embarrassed to admit they need a nap (even two short ones!) most days. Years ago, even when the brothers sneaked away in the afternoon for some horizontal prayer, they rarely admitted it because it seemed like something only the weak did or those who lacked zeal.

After the apostles report to Jesus about all their missionary journeys, he encourages them to go away to a deserted place and rest, no doubt because he senses how tired they are. After all, the transition they had to make from their lives as fishermen to apostles of a minor rabbi must have been difficult, even if they were literate. Becoming a public person is always demanding, and even more so in a society that was in a constant struggle with the Romans. 

Rest is something we all need, not just physically but spiritually. Slowing down, breathing deeply and taking time to be intentionally aware of God's presence, support and challenge is essential for a healthy spiritual life.

Today, take ten minutes to do nothing.

How much time do you take each day to rest quietly in God?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

St Paul Miki and Companions

"I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.” St Paul Miki

The above words were spoken by St Paul Miki as he was being crucified. Praying that his blood would be like rain for those yearning for faith growth is a very powerful image. Wouldn't all of us want our lives to be like rain for others?  

Last year, I presided at the mass of Christian burial for a young man of 48 who had turned his life around, re-embraced his faith, and in the process touched many lives. More than anything else, it was liturgical music that brought him home to the church and it was music, sung by a wide variety of cantors, both young and old, that lifted the spirits of the mourners and helped us focus not on the pain of an early death, but on the quality of the life we were celebrating.

Music and singing  are like rain and impact parts of the human spirit that words alone can never touch. How wonderful it is when our faith lives drench others in the love of God.

Today, sing your way through the struggle of dying to self and let your daily dying to self absorption be like rain on others' lives.

Whose lives have been like rain for your spiritual life/

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

St Agatha

"He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick –no food, no sack, no money in their belts." Mk 6:7

Humility will get you everyplace and everything with God. The apostles learned this when Jesus told them to take nothing for the journey. It was not their task to impress their hearers with their own wisdom, wealth or insight, but to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Solomon is another good example of humility. Knowing that his father David lost sight of God and sinned grievously by sleeping with Bathsheba and killing her husband, Solomon knew he had to do better. When God invites Solomon to ask for anything he wants, Solomon does not hesitate in asking, not for wealth and fame, but for wisdom to lead God's people.

Solomon and Jesus disciples know that the people do not belong to them, but to God, and they will need God's wisdom to guide them. The key to our success is never to forget that we are servants of God and the people, not their ruler. Only then will we become Good News.

Today, humbly ask God for the grace of humility to know who you are and what you should do.

What have been your best lessons in humility?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Limits of Discipline

"My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges. Endure your trials as 'discipline.'” Heb 12:5

Discipline is an important virtue and practice in every area of life. We need to eat properly, exercise regularly, get enough rest and work with purpose. We have also to discipline our minds and spirits. Reading, reflection and quiet are essential for anyone who wants to live a centered and open spirited life. When we are disciplined, we can reasonably expect good things to happen and that we will have a modicum on success.

Unfortunately, this is not true for too many people in the world who do not have access to nourishing food, education or quiet time. Many people I have known work two jobs and still find themselves in debt month after month. The hole that is dug around them by unjust wages or working conditions is deep and dangerous. 

That is why the church has taught so carefully about workers rights and a living wage. Pope St John Paul II even insisted that nations had to consider a living family wage and that any concept of wages that does not take the family into account is “purely pragmatic and inspired by a thoroughgoing individualism” and “is severely censured” by the Church (CA 8).

Today, pray that the discipline so necessary to a healthy life will produce for all people adequate wages and working conditions.

What is your attitude towards the working poor?

Monday, February 2, 2015

A Cloud of Witnesses

"Brothers and sisters: Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith." Heb 12:1-2

Almost everyday I call on the cloud of witnesses to surround me as I go about my ministry of preaching, and on every extended retreat I begin with inviting the retreatants to surround themselves with all the people of faith in their lives, living and dead. More commonly called the communion of saints, the cloud of witnesses can be a powerful image for believers. Acknowledging with the first Preface in masses for the dead that "for those who believe life is not ended but only changed," we enter deeply into the great mystery of faith that assures we are the body of Christ, living and dead!

The letter to the Hebrews is clear. If we remind ourselves that we are surrounded by the cloud of witnesses, we can let go of many burdens, especially the ones that feel so heavy when we think of ourselves as carrying them alone. In truth, our faith asserts that we are never alone, that we are always in Christ, and that we have only to attend to this dimension of our faith to be comforted and strengthened. 

Today, picture yourself in the Great Cloud of Witnesses and pray.

Are their images from our Catholic faith that give you great comfort?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

"The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him." Lk 2:33

One of the most joyous moments for many couples of faith is to have their child baptized at Mass on a Sunday morning. In many parishes, the parents are invited to approach the altar after the post communion prayer and hold their new born up before the entire assembly. The smiles on their faces and the loud applause of God's people gathered at Mass always lifts my spirit as I imagine God clapping, too.

The feast we are celebrating today might have been like this for Mary and Joseph as they approached the temple. We might imagine them being stopped by friends and strangers alike wanting to congratulate them and offer them a blessing and a prayer.  Surely, their hearts must have overflowed with joy when Simeon, full of the Holy Spirit, (Lk 2:27) took the infant Jesus into his arms and declared that he was gazing upon the "light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” (Lk 2:32)

Though Mary and Joseph could not have understood completely what was happening to them or what their own role would be in God's plan to save the world, they knew that Simeon and Anna were filled with delight, and so were they. Glory for Israel and a light to the nations had been born to them.  And to us!

Today, be a light to those around you.

What about our faith brings you joy?