Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Consoling Voice

"I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? 'Father, save me from this hour?' But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Jn 12:27-28

For most of us, thank God, life makes sense most of the time. We are blessed with homes, friends, food and family. We have resources upon which we can call when we are in trouble or sick. We know, even if we do not always appreciate it, that we are not alone.
Jesus had this same consolation in today's gospel. Troubled and upset, he hears a voice of consolation and confirmation from heaven just as he did when he came out of the waters of the Jordan after being baptized, and when he led his disciples up the mountain in his transfiguration. Still, the desire for a different path is within him. Anyone who wants to suffer for suffering sake is not listening to or living the gospel, but Jesus knows that suffering will be his lot because he had to confront those who were imposing impossible burdens on the poor in the name of God.

Learning to accept and even be grateful for life as it comes to us, no matter the suffering it brings, is one of the hardest lessons we learn. We push back, avoid, deny and wrestle with the dark turns that life brings us. Oscar Romero, who will  be beatified this May, knew that if he continued to speak on behalf of the poor he would likely be murdered, but he could not and chose not to avoid this awful burden. That he gave his life for the gospel continues to uplift all, but especially those who work among and with the poor. Suffering is not good, but suffering for the sake of the truth and the voiceless is sanctity.

Today, accept whatever comes to you with gratitude.

Have you known anyone who gave their life for the sake of others?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Words to Deeds

"Never before has anyone spoken like this man." Jn 7:46

It is always unnerving when people from whom we expect little make us stop and listen. Apparently, that is what happened to the temple guards as they listened to Jesus. When they told the chief priests and Pharisees what happened to them when they listened to Jesus, they were berated. No doubt they were confused, something that happens to most of us when others  correct or ridicule us. Still, the seed had been planted in the hearts of the temple guards, and it was up to them to nurture it.

Lent is a time when the seed of God's word is planted in us again, and we must ask ourselves whether we have done anything to help it grow. Most of us have moments almost everyday when we sense God's presence, or find ourselves being lifted up by the beauty of the day or the goodness of a complete stranger. Hearing about a nurse who spent hours on the phone helping a patient get insurance approval for necessary medical procedures, watching a 40 something woman give an arm to an older man struggling to climb the three steps into church, or seeing a 14 year old boy help his grandmother in her garden, are all moments of grace, seeds if you will, that need nurturing and nourishing.

Today, take an extra moment of gratitude for the ordinary ways that God speaks to you.

Have new seeds of faith and hope been planted in you this Lent?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Truth to Power

"Jesus moved about within Galilee; he did not wish to travel in Judea, because the Jews were trying to kill him." Jn 7: 1-2

There is a great deal of tension in today's gospel. At first, Jesus seems cautious, not wanting to go to Judea because the leaders of the Jews had threatened to kill him, but because it was the feast of tabernacles, he does go to Jerusalem and does not act like someone who is afraid. He "cries out" in the temple area and reminds his listeners that he is not speaking on his own, but on behalf of the one who sent him. This outburst draws more attention to Jesus and the Jewish leaders try to arrest him.

Dealing with tension is always difficult. Having learned early in life that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, we avoid tension whenever possible, and in most cases it is a wise course of action. But sometimes it is necessary to tell the  unvarnished truth and to accept the consequences of our behavior. 

During the Second World War, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was martyred because he could not ignore or accept the atrocities of the German government. Knowing he would probably die, he wrote to his friends and colleagues from prison. "There is not a place to which the Christian can withdraw from the world, whether it be outwardly or in the sphere of the inner life. Any attempt to escape from the world must sooner or later be paid for with a sinful surrender to the world." (1) Jesus knew this well, and the gospel of John is preparing us now for his death. Jesus cannot submit to an authority that denies God's will. Neither can we.

Today, do not hide from the gospel's demands.

Is there someone you admire greatly because of their willingness to speak truth to power?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

St Joseph

"Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly." Mt 1:19

A wise person once wrote, "Expectations are the seeds of disappointment." (1) How true this must have been for St Joseph. Although we don't want to impose our understanding of marriage on people who lived two thousand years ago, Joseph surely expected Mary to be a virgin. When it is apparent to him that she was pregnant, he responds gently. Not wanting her to be stoned, he decides to divorce her quietly. Joseph's natural compassion, which is reenforced by the message of the angel who assures him that Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit, is a powerful sign and challenge to us. Joseph's assumptions about Mary's behavior are shattered by grace.

All of us have expectations for ourselves, our families and, for those who are parents, for their children. It is natural, and most of the expectations are good ones. We want friends and family to succeed in life, to contribute to the society in a significant way, to please God, and live a life of faith. But almost always these expectations get us in trouble. That is why we turn to people like St Joseph who, when his world was turned upside down, maintained his trust in God. Joseph's commitment to God and his compassion towards Mary give us the strength to be joyful even when our expectations remain unmet.

Today, ask God what God wants for you. Don't tell God how to act.

Who has impressed you most in life with the ability to do God's will despite overwhelming obstacles?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Standing on the Margins

"For this reason they tried all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God."

Jesus was forever standing on the margins of Jewish life and challenging the leaders of the Jews to take another look at the Law and the Prophets.  Could they see the law from the perspective of the poor and the voiceless? Can we?

Because it can be very difficult and dangerous to stand in the margins, most of us are reluctant to make ourselves so vulnerable. Knowing our lives will change if we give ourselves over completely to God, we hesitate, not ready for the transformation to which the gospel calls us.

Because Jesus gave voice to the heartache of everyday people, he was labeled an agitator, and became the object of the Pharisees rage and fear. In recent history, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Martin Luther King, Jr, lived this same role. Though each of these key historical figures was personally flawed, they knew God wanted them to be prophets, and, at great personal cost, stood on the margins demanding justice for all.

Today, come out of the shadows and live a public life of faith.

Who do you most admire for speaking truth to power?

Monday, March 16, 2015

St Patrick

(In the Archdiocese of New York where I live, the feast of St Patrick, patron of the local church, is celebrated.)

It should never surprise us how much our earliest experiences in life impact our adult years. When St Patrick, only 16 years old and much like Sudanese and Afghan boys today, was forced into slavery in Ireland, everything changed. Unlike some, however, Patrick's heart, despite the suffering he endured, was touched by the Irish people and after his escape from his captors, he yearned to return to Ireland as a missionary.

Though the church in Ireland is suffering great losses these days, in part because of the sexual abuse by priests and religious in the 20th century, we should not ignore the great work of Ireland's missionaries who went all over the world in the name of the Good News. Fired by the memory of St Patrick's, missionary women and men let go of their homeland and culture to be inserted in churches in North America, Africa and Asia in dizzying numbers, and their influence will continue to be felt for generations to come.

We honor Patrick today, and all those fearless missionaries like him, whose faith was such that they could not be silent about how God has transformed their lives. Listen to the Saints words:
Christ shield me this day: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every person who thinks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me. The Breastplate of St. Patrick
Today, ask God to send you to someone without faith.

How have you been impacted the zeal of St Patrick and the Irish missionaries?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Wisdom of our Seniors

"Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, who was near death." Jn 4:46
For the last two weeks I have been talking with and listening to older people, most of whom are open, honest and enjoyable conversation partners. In Florida to lead parish missions, I have encountered mostly retirees who have the time to make a parish mission and are anxious to review their lives by making serious attempts at growing in prayer and faith. Neither defensive nor overly anxious, they are funny and fun to be with, and that is the point. We have many committed seniors in our church but I wonder whether we are taking adequate advantage of their learning, wisdom and passion.

Calling seniors passionate might surprise some readers, but it is exactly this that I experience. Anxious to pass on their faith, the older people I meet wonder just how they might do this most effectively. They pray, they listen, they serve as Eucharistic ministers in nursing homes and hospitals, they drive friends and neighbors to doctors appointments, they visit the sick and the imprisoned, and they do all of this because it is the right thing to do. Occasionally guilty because they failed to find time earlier in life to live their faith more dynamically, they know now they are disciples of Jesus Christ and are anxious to do more. Why do we fail to hear them or see them? Are older believers invisible in the church in North America much like immigrants and uneducated? How can we change this?

Today, ask someone who is older what their faith means to them.

Have you ever gained new insights and hope from listening to older people?