Saturday, June 13, 2015

Mustard Seeds

“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth." Mark 4: 30

Faith, like a mustard seed, is a strange and wonderful gift that grows with and among us in ways we can never fathom. While many of us spend our lives teaching about it, faith's mystery always remains. Faith can never be quantified or measured, only treasured. And if we trust God completely, it grows, like the mustard seed, in volume and power.

I’m smiling as I write about "volume." I remember telling my mother in the first years after ordination that I often worried about my preaching. Was I making sense? Were people able to follow me? Was I clear enough? Mom listened to my concerns and told me to do what other priests seemed to do: If you are not sure of what to say next, say it louder. I must admit I have used her advice more than once, but always knew what was happening. When I arrived at a point in my own thinking or a homily where a leap of faith was required to let God do God’s work, I doubted. Rather than allow the word to do its work, to let faith, as small as a mustard seed, take root and grow in God's time, I spoke more forcefully when a pause or even silence was needed.

Only when we let go of our own need to be good, powerful and right can God open us to the wonders of the gift that God gives freely, completely and gratuitously. We cannot earn the gift of faith; we can only treasure it and give it away in compassion and justice.

Today, join the apostles and ask for an increase of faith for yourself and those closest to you.

What has caused faith to grow in you?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Yes or No

"Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the Evil One.” Mt 5:37

Although it is important to speak carefully and clearly about important matters, we have to avoid becoming disingenuous. Too often, trying to be politically correct, we verbally dance around troubling social issues. More concerned with not making a mistake of offending others, we say nothing, which often results in the needs of the poor being ignored or neglected. People who come to the United States from countries and continents where English is not the first language are especially vulnerable to our failure not to speak clearly about the rights of people to eat, have decent schools, and get adequate medical care.

A few years ago, a woman approached me and asked whether I knew her. I hemmed and hawed a little bit, and then said no, I didn't think so. When she told me that she lived across the street, I was deeply embarrassed. I didn't know her, even though she was at mass every Sunday, because she spoke very little English. A doctor and a woman who wanted to help other parishioners, she was invisible to me.

Jesus asks us to be honest. In my case, it would have been better had I simply said, no, I don't know you, and accepted the consequences. Only when we acknowledge our weaknesses do we have the freedom to correct them and say yes to doing Christ's work in every circumstance.

Today, let your yes be yes and your no, no.

How do you avoid being disingenuous? 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

"But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out." Jn 19: 33-34

More than anything else the feast of the Sacred Heart is an antidote, a response to the theology and spirituality of 16th and 17th century Calvinism and Jansenism that denigrated all creation and condemned most of the human family to eternal punishment. How movements like this emerge is never easy to understand, but they clearly need a strong response from the church rooted in scripture and the best of the Catholic tradition. The Feast of the Sacred Heart is the church's rejoinder.

Insisting that the heart of Jesus has no limits and wants all people to be saved, the liturgy invites us to reflect on the powerful image of God as a shepherd who yearns to find us when we are lost, help us when are hurt and heal us when we are sick. What more could we ask of God?

Although the feast of the Sacred Heart was slow to find full church approval, it was everyday people who drove it. So many believers, overwhelmed by a world that was fast becoming unbearably complex and oppressive, believers embraced the feast of the Sacred Heart which offered them hope no matter how difficult their lives might be. It can continue to offer this same consolation in the 21st century. Everyone wants to believe in a God that seeks them out and embraces them with his heart.

Today, open your heart to someone lost.

How do you understand God's love for you?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

St Barnabas

"The Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'" Acts 12:2

Few people are able to stand peacefully in the middle of a dispute without taking sides. St Barnabas seems to be one of them. A companion and friend to St Paul, it was Barnabas who assured the the Jewish leadership of the earliest Christian community that Paul's conversion was authentic. This had to be a thorny task. How someone like Paul, who had persecuted Christians, could be trusted was a difficult obstacle in the early church, but Barnabas took on this burden by working with Paul in Antioch.

But Barnabas was not always successful. When Barnabas wanted Paul to take Mark with them to revisit the churches they had helped found, Paul would have none of it. Mark had failed Paul once and Paul was unwilling to risk another falling out. Because of this disagreement Barnabas and Paul went their separate ways for a while, but eventually Barnabas was able to bring about healing among them.

In a church as divided as ours in the United States, it would be good to have a few more Barnabas', people who put aside winning arguments for the sake of unity among us.

Today, listen more than you talk.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Spirit of the Law

"Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us; rather, our qualification comes from God, who has indeed qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life." 2 Cor 3:5-5

Sometimes St Paul gets it just right. Although it is difficult for us to remember that all we have is a gift, the Gospel clearly calls us to this attitude and stance, and Paul insists that although he has spent years studying the Torah, his knowledge pales in comparison to the gift he received from God to know and believe in Jesus. Only after admitting that he not only ignored the message of the Gospel, but actively worked against it, does Paul realize the gift of the new Covenant in Jesus is beyond anything he could have imagined.

More, when Paul rejects a life that only adheres to the letter of the Law, which he insisted upon as a rabbi, he opens himself and his followers to following the Spirit of the law, and this frees him to know a God of infinite love and mercy who is active in his life. To get to this place of freedom in the Spirit, Paul had to encourage Christians to actively discern God's will, not simply submit to it as if it were a demanding King. Believers must listen, reflect carefully and pray deeply to know God and God's will for us in Jesus.

It is often easier for some Christians to obey the church's teaching authority blindly than to probe and discern carefully what it is the Bishops are saying when they teach. Every adult knows that it his or her responsibility to weigh and sift through many options in life in order to live well. How much more important this is as we search for a way to live the Gospel authentically and completely. Careful attention to and prayerful reflection upon what is happening in the world is an essential element of knowing how to follow Christ in all the circumstances of our lives.

Today, ask God to show you the Spirit of the Law in your discernment.

What is most difficult for you in interpreting the Gospel in our times?

Monday, June 8, 2015


"Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket." Mt 5:14

Last week I had an opportunity to spend time with the Capuchin postulants of North America, twenty three remarkably diverse young men who will soon be novices. One postulant is a Chaldean Catholic from Syria whose family emigrated to Canada. Another is a Jewish convert who was born in Israel. Three are from Mexico, others are from Ecuador. The light of Christ is very bright indeed and these young men are not putting their lights under a bushel basket.

The gospel today reminds us that we are salt and light, people who are supposed to bring flavor, perseverance, healing and hope to the world. Gathering with such a diverse group of committed and joyful young men was a wonderful reminder that God continues to do God's work even in a church as hurt and broken as ours.

Being a light in the world is simple, but often difficult. It means discerning when to speak or be quiet in difficult circumstances. It means doing the right thing even when it is unpopular. It means remembering that it is not our own light but Christ's that we put on the mountain top so that all can see.

Today, be a light to others.

What or who brings the light of Christ into your life?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Beatitudes as the Basis of our Faith

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Mt 5:2

One cannot say too often or emphasize too much that the beatitudes are a template, a frame with which to understand all of Jesus' preaching. Very few commentators would suggest that Jesus actually spoke all of these truths at one time and in one place. Rather, the beatitudes are a compilation of Jesus' preaching which was recorded in a form that made them easy to memorize.

Without a printing press or a written form that would allow easy distribution of the sayings and teachings of Jesus, the first Christians memorized Jesus' teaching and repeated tehm often for their own well being and to announce the Gospel. While many contemporary believers still do this, it can be a dangerous practice.

When we reduce the teaching of the New Testament to a few memorized sayings, we risk creating a "bumper sticker" faith and a community that repeats catch phrases out of context and with little regard for the culture out of which they emerged. When we do this, we impose our cultural lens on a text, and use the scriptures to reinforce our own opinions rather than learn more about how God spoke at a particular time to a particular people.

Today, read all of chapter five in Matthew's Gospel.

What practice has helped you develop a real love for the Bible?