Saturday, July 11, 2015

Two by Two

"Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two .... He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick –no food, no sack, no money in their belts." Mk 6:7-8

Over the centuries much has been written about why Jesus sends his disciples two by two. Some commentators remind us that in the ancient world when anyone testified in court there had to be two corroborating witnesses in order to avoid having someone accuse another of a crime to hurt the other. Only when two people concur about a misdeed could their testimony be trusted. From this perspective the disciples were more believable when two witnessed to what happened to them when Jesus entered their lives.

Even more important according to other commentators was the quality of the relationship of the disciples had with one another. Their love for one another in Christ would be a great sign of the "truth" of Jesus message and life. That the disciples asked nothing of those to whom they were sent, nor carried anything to demonstrate their wealth or power was also important.

Knowing how difficult it can be to love one another consistently, and to live with little material wealth, the first hearers of the disciples had to be impressed. When people are willing to move beyond self absorption and share everything in common, they speak of a world beyond what we see and a promise of salvation that it is a gift to us not because of what we own or know, but because of God's gracious love.

Today, love another disciple not for what it gives you, but because of the Gospel.

What draws you to a deeper belief in Christ?

Friday, July 10, 2015

St Benedict

"What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light. What you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops." Mt 10:27

One of the tasks of the great Rabbis was to reduce the entire Law and Prophets to as few words as possible while still retaining the fullness of truth they embody. Jesus does this in his response to those trying to "trip him up" by reducing the Law and Prophets to two values: Love God totally and your neighbor as yourself.

This same lens is used by the founders of the great religious movements of the Christian West. In order, as Hosea says, to break up a new field, St. Benedict first fled the insanity of his times to live for three years in the desert. Returning finally, he gathers like minded men around him in order to lead a communal life. Committing themselves to stability, Benedict and his followers also insisted that ora et labora, prayer and work, be the foundations of monastic life. Whatever other iterations might develop to foster gospel living, these two pillars must endure.

The genius of this particular gospel path allows others who follow to "read the signs of the times" and ask how these founding charisms might live in every age. Because the values of prayer and work are so rich and deep, as long as they remain the building blocks for every age, new expressions might develop for those who want to lead an authentic monastic life in the 21st century.

Today, pray to take hold again of the building blocks of Christianity: Love God and neighbor.

What are the most important signs of the times to which we must respond in our day for the Gospel to be heard?

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Sadness that leads to Compassion

"As soon as Joseph saw his father, he flung himself on his neck and wept a long time in his arm" Gen 46:29

Most of us have done our share of sobbing. When a beloved parent or spouse dies, when a friend moves or turns away from us, when our government or church fails miserably at protecting the most vulnerable, we find ourselves weeping in sadness and fear. Joseph, the youngest son of Jacob sobs so loudly when he encounter his brothers who sold him into slavery, that everyone hears him, even Pharaoh.

Sadness is a necessary part of all our lives. Only the loss of something or someone precious allows us to know how blessed our lives are, and how important it is to treasure what we have when we have it. Too often we take for granted our health, our wealth, our family, our faith and our friends, failing to take time each day to be grateful for the simplest but most important aspects of life and faith.

Sadness can also be deceiving. As Longfellow reminds us, we can sometimes think of people as cold when they are only carrying secret sadness, and while we might be tempted to avoid them, they are friends in need of compassion. Joseph could have punished his brothers, but his heart, so full of sadness for so long, was also filled with understanding and tenderness.

Today, don't run away from sadness. Transform it into compassion.

How does faith help us understand and accept sadness?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Joseph's Love

"I am your brother Joseph, whom you once sold into Egypt.But now do not be distressed, and do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here." Gen 45:4

Sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, Joseph, the youngest and most beloved son of Jacob (Israel) was a dreamer and seer. Blessed with the ability to hear God's will as it was revealed to him in his dreams, Joseph was hated by his brothers who plotted first to kill him, but later chose to sell him to a passing caravan who brought him to Egypt. Returning home, Joseph's brothers gave their father Joseph's cloak which was soaked in blood convincing the old man that his son was killed by a wild animal.

Years later when a terrible famine struck their land, the brothers of Joseph, hearing that the Egyptians, urged on by Joseph's dream, had stored great quantities of food in the event of famine, traveled to Egypt to beg for help. Not knowing it was their brother Joseph who distributed the rations, they were confounded when Joseph told them he would help them but one of them had to stay in prison in Egypt until they brought back their youngest brother. Knowing his request was impossible to fulfill, Joseph wept.

How sad we all are when we fail to live the Gospel with integrity, honesty and fearlessness, but sadness has a purpose. When we realize how much of our anguish is self inflicted, we realize that we need to reform and change in order to know the freedom Jesus promises his sons and daughters. Letting go of self absorbed thoughts and actions helps us take the first steps on the road to a life without guile.

Today, weep for your sins but don't despair.

What makes you most sad in your failure to live the Gospel fully?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Letting God Find Us

"Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Mt 10:6

Jesus seems always able to summon mercy and understanding when meeting the poor and broken. Somehow he sees those most in need with compassionate eyes and heart, and responds to them without judgement. While Jesus can be hard on those who should know better, he seems never to dismiss the struggling. In fact, the scripture tells us that he sees them as lost sheep.

Sheep are naturally communal and always anxious to hear the voice of the shepherd calling and leading them to places where they can graze and find safety at night. Without shepherds, sheep can easily become disoriented and wander from the flock, and when they do they are easy prey for predators. Jesus knows this and promises us if  we accept his guidance that he will feed us with bread that lasts for ever and lead us to streams that will always run free.

Captured by God's love, we find ourselves spending more time being grateful than worrying about our past faults, and discover, to our delight and God's, that we have very little time for wrong doing and sin. Filled with gratitude for all that God is and does, our joyful and free spirits shout Good News.

Today, acknowledge where you are lost and ask for help.

Can you remember times God found you when you felt lost and aimless?

Monday, July 6, 2015

Faith's Demands

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Mt 9:38

Faith is often hot, uncomfortably so. Like walking across sand at the beach in the middle of summer, we jump and hop around, trying to avoid faith's scorching demands, but there is no way around it. Faith burns. 

Jesus reminds us of this in powerful terms. "The harvest if abundant, (but) the laborers are few." Reluctant to step into the hot water of today's social debates as God's laborer, we too often are numbered among those who avoid controversy at all cost. Not only must we respond to the so called hot button issues in the church of North America: abortion, same sex marriage and divorce, we must also acknowledge that the heat of faith is much more than these controversial issues. 

Faith is hot because it demands that we listen when we are ready to explode with anger at those who disagree with us. Faith burns when it requires us to love our enemies and do good to those who harm us. Faith stings when it challenges us to let go of power that dominates others economically, militarily and socially. Unfortunately, when the demands of faith threaten our comfortableness, we too often look the other way.

Today, ask the Lord to make you a laborer in his vineyard.

What inhibits your full response to controversial issues and those most in need?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Holy Places

“Truly, the LORD is in this spot, although I did not know it!” Gen 28:16

Two things strike the reader of Genesis. Jacob's dream allows him to see God in places he did not expect. More important, the text implies that we often forget that God is everywhere and fail to see God or notice God's passing by or presence. There are any number of reasons for this. Sometimes we are so caught up with our own concerns that we fail to see anyone or anything else. We can rush past a needy person, not because we do want to help or don't have the means, but because we don't even see them. At other times, we are satisfied with the God we have and fail to look further.

Years ago, a well known experiment with young theology students interning at a hospital made this point powerfully. A teacher whispered into the ear of each student the story of the man set upon by robbers, beaten and left to die. Then they told them to hurry through a passageway between hospital buildings in order to pass the message they had received to other students. Diligent and committed to their task, a large majority of the students failed to see or stop for a man who had fallen and was lying on the side of the passageway.  In fact, in their desire to be faithful to their commission, they failed to stop at a holy place.

There are holy places in all our lives which really challenge us to recognize that we can find God everywhere if only we slow down, pay attention, and attend to those directly in front of us. Every day there are opportunities to be amazed by God. We have only to notice and respond.

Today, make holy a place in your own home by noticing how God is present there.

Where do you most often find God?