Saturday, August 1, 2015

Desiring Jesus for the Wrong Reasons

“Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled." Jn 6:26

While Jesus accepted the people who followed him for who they were, he also knew that some sought him out for the wrong reasons, and he regularly corrects and challenges them and us not to look to him  only for miracles and food, but to pray and work for a food that will last.

Although we know this side of Jesus, it can be difficult to accept his directives, especially when we are struggling. Anxious to be free of suffering for ourselves or others, we pray for God's intervention without bothering to think or even wonder whether our desire will help build God's reign.

When we read the scriptures about the people Jesus healed, we are reminded not to focus too narrowly on the wonder of healing, but on the life of faith which the healed person led. Mark's gospel is especially telling in this regard. "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." (Mk 10:52) Ultimately, the healing of Jesus is for others. Jesus expect those he heals to "go" and announce the Good News by the way they live and care for others. 

Today, feed someone with kindness.

What most interferes with your following Jesus freely?

Friday, July 31, 2015

St Alphonsus Liguori

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

One of the most remarkable phenomenon in the Judeo-Christian tradition is how God uses the weakness of people to confound the wise. Not only is this uncomfortable for us, it often pushes away those who think of themselves as sane, centered and grounded. Christopher Hitchens, who in his last years was a loud and acerbic critic of religion, asserted that the dark night of the soul was nothing more than depression, a view that is shared by many who call themselves atheists.

Nevertheless, in Psalm 50 we read, "True sacrifice is a broken spirit: a contrite and humble heart, O God, you will not refuse." Only when we acknowledge our brokenness does God work, using our humility as a path to truth. We are all weak; we are all fragile; we are unable to live without others and creation. From a Christian perspective these are truths that set us free because they help us submit to God and God's ways.

Alphonsus Liguori, the founder of the Redemptorists, is a powerful example of this. Well educated, he finished his doctoral studies in canon and civil law before he was twenty, but was unhappy. Hearing God's call to share the good news in simple ways, he sought ordination, despite the opposition of his family. Badly bent over by rheumatism, and unable to stand erect, he managed to preach popular missions for 26 years. Though a renowned theologian, it was his humility and integrity that touched the hearts of ordinary believers most deeply.

Today, ask for the grace of not knowing everything.

What experiences have taught you the value of humility?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

St Ignatius Loyola

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." Mt 13:44

Many people never find their buried treasure, and some give up looking for it, but the Gospel is clear. A faith filled life demands that we ask ourselves about our treasures and discern whether what we cling to is really of God or our own misguided desire for security and control over life. The believer realizes, often early on, that nothing we can possess is really of ultimate value, even our families and our friendships. Only when we let go are we free to know and trust God in all things.

St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, took a very crooked path before discovering God's desire for him. Like St Francis of Assisi in the 13th century, Ignatius was fascinated by the stories of courtly love and knighthood, and dreamed of a life of military success. When, however, he was badly injured in a battle with the French he began to read stories of Jesus and the saints, and discovered he could have a much deeper happiness if he followed the Gospel.

Determined to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit which had surfaced through study and prayer, Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus with a few close friends. Only then did his life begin to take the path that God intended. More important, the wisdom he gained became the foundation of the Spiritual Exercises, a guide for the Jesuits and spiritual directors everywhere, and one of the most incisive and important documents about the spiritual life written in the Christian West.

Today, look for the treasure God wants for you.

What are the treasures to which you cling?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Opening our Hearts

"Open our hearts, O Lord, to listen to the words of your Son." Acts 16:14b

Changing our minds is hard work, something that most of us do only reluctantly. Even when the truth stares us in the face, we resist. Perhaps we are afraid of losing something with which we are comfortable. Or we think that changing our minds might be interpreted as disloyalty to someone in power or a friend. Whatever the reason for our resistance, opening our hearts, letting go and changing our minds in order to follow the Lord more closely is a clear mandate in the gospel, even when it seems we have good reasons not to change. 

Most of us have lived faithful catholic lives. We have followed the commandments and tried to live the beatitudes, but the Lord often demands more. Perhaps we have been hurt by a colleague, a friend, even a spouse and we refuse to believe that they can and have changed. We avoid them, speak dismissively of their good works or smirk at their efforts to change. The problem is ours, not theirs, especially if they have discovered a way to follow Christ which we are resisting, not because their ideas lack value, but because we do not trust them as persons.  

The questions all must ask are simple but difficult. What must we do to open our hearts so that the message of salvation can go forth? How can we be instruments of peace so that others can discover the face of Christ? St Paul tells us how Jesus did this. “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness;… he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Humility is always in vogue.

Today, open your heart to a new idea or person.

What keeps you from opening your heart to God's desire for you?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

St Martha

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things." Lk 10:41

There is a series on anxiety that has been running in the New York Times for a several years. (Anxiety) Sometimes difficult to read because the writers suffer so much from what others might think of as insignificant situations, it is, nevertheless, insightful and demanding. I read it because I am an anxious person and want to learn more about the condition, but also because it reminds us that almost 20% of Americans regularly suffer from anxiety. Clearly, for anyone committed to a Gospel life, compassion for the suffering is essential.

Although it is difficult to know if Martha's anxiety is similar to what the Times' columnists write about, the text is clear. Martha is anxious to have Jesus address her discomfort and tell her sister Mary to help in the kitchen. Jesus responds gently enough, but reminds Martha that Mary has chosen the better part. Mary wants Jesus to free her from her anxiety and thinks having her sister help with the serving will do this, but those who suffer from anxiety know this is not the case. Unless we learn to enter and own our discomfort, it will always control us, and while we might want to blame others for it, it belongs to us and only we can engage it and live with it.

Examining those times in life when we seek explanations that free us from responsibility for our own actions is a necessary aspect of Gospel living. Acknowledging that what is bothering us is not caused by others is the first step in accepting ourselves as we are. Jesus wants Martha to see and accept her envy and let Mary attend to her own faults. He wants us to do the same.

Today, stay with your anxiety or upset. Don't run.

What situations most often make your anxious or worried?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Face to Face With God

"The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another." Ex 33:11

Although the book of Exodus speaks of God as a cloud descending on the tent when Moses entered it, believers wonder what God looked like. If God spoke with Moses face to face, how did God's face appear? Was God's face young, old, man, woman, fierce, kindly? These are questions without answers and in some ways irrelevant. That God spoke with Moses as one man or one woman speaks to another is the point of the text.

God is intimate with Moses. God draws near and speaks clearly because, the text implies, God wants to be close to us, and involved in our lives. Most important, God wants us to know that we have a purpose and a destiny, and will only reach our end if we live in peace, work for justice and find a way to care for all creation. 

God is clear. Life is a gift which we ought to enjoy and share. Giving Moses the commandments is a way of helping us understand what we must do and how we must live. Not simply a list of prohibitions, as they are sometimes presented and interpreted, the commandments remind us that every community needs order and boundaries in order to live well together. If we honor God and respect and love all that God gives us, life among us is rich and reverent.

Today, speak with the Lord face to face. Don't be afraid.

What experiences or activities bring you closest to God?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Being Yeast in the World

“The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” Mt 13:33

Think about the people who irritate you, who force you to think about uncomfortable situations, who refuse to let you be comfortable and demand that you step back and look at the world as it is. Jesus did this often to the people of his time and offers us a powerful image to help us understand what he continues to do in the 21st century.

Yeast, a symbol of the Kingdom of God, is an irritant, and not just because when activated in flour it makes bread rise, but because it reminds us that a fully engaged Gospel life makes a difference in society. Believers, like yeast, are not simply passive receivers of Good News, but doers of the word whose gratitude expresses itself in works of justice and charity.

Active Christians are like yeast. Their good works can motivate, and at times agitate others. While this might be uncomfortable for some, the hard sayings of Jesus, like loving our enemies, are an integral part of the Gospel. In the long run, a soft Christianity does no one much good. Today is a good time to rejoice and recommit ourselves to a full Gospel life.

Today, take time to rejoice for the gift of faith.

Who has been yeast in your life?