Saturday, August 29, 2015

Focusing on the Positive

"This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts." Mk 7:6-7

In a world as fast faced as ours, it is difficult not to lose focus. With so many messages coming at us thousands of times a day, we find ourselves spouting platitudes rather than thoughtful responses, and fall into the trap of saying things over and over. not unlike the Pharisees in today's Gospel. Doing everything they could to trap Jesus with his own words and actions, the Pharisees find themselves looking for anything to discredit Jesus and his disciples. Eating without washing one's hands, while an important ritual for Jews, was hardly earth shaking. Unable, however, to find anything else about Jesus' behavior to undermine his growing power and popularity, the Pharisees fixate on the faults of Jesus' followers, not his amazing and compelling compassion for the broken.

It is the rare person, when confronted with the good deeds of someone they dislike, who would be able to celebrate the good rather than focus on the faults of a foe. When we are really upset, we are blinded to the goodness in the life of others or interpret their exemplary behavior as an attempt to distract others from their true selves. The Gospel reminds us that Jesus is always looking for the good in others and wants us to do the same.

Today, think of and pray for someone you dislike.

How do you counter your tendency to focus on another's faults and sins?

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Passion of John the Baptist

"He went off and beheaded John in the prison." Mk 6:27

Readers of John's gospel cannot help but wonder whether John the Baptist understood fully the import of his words about decreasing so the Christ could increase. Did he know he would die for the sake of the gospel? Surely he had enough time in prison to know that his prospects for a full life with Christ were small, and the evangelists remind us that it was John the Baptist's death that pushed Jesus to begin his public ministry.

When we are young and distant from the reality of our own death, it can be easy to make promises the depth of which we cannot really appreciate, but when we grow older, we know. If we are going to live the gospel with integrity there will be a price. The Good News might be good but it is not easy.
So many of us, sounding other centered, tell everyone that we are willing to endure whatever a gospel life brings, but we do not want to be a burden to others. How shallow these words can be upon reflection.  Allowing others to care for us as we would for them is essential to a fully human and gospel life. Not taking that care for granted is also important. Life must be accepted no matter what it brings.

Today, ask for the grace of accepting whatever God asks.

How do you explain the violence that emerges in the Gospel?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

St Augustine

"The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them." Mt 25:2

Self indulgence is one of our most common faults and sins. Not content with doing for others, we find a way to pamper ourselves, especially when we have been hurt or ignored. St Augustine is a perfect example of this. He tells us this in his own words, "I became to myself a wasteland." (Confessions) Lost in a wilderness of senseless self seeking and pleasure, Augustine writes, "I foamed in my wickedness as the sea and, forsaking thee, followed the rushing of my own tide, and burst out of all thy bounds."

The Confessions of Augustine is not only the most widely read autobiography in the Christian West, it reads as well today as it did 1600 years ago. Full of a brutal honesty, the Confessions makes us pause and realize the depth of our own futile grasping after pleasure and inner peace at any price. St Augustine's life, though cluttered with sin and silliness, is at the same time full of hope and promise. When Augustine finally stops and listens to God, especially with the help of St. Ambrose, everything changes. His life fills up with an authentic light, a faith that is pure gift and a promise that God, if only we give him a chance, can help us change in ways we could never imagine.

Today, stop running and ask God for help.

Who or what has helped you let go and let God do God's work in you?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

St Monica

"We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling." 2 Thess 1:11

Although we only know about Monica from St. Augustine's Confessions, she is a remarkable woman. Tricked by Augustine when he told her he wanted to say good by to a friend and then left for Rome, she followed him. When she couldn't find him in Rome, she pursued him to Milan, and that is where her holiness became apparent. Encouraged in North Africa to fast on Saturdays, she was able to let go of her spiritual practices in order to follow St. Ambrose's advice and adapt herself to a new environment.

Monica's willingness to change for the sake of the Gospel is a lesson for all of us. Although she was committed to Augustine's conversion, she was able to listen to St. Ambrose who assured her that Augustine's acceptance of the faith would be accomplished by God and that her role was to live in such a way that Augustine could not deny the power of God in his mother's life. Her openness to Ambrose's instruction made Augustine stop. He, too, respected Ambrose and eventually could not deny his mother's persistence and holiness.

Today, pray for someone who seems lost to you.

Has anyone's persistence and prayer been a factor in your ongoing conversion?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

God's Indulgence

"And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received it not as the word of men, but as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe."

The word of God is like seed which God keeps casting upon the church and world indiscriminately. We should not be surprised when some of it actually takes root, grows and begins to spread and increase. Something so natural becomes a source of hope for all. Seed, earth, wind, insects and water, working together make it possible for the earth to nurture itself and for all to eat.

Because the natural world is so accessible and welcoming to all, Jesus often uses it to teach us about what we are to do and who we are called to be. Christians must become a living word, going about from place to place and allowing God to use us to spread the Good News in word and deed.

Today, pick one word from the daily scripture and repeat it throughout the day.

How has God's word planted itself in your life? 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Facing our Resistances

"Woe to you, scribes and pharisees, you hypocrites." Mt 23:23

Jesus often uses nature to help his listeners understand how plain the Gospel message is. When we hear thunder or see lightning in the sky we know to get out of the water or away from trees. The sounds and sights all around us warn us to be take shelter and avoid danger. When Jesus' enemies and disciples ignored the obvious he was hard on them. Calling them hypocrites, he demanded that they stop fighting to be right, and seek a place where everyone could be safe.

Our spirits regularly tell us that there is something brewing is us and in the world that needs attention. When we become moody or resistive to others, it ought to be a clue that something is wrong and needs our response, not our reaction. More important, we need to listen to our inner voice when it urges us to reach beyond our normal boundaries to help others, many of whom we will never know.

Today, listen to someone who makes you uncomfortable.

Are you rushing too much making it impossible to hear the signs of the times?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

St Bartholonew

"Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him." Jn 1:47

Some people are naturally open, transparent and accepting. Most of us, however, are not. We fear and resist the judgment of others. What can others know about us, we wonder, who have only just met us? While the question is valid, it can reflect an unhealthy desire for independence. Only when we realize that the wisdom and insight of others can be a gift for our own journey do we embrace it and grow from it.

St. Bartholomew is the poster boy for innocence and openness in the gospel, and if we can be open to the lessons he teaches, our lives can be much simpler. People are given to us in life as guides and mentors, and while some remind us what not to be, most can help us take the next step if only we will listen. Bartholomew blurts out, "How do you know me?", but as soon as the Lord answers, his resistance crumbles and he acknowledges Jesus as Son of God and King of Israel.

Today, ask for the gift of openness before God and others.

What helps you put aside duplicity and seek transparency?