Saturday, September 5, 2015

Listening without Distraction

"Immediately the man’s ears were opened." Mk 7:35

A older friend, struggling with his hearing and beginning to feel very isolated, told me he would have preferred to lose the use of his eyes than his ears. Embarrassed to ask people to repeat themselves, he found himself not participating in conversations and shying away from communal gatherings. Though he has hearing aids, he still often feels alone in a group and ignored by people with whom he often had enjoyable conversations.

Whether one is struggling with deafness, weakness in the legs or arms is not the point of today's Gospel. The isolation and loneliness that accompanies the loss of any our faculties is painful, unnerving and confusing, especially in a society that often looked at physical infirmities as punishment for sin, and it is this to which Jesus addresses himself. The Lord wants us to feel and be an integral part of his body, the church. Anything that inhibits or limits this participation is his concern, and should be ours.

Sometimes, although we hear perfectly well, we fail to respond to others who are struggling. Too busy, too self absorbed or too compulsed by the need to succeed, we are deaf to the needy. As a new school year begins for our children and grandchildren, let us open our ears to anyone, especially members of our family, who ae struggling.

Today, listen to someone you normally avoid.

What have you been privileged to hear that opened your heart to the Gospel?

Friday, September 4, 2015

Lord of the Sabbath

"The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." Lk 6:5

Sabbath and Sabbath law is complex, confusing, impossible and important. Unfortunately, in Jesus' day those who interpreted Sabbath observance lost sight of the purpose of Sabbath and attached so many proscriptions to it that the average person could never hope to know or observe them all.

The poor knew they could glean corn and other produce after the owners or tenant farmers had picked the field clean, and could do this on the Sabbath because gleaning was not considered work by most rabbis. The Pharisees, however, said that rubbing the grains of corn off the cob was a form of harvesting and preparing a meal, and this was forbidden on the Sabbath.

In truth, there were many rabbis who would have suggested that the poor be encouraged to glean on the Sabbath since doing deeds of mercy was not only permitted but required. Because Jesus knew this, he reminded his listeners that David took the bread of offering and gave it to his companions as an act of mercy.

Sabbath observances and rest have a very distinct purpose. Because we so often forget who we are and how much God loves us, we need to stop every seven days and remember the mercy of God. If God's mercy does not encourage us to act like God, especially on behalf of the poor, then the purpose of the Sabbath is lost, and we would be better off not observing it at all.

Today, look at the people around you, not with the eyes of the law, but with eyes of mercy.

Do you take Sabbath rest seriously?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Christ, the Beginning, the Firstborn of the Dead

"Christ Jesus is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the Body, the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent." Col 1:17-18

Although we can and often do turn away from God and the covenant God made with us in Jesus, God cannot and will not renege on his promise to be with and guide us always. Paul is clear about this. The Apostle to the Gentiles acknowledges that although the Jews were often disobedient, abandoned the law and worshiped false Gods, God was and remains merciful to them and us. Paul wants his Gentile listeners to know this and be comforted. The God who has come to us in Jesus is proof of this. The new and eternal covenant, Jesus is the incarnation of God's promise, a gift we can reject but which will never be withdrawn.
The challenge of God's promise is demanding. Made in God's image, the only way we can demonstrate to others and especially to our enemies that God's love lives in us is to love everyone no matter how often our love is rejected to ridiculed. If God is forever faithful so too must we be faithful. This is not to say we should or must allow ourselves to be abused. Rather, while we ought to withdraw quietly from any situation that allows another to strip us of our good name or reduce to an object of their wrath, we must stand ready to reconcile with our oppressors for the sake of the Gospel.

Today, enjoy God's everlasting love.

What must you let go of in order to love like God?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

St Gregory the Great

" I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living." (Ps 27)

Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and Gregory. These are the four great doctors of the Western Church. Called great because their insight about the Gospel as a living organism which could, when properly understood, interpreted and preached, influence people of every generation, the Greats of the Christian West have left a lasting imprint on the church.

Gregory, like so many others saints, lived fully in the world in his early days, but after five years as prefect of Rome, lost confidence in the society to direct or discipline itself. Hoping the monastic life would give him some clarity about how to live the Gospel, he joined the Benedictines, but  shortly thereafter the Pope sent him to Constantinople as his representative.

A success in Constantinople, he was called back to Rome, and elected abbot of the Benedictines. Walking through Rome one day he chanced upon a group of young Anglo Saxon boys who were being offered for sale. Moved by their plight and his conversation with them, he went to England with the hope of implanting the Gospel, but because of the upset of the Roman people, he was recalled to Rome and soon afterwards was elected Pope at the age of fifty.

Straightforward and scrupulously honest, Pope Gregory disciplined wayward priests, used monies from the papal treasury to care for Jews and the sick, and reformed the liturgy. but it was his instructions to bishops on how to conduct their office, read for a thousand years, that sealed his place among the Greats of the Christian community.
It is with profound sorrow we have to admit that though the harvest is great, the laborers are few, because, though the people are ready to hear the Word of God, there are few to preach it. Lo, the world is full of priests, yet in the harvest of the Lord a labourer is very rare, for we undertake, it is true, the office of the priest hood, but its duties we do not fulfill. Yet weigh well, dearly beloved, weigh well the words of the text : " Pray ye the Lord of the harvest that He send laborers into His harvest." Pray then for us that we may have strength to labor for you as we ought, that our tongue may not be slack to exhort, and that, having undertaken the office of preaching, our silence may not prove our condemnation at the tribunal of the just Judge. (Homily of St Gregory)
Today,  dare to be great in Christ.

What most keeps you from the living the Gospel with abandon?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Peter's Mother in Law

"And she (Peter’s mother in law) got up immediately and began to wait on them." Lk 4:39

Last week, I completed 54 years of Capuchin life. It hardly seems possible. 54 years ago, after a silent 8 day retreat (no easy task for me), I was clothed in the Capuchin habit with more than two dozen other frightened young men. It was an amazing day and its memory brings me to a point of deep gratitude. When I entered the Capuchins I could never have imagined the wonderful friars I would meet and live with, the education I would receive, and the opportunity to meet, teach and serve people from so many different cultures and countries. Though not without its struggles, Capuchin life has been a great gift! 

It is these rich memories that make me stop and pray in gratitude with Peter’s mother in law whose story is told in today’s gospel. When Jesus heals Peter’s mother in law she gets up immediately and waits on all those assembled. The immediacy of her response is what most impresses me. She doesn’t hesitate at all or ask to rest, something that would seem perfectly natural after a severe fever. Anyone who has suffered with a high fever knows how tired one can be when the fever passes. But, then again, perhaps that was part of the miracle. Not only was she freed of fever, she got her strength back. In the light of God’s goodness to me, and conscious of how often God has forgiven me, I hope that I will always want to serve others immediately like Peter’s mother in law.

Today, be grateful for your vocation.

What are you grateful for today?

Monday, August 31, 2015

Speaking With Authority

"Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee. He taught them on the sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching because he spoke with authority." Lk 4:31

While very few would suggest that education is unimportant, it can be overrated. My own parents were bright and wise people who had little formal education, yet they were respected in my neighborhood. They worked hard, had a deep faith and understood life from the inside. Though they were rarely asked their opinion, they knew what they knew and were not afraid to ask for help. Like Jesus, when they spoke, they spoke with authority.

Jesus did not seem to worry much about the education of the the men he called to be his apostles, but the leaders of the Jewish people seemed to think this was a soft spot in the life of the new community. Anxious to stop Jesus' disciples from speaking about their Lord, they called them in and threatened them, only to have Peter and John insist that they had no choice but to speak of Jesus. Clearly, Peter and John were not worried about their lack of education and were not intimidated by threats from the Jewish leaders.

It is always good to take a few moments and ask ourselves to whom we are most likely to listen. Do the highly educated intimidate us into silence about important matters? Are we unwilling to speak of our faith to people of power and prestige in the community?

Today, take time to listen to someone you might otherwise ignore.

What most impresses you about the faith you witness everyday?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Remembering Jesus' Roots

"Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day." Lk 4:16

Jesus was a Jew. Sometimes we forget this, and it is important, if we want to understand and interpret the Scriptures in their own context, to remember who Jesus was and where he came from. Among my great delights during the years I was stationed at our friaries in Boston was the opportunity to work with Protestants, Muslims and Jews, among others, inside of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. Together we worked as community organizers in the areas of health insurance, youth violence, and elder care. 

Getting to know people of different faiths through joint action for justice is a powerful way to challenge the assumptions and prejudices we sometimes harbor, and while the Catholic Church’s relationship with the Jews has been rocky to say the least, advocating and organizing together for the good of all is not only a bromide, it can actually heal broken relationships, and there is much to heal. As Pope St John Paul II reminds us: "In the Christian world--I do not say on the part of the Church as such--erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people and their alleged culpability (for the death of Christ) have circulated for too long, engendering feelings of hostility towards this people" 1
Today, take a moment to be grateful for the faith which has been handed onto us by our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Do you sometimes reject people because of their social class, poverty, race or religion?