Saturday, September 19, 2015

Senseless Arguments

“'What were you arguing about on the way?' But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest." Mk 9 33-34

Hearing about the silly debate Jesus' disciples were having among themselves is almost humorous. Worried, perhaps, about their place and role in Jesus' coming kingdom, Jesus' followers risked breaking the bonds they had with one another and in the process demeaned themselves and those with whom they were arguing.
Haven't we all found ourselves in similar situations? In a debate with a friend or family member that never seems to end, even though everyone listening gets bored or loses interest, we keep insisting on our position and find ourselves saying things we really don’t mean or believe.

People in twelve step recovery programs have a wonderful question about this. “How important is it?", they ask. A young friend of mine went even further. Whenever he was faced with a situation that troubled him he asked three questions. Does something need to said? Does it need to be said now? Am I the person who needs to say it? This little exercise protected him from himself and his compulsions and helped him avoid senseless arguments and upset.

Today, avoid all arguments.

When have you found yourself unable to extricate yourself from a silly debate?

Friday, September 18, 2015

Rocky Ground

“Some seed fell on rocky ground, and when it grew, it withered for lack of moisture.” Lk 8:5

There is rocky ground in all our lives, and while we have to acknowledge it and accept it, we should not obsess about it. Whether your early years were difficult and confusing, or your marriage was sour almost from the beginning, all need to find a way not to let our dark days dissuade us from living with joy and hope. Our parents or our partners may have disappointed us, but God cannot abandon us, and faith demands that we ask God to be the ground of our lives. Only then can we be sure that no matter how rocky life is or might become, God's love will sustain us.

Whether St Francis of Assisi ever reconciled with his father is not known. That we don't know about this suggests that Francis' choice to live simply and reject the values and wealth of his family was a death blow to the support he hoped for and which most of us yearn for from our families. While Francis was remarkably successful helping warring towns reconcile, it must have hurt him deeply that he failed to convince his father that his choice of radical poverty was of God. 

Letting God find the good ground in our lives and asking for the grace to let go of our failures is an important step on our spiritual journeys. If we worry too much about the rocky ground, we will miss the good God is already doing within and through us.

Today, be grateful for the God has done in you. Let go of failure.

How has God surprised you on your pilgrim journey?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Poverty and the Poor in Spirit

"Blessed are the poor in Spirit, the Kingdom of God is theirs." Mt 5:3

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, demanding 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 that needs attention. When we become moody or resistive to the simple requests of friends or family, 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.

Poverty is everywhere in the world, and we have no choice as Christians but to respond to those in desperate need. Not to look at or see the world's poor, especially migrants streaming out of countries where their own leaders torture and chase them is a horror too plain to ignore.

Today, listen to or watch a report on the world's hungry.

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Stigmata of St Francis

"And some seed fell on good soil, and when it grew, it produced fruit a hundredfold.”  (Lk 8:8)

Today Franciscans celebrate the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis, a day that reminds us how committed Francis was to imitating Christ.  But this was not always so.  In Francis’ early years, the seed that God was sowing so generously (Lk 8) did not fall on good ground, but rocky, dry, shallow and thorny ground.  

Francis was born into privilege.  His father was the second richest man in Assisi, and Francis delighted in spending his father’s money and entertaining his friends.  Although we don't have all of the details, Francis apparently lived an empty life, as Thomas of Celano his early biographer wrote, “he attracted to himself a whole retinue of young people addicted to evil and accustomed to vice.” Francis himself said, “I lived in sin.”

One day, however, while riding in the countryside, Francis happened upon a leper who startled him. The sight and smell of lepers had always repelled Francis, but this time Francis dismounted from his horse and kissed the man, an act that sealed what had been happening to him internally.The seed of God's love was taking root and Francis knew he had to let go of the life of luxury he was leading and find another path.  

The same is often true for us.  We are gifted with a moment of awareness or insight and everything changes.  While the behavioral shifts we will have to make are not immediately clear, our spirits will not rest until we discern a new direction, and then slowly new habits of quiet, reflection and prayer grow in us and what before seemed impossible now brings joy. 

Today ask the Lord for the courage not to turn away from the leper in your life.

Do you reject the leper you find within yourself?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sts Cornelius and Cyprian, Friends and Martyrs

“He deserves to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.” Lk 7: 4-5

Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian were friends, and when the church was under enormous pressure in the third century, their friendship became an important tool for reconciliation and healing. When Novatian insisted that anyone who denied faith, along with murderers and adulterers, could not be reconciled under any circumstances, Cyprian interceded with his friend Pope Cornelius, and Novatian's position was condemned. The fragile nascent church, with only 50,000 believers and 50 priests, was sustained because of the friendship of Cornelius and Cyprian.

Not infrequently, like Cyprian and Cornelius, we do things for friends who ask a favor on their own or their family's behalf. It is not difficult to be gracious, especially when the request is something we do easily or naturally. Jesus is able to hear and respond to the request of the Jewish elders to heal the centurion's sick slave because they asked him to do something as a friend of the Jewish nation.  In the long run, however, while loyalty and friendship captured Jesus' attention, it was the faith of the centurion that moved Jesus to act. 

Not wanting to trouble Jesus with a visit to his home and being very aware of the differences between them, the centurion insists that he is not worthy of Jesus' care. When the centurion further suggests that a word from Jesus will be enough to heal his slave, Jesus uses the centurion's faith to teach the Jews saying, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Faith, like the centurion's, and friendship and faith, like Cyprian and Cornelius shared, can forge a church of great power and strength.

Today, pray in gratitude for the gift of friends.

Which of your friends are you most grateful for today?

Monday, September 14, 2015

Our Lady of Sorrows

"Standing by the cross was his mother."

The fidelity of Mary to Jesus, especially during his suffering and death, has been a consolation to believers since the beginning of Christianity. While his closest friends abandon him at the moment of his most acute need, Mary does not, and her refusal to leave her son in his suffering challenges us to live our faith in a much more complete way.

At the same time, a less than careful understanding and appreciation of Mary's role in the story of our salvation, can be dangerous. Suffering in itself is not a good, and Mary's fidelity should not encourage any of us, but especially women, to accept abuse or unnecessary suffering. Jesus challenges the Pharisees and Sadducees at every turn when the lay heavy burdens of others and do nothing to help the confused and lost. Mary's courage is similar. Though she can do nothing to ease her son's suffering, she is not passive. She accepts her fate, but does not seek it.

Today, accept what you must, but work to change a society and church that sometimes idealizes the suffering of women.

Which women in your life most impress you with their endurance and fidelity?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Exaltation of the Cross of Jesus

(This feast marks the 35th anniversary of my father's death. I have now lived without his physical presence in my life for as long as lived with him. I still miss him.)

"God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." Jn 3:13

The cross of Jesus Christ, as St Paul says, is a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness for Gentiles, (1 Cor 1:23) but the believer continues to hold the cross high, to exalt it, as a sign of God's unconditional love for us. Never easy to understand or to penetrate its mystery, the cross remains for those who believe a book of life, or as St Francis said, the only book we will ever need.

How we read the book of the cross is fundamental to our growth in faith. How, for instance, do we understand or interpret suffering? How should we approach death and dying? What can we expect from God when we carry our own crosses? Martin Luther King, speaking of what he labels unmerited suffering, writes, "Recognizing the necessity for suffering I have tried to make of it a virtue. If only to save myself from bitterness, I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation which now obtains." (MLK)

The gospels make it clear that Jesus' suffering was unmerited. Refusing to accept Rabbinic interpretation of the Torah, Jesus challenged any law that diminished the poor or blamed them for their disease or their poverty. When the Rabbi's sought to undermine Jesus' power and dismiss his teaching, he suffered. His family thought he was crazy (Mk 3:2) for confronting the Jewish leaders and for risking persecution, but the Lord was not deterred.

Neither should we be turned away from a full Gospel life because it makes others uncomfortable and us suffer. Many younger friends of mine have been discouraged by their friends and families when they decided to leave the United States to minister to the poor overseas. "There are plenty of poor people here in the U.S.," they are told, and, "Why do you have to be so radical in your convictions?" Hearing this, these young people suffer, but often enough, when they read the cross of Jesus, they are comforted, especially when they hear him say: "Take my yoke upon you, for I am gentle and humble of heart." (Mt 11:29)

Today, ask God for the grace not to be afraid of the cross.

What about living a Gospel life causes you the most suffering?