Saturday, November 28, 2015

Putting Aside Fear, Welcoming the Stranger

"People  will die in fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world."

The instinct to survive is strong. Very few people when facing the end of their life let go without a struggle. Although we see friends and family wrestle with cancer and wonder why they are willing to try almost any treatment, the fear of the unknown can overwhelm the best of intentions. In our everyday lives, we are urged to diet, exercise and relax regularly in order to live more healthily, and while this is understandable and good, we can become obsessed with preserving our lives.

The Christian who reads the Advent Gospels with an open heart knows that Jesus' most basic Gospel challenge is to think and act on behalf of others, especially the suffering, the poor and refugees. Not to respond to the people of Syria, Iraq or the Sudan because we are so obsessed with our own well being and fear of death is an offense against God and God's people.

As the letter to Hebrews reminds us, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Heb 13:2 The book of Leviticus is even clearer. "You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." Lev 19:34 

Today, give some time you don't have to help someone struggling to survive.

What do you think our faith demands of us with regard to welcoming the stranger?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Honesty with Ourselves

"Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” Lk 21:36

Today is the last day of the liturgical year and a good time to make a simple review of our faith life. Four actions ought to mark the life of a faith filled Catholic and we can reflect on them through a series of questions. Have we been faithful to God and the community of believers by gathering regular for prayer and worship, especially on Sundays? Have we taken time to reflect on the mysteries of faith, especially as they are articulated in Scripture? Have we celebrated God's gifts with joy and gratitude? Have we served others as if they were Christ? 

Coming together regularly, studying and praying about God's care for us and serving those most in need are visible signs that God matters in our lives and that we want to witness to God's mercy before others. For most of us the only way we preach is through our actions. We can talk about faith all day, but if we never act on it, we are as Paul reminds us a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. We make a lot of noise but don't do anything for others but annoy them.

On the cusp of Advent, we have the opportunity to be honest with ourselves and God and recommit ourselves to God's dream and desire for us. Going to mass, picking up a bible and offering a helping hand to the needy is a great way to begin. 

Today, be honest with yourself and God. Make no excuses for your faults. Ask to begin again.

Which dimension of our faith life most attracts and empowers you?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

All life is Passing

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." Lk 21:33

A person's word is important. In the ancient world everything was done in word and ritual, and oral agreements were binding. As we near the end of another liturgical year, the lectionary focuses on passages that help us understand that no matter how short life is, or how poorly we have lived it, if we turn to God in hope and faith, we will be saved. God's word in Jesus is true. God's word, Jesus, is true.

The faithfulness of God underlies our entire faith tradition. Though we are often unfaithful both as individuals and communities of believers, God has promised always to accompany us in life, to love us, to guide us and welcome us to a place at the eternal banquet forever.

When Mark tells us in forbidding and threatening terms, "In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken," (Mk 13;24) we should not be frightened, but rejoice. The gospel writer wants only to wake us up and remind us that no matter what happens within and around us, God will be faithful.

Today, pray for a peaceful death.

How do you speak with others about death and dying?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Day

"Bless the God of all, who has done wondrous things on earth; Who fosters people’s growth from their mother’s womb, and fashions them according to his will!" Sir 50:22

Thanksgiving is not always easy, especially if your family has suffered death very recently, but we need to stop and thank God no matter how heavy life is at any given time. God has done wondrous things within and among us. God has created and nurtured us, challenged and directed us, loved us unconditionally and promised to go before us to prepare a place for us. What more could we ask?

In fact, many want to ask for much more. Struggles at work or with family, sickness and poverty, or wealth and success can be great burdens. Unless we find a way to accept and be grateful for all that is, we cannot hope to find the path of light that God has marked out for each of us. This is no easy task. God's ways are often confusing and upsetting, and feel very dark, but the memory of how God has guided us in the past reminds us that there is a purpose to everything. That it is God's purpose, not ours, is painful but rewarding in the end.

Whether you eat turkey with all the trimmings or spend time with a loved one in a hospital this Thanksgiving, take a few minutes to list all the people who have been gifts to you this year. Let their faces and goodness come before you like photos in a digital photo frame. Pause and pray for each of them. Doing something like this will make your Thanksgiving rich no matter what it brings.

Today, take five minutes of silence and be thankful.

What has made Thanksgiving day memorable for you through the years?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Wisdom of Jesus

"I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking." Lk 21:15

A friend recently insisted that wisdom is o.k. but he agreed with Sophie Tucker's famous maxim, "I've been rich and I've been poor. Rich is better." Humorous, but scary. Many, if not most people who identify as Christians, subscribe to sayings like this even when Oxfam reports that the 85 richest people in the world have more wealth than the 3.5 billion poorest. More important for Americans, Oxfam also tells us that in the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.(The Guardian)

Imagine what these statistics would look like if Christians chose the wisdom of Jesus rather than wealth and power over others. Wise believers would seek a path to justice for all, a way to use the earth's resources to address the the ISIS crisis, the ongoing AIDS pandemic, and a world that attacks poverty instead of people. Why not dream? Jesus did and changed how we view the world and our place in it.

Today, pray for the wisdom to be the Christian God needs you to be.

What gift would you ask of God?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Saint Andrew Dũng-Lac, Priest, and Companions, Martyrs

"Blessed be the Lord, my rock." Ps 144

Viet Nam has often been a difficult country and culture for Catholics, especially during the 19th and 20th centuries. Between 1820 and 1900 more than 100,000 Catholics were martyred for their faith, and the persecution continued in the 20th century when Catholics living in the northern part of Viet Nam had to abandon family and possessions and flee to the south in order to escape oppression or imprisonment.

Although we know very little about St Andrew, there are multiple testimonies about Catholics of his generation who were forced to renounce their faith and step on crucifixes to demonstrate their total lack of respect for the sacrifice of Jesus.  In the end, Andrew was beheaded for the crime of being a parish priest.

Reading about the Vietnamese martyrs reminds us of other people who have been persecuted, not because of some heinous crime, but for being who they are. Syrian refugees suspected of being ISIS, Jews, especially in the Holocaust, blacks in the United States, homosexuals everywhere, and women whose voice is ignored or discarded simply because they are women.

Today, pray for anyone persecuted for their faith or identity.

How would you respond to religious persecution?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Imitating Widows

"He noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins."

Any society, especially any local church or parish, that becomes too concerned with maintaining its internal life will slowly die if it fails to notice and reach out to the needy. As we near the end of another liturgical year we are reminded of this simple truth over and over. All our spiritual practices, especially prayer, while at  first blush appearing to be about our inner life, are in fact about making our salvation known to others.

No matter how often we say it or reemphasize it, the Gospel is a gift that must be given away. While it is a rule of life and a guide for how to negotiate life's difficulties, it's primary purpose is to announce the saving work of Jesus by doing justice, redressing wrongs, and listening to the cry of the poor. These behaviors allow God to do God's work.

Though it can be difficult and agitational for those who demean the efforts of the poor on their own behalf, doing justice is always convincing. When Christians feed the hungry and care for the poor in the name of Jesus, their actions speak much louder than their words.

Today, decide to help someone in need without them knowing it.

Whose work on behalf of the poor do you most admire?