Saturday, December 12, 2015

John the Baptist

"Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing...Test everything; retain what is good." 1Thess 5: 16,18

On this, the third Sunday of Advent, we pause in joy and say: We are pregnant.  Though it might startle some, the Cistercian monk, Blessed Isaac of Stella, was very clear about this is the 11th century. Listen:
In a way, every Christian is also believed to be a bride of God's word, a mother of Christ, his daughter and sister, as once virginal and fruitful.These words are used in a universal sense of the Church, in a special sense of Mary, in a particular sense of the individual Christian. (1)
Thinking of ourselves as mothers of Christ may be unusual and counter intuitive, but when we let the words settle in, it is wonderful.  The whole church is pregnant with Christ, yearning to give birth to him each day through our good works, service and worship.  Teresa of Avila reminds us,
Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours, yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world, yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.(2)
Though the challenge is daunting, when we reside in the joy of being pregnant with Christ, the mystery surrounds us and fills us with delight and hope.

Today, let joy be your path of peace.

What keeps you from being joyful and a dangerous world?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Zechariah's Silence

"But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words." Lk 1:20

In the ancient world of Israel, barrenness was a "disability, an unspeakable burden for women and a shame inducing cloud for men. Without a child, a woman was thought not to have an identity. Only children, especially males, would give her a voice and a place among others who gave birth.

On the other hand, men were rarely blamed for infertility, and the Talmud reminds men that if, after ten years, their wives could not bear children, they must divorce them in order to fulfill the law which commands men "to be fruitful and multiply."

No wonder Gabriel seems surprised after assuring Zechariah that Elizabeth would  bear a child in her old age. Sharp tongued, Gabriel rebukes Zechariah for not believing that God is about to lift his burden, and "punishes" him. Zechariah will not be able to speak until John the Baptist is born, and then only after he accepts God's name for the child.

It is difficult, especially when one has lived for a long time with a "disgrace," to believe that God will intervene. Most of us have prayed to have our burdens lifted without success and wonder whether our prayer is pure enough for God to hear. When our darkness deepens, we even wonder if God is listening at all. The key, of course, is to accept life as it unfolds and live with unanswerable questions, but this is often easier said than done.

Today, ask for the gift of speechlessness in the face of the unknown and undecipherable.

How you manage your darkness?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Celebrating our Best Selves

"I am the LORD, your God, who grasp your right hand; It is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.” Is 41:13

Advent is a time to ask ourselves whether we are really paying attention to the action of God in the world. Many people in the United States feel overwhelmed by Advent, not because the liturgical season is so demanding, but because the time before Christmas is given over to choosing and buying gifts, many of which are neither needed nor appreciated. We have fallen into customs that bind us unnecessarily and burden us with useless worry.

There is a simple solution to this quandary. Ask yourself at what time of the day you are most awake, most alert, and most productive. When you honestly determine this, give a piece of your most important time to God. Rather than do one or three more tasks, sit quietly, breathe deeply and let your mind rest in gratitude for your life, your friends, and God. After this kind of basic meditation you will be much more alert to the "incredible things" of God all around you.

Today, take five minutes to do nothing.

When do you like yourself best?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Facing our Weaknesses

"My yoke is easy, my burden light." Mt 11:30

All of us have people in our lives who get under our skin.  Almost anything they say makes us defensive and resistive. Though we cannot easily articulate what it is that disturbs us about the other person, it is very real and disabling. Often enough the person who annoys us at every turn is a mirror image of ourselves. If we find ourselves talking too much and not listening carefully enough to others, we resent it when others prattle on and seem not to hear the opinions of others.

On the other hand, it is good to remember that our personality gets under the skin of others. Self reflection can be humbling, but it can also take the edge off our annoyance and calm our spirits. More important, it can be the first step in recognizing and accepting the call to conversion and transformation.

Jesus has a ready answer when we allow our own faults or the foibles of others to bother us unnecessarily. Come to me, he insists, don't be afraid. I will be your guide and protection; I will make your burdens much lighter but you must let me help. Stop trying to figure out what it is about yourself or others that bothers you. It is a waste of time and fruitless. Place my yoke around your shoulders and walk the path to which I direct you. In me, everything is possible.

Today, pray for someone who annoys you.

What is the heaviest burden the Gospel asks you to carry?

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Immaculate Conception

"The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it." Gen 3:13

Why do we blame others so easily when we are embarrassed or ashamed?  Uncomfortable and confused, we try to get out from under the microscope to bargain for time and examine why exactly we do this. Of course, there are any number of answers, all of which can teach us about ourselves, but at root we look for scapegoats in order to escape the consequences of our actions.

Countries and churches do this as well. Our own Catholic church was guilty of this fault when the sexual abuse scandal first surfaced. We blamed psychologists and psychiatrists who gave our leaders bad advice when they suggested abusing priests could safely return to ministry. We deflected attention from ourselves by reminding everyone that the worst sexual abuse offenders were family members, not priests, which is, of course, beside the point.

Honestly facing our failures and sins is made much easier when we have Mary, the Immaculate Conception, as our intercessor. This feast celebrates that Mary, without from sin from the first moment of her conception, is always free to pay undivided attention to us, her children. Free of self absorption, she reaches out for all those who look to deny their sin or turn away from their guilt, by inviting us to honesty and integrity, to admit our wrongs, and reach out in compassion for others.

Today, acknowledge one sin and ask for the grace to face its consequences.

What helps you accept and address your faults?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

St Ambrose

"Keep the word of God.... Do not forget to eat your bread, or your heart will dry up." St. Bernard of Clairvaux 

St. Ambrose knew that the scriptures were like bread for the heart. Unless we nourish ourselves regularly, we will certainly lose our ability to function. Anyone who has had an intestinal disorder knows this well. The first thing a doctor tells someone struggling with a stomach virus is to remain hydrated. Our bodies are radically dependent upon water to function properly and without additional nourishment we risk serious consequences even when we do not feel like eating.

So convinced was he that God's word had to be preached in clarity and power, Ambrose was not afraid to take on Emperor's and Kings in defense of the faith, and  though he was often disliked for his directness, like a physician who insists we eat and drink when we only want to sleep, he was convinced that the unvarnished word of God had to be preached and lived simply if it was going to nourish us and keep our hearts from drying up.

Today, read a scripture passage as if it were bread.

Whose challenging preaching moved you to transformation?