Saturday, February 6, 2016

Fear and Faith

"When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, 'Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.'” Lk 5:8

Fear is a complex emotion. Absolutely necessary at times, especially when we are in physical danger and need to escape quickly, it is also an emotion that causes us to turn away from people, places and situations that are challenging. The mentally ill, for instance, can frighten us because we don't understand what they are saying or how they are acting, and we can be afraid of leaving a hotel in a new country even if we are assured that the area is safe. Not knowing where we are can be overwhelming.

Like he so often does, St Peter helps us in this regard. The Gospels portray him as a man quick to act and speak, especially when he is unsure of what is happening to him or around him. When Jesus suggests the disciples cast their nets to a different side of their boat, Peter is perplexed but submissive, and when the nets are filled to overflowing, Peter asks the Lord to leave, very much like a leper or a sinner might tell someone not to come near them because of their sinfulness. But Jesus, recognizing Peter's anxiety, tells him not to be afraid.

The message is clear. We cannot let fear or shame about our own sins and faults keep us from the Lord. Jesus tells his new disciples that they will be catching men and women if only they listen to him, accept his directives and follow him on the road to Jerusalem. This same invitation is ours if only we put our fear in the Lord's hands and follow.

Today, acknowledge your fear and stand still.

Which of your fears is most disabling in your call to discipleship?

Friday, February 5, 2016

St Paul Miki and COMPANIONS!

"When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd." Mk 6:33

Sometimes, when we celebrate a saint's liturgical feast day, we forget who the companions were. This is a shame because it cheats us from celebrating everyday people. The companions of St. Paul Miki included people, young and old, from ever walk of life.
The twenty-six martyrs of Japan were crucified on a hill, now known as the Holy Mountain, overlooking Nagasaki. Among them were priests, brothers and laymen, Franciscans, Jesuits and members of the Secular Franciscan Order; there were catechists, doctors, simple artisans and servants, old men and innocent children—all united in a common faith and love for Jesus and his church. (Catholic Culture)
The history of our church is replete with a wonderful variety of saints and blesseds, all of whom deserve our admiration. If only we knew the stories of more ordinary people, not just bishops, priests and religious, we would understand more deeply how important it is to ask God to make us saints right where we are.

Not all of us have to become priests and religious. In fact, most people are not called to this way of life. Rather, single adults, married people, widows and widowers, are all called to a holiness proper to their vocations. Only when we encourage people to ask God for the gift of living a Gospel life in their homes, businesses, neighborhoods and cultures, will we understand more deeply the marvelous ways of God.

Today, pray to one of the lay men and women Japanese martyrs.

What qualities do you look for in saintly people?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

St Agatha

"Jesus Christ, Lord of all, you see my heart, you know my desires. Possess all that I am. I am your sheep: make me worthy to overcome the devil." St Agatha

We know almost nothing of St Agatha. That she lived in Sicily and was martyred are clear. Not much else is known, but there is a fascinating legend that grew up around her. Because she refused the advances of a suitor who wanted her to marry him and forsake her Christianity, she was tortured and died professing her total commitment to Jesus and her willingness to let him possess her.

The word possession is a difficult one. Often used to speak of the action of the devil, we resist the notion of anyone possessing us. But possession can also be used by lovers to indicate their total willingness to be with one another. In fact, poets suggest that only mutual possession can free us to love without fear. Agatha, in love with her Lord, desires this kind of possession. Hopeful that Jesus would give her the strength she needed to resist anything or anyone that would undermine her faith, Agatha asked to be especially close to Jesus, as near as a sheep to her shepherd at night.

Saints like Agatha remind us to ask ourselves how close we want to be to the Lord. Do we desire a kind of intimacy that helps us when we are weakest, when everything seems to be falling apart? Are we willing to sacrifice and risk all in order to be near the one who promises never to abandon us?

Today, ask the Lord to accept you as you are.

How do you react to the word possession?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Two by Two

"Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two .... He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick –no food, no sack, no money in their belts." Mk 6:7-8

Over the centuries much has been written about why Jesus sends his disciples two by two. Some commentators remind us that in the ancient world when anyone testified in court there had to be two corroborating witnesses in order to avoid having someone accuse another of a crime to hurt the other. Only when two people concur about a misdeed could their testimony be trusted. From this perspective the disciples were more believable when two witnessed to what happened to them when Jesus entered their lives.

Even more important according to other commentators was the quality of the relationship of the disciples had with one another. Their love for one another in Christ would be a great sign of the "truth" of Jesus message and life. That the disciples asked nothing of those to whom they were sent, nor carried anything to demonstrate their wealth or power was also important.

Knowing how difficult it can be to love one another consistently, and to live with little material wealth, the first hearers of the disciples had to be impressed. When people are willing to move beyond self absorption and share everything in common, they speak of a world beyond what we see and a promise of salvation that it is a gift to us not because of what we own or know, but because of God's gracious love.

Today, love another disciple not for what you gain, but because of the Gospel.

What draws you to a deeper belief in Christ?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Not Judging a Book by its Cover

"Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon?
And are not his sisters here with us?'  And they took offense at him." Mk 6:3

Fury is a strong emotion that we sometimes feel in defense of our family or children, nation or culture. Fury can also be a personal defense. If someone questions our integrity, honesty or commitment, we can react and attack them, their positions or their intelligence, anything to deflect attention from our own vulnerability.

The gospel passage we are reflecting upon is set in Jesus' hometown of Nazareth. When Jesus challenges his neighbors to see him for the prophet he is, they react. How could this son of a poor carpenter pretend to be a prophet? No doubt some of them were also wondering what it was that others saw in Jesus and snidely suggested to anyone who would listen that if all the people fawning after Jesus had to live with him they would not be so sanguine about his supposed powers. No wonder they were furious.

It can be very difficult to hear the truth from people we don't like or respect, but that is the challenge of the Gospel. Until and unless we are ready to hear God's word in any form God desires to communicate it, we will miss many opportunities for transformation and growth. Asking for the grace to hear God each day, no matter the messenger or the message, is a powerful Lenten practice.

Today, listen to someone you do not respect.

What areas of your life and faith are most difficult to examine?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Presentation of the Lord

"The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him."

The gospel scene of the infant Jesus being presented in the temple is a remarkable one, an epiphany of sorts. Entering the temple with his mother and father, he was every Jewish first born boy. Presented to God for God's purposes, he left the temple the Messiah. Recognized and lauded by Simeon as the One promised by God, and spoken about to everyone who would listen by the prophetess Anna, in many ways Jesus' mission began when, as an infant, he left the temple and grew in wisdom and grace because the favor of the Lord was upon him.

Though we know little about the childhood of Jesus, the Presentation offers us a glimpse into his humanity. Though recognized by Simeon as the one for whom he had been waiting all his life, he returns with his parents to his hometown to grow up like any child. Whether he was remarkable or insightful we do not know. What we do know is that he didn't skip over anything that makes all of us the unique persons we are. No doubt he had childhood illnesses, struggled with the Torah, worked alongside his father to learn a craft, and played with other children his age, all of which prepared him to be the Prophet he became. 

Committed like Moses to freeing his people, Jesus seems never to have wavered as an adult from doing his Father's will. Knowing his Father was always near, he teaches us the same simple lesson. God is always near. We have only to live life as fully and honestly as possible and let it unfold as God desires.

Today, be yourself and let God take you where you need to go.

What do you think your parents dreamed about for you?

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Offer others the Consolation of Jesus

"As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with him. But Jesus would not permit him but told him instead, 'Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.'” Mk 5:18-19

The miracles of Jesus, no matter how spectacular, are not meant to amaze people or attract them to himself, but to announce the reign of God. Jesus' purpose in coming among us in human form was to let all know that God wants to set us free from our sins, our faults and our burdens. The cure of the demoniac, who was able to break chains before Jesus' intercession, was both a sign of Jesus' power and an message to everyone who witnessed it. Go home, Jesus tells the man who was possessed by a legion of demons, and tell your family of God's mercy and tenderness. He tells us to do the same.

Every time God touches us, moves us, encourages us, there is a dual purpose. We are changed by God's love, not for ourselves, but as a sign for others. Transformed and lifted up, we must avoid simply enjoying our new freedom and delight. We must go among those who do not know the saving power of Jesus and tell them by the quality of our faith life what they too can expect if they submit themselves to God's care and mercy. Every gift, Jesus reminds us, is to be given away in the same way we have received it. (Lk 12:48)

Today, offer someone a consoling word, and do it freely, expecting nothing in return.

How has the faith of others touched and moved you?