Saturday, February 20, 2016

Second Sunday of Lent -- Transfiguration

"While he was praying Jesus' face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white." Lk 9:29

Change is necessary in all our lives, but always implies a struggle. Because we are comfortable in a particular circumstance despite its difficulties, we often choose to make excuses for not changing. Friends of mine, older now and needing to think about moving to a smaller home or condo, express a thousand reasons for staying exactly where they are. Despite the fact that their home presents some physical dangers for older people, they prefer to adjust and be careful not to hurt themselves rather than move, and while all of their friends understand their reluctance, it does make us wonder.

Jesus experienced resistance in his apostles as he headed for Jerusalem, the seat of Jewish life and power. His followers, delighted by their master's healing power and message of liberation for the poor, wanted to stay in the Northern part of Palestine and go from town to town gathering new disciples, thinking they would strengthen their hand when eventually they would arrive in Jerusalem. But Jesus would have none of it.

Determined to move towards Jerusalem, and his death, Jesus reveals himself to his disciples on the mountain of the Transfiguration. Showing himself as the successor to Moses and Elijah, Jesus lets his friends know that he is more than they think and more than they bargained for. He is the Messiah of God, and his message and purpose go far beyond the liberation of the Jewish nation from Roman domination. Though it will be frightening and confusing, if Jesus' disciples want to continue to follow him, they must accompany him to Jerusalem and all that it implies. So must we.

Today, let the Lord show himself to you as he is.

What are your most challenging resistances to change?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Being our Best Gospel Selves

"Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Mt 5:48

To be perfect like God is impossible for humans. Jesus knows this even as he commands it and he makes us wonder what he might mean. Some suggest that perfection here refers to uprightness and sincerity of character. Others remind us that in the Old Testament, perfection is the same as maturity, but the simplest interpretation, that we must strive to live the law as completely and totally as possible, is the best.

Trying our best is always important, and is the mark of the great saints and biblical figures. Working only to be adequate Christians, or finding a way to wiggle out of the Gospel's most demanding challenges, is unacceptable. As Jesus reminds the rich young man, we must sell everything and follow him. There is no getting around this, but we should not interpret it narrowly. 

Selling everything means letting go of our attachment to what we believe we have earned and deserve. That many have worked hard is not the question, but when our "possessions" cause us not to see those in need with God's eyes, and ignore or reject their legitimate cries for help, we sin. We can only be "perfect" like God by responding to the broken with compassion and love.

Today, pray to live the Gospel fully and transparently.

Have you known anyone who lived the Gospel perfectly?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Reviewing our Lives

"If you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God." Mt 5: 23-24

Even as a boy, I loved this section of St Matthew's Gospel. Imagine what a nightmare it must have been for poor people, making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the first and probably only time in their lives, to stop, pray and realize that they were not in what their Jewish tradition would call right relationship. Perhaps their prayer unveiled an unresolved hurt or conflict or reminded them that they had undermined another person's reputation. Whatever the situation, Jesus demands that anyone discovering their fault return home and reconcile with whomever they are at odds with before presenting their gift at the altar.

Theologians have often spoken of conscience as the still, small voice within that alerts us to our own dishonesty or sin, and demands we pay attention to it even if it might be impossible to formally heal the wound we have created. A tender (not to say scrupulous) conscience is a gift because it helps us pay more attention to others than ourselves, and helps us work towards a peace filled world. That Jesus insists we seek reconciliation before approaching the altar reminds us to strive to make the Eucharist a celebration of unity and healing, and a gathering of believers committed to renewing themselves in Christ.

Today, ask forgiveness from someone you have hurt.

What has helped you seek reconciliation even when you did not feel like it? 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Begging God for Help

Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish, had recourse to the LORD...Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand." Est 12:14

Darkness of spirit can be immobilizing. Inundated with problems or memories that emerge every time we open our eyes, there is no place to go. Friends with cancer often spoke of their illness in this manner. Each day they would wake, hoping for a shift in how they felt physically and emotionally, but there was only nausea and darkness. What a burden they had to carry, and what a plague that came upon the world when Pharaoh would not free the Israelites from slavery.

Remarkably, the call of Lent is to allow God to take us into this kind of darkness so that we might be cleansed and able to see again, even in a darkness "one can feel." Though our faith tells us that God is in the darkness with us, and Jesus in the desert experienced this, it is awful, frightening and disturbing. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta told her spiritual director that this kind of darkness followed her for years. While those who knew her could never have suspected this terrible kind of trial, it was real and suffocating, and led her to the edge of unbelief.

When periods of darkness like this come upon us, we must stay still. As the poet, Jessica Powers wrote, "God sits on a chair of darkness in my soul...I sit at His feet, a child in the dark beside Him." God does not make the darkness go away, but sits with us in it. Is that enough?

Today, try not to hide. Give yourself to God as you are.

How do you live with the darkness that comes to you?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Admitting Our Faults

"Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God." Jon 3:8

Sometimes there is a line in the scriptures that both amuses and startles us. The book of Jonah tells us that when the King of Nineveh heard Jonah's warning that his huge city would be destroyed unless he repented, he not only put on sackcloth and sat in ashes, he ordered the cattle to be dressed in sackcloth as well. Even as I write I am trying to picture the scene. The text suggests, however, that Jonah was neither impressed nor moved by the king's show of repentance. Jonah didn't want the people of Nineveh to repent. He wanted them punished, but God was impressed, which is all that matters.

God knows our hearts, and while most of us are not inclined to make a show of our repentance and dress our animals in sackcloth, we can be sure that when we turn to God with sincerity and sorrow, God hears our cry. Perhaps even more important, God hears the cries of our enemies, and the challenge to rejoice in their repentance is before us everyday.

Today, pray for someone you don't like.

What does it take for you to let go and let God direct your life?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Letting God Gaze at You

"In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him." Mt 6:7

Many people want to pray more until they realize that they don't know how to pray or think they don't know how, and find themselves in a quandary. Most people of faith learn to pray as children in a very ritualized fashion. They know the Our Father and Hail Mary. Many remember a morning offering and the mysteries of the rosary, but are left wondering what is next.

Today's scripture is clear and helpful. It is not necessary to use many words when we pray. In fact, too many words get the in way of most conversations. What begins as a dialogue becomes a monologue. One person speaks, the other listens. One person is content with the "conversation," the other leaves wondering what just happened, and unfortunately, something like this is the experience of many when they pray.

St Clare of Assisi spoke of prayer in a similar way when she instructed her sisters to let God gaze at them, and they should learn to gaze at God. In other words, prayer can be as simple as taking a long, loving look at the real. Sitting quietly in our rooms or our car for a few minutes before we begin the day, and letting our spirits look at all that is, can allow us to hand our day over to the Lord and trust in his loving presence.

Today, try praying quietly. Don't use words. Let God gaze at you.

Are you able to sit quietly with God and let God look at you with love?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Day Laborers

"You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer." Lv.19:11

When I was a boy my father was paid twice a month, and although his wage allowed us to pay our rent and eat, it was very modest. In those months when his second paycheck was withheld over a weekend because the month ended on a Sunday, it was especially difficult for my mother who had to stretch every penny. Every time I read Leviticus I think of my parents and offer a prayer in gratitude for the sacrifices they made for me and my siblings, but I also have some guilt.

It is too easy to forget the poor, especially when we keep insisting that the poor are being paid an adequate wage. That most of us have more than we need does not seem to impact us very deeply. Some may even claim that they deserve everything they have since they risked they capital and should be rewarded for the "danger" to which they exposed themselves.

But Leviticus is clear. Do not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer. Even 3500 years ago, people realized that those who hired themselves out a day a time needed to be treated justly. Today is no different.

Today, pray for those without work, for the underemployed and for those who are underpaid.

What do you think are our obligations to the poor as a people of faith?