Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Voice of a Friend

"My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me." Jn 10:27

Hearing the voice of someone you can trust is a very comforting sound, especially if you are in a difficult or new situation. The first time I traveled to Bolivia I got off the plane after 15 hours of travel, looked around and could not find a familiar face, but after collecting my baggage, I heard the friar I was intending to visit call my name. Although I was far from New York and very tired, I felt at home.

Shepherds in the ancient world did that for their sheep. Most shepherd's had a different whistle or sound for each of their sheep and when the sheep heard their master's whistle, they followed him. He was their guardian and would lead them to fertile pastures where they could eat and drink.

Most of us have had people in our lives who seem able to hear us on a level that both sustains and challenges us. Gifted with the ability not to speak too quickly or forcefully, our shepherds help us understand ourselves and the God who seems silent but always has a message. Although we often resist their insights, eventually we let go and trust the God who speaks through them.

Today, be grateful for the shepherds in your life who help you hear God's voice.

Whose voice was most important to your growth as a person?

Friday, April 15, 2016

Peaceful in the midst of Persecution

"The Church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. She was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit she grew in numbers." Acts 9: 31

How can the early church be both at peace and persecuted? The author of Acts, probably Luke, wants us to realize that when we are in the Spirit, living the Gospel and announcing it with power, fear dissipates. The presence of the Holy Spirit becomes tangible, something we can almost taste, and although we must endure difficult and dangerous trials, we are not overwhelmed.

Of course, the further any of us move away from our early days of conversion, the more fear returns. Wavering back and forth between strength and weakness, like the Jews in the desert, we find ourselves drifting from the ideals of our faith commitments. We build "sacred cows"  by accumulating money and power, hoping they will protect us from the foolishness and failures of faith, but soon a life propped up by wealth is drained of its sweetness and we know that hedging our bets offers no ultimate consolation. 

Faith is an all in kind of life. We must give ourselves over totally to a loving God and enter the mysteries of daily life with little understanding or insight, but with great hope. The witness we can offer others at times of great stress is powerful. Knowing we are on God's path despite our struggles helps others believe more deeply in a Christianity that is simultaneously tough and tender.

Today, recommit yourself to the entirely of the Gospel.

When is it most difficult for you to remain peaceful?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Letting God open our Eyes

"Scales fell from Paul's eyes and he regained his sight." Acts 9:18

All of us, like St. Paul, have had epiphanies, times when the scales fell from our eyes and we could see and experience life in ways that before were hidden. These are important moments which often shape our lives for years to come. At the same time, they are only epiphanies. Critical and revealing, but nothing and even a hindrance if not acted upon. 

Jesus is clear about this when he reminds us that to those who have been given much, much will be expected. Gifts of faith, insight, wisdom, understanding and integrity are not for us alone. Rather, they are given to us for the good of the community of faith. We must spend them, much as we would a gift certificate, and we must give them away freely as Paul did after his conversion.

Most of the time, our eyes are clouded but this should not distract or discourage us because we probably could not bear seeing everything as it is, but when our eyes are opened, we must look for and respond to those most in need.

Today, ask the Lord for a simple Epiphany for the good of the church.

What have been your most important Epiphanies?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Asking for Help

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him." Jn 6:44

Most of us are too proud to ask others for help, except in the simplest matters. Determined to hold onto our independence for as long as possible, we miss some of the great delights of life. When we allow others to help us, everything changes. We realize that it is o.k. not to know certain things, not to be in charge, to be in charge. More important, we often empower others when we ask for their insight or help. This is especially true with our children. I remember well when my parents asked me to help them with their finances. Although I had not had much experience in financial matters, there were plenty of friends who were more than capable, and they were only too happy to help me and my parents.

Jesus is inviting us today to ask for help, to acknowledge our weakness and dependence, asserting all the while that God is waiting for our request and anxious to come to our aid, and while we might not always receive exactly what we think we need or want, the Lord will always be present to us as guide and companion. The 13th century Persian poet, Rumi, says it this way: "The door we are knocking on opens from the inside."

Today, knock of God's door just to tell him you are near.

What makes it difficult for you to ask for help?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Keep Preaching the Word

"Those who had been scattered went about preaching the word." Acts 8:4

Finding the courage to continue announcing Good News when one is rejected or persecuted is one of the great challenges of discipleship.We should have no doubt that the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish leaders was difficult for the apostles and disciples. Uneducated and illiterate for the most part, the disciples would find it difficult to defend the Good News formally or intellectually. Nevertheless, they continued to go around Palestine preaching God's word.

Most people who hear the Gospel these days benefit from a basic education, and a majority of the clergy have a sophisticated knowledge of the scriptures and church teaching. At the same time, defending the message of Jesus is as difficult as ever. While it is important for us as a church to articulate our faith carefully and comprehensively, we should not be naive. A few may challenge our theology or spirituality, but most people choose not to accept the Good News and no amount of argument or reason will satisfy them.

Jesus told us not to be afraid and to go from place to place preaching the Gospel, but he also warned us to think of God's love as a seed which we plant. Don't worry, Matthew warns us, about how the Gospel is heard or interpreted. "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet." (Mt 10:14) In other words, plant the word and leave the growth to God

Today, ask for the strength to preach the Gospel simply and powerfully.

When is it most difficult for you to live or preach the Gospel?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Useless Guilt

"Saul was consenting to his (Stephen's) execution." Acts 8: 1a

Many people carry guilt from their past lives, and often are unable to let it go. This burden helps no one, especially the person who is guilty. Unless we learn to put aside our past lives with all its mistakes  and trust God's mercy, we hamper the advancement of the Gospel.

St Paul could have drowned in the guilt of his early life. Systematically persecuting Christians, Paul was righteous in defense of his interpretation of the Torah, but once he encountered the Lord, his life changed radically. Not only did he not wallow in guilt, he let the Spirit of God transform him in such a way that all the energy he spent in chasing down Christians was turned into zeal for the Gospel.

Paul knew, as all of us must if we have been truly converted, that the Gospel had to preached and he could not let anything get in the way of his new mission. Even though Paul quietly consented to the martyrdom of Stephen, and afterwards no doubt regretted his failure to act, he let the grace of God impel him to proclaim Jesus' identity as Son of God with power and passion.

Today, encourage someone who is struggling with guilt.

How do you respond to lingering guilt?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

St Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr

"Blessed are they who follow the way of the Lord." Ps 119

Having the courage to speak out in the face of injustice is rare. To speak directly against a king or president seems inconceivable to most of us, but that is exactly what St. Stanislaus did at the beginning on the second millenium. Unable not to confront his king for egregious offenses against the poor and God, Stanislaus was martyred for demanding that the king repent and change his life.

Stanislaus is a good Easter saint. Challenged by the resurrection not to be afraid, to stand up, stand out and speak up, the apostles rose to the occasion and became a living Gospel. So did Stanislaus. Empowered by the word, and unafraid to speak with the authority of the Gospel, Stanislaus became the apostle of Poland, a figure revered as much by the Polish people as Thomas Becket is by the English.

Heroes can sometimes thrill us, but unless we are moved to change by their witness to the faith, their memories are a distraction to our own conversion. Stanislaus continues to be a mentor for the Polish people, not just because of his confrontation with his king, but because he acted, not to advance his own power but God's.

Today, live the Gospel simply and faithfully.

What keeps you from speaking out for the poor more consistently?