Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Body and Blood of the Lord

"This is my body....this is my blood." Mk 14:22

When friends or family die, we often grieve and mourn them in powerful ways. Some will visit the cemetery, even if it is at a distance, every day for weeks or months. Others, leave a chair empty at the table at the dinner table in order to remember their dead. Early in the mourning process, these rituals often lead to tears and groaning, but after a while they help us gently remember all the good the dead brought to our lives. Our rituals bring us comfort and hope, and that is Jesus' intent at the Last Supper.

The Eucharist is the central mystery of our faith. In it and through it we remember the life, suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord. By celebrating the great gift of the Body and Blood of the Lord, especially on Sunday's, we keep alive all that God has done for us, from the creation of the world, to the making of the Covenants, the sending of the prophets and the gift of Jesus in a form that allows us to grieve our own sins and celebrate the unwavering love of God. In eating the Body and Blood of the Lord, we are nourished both as individuals and communities, and we are challenged to feed others as God continues to feed us.

The mystery of the Eucharist is something that deserves our daily gratitude. There is no fuller way to honor God than in the breaking of the bread, and there is no more fitting way to remember Jesus than to proclaim his love in service of the hungry and poor.

Today, be grateful for all the gifts of God, especially the gift of his Son.

What helps you remember to live your faith each day?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Speaking the Truth in Love

"By what authority are you doing these things?" Mk 11:28

From time to time, all of us try to ignore or bypass uncomfortable situations. That there are more than 500,000 undocumented immigrants in New York City alone, many of whom are working for much less than a living wage, is a scandal that begs for a solution. A friend regularly offers you suggestions on how to avoid paying taxes that you know are legitimate and you say nothing. there tactics might be legal, but are they ethical? While silence is sometimes the prudent response to situations like this, it can also be uncharitable and sinful not to speak up.

Jesus could very well have ignored the chief priests and their questions about the legitimacy of John the Baptist's ministry, but he chose to use their inquiries both to make them uncomfortable and to take a stand. The elders knew that if they said John's baptism was of God, they would have validated his ministry, and if they said John was an impostor, the crowd would have attacked them. When they choose to say nothing, the chief priests demonstrate their weakness. It is clear that they are not really concerned about John's ministry, but only trying to trap Jesus in order to undermine his work. When Jesus turns the question on them, their nastiness and dishonesty are exposed.

If we are followers of Jesus, we need to think hard and long about how to respond to evil. When immigrants are being cheated or people are avoiding legitimate taxes, everyone is effected. More important, by too often remaining silent, we fail to live the Gospel we pretend to embrace.

Today, pray for the courage to speak up and work for those whose lives are being ruined because of greed.

Have you been in a situation where you knew you had to speak up?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Righteous Anger

"On entering the temple area he began to drive out those selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves." Mk 11:15

Few gospel scenes are more dramatic than Jesus chasing the money changers out of the temple precincts, and with good reason. Jesus was angry, an emotion we rarely associate with him or Christianity, despite the fact that it is almost always anger that brings about change in a society. It was anger over taxation without representation that spurred the American revolution. Though uncomfortable, anger is an important emotion for all to feel.

Jesus is not angry that people are making a small profit exchanging one currency for another. His anger is at those who charge whatever they can get from pilgrims, most of whom were surely poor. In the Palestine of Jesus' day, pilgrims would come to the temple once in their life from all over the known world. If they were Greek, they would have to change their drachmas into shekels and then when they arrived at the temple they would have to change their shekels into temple shekels, and this last exchange was often usurious. Money changers would charge whatever their unsuspecting victims would pay. That this might mean the pilgrims and their families would not eat properly that day meant little to the money changers. Their profit ruled their consciences.

While all of us expect to pay more for basic services, like food and drink, when we visit a shrine or monument, gouging is never acceptable. That Jesus would defend those being abused by unscrupulous business men reminds us to do the same on behalf of the poor. Injustice and oppression, especially against the poor, is never o.k. Anger that leads to transformation is.

Today, examine your conscience regarding the practices you might employ to gain leverage over others.

Has the anger and outrage of others ever moved you to change?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

St Philip Neri

"Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy." 1 Pt 2:10

St Philip, a gregarious, funny, and well respected man was committed to humility as essential value for the Oratorians, the society of Apostolic life which he helped found in the sixteenth century. Begun in a church that was sharply divided by the Protestant Reformation, the Oratory invited men to come, to see, to study, reflect and pray without defensiveness about the sins of the church. Instead, the Oratorians were committed to being quiet cells of prayer and hope in a church that had lost its way and needed serious internal reformation. 

Rather than insist upon harsh physical mortification like many other new religious congregations founded after the Protestant Reformation, Philip encouraged the Oratorians to practice spiritual mortification as a way to refocus the church's energies towards God rather than social acceptance. One story about Philip in this regard says it all. After hearing one of his brother priest's give a well received homily, he ordered him to give it again six times in a row so that people would think he had only one sermon.  

Though Philip's action might seem cruel to some, many of my brother Capuchins tease one another that the best homilists among us have only three distinct sermons, and most of us have one! At the same time, we acknowledge that the one thought or one homily, rooted in God's power to save rather than our eloquence, helps people more than all our insights.

Today, pray for the gift of humor as you admit your faults.

Who or what keeps you humble?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Service of those on the Periphery

"Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mk 10:45

Service of others, even our enemies, is one of the great hallmarks of the Good News, and while some might not consider service of others good news, Jesus does, in the most emphatic of terms. Unless we learn how to serve others, even becoming like slaves in this regard, the message of the New Covenant will go unheard.

Gratefully, most of us have met and been moved by people whose entire lives are given in service to others. For years I had the great privilege of offering the Sunday Eucharist at a hospital in Boston that cared for people with serious mental and emotional problems. Being among the very ill was a blessing for me, but people who volunteered there Sunday after Sunday were an equal blessing. I never had to prepare anything but a homily. Everything else was done with love and dedication, and the service these women and men offered was only one of their ministries.

Anyone encountering this kind of dedication cannot help but be moved and lifted up. Whether it was distributing music books already opened to the proper page, or moving chairs so that those in wheelchairs might find a place among us, these loving men and women did everything they could to help create a sacred space for God's little ones to gather, worship and rejoice.

Today, thank God for the privilege of serving the poor.

When have you known the glory of God in serving others who could not repay you?

Monday, May 23, 2016

Pride Kills

"Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Mk 10:31

Coming as it does at the end of Jesus' teaching about the danger of wealth and the disciples' questions about their reward, the challenge not to seek the first place in anything is an important Gospel lesson. Jesus is clear when he warns his followers not to worry about the issues that can so easily consume them. Whether they struggle for financial security or want assurances that the path they are following is a good one, Jesus' disciples must remember that God's promise to them is not first about this world, but about the next.

At the same time, we need to be careful when interpreting this passage. Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus used their modest wealth, knowledge of the law and religious authority as weapons to frighten and intimidate the underclass, and more than anything else, Jesus condemned this behavior. The purpose of the Law was to assure believers that God was their companion and guide and they had nothing to fear from any civil power, even their oppressors, if they lived the law with joy.

For Christians, the call is direct. Jesus, as the fulfillment of the law, is the one who must be at the center of our lives. Nothing we can gain in the world can substitute for this relationship. As long as we are willing to enter into the mystery of God's love in Christ and submit ourselves to him, we have nothing to fear.

Today, remember who you are before God and be grateful for your faith.

Which spiritual practices help you counter your pride?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Selling Everything

"Go, sell what you have and give to the poor." Mk 10:21

The severity of Jesus' demand that we renounce all our possessions can be overwhelming, especially when we read it out of context. The best scholars of the bible always remind us that when we ask God for the strength to let go, to renounce everything for God, God gives us back what we need to live well and serve others. While God's challenge is daunting, it is also necessary. Belief demands that we learn to trust God with our entire lives despite the cost.

When trying to listen to the God who demands everything from us, it is also important to remember that most of us have more than we could ever use or need, and it is our fear and pride that causes us to worry about whether we have enough or how others see us. Rather than let go to simplify our lives, we acquire more and more ideas, stuff and baggage. Jesus might sound harsh, but his message is clear. Don't be afraid to give God everything. The reward is a Gospel freedom beyond anything we could imagine.

Today, recommit yourself to a Gospel life no matter the cost.

Which of your possessions or ideas are most difficult to renounce?