Saturday, October 1, 2016

Increase Our Faith

"Increase our faith." Lk 17:5

Faith is a strange and wonderful gift. While many of us spend our lives teaching about it, faith's mystery always remains. Faith can never be quantified or measured, only treasured. How strange then to hear the apostles in today’s gospel say, "increase our faith," almost as if it were like turning up the volume on the TV.

I’m smiling as I write about "volume." I remember telling my mother in the first years after ordination that I often worried about my preaching. Was I making sense? Were people able to follow me? Was I clear enough? Mom listened to my concerns and told me to do what other priests seemed to do: If you are not sure of what to say next, say it louder. I must admit I have used her advice more than once, but always knew what was happening. When I arrived at a point in my own thinking or a homily where a leap of faith was required to let God do God’s work, I doubted. Rather than allow the word to do its work, to let faith, the size of a mustard seed, take root and grow in God's time, I spoke more forcefully when a pause or even silence was needed.

Today, join the apostles and ask for an increase of faith for yourself and those closest to you.

How do you respond when you are not sure what to say to others to help them?

Friday, September 30, 2016

St Therese of Lisieux

“I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” (Lk 10:21)

Therese of Lisieux, who came to prominence at a time when the world was experiencing two world wars and violence of a kind never seen before, was one of the most popular saints of the 20th century. Therese’s “little way” made sense to the people of the United States who were overwhelmed by the loss of husbands, children, brothers and friends in wars fought far from home. Living each day with simplicity, handing one’s life over to God, and offering “every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love,” helped people who were being bombarded with painful news on a daily basis.

In recent days, Russia and United States have tried to broker a cease fire in Syria but it quickly fell apart.  We cannot help but wonder where the violence will end, and whether there isn't another way of responding to ISIS whose tactics are so overwhelmingly violent. Unless we search for new responses to those with whom we disagree, we will surely become numb and unable to to respond with a Gospel heart to those with whom we differ.

Perhaps Therese’s little way can still help us. If we commit ourselves anew to a simple path of prayer, conversation and patience, without denying the horrors of war, famine, disease and hunger, we might discover a God who is only too anxious to help us.

Today, live simply so that others can simply live.

How do you respond to violence against you in your own life?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

St Jerome, Doctor of the Church

"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." St. Jerome

St Jerome is one of the most important scripture scholars in the history of the church. His translation of the bible into Latin, known as the Vulgate, was the basis of every translation into modern languages until the middle of the 20th century. His brilliance and discipline were such that he was able to produce not only a translation of the bible that continues to be a resource for contemporary students of scripture, but also wrote dozens of commentaries on the bible. An advisor to Popes, he was also often called upon by theologians as they grappled with heresies and misinterpretations of the bible.

This being said, Jerome was also a volatile, tempestuous and driven man. Reading a few of his letters makes you glad you were not in his sights! Jerome lived at a time and in a church that badly needed reform and his answer was a rigid asceticism. In what many consider his most famous letter, he warns St. Eustochium about every possible threat to her virginity while also acknowledging that even when he went to the desert to escape the insanity of the Rome of his day, he was tormented by fantasies of Roman dancing girls.While no one denies the importance of virginity and celibacy in a world obsessed with sex, it is not the only or even primary avenue to salvation.

I write all this about Jerome because for me he is a powerful example of how God works with us as we are and uses even our faults for the good of others. Jerome’s life reminds us that when we submit ourselves to God, great things happen, and that God and history remember all the good Jerome did and underplay his shortcomings. What a wonderful lesson for us.

Today, ask for forgiveness of your sins, but don’t forget to be grateful for the gifts God has given you.

Are you able to accept that God works in and through you despite your faults?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Sts Michael, Gabriel and Raphael

"In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord." Ps 138

In our information saturated culture, it is easy to forget how important messengers are. In many parts of the world, there are women and men who write letters for those in their families or villages who are illiterate. Many of these scribes, knowing how desperate their clients are to speak of their love or concern, try not just to communicate a message in a literal way, but seek to put tone and feeling into their writing.

In the ancient world, angels were messengers. Their primary task was to speak on behalf of God to people God wanted to address directly. Gabriel comes to Mary asking her to be the mother of God's son; Michael reminds the church that God will always guard us; and Raphael assures us that God will be our loving guide.

All of us are called to be angels to one another. Not only are we challenged to speak the Good News, we must be the Good News especially for those who are lost and broken, and this happens every time we let the word of God live in and through us. 

Today, be an angel to someone starving for a word of comfort.

Who has been an angel of God to you?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

No Place to Lay our Heads

"Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head." Lk 9:58

Jesus continually surprises his disciples. Just as they get comfortable with the direction he is taking, he turns a corner and turns their world upside down. When someone from the crowd, exultant and full of himself, proclaims that he will follow Jesus anywhere, Jesus reminds him that he himself has no place to lay his head. Is the fellow from the crowd willing to become a nomad and follow Jesus into  the wilderness? What a challenge?

In claiming his identity as a pilgrim and an itinerant preacher, Jesus promises us, that like the God of the Hebrew scriptures, he will follow his flock anywhere and everywhere. Though he makes few demands, he is always imploring us to live like him, without family or wealth, but full of hope and compassion. God will guide us and care for us, he insists, but we have to trust. The emptiness of having nothing in Christ is a fullness beyond compare. Clinging to nothing, we have everything. The faith to believe this is the test we all face.

Today, empty yourself of everything that gets in the way of loving God and neighbor.

Have you known the glory of feeling rich even when you have nothing?

Monday, September 26, 2016

St Vincent de Paul

"It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them." St Vincent de Paul (1)

St Vincent de Paul has always been one of my favorite saints. His words are clear, direct and uncompromising. Two of his more noteworthy sayings are: “Extend mercy towards others, so that there can be no one in need whom you meet without helping. For what hope is there for us if God should withdraw His mercy from us?” And, "Make it a practice to judge persons and things in the most favorable light at all times and under all circumstances."

But no saying of Vincent has impacted me more than his demand that we love the poor, not just feed them. In truth, one can only know the power of this directive by experiencing it. Of all the ministries to which I have been called, it is my encounters with the poor, the homeless and the bed ridden that have been most life changing.

For many years I offered mass on Sunday’s at the Shattuck hospital in Boston. The Shattuck welcomed Boston’s street people, many of whom remained in the hospital for years. One fellow, I’ll call him “Charlie,” had been a police officer for many years. Unfortunately, his own life unraveled with drug and alcohol abuse and he found himself homeless and living on the streets. By the time he arrived at the Shattuck his diabetes had taken away one of his legs, but his spirit had been transformed by a return to his faith, and he became an advocate for many of the patients whose lack of education or social anxiety made it impossible to voice their own concerns and needs.

Today, ask God for the grace of merciful eyes and a forgiving heart.

Have you known poor people whose faith challenged and changed you?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Accepting all who Work for Faith

"Whoever is not against you is for you.” Lk 9:50

Competition, especially between and among men, is natural and can be fun. Who can find and wear the loudest shirt or jacket, which football team plays the best and the smartest (even if they lose most of the time) or who knows where the least expensive restaurant is are only a few of the ways we compete, but the Gospel challenges us not to be competitive about power.

Newly called as an apostle, John is troubled when others claim they are acting in Jesus' name but do not follow the Lord and asks Jesus how he should respond. Only concerned with helping others, Jesus cautions John not to worry about having control of every situation, but to broaden his perspective. As long as others are not preaching or acting against him, Jesus is content to encourage them to do good, especially on behalf of those who are struggling in life.

The simple wisdom of the Gospel reminds us not to over complicate the teaching of Jesus, nor to make it something that must exclude other religions. When we can find areas in our faith traditions that allow and encourage us to work together for the good of all, we should eagerly embrace them. Nothing that helps the lost and gives voice to those to whom no one listens should be ignored in the name of Christianity or to prove that we are right. Only when we focus of those in desperate need can we be sure we are following Jesus.

Today, pray for those who work for interfaith cooperation.

How do you avoid unnecessary competition?