Saturday, January 7, 2017

Epiphany of the Lord

"Where is the newborn king of the Jews?" Mt 2:2

Stability is something we all seek.  We want a permanent job, a house or apartment of our own that we can afford.  We want our children to do well in school and enter strong solid marriages.  It goes on and on.  Stability is like a prize that we cannot live without, but today's readings ask us to make a very deep examination of conscience.

What kind of stability are really seeking? Jesus does not offer us the kind of stability that God seemed to promise the Jews of old. Though they would enter the Promised land and build a temple that signaled to all the world that they were God's people, Jesus tells us that stability of place is not the gift he is bringing, not the Good News. He promises us internal stability, the assurance that God is with us in the flesh, and will send his Spirit to dwell within us and among us forever which makes us God's holy temple and his tabernacle.

We are a pilgrim people who build places of worship and call them churches, but the real church is us.  United in faith with the assurance that God will be our anchor, we are set free from the compulsive need to live in one place, have the same job forever, and measure our success by what we have rather than who we are.

Today, ask God to give you a stable relationship in faith to continue your journey.

How do you understand the stability that God promises us?

Friday, January 6, 2017

Cana Compassion

"They have no wine." Jn 2:3

Today's gospel recounting the wedding feast at Cana lends itself easily to our own lives.  When Mary tells Jesus, "They have no wine," she could just as easily have said, "They have no coats, no food, no clean water, no hope." In the Jewish world that Jesus knew, the family of those being married had only one responsibility, to provide everyone with enough food and wine for a feast that might last several days. Not to offer their guests a simple table wine would have shamed the family and the newly married couple, and since the poor had only one real opportunity to celebrate in this manner, the shame would have followed them everywhere.

Mary knows this and points it out to Jesus who wonders why the failure of another family to prepare properly for a wedding is any of his business. He might have been feeling compassion for them but hesitates to interfere in a direct way and bring attention to himself. If he sent his disciples to buy wine, it might have embarrassed the couple more deeply. Clearly, another way of easing the tension in the situation was needed. When Jesus tells the stewards to fetch six stone water jars, no one could have known what he intended to do, and when the head waiter tasted the "new wine" he had no idea where it came from, but was amazed that this very fine wine had not been served earlier.  The party continued; no one was embarrassed or shamed, and the identity of Jesus begins to be revealed.

Today, do something for another anonymously.

How do you respond to the needs of the poor?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Faithful Despite the Struggles

"One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals." Mk 1:7

Knowing who you are and to whom you belong is a foundational first step on the road to spiritual health.  Every adult believer has struggled mightily at times with their identity as Christians and Catholics. Sometimes it is a particular belief or practice that makes us uncomfortable or leaves us full of doubt, and this is especially true when we are struggling with other issues in our life. When a marriage collapses or a parent nears death, we can wrestle with the teaching of the church or its beliefs and practices. Why can't I remarry, some ask?  Doesn't God want me to be happy? Or why is my mother suffering so?  Doesn't God care?

It is at times like this that John the Baptist becomes a good patron saint.  John knows who he is and does not try to be someone else. There is no indication in the text that he knows exactly who Jesus will become or what the church will eventually look like after his death. Rather, he knows that his job is to prepare the way for the Messiah, and he is determined to do it with integrity and total commitment.

If we remember that, like John the Baptist, we are disciples with a mission,  God will give us the faith to live with the questions and burdens which have no easy answer. That God is with us in the middle of the doubt, fear and anger is the promise upon which we rely.  God is here. God lives within us and among us. God is enough.

Today, ask God to help you live with the questions you face.

How do you respond when friends or family are struggling with their faith?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

St John Neumann

"If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?" 1 Jn 3:17

St John Neumann knew well the truth of John's first letter. Because he saw so many in need, he did everything he could to respond, including learning Spanish, Italian, French and Dutch. As a missionary to the United States, he became a kind of itinerant pastor, but acknowledging his need for community, he joined the Redemptorists.

Named bishop of Philadelphia at 41, the young Redemptorist, anxious to respond to the needy and unlearned, approached the teaching brothers and sisters in the area and invited them to serve with him in the schools of Philadelphia. Determined to give immigrant children a chance at a better life, John immediately began to build Catholic schools. In less than a decade Philadelphia, which had only two Catholic schools when he arrived,  had more than one hundred.

Success stories like John's continue to lift us up with hope. When people of faith work together for the good of all, everyone benefits. The parochial school system that John helped build not only provided Catholics with a good education, it prepared them to make a difference in society, and taught them how a deep faith life could impact their neighborhoods and cities for the good of all.

Today, pray to know how best to announce the Good News with your lives.

What aspect of church life has been most important in your faith life?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

St Elizabeth Ann Seton

"We have found the Messiah." Jn 1:41

Elizabeth Ann Seton had any number of firsts in her life. She founded the first American congregation of religious sisters in the United States, opened the first parish school and the first Catholic orphanage, but none of these is her greatest triumph. Despite being widowed at 30 with five young children, she decided to become a Catholic despite strong opposition from her staunch Episcopal family.

Elizabeth's courage at a time in her life that begged her to be careful and conservative remind us that when we depend totally on God wonderful things can happen. Not only are we able to make difficult decisions, we do so with conviction and serenity. When God is on our side, and God always is, no obstacle is too big to overcome.

In the United States women have always been the foundation stones of our parishes. They teach religious education, serve on every committee and week after week faithfully celebrate the Eucharist with devotion and passion. In all of this they have a wonderful model in Elizabeth Ann Seton. Not deterred by being ignored, dismissed or rejected, women know, like Elizabeth Ann, that God is their center and their guide. Nothing else matters.

Today, listen to a woman of faith.

What woman of faith do you most admire?

Monday, January 2, 2017

He must increase; I must decrease

"John testified further, saying,...‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’" Jn 1: 28, 29

What was it that John saw? What did the Spirit look like? Most of us have been in the presence of people with political or religious power. We know what that feels like, but Jesus was an itinerant preacher and minor prophet. Surely, John was talking about something more than the power we invest in hierarchies when he said of Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God...He must increase, I must decrease."

In order to see, we must look long and hard at ourselves, others and the world. This takes practice and discernment. We cannot expect to see what it is that God is doing within and among us unless we take time to gaze upon God and God's works everyday. Some call this prayer or contemplation but naming it is not as important as doing it. Finding time in our busy schedules to stop, listen, and allow the Spirit of God to guide us is essential to anyone who wants to live the Gospel.

Today, slow down and let the Lord look at you as you are.

What most keeps you from developing a daily prayer life?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sts Basil and Gregory

“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’" Jn 1:23

Most of the great saints of the early church, like Basil and Gregory, knew, like John the Baptist, that their primary task was to cry out the truth of the Gospel despite the personal cost to their own reputation and power. Basil did this by preaching twice a day, usually against Arianism which denied the divinity of Christ. His commitment to preaching the fullness of the truth caused others to accuse him of heresy. Despite his appeals to the Pope for help, Basil was often left dangling and vulnerable.

Gregory was first drawn to Basil, the founder of monasticism in the East, because he wanted  to live a quiet, secluded and prayerful life. Soon  however, he was ordained priest, then  bishop, and before he knew it he was sent to Constantinople to try to bring peace and orthodoxy to that troubled place. Despite his best efforts, he was also vilified and attacked personally. Still, Gregory endured and preached consistently and constantly about the great mystery of the Incarnation, only to be isolated and forgotten in his last years.

Only when we are clear about our role as Christians are we able to endure trials and difficulties. Like John the Baptist we are to make the Lord's way straight and accept the consequences, no matter how difficult, of living the Gospel.

Today, don't worry about your success. Worry about living the Gospel.

What is the most difficult part of living the gospel for you?