Saturday, April 8, 2017

Palm Sunday

“Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He said in reply, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” Lk 19:40

On occasion, when we find ourselves in a cynical or sad mood, we refer with some disdain to A&P Catholics, those who celebrate with us only on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday because they get something free to take home!  How awful of us to judge, especially at the beginning of the holiest week of the church year. Shouldn't we be glad that our sisters and brothers in Christ want to express their faith publicly? Shouldn't we trust that God will take their gestures of belonging and use them as seeds that have only to be watered to grow into something wonderful and transforming for them and all they know and meet?

Because Jesus' disciples were proud to be associated with him, they spoke enthusiastically of his influence and spread his message of hope to everyone they met, but like most new believers their actions sometimes seemed shallow and showy. Accordingly, the leaders of the Jewish community tell Jesus to control his followers actions more carefully, but Jesus refuses, knowing that his disciples needed to speak of their transformation and belief, even if it appeared overdone, in order to test their own commitment and publicly honor him.

Holy Week is upon us, a time of great joy and hope, and one that demands we, like Jesus' first disciples, be more publicly committed to living the mysteries of faith. If this means we risk seeming too religious for some people's taste, so be it. If we don't live our faith publicly, how will the Good News be proclaimed?

Today, wave a palm of hope for someone who seems lost.

What do you think is the best way to express your faith publicly?

Friday, April 7, 2017

God Alone is our Guide

"The Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock." Jer 31:10d

In recent years in the United States, many people, especially parents, work very hard to support their children by praising them for the simplest tasks. A quick look at Facebook will confirm this. A recent post read: Congratulations to my amazing son who graduated from kindergarten today. Again, a big hug to my wonderful daughter as she continues to change the world.  Although these remarks are innocent and heartfelt, one wonders whether they tell the whole story.

In Luke's beatitudes, Jesus warns his listeners to take everything said about them with a grain of salt. Though parents may not be trying to manipulate their children or make up for a hurt they caused, words of praise can fill our heads and hearts with a fullness that is not of God or good for us. Life is about conversion, not basking in the empty praise of others but being grateful for the gift of each. Overwhelming praise, when taken too seriously, can compromise our ability to see or tell the truth and trap us in a world of make believe. When this happens our baptismal call to be priest, prophet and king gets lost in the muck of dishonesty about ourselves and others.

Today, ask Go for the gift of honesty with yourselves and others.

Do you want help to see the truth in yourself and address it?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Singing for Joy

"Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord." Jer 20:12

Jesus wants us to be a people of joy, and he wants this for us no matter how heavy our burdens might be. Though the Lord is clear, it is also difficult to embrace and proclaim his message. Jesus promises us that his father will be the source of our joy by living in us despite our faults, but most of the time we want more. We want to be free of worries and struggles, and not to obsess about issues and situations that feel overwhelming, but this is the crux of our difficulty.

Joy in Christ is not about feeling better or more secure. To be a people of joy is a decision we must make on a daily basis, but we can only do this with faith. Our society often presents happiness and joy in unreal terms and fills us with expectations that are not of God. Eating whatever we want when we want, dressing well, having our own homes and cars might appear to make us happy, but this kind of joy never lasts. It is a mirage.

Authentic joy in Jesus is relational. The only real happiness is a consequence of opening ourselves to love and offering love to others, not because they deserve it, but because Jesus commands it. When we do this, everything changes. Our lives are not reduced to our accomplishments, our wealth, our importance in the society or church, but are measured solely by our willingness to be vulnerable to the love and transformation Jesus ask us to embrace.

Today, offer someone a joyful smile for the sake of the Gospel.

What kind of joy do you desire?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Knowing God

"If I should say that I do not know him, I would be like you a liar." Jn 8:55

There is a concept in law called willful blindness which suggests that we can be found guilty for refusing to see wrongdoing or for ignoring matters that are obvious to any reasonable person. In other words, if there is knowledge that you could have or should have but chose not to have, you are still responsible.

Jesus suggests that the Pharisees are being willfully blind in choosing not to recognize who he is or what he is doing for and with people. More, he warns them that they do this at their own peril.

The same is true for us. When we refuse to open our minds or hearts to the overwhelming desire of God to draw close to us, we deny who God is. Jesus is the new and eternal covenant, the one who "cuts" a deal with us, the one who promises never to abandon us, to always forgive us and to search us out when we re lost. His life, suffering, death and resurrection say all this and more. We can only be grateful.

Today, tell the truth. God is near.

Why do we sometimes deny the unconditional love of God?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Standing in the Truth

"You should know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up.”  Dn 3:18

The remarkable story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego always lifts my spirit. Thrown into a raging fire because they refused to to worship King Nebuchadnezzar's God or the golden statue he made, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego assure the king that their God will protect and save them even if he allows them to die in the fire. 

That they are protected from the fire, while spectacular, is almost incidental because they are living the simple truth that saints have always insisted upon. They serve God, pray and care for the needy, not to be successful, but to be faithful. It is the failure to live faith in this way that condemns the servant in today's gospel who, after being forgiven a large debt, refuses to forgive his fellow servant in a small matter.

God protects, God forgives and God sets us free over and over to begin again. Made in God's image, we are to save one another from the "fire" of shame that reduces people to objects of need, rather than subjects of our compassion. If God is compassionate, understanding and accepting, so must we have hearts of kindness and mercy

Today, offer someone who cannot repay you an ear of compassion.

Has anyone ever stood with you in suffering without judgment?

Monday, April 3, 2017

Surrounded by God

"Jesus said: 'The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.'” Jn 8:30

Jesus is our model for everything in life, but never more so than when he reminds us that he is never alone, that his father is with him always. We may not always feel the presence of God, especially when we are worried or fretting about matters we cannot control, but we must keep acting as if God is with us. The great saints in every religious tradition teach this consistently.

Ghandi counselled his followers not think of prayer as the work of the old or the weak, but as an act of submission to God and the food that strengthens us along the way. Rooted in this conviction, he writes: "Nothing is so aggravating as calmness." Committed to non violence, Ghandi knew he would be tempted to act aggressively, to abandon calmness, especially in defense of the poor and voiceless, but he reminds us, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent."

Jesus does not fight the Jewish leaders or the Roman authorities who are committed to putting him to death, nor does he allow his followers to act violently in his defense. When Peter cuts off the ear of the high priest's servant, Jesus demands that Peter put his sword away because violence will only beget violence. That he must "drink the cup" of suffering is clear to him, and it should be clear to us. We can only endure unjust suffering if we remember always to call upon the One who has gifted us with faith and  demanded that we love our enemies.

Today, allow yourself to sit quietly surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses. (Heb 12:1)

What spiritual practices help you remember that God is always near?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Authentic Mercy

"Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle." Jn 8:3

When Jesus challenges the Jewish leaders who caught a woman in adultery to cast the first stone if they were without sin, their options were few. Theirs was not an authentic righteousness. More concerned with trapping Jesus than with justice for the woman, they were considered "malicious witnesses," who, if they acted, would have been liable, according to the Rabbis, to the same punishment given to the woman. Afraid for their lives, they walked away, not because they wanted to do justice but because they were fearful of the stoning they deserved.

Then and now, Jesus demands authentic justice for all. While sin and crime sometimes demand serious punishment, more often than not, those seeking justice do not have pure motives. Wanting vengeance because they lose money or a loved one to death, they demand capital punishment, all the while ignoring or denying their own sins and crimes. Hurt and anger get in the path of mercy, but theirs is not a Gospel response. Jesus demands that we look at our own sin every time we are tempted to condemn others.

Today, ask to be forgiven for your sins.

How do you understand Gospel mercy?