Saturday, February 17, 2018

God Makes a Covenant with Us

"I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you." Gen 9:8

Covenants are the hallmarks of God's love for us. When God makes a covenant with Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, God promises fidelity not only to the Covenant itself but to the People of the Covenant. God cannot break the covenant because God promised never to abandon the people he claims for his own. God's covenants are irrevocable and so strong that God assures his people if ever he breaks the Covenant, the people to whom he has promised his love can abandon him, even kill him.

Unfortunately, the security the Jewish people should have felt through the Covenant did not last. The Torah reminds us that soon after the Hebrew people were set from slavery in Egypt, they began complaining about the food, the lack of water and the loss of their security. Nevertheless, although God gets angry with them, he does not break his word. His covenants endure.

The same is true in Jesus, the one we call the new and everlasting Covenant. In God's goodness, Jesus comes among us as the incarnate word, a living person who is also God to promise that God will do anything to assure his people that he is faithful even to allowing Jesus to suffer and die for us. It is this covenant upon which our entire faith rests.

Today, thank God for promising never to abandon us.

Have you experienced God as an unconditional lover?

Friday, February 16, 2018

Praising God for Life

“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Mk 2:17

Wellness, so often lauded even in religious circles, is not always a gospel virtue. If being well means ignoring or denying one's need for God and the church than it is not of God. To be grateful for one's health is good. To take it for granted and forget to praise God for the gift of life, gets us in trouble.

It is clear in Mark's gospel that Jesus continually challenges the Pharisees and Sadducees because of their arrogance. Condemning Jesus because he eats with tax collectors and sinners exposed the Jewish leaders as men more concerned with undermining Jesus' growing power than with calling sinners to conversion. More important, they refused to acknowledge their own need of help, making it impossible for them to benefit from the healing power of Jesus' word and touch.

Although we often act as if we are in charge of our own lives, nothing could be further from the truth. The great privilege of being alive demands that we live in gratitude for all that is. Life is a gift to be shared,  not a right to be taken for granted.

Today, praise God for life in its simplest form.

What daily gratitude practices do you have?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

God's Justice

"This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own." Is 58: 6-8

If anyone has been slow to enter Lent, Isaiah pushes hard. Only two days after we have begun the journey towards Easter and asked for the grace of transformation, the prophet's instruction is clear and demanding. We must be just and compassionate. Otherwise, Lent will be a futile exercise of self discipline that has nothing to do with God or God's desires for the world.

Being just is an attitude, a way of looking at the world. It does not begin with wondering whether someone deserves our care, but with fulfilling God's challenge to help those in need without regard to social class, race, religion or culture. People without a voice, a job or a position of power need to know that God cares about and for them, and we, God's people, are the way God shows this to the them and to the world. We are God's face, ears and hands, gazing upon, listening to and reaching out for anyone, but especially for those bound unjustly.

Hearing God's challenge and responding is not the work of a single day, week or month, but of a lifetime. When we make time and take time to listen to the world as it is, we cannot not hear and see those in need. More important, over time we learn to respond with compassion and humility. Most of us are only two paychecks a way from poverty.

Today, pray for the homeless wherever they live, but especially for those in your own city or town.

What is your attitude towards the chronically needy?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Other Centered

"If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross." Lk 9:23

The essence of Jesus' message is other centeredness, a virtue that is both difficult and dangerous. It is difficult because it demands that we think of others first, even when they haven't earned our attention or concern, but Jesus is clear when he tells us that it is the sick who need a physician, not the healthy. The gospel demands patience, consistency and compassion, but when the other person ignores our outstretched hand or pushes us away, we can be easily discouraged.

Other centeredness is also dangerous. Too often wanting to please others or being afraid of disappointing them, we worry more about our goodness than the other's need. Anxious to "fix" the sick as a way of proving our fidelity to God, we ignore others in need, even members of our own family. Having a good "soul friend" can help us avoid this danger. All of us need someone to show us how to let go of our pride and will in order to let God do God's work.

Today, pray for the gift of discernment to do God's will not your own.

When is it most difficult for you to be other centered?

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Ash Wednesday

"Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God." Jl 2:12

External signs of penance are common in most cultures and religions. Kneeling on the steps of a church asking pardon of those entering was common. Dressing in sackcloth and ashes and abstaining from meat were other ways of asking pardon of God and the community for serious faults and sins. Each and all of these penances were encouraged by the church both to help the sinner repent and remind the church community to be transparent examples of Gospel living. The book of Joel, however, is careful to remind believers that the mere exercise of a public penance does not guarantee reconciliation with God and the community. While the external signs of sorrow might be in place, the need for penitent hearts is still necessary, and this is the work we all must do during Lent.

Sometimes it is best to keep things very simple during Lent. Think of a penance that, while stressful, helps you open your minds to new ideas and your spirit to real transformation. It might be as simple as sitting quietly for five minutes in the morning before you make coffee or plan your day. You don't have to do anything during this quiet time except make yourself available to God for God's work.

Today, don't just do something, sit there.

What have been your most memorable Lents?

Monday, February 12, 2018

Being Prepared

"The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat." Mk 8:14

The gospel can be such a delight at times. How did the disciples forget to bring bread? Were they expecting Jesus to multiple loaves all the time? Was one of them in charge of provisions but forgot that it was his day or week to make sure everyone could eat? Were they rushing for their boat to get to the other side of  the lake because a storm was brewing? Or were they becoming arrogant, believing that those wanting to meet Jesus would feed them. In any case, they had only one loaf with them and had to decide how to share it and how to make sure they would not be caught short again.

Being prepared for everyday can be hard work because most days nothing much happens. We wake, we go to work, we eat and sleep, and although these can be important moments, too often we take them for granted and fail to be grateful for the ordinary events and gifts each day brings. Worse, we sometimes think we are entitled to a good life with all its benefits when, in truth, each day of life is a gift and an opportunity to thank God and all those who make our lives rich.

A good spiritual practice for most of us is to begin each day with a simple ritual that reminds us give ourselves daily to God and God's plan. Some people light a candle and pray to be a light to others. Others sit quietly for five minutes and with each breath speak Jesus' name or repeat a word they have chosen that reminds them of God's enduring presence. The word itself or the breathing is not as important as as being faithful to something that reminds us of God's love for us and our responsibility to respond in love to others.

Today, take five minutes to imagine what your day will be like and determine not to take it for granted.

How do you prepare yourself to live the Gospel each day?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Seeking Signs

"Why does this generation seek a sign?" Mk 8:12

The Pharisees seem always to challenging Jesus, asking for signs that he is of and from God. Quick to speak and offer an opinion, they may have been of good will, but did not have good sense.They spoke to protect their interpretation of the Torah but were unwilling to investigate God's intent for Jesus and the result is predictable. Jesus turns his back of them and leaves for the other side of the lake hoping to find a community that yearns for Good News.

Most of us are too timid to take chances like the Pharisees. We wait, gauge our responses and hope for the best. Though we might avoid mistakes, we rarely witness to the one in whom we believe without dotting every I and crossing every T.  Do we dare ask for the courage of the Pharisees to speak up on behalf of the truth, but also beg for the humility to listen and  change for the sake of the Gospel?

Today, ask God for a big heart and passion.

Do you have or do you know someone who has the courage to speak up on behalf of others?