Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Transfiguration

"Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them." Mk 9:2

Conversion is a slow process. We need many reminders that we are God's people and that God is always with us. Like almost anything else we learn in life, we "get faith" for a while and then lose it. Because daily life often confuses and challenges us with questions about suffering, death, poverty and hunger, we forget who we are, and seasons like Lent are necessary to help us return to the "straight and narrow" path of Jesus.

The transfiguration of Jesus is like a Lent for the apostles. Jesus has been slowly letting the apostles know who he is, and today he makes it absolutely clear that he is the fulfillment of the prophets. One might say that it is the "baptism" of the apostles.

Our own faith life and Lenten journey are similar. We have moments of pristine clarity and insight, and then the fog returns and we can hardly see where we are going. Not being afraid of this process is the key to completing our pilgrimage. Conversion lasts our entire life and while we might lose our way, God never loses sight of us.

Today, try to remember a moment of transfiguration, when you knew exactly who you were.

What has been your experience of conversion into Christ?

Friday, February 23, 2018

Love your Enemies

"I say to you, love your enemies." Mt 5:44

The command of Jesus to love our enemies was not a theoretical challenge to the earliest community of disciples. It was a visceral and demanding trial. When we read the Gospels it becomes very clear that Jesus' message is upsetting to the Jewish leaders who very much wanted both to pacify their Roman rulers and control the behavior of everyday Jews. Concerned that they would lose their moral authority to Jesus and his band of fisherman and shepherds, the Scribes and Pharisees tried to trip Jesus up at every turn, and while some of the disciples wanted Jesus to fight, the Lord acted like any Rabbi, debating with his protagonists but loving them all the while.

How to offer people and institutions a critique of their ideas without criticizing them personally is an important and difficult task, especially for Christians. While we have core values about which there is little debate, there is and ought to be healthy conversation about how to proclaim these values is a world obsessed with instant communication. From texting to Instagram and so much more in between, we need to learn how to say and live what we believe without angry and dismissive pronouncements. Christians on the right and the left can be fiercely judgmental when upset by another's opinion and perspective. Nonetheless, Jesus' command to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us prevails and remains the heart of the Good News.

Today,  pause before you respond to someone with whom you disagree.

How do you understand Jesus' challenge to love your enemies?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Reconciliation in Troubling Times

"But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment." Mt 5:22

Forgiveness of those who do us harm is essential to the Gospel. Jesus asks his Father to forgive those who are crucifying him, and reminds his disciples to put aside everything, even their pilgrimage to the Temple, to reconcile with those from whom they are separated.
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Mt 5: 22-24)
Do we have the courage to accept Jesus' challenge in our daily lives? In recent months, families have been so deeply divided by their different political convictions that many either are not talking with one another or have agreed not to speak about politics at all. In the long run, this cannot be good. Reconciliation is an essential element of the Gospel message and we need to find ways to live authentically with those with whom we disagree. Otherwise, the power of the Gospel to heal will be undermined.

Today, forgive someone who has not asked it of you.

Are you holding a past hurt against a family member or friend?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Chair of Peter

"Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock." 1 Pt 5:3

The role of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, has been debated and challenged regularly in history. For the last century and a half, since the end of Vatican Council I, the issue of papal infallibility has been the underlying issue. The idea that a Pope is infallible in matters of Faith and Morals when he speaks ex cathedra, from the Chair of Peter, has been so narrowly defined that it actually should not distract us from the Pope's primary role, to be shepherd to the world's Catholics, but it often does. That the Holy Father has only spoken infallibly once since Vatican Council I seems not to matter when people begin debating.

St. Peter gets it right, however. Pope's, as all leaders, ought first be examples to others, not domineering leaders. This might also be said of parents, grandparents, and everyday adult Catholics. Our primary call is to live the Gospel transparently in such a way that others might come to know and love Christ and follow a Gospel path. Our is first a religion of persuasiveness and example, not of proselytizing and the manipulation of power.

This conversation seems especially important these days as the Church awaits the actual resignation of Benedict XVI and the election of a new Pope. While we should not be naive about the great burdens and skills demanded of a Pope, neither should be forget to pray for the election of someone plainly in love of Jesus Christ and committed to a simple life of service.

Today, pray for the election of a Pope whose goodness can be experienced by all people of good will.

What do you need from a Christian leader?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Walking with Jonah and Jesus

"Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation." Lk 11:30

When Jonah walked through Nineveh calling the people to repentance, the response was almost immediate. The king instructed everyone, even the animals, to join him in responding to Jonah's prophecy. Together they put on sackcloth and sat in ashes hoping that God would accept their acts of penitence and free them from destruction.

The scriptures are forever reminding us that God always listens and responds to our heartfelt cries. Not only does God lobby Moses to approach Pharaoh and demand the enslaved Hebrews be set free, God also listens to the cries of the poor who he reminds us are always close to him. It should not surprise us, then, that Jesus would be born of poor parents, and like Jonah, would go towards Jerusalem announcing God's desire for our conversion and transformation.

Lent is a time both to walk with Jonah and Jesus, and respond to their cry.  Unless we commit ourselves to repent of our sins, our selfishness, our failure to recognize a world bigger than the United States, our desire for a kind of security in things, and money and power that only God can give, we risk admiring Jesus' pronouncements but failing to live them. The gospel of the first Monday of Lent says it clearly: Whatever we do in justice and charity for the least of Jesus' brothers and sisters, we do for him.

Today, listen closely and without fear for Jesus' call to conversion.

What happens to your spirit when you feed the hungry and cloth the naked?

Monday, February 19, 2018

God's Fertility

"Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth." Is 55:10,11

God's word is fertile. When mixed with the soil of our lives, it produces something extraordinary. God's word has the power to transform us, and our task is to welcome the Word and let it do its work. We are not in control of this process. God is, and we must let it happen, and unless we take time for this process everyday, nothing of substance will happen.

Quiet and reflection, especially about how God's word impacts our lives, is a practice no adult Christian can afford to ignore. Only when we become very disciplined about life in the Spirit can we expect God's word to do its work, and this process is analogous to many other aspects of life. Only the naive think that walking once a week will get them into shape for longer walks, and only the arrogant believe they can learn without regular reading and study. Conversion, at every level of human existence, is hard work.

God's life in and among us is not magic. We should not expect that God's word will transform us if we never reflect upon it. Neither can we hope to be signs of Good News when our life only witnesses to rushing about, pushing people around and ignoring our bodies for the sake of competitive advantage over others. Authentic believers are signs of God's life in the world when they are available, reliable and committed to the other for the other's sake.

Today, remember how God has made your life fertile and offer a prayer of gratitude.

How have you experienced God's fertile actions in your life?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Hungry for Hope

"I was hungry and you gave me food." Mt 25:35

Hunger is a powerful teacher. When people are really hungry, even starving, it is very hard to listen to others, much less learn. Hunger, like anger or a chronic illness, gets in the way of everything else. Trying to teach hungry people is like trying to put one more ounce of water in a glass that is already full. No matter how skilled the teacher, when people are hungry new insights and knowledge are wasted. There is no room in the hungry person for anything new or transformative.

Jesus knew his Jewish antagonists were more concerned with undermining his authority than with the integrity of the Torah. Hungry to maintain their influence and power over the people, they wanted only to find fault with Jesus and his followers. They were not interested in the hunger the disciples had, but only wanted to undermine their teacher.

In many ways, we already know this. When we are physically hungry or we are hungry for companionship, friendship and love, we can settle for almost anything, even though our minds know that our need is getting in the way of our good sense. Because we are so hungry, we can't listen to anything or anyone. The misplaced hunger of the Jewish leaders condemned them, and it will do the same to us if we want only to be right.

Today, don't be afraid to ask for the "bread of life" to feed you with good sense and hope.

What kinds of hungers block you from living the Gospel?