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Thursday, December 31, 2020

New Year's Day -- Solemnity of Mary

 "The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child." Lk 2:16-17

Every year the church begins the New Year by holding up Mary, the Mother of God, as a model for believers everywhere. Mary, as mother, is first of all present to Jesus, something that is more difficult than it seems. Being present to another does not mean we try to fix or help them, but serve them. Like a good waitperson in a restaurant who does not hover or keep asking how your food is, our mothers only want us to be comfortable in our own skin. Mary is like this for Jesus and us.

Christians do well to remember Mary's lessons. When we realize that our primary task is to witness to the truth and transforming power of the Christ, we never have to be the center of attention. Rather, we listen more than we speak, and we live faith as a verb: an action, and a lifestyle, that invites others to live for others. We do this more naturally and simply when we are grateful for the great gift our our faith and our salvation.

Today, serve someone with joy.

Do you have a special devotion to Mary? Why?

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

New Year's Eve

 "And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." Jn 1:14

Those of us who have lived in the New York area most of our lives are very familiar with the New Year's Eve celebration that goes on each year in Times Square.  More than a million people begin gathering early in the afternoon and then wait for hours so they can watch the lighted ball drop exactly at midnight to celebrate a New Year.  Like any ritual, it is designed to help people begin again, to put aside the past and focus on the New Year just begun.  Many people use the occasion to seek reconciliation with family or friends. Even more make resolutions to change their lives so that 2017 will be better than 2016.

While we understand and appreciate the fun and hope of the night, the incredible statement we read in the first chapter of St. John's gospel can lift our spirits even more.  John writes,  "And the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." These words remind us of something that is almost too powerful for us to fully appreciate. Despite the failure of the human community to honor God and neighbor consistently, despite our wandering from the path of justice and life, God loves us so much that God speaks the word that becomes flesh as the ultimate sign of God's undying love. God wants to be with us, to walk with us, to weep with us, and live with us forever.

Today, let go of fear and open your heart to the indwelling of God in your lives and communities.

Are New Year resolutions important to you?

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Virtue of Amazement

 "The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him." Lk 2:33



Thinking about bringing their newborn son to the temple must have been a delight for Mary and Joseph. We might imagine them being stopped by friends and strangers alike wanting to congratulate them and offer them a blessing and a prayer.  Surely, their hearts must have overflowed with joy when Simeon, full of the Holy Spirit, (Lk 2:27) took the infant Jesus into his arms and declared that he was gazing upon the "light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” (Lk 2:32)

Though Mary and Joseph could not have understood completely what was happening to them or what their own role would be in God's plan to save the world, they knew that Simeon and Anna were filled with delight, and so were they. Glory for Israel and a light to the nations had been born to them.  And to us!

Today, be a light to those around you.

What about our faith brings you joy?

Monday, December 28, 2020

Recognizing Christ

 "Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: "Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel." Lk 2: 27-32

Waiting for someone you have never met is anxiety producing. Whether we are at a bus station or an airport, we scan the faces of the people who are exiting and wonder if they are the one we are to meet. Simeon, who Luke implies is an old man, waits each day until finally Mary and Joseph arrive to present their first born son for consecration in the temple, and when he sees the Christ, he does not hesitate. Simeon knows this is the One promised of old and sings for joy.

The question presented to us is the gospel is clear. Do we recognize the Christ among us? Do we take time to search the faces of the poor, the forgotten, the ignored and the despised in order to remind them they are the beloved of God, the chosen ones?  Saints of every age have reminded us of this obligation. Mother Teresa said it this way, "Every person you meet is Christ in disguise."

Today, expect to be surprised by Christ.

Has someone from whom you expected little revealed to you the face of Christ in an entirely new way?

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Holy Innocents

 "Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another." Col 3:12

The Holy Family is sometimes held up as a model for all but for the wrong reasons. If we allow ourselves to idealize their life together as one of blissful peace and happiness, we cheat them and ourselves of finding in them a compass for our everyday lives. In fact, the scriptures offer evidence that Jesus regularly confused his parents. He stayed behind in Jerusalem without telling his parents, and initially refused to help the young couple at Cana, who because of poor planning, were running out of wine for their wedding. Mark's gospel goes further and suggests Jesus' family thought he was out of his mind. (3:21). Everything was not sweetness and light!

The Holy Family is important for contemporary Christians when we allow their experience as family to shape our attitudes towards one another and the world. When, as Paul reminds us, we put on compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness, especially towards people in our own families, we witness to the saving work of Christ in and for us and remind all that we are the Body of Christ.

Today, listen in your family twice as much as you speak.

What are the greatest challenges contemporary families face in living the Gospel?

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Holy Family

 "Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another." Col 3:12

The Holy Family is sometimes held up as a model for all but for the wrong reasons. If we allow ourselves to idealize their life together as one of blissful peace and happiness, we cheat them and ourselves of finding in them a compass for our everyday lives. In fact, the scriptures offer evidence that Jesus regularly confused his parents. He stayed behind in Jerusalem without telling Mary and Joseph, and initially refused to help the young couple at Cana, who because of poor planning, were running out of wine for their wedding. Mark's gospel goes further and suggests Jesus' family thought he was out of his mind. (3:21). Everything was not sweetness and light!

The Holy Family is important for contemporary Christians when we allow their experience as family to shape our attitudes towards one another and the world. When, as Paul reminds us, we put on compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness, especially towards people in our own families, we witness to the saving work of Christ in and for us and remind all that we are the Body of Christ.

Today, listen in your family twice as much as you speak.

What are the greatest challenges contemporary families face in living the Gospel?

Friday, December 25, 2020

St Stephen

 "Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people...but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke." Acts 6:8,9

The reasons we reject others are many. Sometimes we don't like or trust the person. At other times, their message annoys or upsets us, and unfortunately, there are some who reject others because of race, ethnicity, culture or sexual orientation. Although most of us have been raised with the bromide, Don't judge a book by its cover, we all have our prejudices.

Stephen was rejected simply because he was preaching the salvation of Jesus Christ, a message that frightened traditional religious types who used their power to control others' lives. When Stephen's wisdom and spirit began to sway people towards Christ and away from the synagogue, his fate was sealed. Some scholars believe that Stephen had attended and worshiped at the synagogue in which he was preaching, making his sin even greater. To draw others away from the Talmud was bad enough but to do it to one's neighbors and friends was a much worse offense.

Putting Stephen's feast on the day after Christmas is no accident. The church wants believers to know there is a cost to following the babe of Bethlehem. The joy we feel at Christmas must be tempered by the challenge of every day faith, and though Stephen's witness leads to his death, he dies with gratitude and hope.

Today, be grateful for those who live and speak our faith with power no matter the cost.

Have you ever been attacked or rejected because of your religious faith?

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas Day

 "She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Mt 1:21

For most believers, Christmas is a delight, a wondrous celebration of faith and family, but for some, Christmas is a terrible burden. Because expectations for Christmas are so great, we can try too hard to please God and others, and get in the way of God's plan. Only when we learn to slow down, listen, and respond rather than react to every situation, can we hope to know and live God's plan for us and the people we love.

When we take a few moments to reflect on the first Christmas, we realize both Mary and Joseph had to stay very centered as they traveled and waited for the birth of Jesus. Away from their families and without the security of a place to stay, they had to rely on a kind inn owner to find them a place for their child to be born. While the insecurity must have been very trying for them, they endured. Strengthened by Mary's yes to the angel, and Joseph's dream, they trusted that God would lead them where they needed to be to fulfill Jesus' destiny.

Today, give God permission to lead you.

What hurdles must you cross to celebrate Christmas with joy?

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Speaking on Behalf of the Voiceless

 "Zechariah, (John the Baptist's) father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying: 'Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free.'" Lk 1:67

What a joy it must have been for Zechariah to announce that God had set his people free. In exile often, the Jewish people yearned for a military solution to the Roman problem. Invaded by Caesar's armies, Israel had little control of the land God had given to them, and they hated it. Zechariah's prophesy would have filled them with hope.

God's willingness to rescue his people is a constant theme in the Hebrew bible. No matter how often the chosen people turn away from his rule, God's mercy trumps his anger and God welcomes the Jewish people into his heart. Our biggest concern should be not taking God's goodness for granted. Rather, our gratitude for God's graciousness ought to be a sign to the world of our Gospel commitment.

It is important to speak our faith, especially on behalf of the voiceless and people in exile: immigrants, refugees and people living in shelters. When a society and a church ignore or turn away from those most in need, we deny God's concern for those who are lost and open ourselves to the criticism that faith is a crutch upon which we lean, not a dynamic and inclusive lifestyle that sees all people as brothers and sisters.

Today, say something on behalf of the needy.

What most inhibits your willingness to speak up on behalf of the voiceless?




Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Pointing to Christ

 His mother replied: "He will be called John." But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name." Lk I:59

What's in a name?  In the ancient world, everything. Names were given to children by their fathers to honor his ancestors and elders. Mothers had no role in this ritual, but Elizabeth does. Only when Zechariah writes the name John on a tablet is his "mouth opened and his tongue freed." Clearly, Elizabeth's child John would play an important role in salvation history. John, whose name means God is gracious, would usher in a new order and a new way of being in the world.

Unlike so many, John would have no doubts about his role. He knew he was not the Messiah, despite the desire of so many who accepted his baptism. Rather, his entire life would consist in pointing to Jesus, and announcing the coming of the Messiah. Admitting that he was not worthy to untie Jesus' sandal strap and that he needed to decrease and Christ increase, John becomes a symbol for every Christian.

Our task as believers is not to posture or pretend that we are important, but to be grateful for the name Christian, and recognize Christ in every person and prepare others to receive his Good News. Accepting that we are God's children gives every Christian an identity that is empowering forever. We need not have any fear about who we are or what we are to do. Like John, we are to point to Christ as Redeemer and hope for all humankind.

Today, help someone find Christ.

What are the biggest obstacles we face in announcing the Good News?

Monday, December 21, 2020

Mary's Sound

 "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."  Lk 1:46


The Venerable Bede, an 8th Century monk, in an attempt to help us understand the depth of Mary's gratitude, expands St Luke's language:
The Lord has exalted me by a gift so great, so unheard of, that language is useless to describe it; and the depths of love in my heart can scarcely grasp it. I offer then all the powers of my soul in praise and thanksgiving. (Universalis)
These days as we creep ever closer to Christmas, the church cannot get enough of Mary. Full of anticipation, Mary sings but knows that words and music, no matter how beautiful, cannot express her joy at being the mother of Jesus. She can only offer thanks, and we would do well to follow her example.

Thanksgiving is the ground and base of Christian spirituality. If we do not practice Thanksgiving, we will never understand the Eucharist or fully appreciate God's total and persistent love of us. Only when we live gratefully for each day of life and faith are we able to proclaim the Good News unequivocally and completely.

Today, imagine where you would be without the love of God.

What are you most grateful for?

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Always a Journey

 "Hark! my lover–here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills. My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag." Sg 2:8

Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Lk 1:39

The notion that the spiritual life is a journey is an important one in the Judeo Christian tradition. Believers are always on the way and reaching for something else. So is God. God seeks us out. God desires us, and in the Song of Songs the writer wants us to imagine God as a romantic lover who will leap mountains in order to be with us. God wants us to believe that winter's cold and darkness is over because the light has come into the world.

Mary learns the lesson of pilgrimage early. Almost as soon as she says yes to being the mother of the Messiah, she leaves her home and travels to be with Elizabeth, and her visit is not a drop in but a three month stay. What she will learn about Elizabeth and herself will shape her life and ours. Though we can only guess what happens in Mary's heart as Jesus grows in wisdom and age, we know that she was always near him, sometimes correcting, at other times consoling, but never abandoning her son despite the terrible personal cost.

Today, take one step towards God and see how God responds.

What parts of your journey have most filled you with joy?

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Don't be Afraid

“"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.' But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.'" Lk 1 29-20


When the unexpected comes, it often unnerves us. News of a close friend's sudden death or the failure of a marriage we admired leaves us speechless and wondering what happened. In our busyness did we miss something important? Were we too self absorbed to notice the struggles others were having? 

The evangelist Luke paints a picture of Mary that emphasizes both her fear and her faith, a stance that encourages us not to be afraid of the unexpected, but to acknowledge our fear and pray for faith at the same time. Responding to God at times of crisis is made more possible when we develop a spiritual life on a daily basis. Praying and reflecting about God's life among us in word and sacrament, and celebrating and serving those forgotten or ignored makes is possible to prepare ourselves for life as it comes. If we want to have Mary's honesty and humility, we must practice our faith every day.

Today, listen for the voice of God embedded in every thing you do and everyone you meet.

What about Mary's life calls you to live your faith more deeply?

Friday, December 18, 2020

Barrenness

 "There was a certain man from Zorah, of the clan of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren and had borne no children."


Barrenness is a particularly difficult burden to bear, and in the ancient world it was often seen as a punishment for sin. Both the wife of Zorah, the father of Samson, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist were barren, and we can only imagine the pain they felt. No doubt both women were familiar with the words of Jeremiah who tells us that Rachel wept inconsolably because she was barren. For Jewish women not to have children meant they had no identity, no value, and no blessing from God.  Zorah's wife in today's passage from Judges isn't even named. How great then the joy of both women when, in their old age, God blesses them with children whose role in salvation history will forever help believers to appreciate the greatness of God who blesses us when we least expect it.

In these last days of Advent, the same is true of us.  Our roles in the ongoing story of God's love for the world, while sometimes muddy and confusing, are radically important to God.  God wants to speak through us, to announce good news, not only through the strengths and gifts we each have, but through our willingness to endure weakness and suffering for the sake of building God's reign.

Today ask God to "fertilize" your heart, which so often seems barren, with the the hope only God can give.

Do you know what it is to be barren?

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Becoming New for Christ

 "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David." Jer 23:5

When Jeremiah promises that a righteous shoot will come from the stump of Jesse, he reminds all believers that God can make something extraordinary from nothing. At the same time, the prophet is not speaking about a miracle in a classic sense. Rather,  Jeremiah wants us to remember what happens often in the natural world. There are trees with so much inner life that even when they seem dead, we can take one of their broken branches, stick it in the ground, water it often and before long  it takes root and becomes a young  tree.

Clearly, a branch of Jesse’s tree, even when it seems dead and lifeless after its exile in Babylon, is stronger than we think. God will plant it again so that his faithful followers might have life and believe in his promises. The challenge to believe that God wants to do something great and new in us, even when we are tired and feeling ragged, is uplifting. God’s love is enduring and, like a broken  branch, stronger than we can imagine. 

Plant a good deed in someone’s heart and let God do the rest.

Are there “miracles” in nature that remind you of God’s love?

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Family History of Jesus

 "Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Christ, fourteen generations." (Mt 1 16-17)

Genealogies are always intriguing and revealing.  The genealogy of Jesus is no exception. Matthew is intent on helping his readers understand that Jesus came from the tree of David and is the Messiah whose coming was promised long before his birth. 

Furthermore, a careful reading of Matthew's genealogy counts four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Women were rarely mentioned in Jewish genealogies, and the one's mentioned don't fit the mold one would expect in the genealogy of Jesus. Tamar was abused and only conceived when she disguised herself as a prostitute in order to bear a child with Judah who rejected her.  Rahab is a prostitute and a non Israelite who should not have married an Israelite. Neither is Ruth an Israelite but Boaz who is the grandfather of David marries her. Finally, David spies Bathsheba bathing and is so overcome with desire for her, he has her husband Uriah killed in order to satisfy his own lust.  

All this is pretty messy stuff. Jesus has lots of "black sheep" in his family tree and the point of the scripture is that it doesn't really matter. Every honest look at the human family, and Jesus was really human, is full of failure, ambiguity and sin. That Jesus would be born of Mary, a virgin, is consistent with his genealogy.  There is no cause of scandal here, only rejoicing.  Jesus is like us in all things but sin. That Jesus wept over Lazarus's death, ached for the widow whose only son had died, and was drawn to the sick and the suffering reminds us everyday of his full humanity and fills us with hope for ourselves and our world.

Today, ask God for the humility to accept yourself and your family as you are.

Is there anything in your family history that needs healing?

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Wisdom of John the Baptist

 "Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?" Lk 7:18b

John the Baptist is full of wisdom and good questions. Wanting only to please God and follow the Law, he sends two of his disciples to Jesus to ask if Jesus is the one for whom they are waiting. Rather than answer him directly and sound boastful, Jesus tells John's disciples to look at what he is doing. The blind see. The lame walk and the deaf hear. When John's disciples report Jesus' answers, John know that the one for whom is waiting has arrived and is only too ready to move aside and follow Jesus.

The same is true for us. When we look at how God cares for the world and all the people of the earth, we need to stop what we are doing and follow Jesus. Despite our faults and sins, our abuse of the earth and its riches, God continues to direct and guide us if only we will listen. That is the promise of Advent and Christmas and always.

Today, look for the Lord in the person next to you.

How has God spoken to you today?


Monday, December 14, 2020

Humility

 "When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him."(Mt 21:32)

Changing our minds is hard work, something that most of us do only reluctantly. Even when the truth stares us in the face, we resist. Perhaps we are afraid of losing something with which we are comfortable. Or we think that changing our minds might be interpreted as disloyalty to a friend or people in power. Whatever the reason for our resistance, letting go and changing our minds in order to follow the Lord more closely is a clear mandate in the gospel.

Today’s gospel portrays a community of Jewish leaders unwilling to change, even after seeing and experiencing the honesty and integrity of John the Baptist. When Jesus suggests that prostitutes and tax collectors are more willing to change than them, their resistance only deepens. To be compared to people at the bottom of the social ladder is an insult which they will not accept. Not only do they refuse to look at Jesus with open eyes and hearts, they begin to plot against him, not because of his ideas but because their power and standing in the community are threatened. All of us have reasons not to change. We have lived faithful catholic lives. We have followed the commandments and tried to live the beatitudes, but the Lord often demands more. Are we willing to take the next step?

Today, ask for a dose of humility that allows you to change you mind for the sake of God’s reign.

What helps you let go of old hurts and view others with God's eyes?

Sunday, December 13, 2020

St John of the Cross

 "The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness." Ps 145.1

St John of the Cross was a very young man when St Teresa of Avila saw qualities in him he could never have seen himself. Bright and insightful, an artist and song writer, above all John was drawn to the mystical path in the spiritual life and was not afraid of the dark night to which he was called. Teresa knew John was different and although she was thirty years older than John, she wrote, "He was so good that I, at least, could have learned much more from him than he from me."

John of the Cross was destined to be like Elijah the prophet, a fire and a flaming furnace of God's love. When he died at 49 he had helped found, despite enormous opposition from his own Carmelite brothers, many monasteries of discalced Carmelites who led an intense life of prayer and penance while also being hugely effective apostolic ministers, writers and preachers. The poet, Jessica Powers, shortly before she entered the Carmelites herself, wrote of John's books:
Out of what door that came ajar in heaven
       drifted this starry manna down to me,
       to the dilated mouth both hunger given
       and all satiety?
       Who bore at midnight to my very dwelling
       the gift of this imperishable food?
       my famished spirit with its fragrance filling,
       its savor certitude.
       The mind and heart ask, and the soul replies
       what store is heaped on these bare shelves of mine?
       The crumbs of the immortal delicacies
       fall with precise design.
       Mercy grows tall with the least heart enlightened,
       and I, so long a fosterling of night,
       here feast upon immeasurably sweetened
       wafers of light.
Today, ask God to let you see with God's own eyes.

What keeps you from a more intense prayer life?


Saturday, December 12, 2020

Gaudete Sunday

 "I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul." Is 61:10

Even in the midst of a Global Pandemic, Pope Francis keeps encouraging believers in the Good News to be joyful, to remember all that God has done within us, for us and around us. Unless we are joyful, he warns, the power the Gospel will not impact others or attract them to know the source of our joy, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, a small break from the penance to which Advent calls us. Gaudete simply means rejoice because the Lord is near, the Christ promised by God long ago continues to walk, live, suffer and die with and for us. It is a gentle Sunday that reminds us to think of someone who brought joy to our lives and in their memory, to ask for the gift of joy, not for ourselves but for others

Today, decide to be joyful and offer those with whom you live and know you best to lift up their eyes and hearts to the heavens. Jesus Christ is near.

Who or what helps you to be joyful and Spirit filled?

Friday, December 11, 2020

Our Lady of Guadalupe

 A careful, meditation on the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is very revealing. Mary appears as a shy, pregnant, peasant woman with bare feet.  Her hands are folded in petition like ours would be in the presence of God and an angel holds her up as an icon of devotion.


Every time I look at this image I think of the hundreds of young women I have met in the developing world. Often too timid to look in your eye, they speak softly and always with respect. More important, they answer questions directly and with few words. These women amaze me not only because many of them have good educations and have contributed to their communities with great generosity, but because they do everything without drawing attention to themselves. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a woman from the developing world who identifies totally with those she has come to address and lift up, but she also challenges us not to take ourselves too seriously. She is a disciple of her own son and as such reminds us to follow him with humility and passion. Together, her image suggests, we are held up by angels, making our cause great and our voice important.

Today, walk humbly before the Lord and ask for guidance.

Has a quiet, unselfconscious woman ever touched your heart?

Thursday, December 10, 2020

God's Foolishness

 “To what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.’" Mt 11: 16-17

All of us enjoy something for nothing. Walking the streets of New York City, there are often salespeople offering new varieties of sports drinks or chocolate to passersby, and it is the rare person who doesn't take the "gift," even if they don't want it or need it. It's free, our unconscious says, take it! Because the distributors of these handouts hope that a percentage of the people who take them will enjoy the taste and become regular buyers of their products, they risk losing a good part of of their inventory in order to lay a foundation for big gains in the future.

Unfortunately, in this kind of environment, we can also get to a point where we think we deserve certain "perks," or fringe benefits even if we don't work for them. Like children who set the dinner table expecting to receive an extra portion of potatoes, we hope everyone recognizes our goodness and rewards us, but Jesus challenges this notion. The gift of faith is entirely free. We did not earn it. We cannot enhance it. We can only receive it with gratitude and give it away. More important, when we share God's gifts with others without expecting a return, the gift itself increases.

Today, put aside your expectations and let God treat you lavishly.

What expectations of God and others most get in the way of your living your faith more deeply?


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Baptist's Humility

 "Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he." Mt 11:11

Authentic humility, as demonstrated by John the Baptist, demands that Christians see themselves as part of something much greater than their accomplishments. As part of Christ's body we have a dignity beyond our imagination, but only when we accept the role designated for us and do not pretend to be someone we are not, or that we are in control of life.

This message, like so many others that Jesus offers us, is counter intuitive. While most people bow to humility as a value, few wear the clothes of humility, especially in the United States. Citizens of our nation are trained from an early age to excel, and to accept both the accolades and privileges associated with "winning."

While wealth and power are by products of a successful life in the United States, this is not the goal of those who profess to live a Gospel life. Gospel success is measured, not in what it produces, but in the seeds of hope that it plants. Never far from the realization that all life is a gift, and all worldly success is temporary, Christians believe that our "success" is an integrated and other centered life, and this is no easy task.

Today, don't say something you are thinking. Listen first to others.

Have you had an experience of humility that changed your life?

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Come to the Lord

 "My yoke is easy, my burden light." Mt 11:30

All of us have people in our lives who get under our skin.  Almost anything they say makes us defensive and resistive. Though we cannot easily articulate what it is that disturbs us about the other person, it is very real and disabling. Often enough the person who annoys us at every turn is a mirror image of ourselves. If we find ourselves talking too much and not listening carefully enough to others, we resent it when others prattle on and seem not to hear the opinions of others.

On the other hand, it is good to remember that our personality gets under the skin of others. Self reflection can be humbling, but it can also take the edge off our annoyance and calm our spirits. More important, it can be the first step in recognizing and accepting the call to conversion and transformation.

Jesus has a ready answer when we allow our own faults or the foibles of others to bother us unnecessarily. Come to me, he insists, don't be afraid. I will be your guide and protection; I will make your burdens much lighter but you must let me help.

Today, pray for someone who annoys you.

What is the heaviest burden the Gospel asks you to carry?

Monday, December 7, 2020

Immaculate Conception

 "The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it." Gen 3:13

Why do we blame others so easily when we are embarrassed or ashamed?  Uncomfortable and confused, we try to get out from under the microscope to bargain for time and examine why exactly we do this. Of course, there are any number of answers, all of which can teach us about ourselves, but at root we look for scapegoats in order to escape the consequences of our actions.

Countries and churches do this as well. Our own Catholic church was guilty of this fault when the sexual abuse scandal first surfaced. We blamed psychologists and psychiatrists who gave our leaders bad advice when they suggested abusing priests could safely return to ministry. We deflected attention from ourselves by reminding everyone that the worst sexual abuse offenders were family members, not priests, which is, of course, beside the point.

Honestly facing our failures and sins is made much easier when we have Mary, the Immaculate Conception, as our intercessor. This feast celebrates that Mary, without from sin from the first moment of her conception, is always free to pay undivided attention to us, her children. Free of self absorption, she reaches out for all those who look to deny their sin or turn away from their guilt, by inviting us to honesty and integrity, to admit our wrongs, and reach out in compassion for others.

Today, acknowledge one sin and ask for the grace to face its consequences.

How do you practice honesty and integrity in your life?

Sunday, December 6, 2020

St Ambrose

 "No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: 'This is the way; walk in it.'” Is 30 20-21

St Ambrose is one of those fascinating characters who populated the early church. Known for his keen political sense and theological caution, he tried to act as mediator in Milan when it was divided between its Arian proponents and the hierarchy of the Catholic church.

Arius proposed that Jesus, because he was created by God the Father, was less than the Father, and Catholics argued that Father, Son and Spirit although distinct persons, were one God, coequal and coeternal. The battle became fierce and when Ambrose tried to help the two sides reconcile, the people, not wanting bloodshed, called for him to be bishop.

Ambrose reacted strongly. Not yet baptized, he wanted no part of the church hierarchy. Only after the Emperor Gratian encouraged him to accept the call to leadership did he seek baptism and ordination, becoming one of the most important figures in the early church. Learned in philosophy and rhetoric, Ambrose impressed St Augustine with his oratory and insight. More important, he was unafraid to confront those, even emperors, who ignored the Gospel while claiming to be Christian.

Today, be a reconciler.

Who do you most admire for their wisdom and savvy?

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Making Way for God

 "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. That this role would put him at odds with the leaders of the Jewish community seems not to matter to him. God has called him to announce the good news of Jesus' coming and because he trusts totally in God, he is able to complete his task.

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

Who has helped you know and love yourself as God's beloved?


Friday, December 4, 2020

Practice Listening

"O people of Zion, who dwell in Jerusalem, no more will you weep; He will be gracious to you when you cry out, as soon as he hears he will answer you." Is 30:19

Isaiah's promise that God wants us to live a long life of peace, especially when we read and reflect upon it during Advent, is designed to assure us that no matter what difficulties we might be experiencing individually or as a church, God is and will be faithful. God has a plan full of promise, beauty and joy, a desire for all to know the fullness of life forever.

At the same time, it can be difficult to wait upon God. We want what we want when we want it, and when we become too anxious, we fail to be discerning and patient. Clarity can and will come to us if only we quiet ourselves, listen carefully to the scriptures, read the signs of the times, and allow God to work through us. The promise of Isaiah should sustain us. God wants us to live forever in peace and hope, and nothing that happens in the world, even Covid 19, can never change that.

Today, rest in God's promise of life forever.

What practices most help you live a peaceful life of quiet discernment?

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Freed from Blindness

 "As Jesus passed by, two blind men followed him." Mt 9:27

Sometimes the gospel stories seem stark, and lack detail. This makes sense of course when one remembers that only a few people in Jesus' time were literate, and the intention of the gospels was not to write a biography of Jesus but to announce him as Messiah, son of God and savior of the world. Details were not important in a written form. The story teller could elaborate and fill the text with passion and power for those who could not read.

But the Gospels are not always stark. When the blind men today say, "have pity on us," we stumble upon an important detail and a telling moment. Not only is the request polite, they plead with Jesus to look upon people who are outcasts from their own family and community. Condemned to a life of begging and isolation, the blind men, like Moses, (Ex 33) beg Jesus for help, and become an example for all.

Jesus often reminds us that because we have eyes does not mean that we really see. Only those who see with the heart will experience the fullness of the revelation, and that is our task. If we want to see, we must first acknowledge God as creator and redeemer. Only then will we know the Messiah in our hearts.

Today, open your eyes again to the wonder of the created world.

What blindness do you need to healed of as Advent begins?

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

St Francis Xavier

 "At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd." Mt 9:36

St Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Jesuits along with St. Ignatius Loyola, was the among the first Jesuit missionaries. With his mind and spirit focused on going to China, Francis left Italy without language skills or money. Despite these difficulties, Francis kept his eye on the prize and at every stop along the way preached the gospel, baptizing thousands in India and Japan. That he never realized his dream of preaching the gospel to the Chinese seems insignificant now. He did God's will and that is all that matters.

Francis Xavier is a powerful reminder of what we can become when we place our total trust in God and let God do God's work wherever we are sent. None of us walks the pilgrim path of faith without obstacles. St. Augustine reminds us that we are like pieces of pottery, shaped by instruction and fired by tribulation, and should never fear the kiln. Rather, he encourages us to focus on what God is making of us while we are being tried by fire. (Augustine sermon)

Today, ask God to tell you where you ought to go to proclaim the gospel.

What are your strengths when trials come?

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Stubborn Pride

 "Great crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others." Mt 15:30

The world often gets very small when we are struggling. A friend who ran in the NYC marathon told me she could think of nothing but the finish line for the last few miles of the race. Suffering from hypothermia, she ignored her body's signals to stop. Her goal was in reach and she could not let it go. Similar things happen to all of us. Exhausted by working too intensely, we often keep pushing to finish whatever project we are working on and find ourselves too tired to enjoy what we have accomplished.

How often when we are stressed we forget that Jesus is waiting for us to approach him, and let our pride get in the way of asking for help. Determined to work through whatever problem is in front of us, we are like people trying to push back the tide or the waves of an ocean. Our independence or our personal goals become more important than our faith, and when we fail, we complain to God and sometimes even doubt God's existence. 

Today, ask for the grace to walk with God no matter how slowly God seems to be moving.

Did anyone teach you to slow down in order to find God in every situation?

Monday, November 30, 2020

New Shoots of Hope

 "A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse." Is 11:1

When Isaiah promises that a new shoot will come from the stump of Jesse, he reminds all believers that God can make something extraordinary from nothing. At the same time, the prophet is not speaking about a miracle in a classic sense. Rather,  Isaiah wants us to remember what happens often in the natural world. There are trees with so much inner life that even when they seem dead, we can take one of their broken branches, stick it in the ground, water it often and before long  it takes root and becomes a young  tree.

The challenge to believe that God wants to do something great and new in us, even when we are tired and feeling ragged, is uplifting. God’s love is enduring and, like a broken  branch, stronger than we can imagine. We have only to plant and water it and it will take us to Christmas.

Plant a good deed in someone’s heart and let God do the rest.

Are there “miracles” in nature that remind you of God’s love?

Sunday, November 29, 2020

St Andrew the Apostle

 "For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved." Rom 10:9


Salvation, Paul reminds us, is more than simple belief in God. We must tell others about God's goodness to all of human kind. We must announce the graciousness of God with power and conviction. St Andrew did this so intently that he was martyred for his faith.


Peter's brother, Andrew hears the invitation of Jesus to follow him and does not hesitate. He leaves everything to be a disciple of the Lord. Even when he was being martyred he asked to be crucified on an X shaped cross because he did not think he was worthy of being crucified in the same way Jesus was.

When we learn to speak honestly, courageously and naturally about the great gift of our faith, our discipleship is deepened and our witness becomes more powerful.

Today, Confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.

What are your biggest hurdles on the road to salvati

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The First Sunday of Advent

 "No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him. Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!" Is 64:3

Sometimes we watch too closely, pay attention to too many details and get ourselves in trouble.  Not only to do we miss the forest for the trees, we get increasingly anxious about things we can’t control.  Parents sending their children to school for the first time often do this, and it can happen to me when trying to o help a friend work his way through a troubling or difficult personal situation.  Both scenarios, while understandable and for some unavoidable, remind us of something wise people have said for a long time: Look but don’t stare.

The prophet Isaiah asks God not to stare at his people and punish them. Rather, the Prophet suggests that God could have been more forceful in helping the Israelites remain faithful to the covenant. “Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” I can only imagine God smiling at Isaiah's intervention.

But Isaiah doesn't give up. Rather, while acknowledging the sins of the people, and admitting that they deserve condemnation, he also reminds God that God is the potter and the people are the clay.  Surely, God must know that no potter ever discards her clay.  Rather, she reworks it and shapes it into something new.  That is what Advent is all about, asking God to reshape and mold us into heralds of the Great King.

Today, imitate God by looking at yourself and others without staring.

What situations cause you to obsess about matters you cannot control?

Friday, November 27, 2020

Beginning Again

 "Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” Lk 21:36

Today is the last day of the liturgical year and a good time to make a simple review of our faith life. Four actions ought to mark the life of a faith filled Catholic and we can reflect on them through a series of questions. Have we been faithful to God and the community of believers by gathering regular for prayer and worship, especially on Sundays? Have we taken time to reflect on the mysteries of faith, especially as they are articulated in Scripture? Have we celebrated God's gifts with joy and gratitude? Have we served others as if they were Christ? 

Coming together regularly, studying and praying about God's care for us and serving those most in need are visible signs that God matters in our lives and that we want to witness to God's mercy before others. For most of us the only way we preach is through our actions. We can talk about faith all day, but if we never act on it, we are, as Paul reminds us, noisy gongs and a clanging cymbals. We make a lot of noise but don't do anything for others but annoy them.

Today, be honest with yourself and God. Make no excuses for your faults. Ask to begin again.

Which dimension of our faith life most attracts and empowers you?

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Resting in Christ

 "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Lk 21:33

Not infrequently, even after more than 50 years of preaching God's word, I will stumble upon a scripture passage that strikes me in a new and powerful way. Even though I have read the passage many times, a word or a phrase that I did not focus on or sit with jumps off the page and challenges me to pause, to read it again, and be grateful.

Recently, preparing for a funeral, I read the words, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest, says the Lord." Jesus does not promise us freedom from grief and an instant healing, he only promises us a moment of rest. We need to hear this and be grateful. Jesus does not pluck us out of life as it unfolds, but walks with us through every trial and joy. Is that enough?

Today, offer someone a moment of rest by listening to them without interruption.

Who has made a space for you that allowed you to rest and reflect?

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Thanksgiving Day

 "Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?" Lk 17:18

The feast of Thanksgiving is a time to return to the God who has so often healed us, to pause and remember all those who God has given us as companions in faith, who have accepted our faults and lifted up our strengths.  Honestly, if any of us began to name all of these people today, the list would stretch around the world. Today let us sing alleluia for friends and enemies who showed us God's face even when we were distracted by self absorption or lost in self pity.

We also thank God today for allowing us to play a small role in the healing of others.  Broken families, shattered marriages, lonely teenagers, desperate older people and the mentally ill, to name just a few, have all been given to us as gifts. Though most of us could never have imagined the path God would set us upon, today we acknowledge that all is grace, all is gratitude, and all is rooted in the unconditional love of God because, in truth: Those we have served have given us more than we could ever give them.

Today, find a quiet place to breathe in gratitude for all God has given you and breathe out hope to those who find life an overwhelming burden.

Who or what forces you to your needs in gratitude?

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Spirit will Guide Us

 "Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking." Lk 21:14

Jesus makes a pretty big promise to his disciples, assuring them, even though they lack education or in many cases the ability to read of write, that the Holy Spirit will teach them what to say. While this might be the occasion for some of us to think we don't have to prepare a homily or a presentation on faith, there is no basis for this kind of thinking. Jesus is referring to those times when we are attacked unexpectedly and without provocation, not to the ordinary diligence we need to use to present our faith clearly and with passion.

Rather, the Lord wants us to trust in the Spirit of God to guide, direct, and challenge us everyday, and to realize that this is an essential dimension of our faith and its practice. Without this trust, we can only rely on ourselves or expert opinion, and no matter how knowledgeable we or our advisors might be, our insight will be insufficient.

Today, consciously commit yourself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Have you experienced the Holy Spirit's strength and direction in your life?

Monday, November 23, 2020

Saint Andrew Dung-Lac, Priest, and Companions, Martyrs

 "We praise your glorious name, O Lord our God." Chronicles 1:29

Viet Nam has often been a difficult country and culture for Catholics, especially during the 19th and 20th centuries. Between 1820 and 1900 more than 100,000 Catholics were martyred for their faith, and the persecution continued in the 20th century when Catholics living in the northern part of Viet Nam had to abandon family and possessions and flee to the south in order to escape oppression or imprisonment.

Although we know very little about St Andrew, there are multiple testimonies about Catholics of his generation who were forced to renounce their faith and step on crucifixes to demonstrate their total lack of respect for the sacrifice of Jesus.  In the end, Andrew was beheaded for the crime of being a parish priest.

Reading about the Vietnamese martyrs reminds us of other people who have been persecuted, not because of some heinous crime, but for being who they are. Jews, especially in the Holocaust, blacks in the United States, homosexuals everywhere, and women whose voice is ignored or discarded simply because they are women.

Today, pray for anyone persecuted for their faith or identity.

How would you respond to religious persecution?

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Widows as Disciples

 "I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood." Lk 21:4

There are two things in today’s gospel that move me and remind me that the gospel is about transformation, not just information. No doubt I have said this before, but I often worry that Catholics don’t think of themselves as disciples. Discipleship, they say, is too high an honor, and with a false sense of humility, suggest that they do not deserve such a title. Nothing could be further from the truth. We don't deserve or gain discipleship. It is a free gift from God who has called all of us to discipleship through baptism. We are to speak and live the good news with integrity, honesty and conviction. Jesus’ response to the widowed mother in today's gospel is a perfect example for us to follow. 

Widows were in real danger in the world of Jesus. They rarely owned property, were often illiterate and had to rely on their eldest son for sustenance and a place to live. The widow in today's Gospel ignores these dangers. More intent on giving God her whole self, she offers everything she has to the Temple and God. Her generosity never fails to impress us. I wonder if anyone at the time, besides Jesus, even noticed.

There are so many people in our world who follow the Gospel not to be noticed but to give God all they have. Their example of selflessness challenges us not to worry so much about our security, but to trust that God will never abandon us even when we have nothing.

Today, give someone of your substance and do not count the cost.

What keeps you from being more generous with your time or resources?

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Christ the King

"Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent." Col 1:18

Although we can and often do turn away from God and the covenant God made with us in Jesus, God cannot and will not renege on his promise to be with and guide us always. Paul is clear about this. The Apostle to the Gentiles acknowledges that although the Jews were often disobedient, abandoned the law and worshiped false Gods, God was and remains merciful to them and us. Paul wants his Gentile listeners to know this and be comforted. The God who has come to us in Jesus is proof of this. The new and eternal covenant, Jesus is the incarnation of God's promise, a gift we can reject but which will never be withdrawn.

The challenge of God's promise is demanding. Made in God's image, the only way we can demonstrate to others and especially to our enemies that God's love lives in us is to love everyone no matter how often our love is rejected to ridiculed. If God is forever faithful so too must we be faithful. This is not to say we should or must allow ourselves to be abused. Rather, while we ought to withdraw quietly from any situation that allows another to strip us of our good name or reduce to an object of their wrath, we must stand ready to reconcile with our oppressors for the sake of the Gospel.

Today, enjoy God's everlasting love.

What must you let go of in order to love like God?

Friday, November 20, 2020

Presentation of Mary

 Although there is no historical evidence that Mary was presented by her parents for Temple service when she was only three years old, the feast of the Presentation of Mary has deep roots in the Eastern church. Desirous of helping the faithful understand that even as a child Mary was dedicated to God, the church tells us that Mary spent nine years in the Temple before she was promised to Joseph, and readied herself to become the Theotokos, the Mother of God.


Image result for presentation of mary

Although there is a powerful message in Mary's presentation, the art that emerged to help us understand this mystery is heart rending. How could a couple who had been childless let go of their daughter at such a young age? Would God this of them or anyone? When we see Anne's face in the depiction of the event we wonder what it must have been like for her see Mary walk into the temple. Did she worry, fret, wonder what might be next for her? While there are no answers to these questions, one truth emerges. God will always be near. No matter what we might have to suffer, God will be our companion. St Anne knew this. Mary knew this. We know this.

Today, pray for the courage to face whatever difficulties you encounter with faith.

How do you face unanswerable questions?

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Praying God's Desire

 "For my house shall be called a house of prayer." (Lk 19:46) 

The good news of Jesus Christ is a message of hope for all peoples. Though we sometimes worry and fret about the state of the church, especially in a culture that more and more resists organized religion for a more generic spirituality, we should never let ourselves forget that the new covenant in Jesus Christ is the gift of a God who includes all people in his love. 

Again and again in the New Testament we hear this. John tells us that Jesus Christ will "draw all people" to himself, (Jn. 12:32) and Paul reminds us that, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:28) Remarkably, Isaiah echoes what we think are inclusive terms found only in the New Testament. "For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." (Is 56:7) A simple way to express this conviction is to let the joy we feel shine like a soft light in our personal and family lives, and spread through acts of compassionate justice into the lives of those who are empty of hope.

Today, take some time to pray that the Good News of Jesus will seep, like water enlivening the roots of the tallest trees, into the hearts and lives of all people.

How can you live so that all know God's house is a gift and invitation for everyone?

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Confronting Violence

 "As Jesus drew near Jerusalem, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes." Lk 19: 41-42

It is not unreasonable to think, if Jesus lived among us today, that he would be weeping at our inability to build a world where justice leads to a lasting peace. Almost everyday we hear about a car bombing in Baghdad, children being stolen in Nigeria or a school shooting someplace in the United States, and while it is reasonable enough to believe that some of the violence we encounter is random and unavoidable, too much of it is a product of an unjust world.

What are people who are hungry or violated daily by gangs or terrorists supposed to do? Unable after a while to maintain their composure and seek paths to conversation and reconciliation, they lash out defensively and viciously hoping their rage will force their enemies to retreat. Unfortunately, while their response might be effective for a while, violence inevitably leads to more violence and the endless cycle of savagery continues.

Christians, however, cannot give in or give up. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who gave his life in a Nazi concentration for the sake of the Gospel calls this costly grace. 
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.
Opposing violence might cost us our lives, but if it helps others to know the Christ who is our peace and who demands we always work for the good of all, we can be sure of the reward of eternal life.

Today, weep with Christ at the violence we confront in the world, and let our tears be our prayer.

Who do you most admire for confronting violence with the peace of Christ?

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

All is Gift

"I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away." Lk 19:27

Faith, though a free gift from God, has responsibilities. We must give faith away and that means announcing the freedom that God bestows upon his people. When we fail to accept this Gospel mandate, we risk losing everything. Faith is not about making us more comfortable but about assuring us that because we have been saved, we need to spend God's gift by creating a more just world.

Unfortunately, Christians too often forget this message. Like children who take the gifts they receive at Christmas for granted, we forget that all of life is a gift, and rather than celebrate all that God does for us, we wallow in a shallow place that feels like happiness but that has no substance. We cling to things, people and places as if they belong us. Worse we sometimes use others for our own purposes rather than celebrate who they are before God.

Grateful people sometimes bubble over with thanks, but most of the time they are quiet. They listen more than they talk and encourage others to express themselves. By doing this, those to whom they listen become grateful themselves and their gratitude ripples out and washes all those around them. Grateful people cleanse the world by celebrating all that God is and does with and for his people.

Today, listen to someone who thinks poorly of  him or herself.

What keeps you from living a grateful life?

Monday, November 16, 2020

St Elizabeth of Hungary

 "You did not recognize the time of your visitation." Lk 19:44

St Elizabeth of Hungary was born into and married royalty. She had access to money and power, but when her husband died on his way to fight the sixth crusade, she decided to leave the palace and follow Conrad, her Franciscan spiritual director, to Marburg where she continued her life of compassion for those most in need.  Conrad wrote that Elizabeth "built a hospice where she gathered together the weak and the feeble. There she attended the most wretched and contemptible at her own table."(1)

People of faith like Elizabeth, especially the married and families, are the ground upon which the church builds communities of compassion for the poor and justice for all. After all, it was the faith and courage of our parents and grandparents, so many of whom were immigrants, who came to this country and built, hospitals, schools, orphanages, soup kitchens and shelters because they knew that faith demanded they respond to the struggles they saw all around them.

Though the structures might change, the demand of the gospel to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty will never change. St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who is the patroness of Catholic Charities, remains an icon who challenges our generation not only to pray for justice in our churches, but to live the gospel in our streets.

Today, pray in gratitude for those who give their lives to care for those who cannot help themselves.

How can you live Elizabeth's values in your life?

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Come Quickly

 "Lord, please let me see." Lk 18:41

Sometimes the gospel stories seem stark, and lack detail. This makes sense of course when one remembers that only a few people in Jesus' time were literate, and the intention of the gospels was not to write a biography of Jesus but to announce him as Messiah, son of God and savior of the world. Details were not important in a written form. The story teller could elaborate and fill the text with passion and power. for those who could not read

But the Gospels are not always stark. When the blind man today says "please," we stumble upon an important detail and a telling moment. Not only is the request polite, it pleads with Jesus to look upon a man who is an outcast from his own family and community. Condemned to a life of begging and isolation, the blind man, like Moses, (Ex 33) begs Jesus for help, and becomes an example for all.

Jesus often reminds us that because we have eyes does not mean that we really see. Only those who see with the heart will experience the fullness of the revelation. The blind man, even before he is healed, sees and knows the Lord as Messiah and so approaches him politely, but with hope and confidence. The Messiah's task is to open the eyes of all to the wonders of God's enduring care and love for the world, and because the blind man remembers this, he is healed.

Our task is the same. If we want to see, we must first acknowledge God as creator and redeemer. Only then will we know the Messiah in our hearts.

Today, open your eyes again to the wonder of the created world.

When are you most blind?

Saturday, November 14, 2020

33rd Sunday Cycle A

"To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one-- to each according to his ability." Mt 25:15

That everyone has a talent is probably self evident to most of us, and oftentimes we are very grateful for the talents of a friend who can tweak a computer, fix a faucet or sit with us when we are lost.  While the talent might not seem very important to them, when we are in need, the talents of generous friends are precious gifts.

What is not self evident, however, is that our talents, in a gospel context, are not for ourselves.  Each of us has been gifted by God for the sake of others.  We are part of a community, we are the body of Christ, and as a community of faith we can only be ourselves and function well when all the parts are playing their proper role.  We do not need a hand to be a foot, or an ear to be a mouth.  We need each part of the body to be itself for the good of the whole.

The gospel today reminds us that there is no reason to fear.  God is with us, will protect us and only demands that we give away our talents no matter how anxious we might be about having enough for ourselves.  If we use our talents only to satisfy our own needs for power or security, we condemn ourselves.  Jesus uses the person with one talent, who buries it for fear he will lose it, to challenge us to go beyond our fears. All of us, no matter how poor or wealthy, must guard against greed. It is in this way that we witness to the power of Christ living in us and continue to build the Kingdom of God.

Today, rejoice in your talent and share it with whomever needs it.

To whom are you most grateful for sharing their time and talents with you? 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Persistence at Prayer

 "Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?" Lk 18:7

Persistence in prayer is an important Christian virtue. Jesus reminds us of this more than once, and the widow who pesters the local judge to help her attain justice is only the most dramatic example of this. In St Matthew's Gospel Jesus tells his disciples to "Watch and pray always, lest you enter into temptation," and (26:41) St Paul echoes Jesus' call to pray always in first Thessalonians. "Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances."

Praying always can seem like an impossible challenge. For most, when we try to pray, distractions fill our minds and hearts almost as soon as we begin. Even when we pray the rosary or other devotional prayers, we find ourselves thinking about everything but the prayer! Just the same, our willingness to put everything and everyone in God's hands each day is a very powerful prayer although it is often difficult to manage. Trusting God completely is something most of us aspire to, but rarely accomplish. That is why the practice of prayer is so important.

Today, choose a simple prayer and repeat it throughout the day.

What is your favorite prayer?

Thursday, November 12, 2020

St Frances Xavier Cabrini

"Stand erect and raise your heads because you redemption is at hand." Lk 21:28

Two things marked the early life of Mother Cabrini. She was frail and sickly as a child and only four of her 10 siblings survived adolescence, but neither situation shuttered her imagination. When her father would read to his children about the great men and women who left their homelands to go around the world as missionaries, Frances dreamed of joining them. Frances' faith was bigger than her weakness.

Faithful to her parents until their death, Frances helped them on their farm and went to school, but soon after their death she began to explore a religious vocation. Rejected at first because of her poor health, Frances persevered and soon the local bishop asked her to found a new congregation of religious women. Sure that Frances' efforts would benefit the local church, the bishop was excited by Frances' new congregation, but Frances had bigger ideas. Soon after making vows, she added the name Xavier to Frances, after the famous Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier, and went to Rome to establish a convent. Soon after, still hoping to go the Orient as a missionary, Frances was asked to help Italian immigrants in the United States. Resistant, she asked the Pope Leo XIII for help in discernment, and the Pope assured her that she should go West to the United States, and from this point her life exploded with activity and zeal.

St Frances Xavier Cabrini was a brilliant organizer and administrator. She founded 68 missions and, though she hated ocean travel, crossing the Atlantic more than thirty times. Her work took her to New York, South America, Chicago and New Orleans, and all of this with failing health. A woman of our times, Frances Xavier continues to inspire women and men of the 21st century with passion and zeal.

Today, pray for the young to accept the call to discipleship.

To whom do you listen for advice and encouragement?

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

St Josaphat

 "First, he must suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation." Lk 17:25

How we respond under pressure is often the measure of our faith and courage. St Josaphat, a 17th century martyr, reminds us of this. Committed, as a bishop, to the cause of trying to heal the Great Schism, of reuniting Rome and Constantinople, he first reformed both the local church to which he was assigned and his own life. Though some thought he was too demanding that people live simple lives, his personal witness to frugality and honesty convinced many of his cause, but not all.

Josaphat was killed by a mob, certain that one of their number had been abused and imprisoned by those committed to reconciliation with Rome. After his martyrdom, he as thrown into a nearby river along with a dog that had tried to protect him, but it was the Jewish people who should be held up as faithful to the Torah in defense of Josaphat. When Josaphat and his servants were being beaten and killed, Jews rushed into the courtyard of the bishop and rescued many, and it was Jews who mourned his passing. Because they recognized his goodness before God, the Jews refused to be intimidated or drawn into a fight not of their making while many Catholics for whom Josaphat died hid in fear of their lives.

Today, stand up for someone whose name is being dragged through the mud.

What are your biggest challenges to live faith despite the cost?

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

St Martin of Tours

 "For the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires." Ti 2:11

St Martin of Tours was a "conscientious objector." Conscripted into the Roman army against his will at 15 , Martin was discharged 8 years later after refusing a bonus given to soldiers on the eve of battle. Severus quotes Martin's response to his commanding officer. "I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight."(1)

Imprisoned for his refusal to take up arms, Martin offers to stand unarmed at the front of the troops as they ready themselves for battle, but when the two armies forged a peace, his gesture was never needed and Martin was discharged from the army. This story was so compelling in the early church that Martin became and remains one of our church's most popular saints.

Like Jesus in today's gospel who reminds us, "Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it," Martin challenges us not to cling even to that which we have earned. How many coats, unworn for years, hang in our closets? How much food sits in our pantries or cupboards unused for months? While most of us will not be asked to lay down our lives for the sake of the gospel, we need to pray regularly to be ready for whatever the Lord does ask.

Today, let go of a worn out thought that troubles you.

What gives you the courage to live the Gospel despite the cost?

Monday, November 9, 2020

St Leo the Great

 "I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me." Phil 4:13

St Leo the Great, better known to most as the Pope whose eloquence convinced Attila the Hun not to destroy Rome, must have had a big dose of the strength St. Paul talks about in today's his letter to the Philippians. An authentic relationship with Christ can do this. When we enter the mystery of the Jesus as truly God and truly human, his power becomes ours and enables us to live in ways we could never imagine.

St Leo's faith was such that, while on a mission to Gaul, he was elected by the people to be bishop of Rome and Pope. It was everyday people who recognized in Leo the kind of faith they knew was necessary to direct the church at a very turbulent time. Leo not only effectively moved the church to recognize the importance of Rome as the seat of church authority, he did it peacefully, an effort that effectively won for him the title Great.

Today, ask God for the strength to live your baptismal vocation with peace and power.

What believers do you think of as Great?

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

 "Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh." Ex 47:8

One of the wonderful images in the Book of Revelation is the flowing river about which Ezekiel also speaks. Watering and washing every bit of land through which it flows, the river helps every thing along its banks to grow strong. Fruit trees will produce large amounts of nourishment for all every month, and every kind of fish will grow strong and multiply in its waters.

The river, of course, is the water of life that flows to all from the restored temple and it will bring new life and hope to all who enter it, which is the point. We must enter the waters of baptism, drown and be raised up again in Christ if we hope to live the Gospel. This is not an easy journey or notion. To die to self so that Christ might live is the heart of the Gospel but is not something we do intuitively. We must learn to die from those who have gone before us in faith, especially the martyrs, and that is where the Lateran Basilica leads us.

St John Lateran is the basilica of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. First among all Rome's church's, it is dedicated to St John the Baptist who lost his head for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, and reminds us that the most fundamental work of the church is to witness to Christ crucified and raised up for the sake of all. John the Baptist never forgot that his mission was to make straight the way of the Lord. Willing to die for this privilege, John the Baptist continues to remind us of our role. When we make the way of the Lord straight people can find their way into the mystery of God's love.

Today, pray for the grace never to forget God's enduring love for all.

What do you most value about the church, the people of God?



Saturday, November 7, 2020

Staying Aware

 "Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep." (Mt 25:5)

Today’s gospel has a very consoling verse for people like me and many older people.  Matthew writes that  the ten virgins "all became drowsy and fell asleep.”  Since I am an early to bed person, the thought of staying up very late waiting for “the bridegroom” to arrive and then dragging myself to a wedding banquet is not something I would look forward to.  Clearly the issue in this parable is not falling asleep; we all do that when we are tired.  Rather, the Lord wants us to be prepared with enough oil for our lamps to accompany the bridegroom  to the banquet whenever he arrives.

Being ready to serve God at all times is a constant theme of Matthew’s gospel, especially in its final chapters. Jesus, as he did in yesterday’s gospel, reminds us to stay awake, to be alert, and today he uses the parable of the ten virgins as a reminder for us to be prepared to meet the Lord every day, not just as a preparation for death, but in order to live the gospel fully.

Though the challenge of always being prepared can seem daunting, even overwhelming, we should not be afraid. Though all of us will regularly fail at living a full gospel life, if we have prepared ourselves for the inevitable breakdowns in our commitment, God will be waiting to greet us when we wake up again.  Pray and be grateful each day for the gift of faith.  Christ will do the rest.

Today, take five minutes to do nothing but pay attention to the day.

Who has helped you learn to live each day with joy and passion?


Friday, November 6, 2020

Divided Hearts

 "No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other." Lk 16:13

Luke's Gospel demands that we ask ourselves: Who is my Master?  Reminding his listeners that many religious leaders have divided hearts, Luke insists that living the Gospel is about making choices which bind us to the good despite the cost. If Jesus' followers were too concerned with the traditional signs of God's love, if they were overly worried about money, property, family and health, they could not follow Jesus with full hearts.

These days we seem tempted to have not two but many, many masters. Whether it is money, our reputation or our influence upon or over others, there are multiple concerns that distract us from living the Good News with the power Jesus offers us as gift. Unless we learn to let go of that which divides our hearts, we will be running in four directions at once, not even knowing that we are lost. Taking time each day for reflection and quiet prayer not only alerts us to the competing voices within us, it can steady us on the Gospel path and be a compass that directs us into the heart of God.

Today, examine your conscience carefully about matters which divide your heart.

What fears most distract you from a full Gospel life?


Thursday, November 5, 2020

Begging for Help

 "The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’" Lk 16:3

Occasionally, I meet someone who tells me they never pray for themselves, and I am stunned. Praying for oneself is natural and necessary. Help me, O God, to live in your presence. Keep me focused on your desire for the world, and show me the path you would have me walk are all prayers that are honest, make sense, and honor God. Of course, we can pray selfishly and we ought to try to avoid too much of this, but never praying for ourselves could suggest we don't need God at all.

The blind man's insistent cry for help is a good Gospel example of this. Though many tried to quiet him, fearing perhaps that he was disturbing Jesus or being foolish, the blind man shouted all the louder when he knew Jesus was near. So should we. Asking for help everyday to live God's dream for us not only reminds us of our dependence on God, it honors God by acknowledging his power to impact our everyday lives.

Today, respond to someone else's request for help, even if you don't have time.

Why is it sometimes difficult for you to ask for help?

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The Lost Sheep

 "What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?" Lk 15:2

At first glance, it makes no sense to leave ninety nine sheep alone to search for the lost one, but Jesus is making an important and challenging point with his followers. The lost are important. The healthy, he says in another place, don't need a physician. The sick do. (Mk 2:17) Jesus wants us to let go of the security of wherever we are to look for those who have lost their way, and this is often a hard challenge.

Often in Christian terms we must be people who are both/and. We must so deeply know who we are that we are unafraid to let go of our security to seek those who forget or reject their own heritage and faith. Because we are rooted in the memory of Jesus we know that wherever we are, we are in Christ who is the source and summit of our lives, and can risk anything in order to proclaim the message of Jesus. The apostles knew this. So did the great saints. We can learn it a day at a time.

Today, open your spirit to the lost and do it without judging them.

Are there places, people and communities that you avoid?

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

St Charles Borremeo

 "In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast in what pertains to God." Rom 15:17

Named Archbishop of Milan when he was 25 years old, St Charles Borremeo was hugely influential at the Council of Trent. For many years he was a church careerist, working to assure himself and his family a comfortable life, but when his elder brother died during the Council, everything changed. Aware that life was short, Charles became an avid church reformer who lived a very simple personal life and gave most of his income to the poor. More important, he insisted that everyone named bishop in his provincial council be an example to the faithful of men committed to the gospel, and be well trained in Scripture for their ministries. In fact, the education of the clergy became so important to him that he started the seminary system which continues, even today, to train priests all over the world.

St Paul’s letter to the Romans sounds like Charles could have written it. Concerned that some of his disciples and converts were taking credit for their own good works, Paul first praises them but then reminds them that without Christ nothing of ultimate value can happen. The apostle writes, “I have reason to boast in what pertains to God. For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me.” If anything or anyone distracts us from the works of God in Christ we must avoid them and return to the essentials of Gospel life. Both Paul and Charles remind us to live each day simply and gratefully.

Today, step back from your life and ask yourself whether others experience you as Good News.

Have you had occasion to reform your life?

Monday, November 2, 2020

Letting Go

 "Christ Jesus,  though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped." Phil 2:6

How hard it is to let go, especially of good experiences. We grasp and cling to situations and people who make us happy. Though we know this is foolishness, we can rarely help ourselves. Grace that tastes like candy is hard to resist. More important, we often find it difficult to let go of hurt. Somehow, the ache of not being recognized or discarded by people we love, seems to cling to us like the grime of not being able to shower after working outside in the hot sun.

That is why it is so important to listen to St Paul when he reminds us that Jesus did not even cling to his Godhead, but emptied himself for us and for the world. Because Jesus is always other centered, he witnesses for us how we ought to go about in the world. The more we think of others and try to respond to them in their need, the easier it is to forget ourselves and our problems. First responders to tragedies like hurricane Michael that just devasted the Florida panhandle remind us of this. As soon as they begin to help others, their own struggles fade quickly into the background.

Today, ask for the grace to let go of one nagging and old hurt.

Who do you most admire for letting go of difficult experienes in life?

Sunday, November 1, 2020

All Souls

 "They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace." Wis 3: 2-3

In one of the Prefaces to the Eucharistic prayer when celebrating mass for the deceased, we read: "Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven." These words always bring me great comfort. Realizing, even as I pray these words for others, that I have allowed myself to slip into sloppy thinking when I forget that life as we know it now, no matter how rich or satisfying, is temporary. This is not to say we should not enjoy life as it unfolds, but that it is important to remember that life on earth is fleeting. 

Regularly, when trying to console a grieving family I remind them that though we can no longer see our family and friends who have died, faith assures us that they are alive and with us in a way no longer limited by the constraints of the flesh. 

I often experience this simple truth when I think about and celebrate my Dad's life. If I happen to be driving to Newark Airport in New Jersey, I wave as I pass Sea Land, the container ship company where he worked for many years. A mail room worker, my dad traveled by public transportation most of his working life. Always grateful to have work, my father enjoyed his job and especially the people with whom he worked and the delight he felt touches me still. I know he is alive in Christ, and I believe I will see him again when my own life ends.

All Souls day invites us to celebrate all those powerful women and men who went before us in faith about whom we know little but who faith assures us are alive. While the foolish might think of them as dead, our faith promises us that they are at peace, and in this we rejoice with grateful songs of praise.

Today, "speak" with someone, now dead, who was especially important to you in life.

What do you think heaven will be like? 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

All Saints

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven." Mt 5:2

What makes a saint? Some say the ability to get up after being knocked down. Others insist that humility and acceptance in the face of struggle is the mark of the great saints, and the church often speaks of heroic virtue as the defining characteristic of sainthood. But whatever criteria one uses, today we celebrate all those holy women and men, unknown to most but precious to God and the church, who listened to God's word, embraced it and let it change them.

The saints learned, often at a very young age, that pride, which so often insists that our way and our opinion is right, is the biggest obstacle to authentic transformation. Listening with an open and humble heart is the only way to real freedom. When we allow God to direct our lives for God's purposes. we open ourselves to experience the full sweetness of God's unconditional love and begin to know the delights of a simple Gospel life. The saints teach us a simple truth: only when we learn to live in gratitude for all that is will we know the depth of God's eternal embrace, and celebrate it everyday.

Today, ask God to make you a saint.

What do you think are the marks of sanctity?

Friday, October 30, 2020

True Humility

 "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." Lk 14:11

When Jesus told the guests of the Pharisees to take the lowest place at a banquet in order not to be embarrassed if a more important guest arrives, he is not only offering them a strategy, but a challenge with a deeper spiritual meaning.

Authentic humility, rooted in God's power, demands that Christians see themselves as part of something much greater than their accomplishments. As part of Christ's body we have a dignity beyond our imagination, but only when we accept the role designated for us and do not pretend to be someone we are not, or that we are in control of life.

This message, like so many others that Jesus offers us, is counter intuitive. While most people bow to humility as a value, few wear the clothes of humility, especially in the United States. Citizens of our nation are trained from an early age to excel, and to accept both the accolades and privileges associated with "winning."

While wealth and power are by products of a successful life in the United States, this is not the goal of those who profess to live a Gospel life. Gospel success is measured, not in what it produces, but in the seeds of hope that it plants. Never far from the realization that all life is a gift, and all worldly success is temporary, Christians believe that our "success" is an integrated and other centered life, and this is no easy task.

Today, don't say something you are thinking. Listen first to others.

Have you had an experience of humility that changed your life?

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Sabbath Fulfilled

 "Jesus spoke to the scholars of the law and Pharisees in reply, asking, 'Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath or not?' But they kept silent; so he took the man and, after he had healed him, dismissed him." Lk 14 3-4

Jesus regularly broke the Sabbath, and we wonder why. He was an observant Jew. He wanted to fulfill the law, not destroy it or supplant it. Why then would he heal on the Sabbath? The answer seems almost too simple. The Pharisees were not interested in the observance of the law, but in catching Jesus in opposition to it. If they could demonstrate that Jesus had no respect for the law, they would win the battle for power and honor. Like so many of us, they wanted to win, they wanted to be right.

Jewish law about the Sabbath, although strict, was not rigid then or now. Mati Goldstein, commander of the Jewish rescue-mission to 2010 Haiti earthquake, said, “We did everything to save lives, despite Shabbat . People asked, ‘Why are you here? There are no Jews here,’ but we are here because the Torah orders us to save lives…We are desecrating Shabbat with pride…” 

Clearly, Jews today and the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, knew that the law commanded them to help save lives. Jesus also knew this and challenged the Pharisees with an interpretation of the law that they should have known. When people suffer, we need to respond. It is that simple.

Today, treat someone with compassion even if it is inconvenient.

How do you practice Sabbath?