Saturday, August 29, 2020

Peter's Rashness

"Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." Mt 16:23

Peter is one of my favorite gospel figures.  Anxious to help, sure of himself and committed to following the Lord, his impulsiveness often gets the best of him. On one occasion, he quickly answers Jesus' inquiry: Who do you say that  am?  The Christ, Peter says, the Messiah.  Unfortunately, while Peter's answer is correct, his understanding is lacking.  He wants Jesus to be a kind of military leader who drives the Romans out of Jerusalem and reclaims the Holy City for the chosen people.  More, if Jesus is an earthly king, he probably thinks that his own position as a disciple will afford him enhanced status among his peers.  

In today's gospel, Peter stands up again for the Lord as a defender and protector, but this time the Lord’s response is harsh.  “Get behind me, Satan. You are an obstacle to me.”  Although I have often prayed not to be an obstacle for others, especially to their faith life and journey,  I know that my quick tongue and harsh judgments have often hurt others.

That is why I think it is so very important to develop simple practices to accept our faults and address our  anxieties. Rather than strike out verbally, we need to work for reconciliation and healing.  My parents suggested a way to do this when  they told me never to make important decisions quickly, to sleep on them and if possible to wait a week or more before acting. Later, a 12 step friend told me: Things that are are urgent are rarely important, and things that are important are rarely urgent. Had I listened more closely to my parents and friend, I might have saved myself and others unnecessary hurt.

Today, try reading the scriptures not for insight but for transformation.  

What practices most root you in faith?

Friday, August 28, 2020

Living the Gospel Everyday

"You bear witness against yourselves." Mt 23:31

There is a little joke about five birds sitting on a telephone wire. Three decide to leave. How many are left? Five, because they are Catholic birds and only decide to leave but never act on it. Too often that is the case for us. We think, we pray, we discern but then do nothing. I know this has often been true for me.

In recent months I have been deeply disappointed by not being able to visit our senior friars because of the Corona Virus and often I remind myself to give one or two of them a call, just to say hello. But then, as often as not, the day gets away from me and my intention remains just that, a promise without fulfillment.

Matthew's Gospel reminds Jesus' disciples they ought not be like the Pharisees and other leaders who speak about what they would have done had they been alive during the time of the Prophets, but when an opportunity comes to be prophets in their own time, like the birds on the phone wire, they just sit there and do nothing.

Today, think about someone who you have been intending to call just to say hello and do it.

What excuses do you use not to act on the Gospel that reminds us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked?

Thursday, August 27, 2020

St Augustine

"You have searched me and you know me, Lord." (Ps 139)

Augustine of Hippo wrestled with God for years. Resistant to anything or anyone who couldn't help him understand life as he experienced it, his life turned around when he met St Ambrose in Milan. A seminal thinker and writer, Ambrose got Augustine's attention through kindness and helped open his mind and heart to the Gospel by his brilliant preaching, but it was the voice of a child telling him to "take and read" that moved Augustine to read the thirteenth chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans. Hearing Paul tell his readers that the night was over and it was time to live decently moved Augustine towards baptism.

Best known for his Confessions, a work which the saint thought should be read aloud, Augustine remains one of the most controversial figures in the Christian West as well as one of its most accessible writers. St Thomas Aquinas, St Bonaventure, John Calvin and almost every theologian of note, relied heavily on Augustine in their theological and pastoral writings, but some of Augustine's writings, especially about the Jews and original sin, continue to trouble contemporary readers. Nonetheless, Augustine remains a figure of immense importance whose writing continues to inspire believers everywhere.

Writing about love, Augustine asks: "What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like."(Augustine) For Augustine, love is a verb not a noun. It is something that we must act upon and share. More important, it is not always something we feel but something we decide to live and involves all the senses. We must love what we see and hear and walk towards those most in need.

Today, live your faith by keeping your eyes and ears open to all.

What keeps you from acting upon the Gospel everyday?

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

St Monica

"There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I died. My God has exceeded this abundantly." (St Monica in the Confessions IX, 10)

St Monica taught her son, St Augustine, many lessons. Steadfastness and fidelity to the Gospel, expressed by her willingness to accept him even when he was wandering from his faith, tolerance of her mother in law who regularly rejected her because of her piety, but nothing was more important than her reliance on prayer especially when praying for her son's conversion.

Following Augustine everywhere he went, even when he tried to avoid her, Monica finds herself in Milan where the Milanese did not fast on Saturday. Confused, Monica asks St Ambrose for advice. When Ambrose tells her to follow local custom wherever she was, Monica took his advice believing that her willingness to listen and change would prove to Augustine that his mother's prayer for his conversion was pure. If she wanted Augustine to change, so must she.

When Monica was nearing death, she insisted that no one worry about her or attempt to bring her body back to Africa for burial. “Lay this body anywhere, let not the care for it trouble you at all. This only I ask, that you will remember me at the Lord's altar, wherever you be.” (Confessions IX, 11) Because St Monica's prayers had been answered with Augustine's full embrace of his Catholic faith, she lived the rest of her life in gratitude, a lesson all of us would do well to learn.

Today, pray for someone's conversion.

Whose prayer and desire for you has most moved you to listen and change?

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Facing our Resistance

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence."

It must have been shocking and upsetting for the Pharisees and scribes to hear Jesus assert that only that which comes from within defiles a person. In fact, it is difficult for most of us to hear the great challenge of Jesus to put aside our desire to control ourselves and others with a rigid interpretation of the law. Jesus insists that salvation is not about discipline alone, but about asking God to cleanse our hearts of jealousy, resentment and suspicion of others.

More important still is whether we are willing to help others worry less about how they appear and more about the integrity of their faith lives. St Jerome says it well, "I bid you not to tear your garments but rather to rend your hearts which are laden with sin. Like wine skins, unless they have been cut open, they will burst of their own accord."(St Jerome on Joel)

Most believers know the truth of the gospel from the "inside." They realize that what appears to be a faith filled life is empty unless it reflects an interior commitment to live without guile. When each of us admits that a life of ritual rigidity and lawful integrity is hardly good news, we will begin to announce the gospel as Jesus did.

Today, don't be afraid of an honest self examination.

How do you resist an unhealthy dependence on the law as a substitute for gospel living?

Monday, August 24, 2020

Blind Guides

“Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites."  Mt 23:25

Being blind is not always a bad thing. Pope John XXIII wrote in his diary: See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little. Good advice for all, but especially leaders and parents. Sometimes it is better not to "see" or to look away from those we are trying to lead, especially if they are trying something for the first time. Often, when I am trying to help people learn the art of public reading in church, I don't look at them since getting up in front of others is difficult enough without thinking someone is staring at you.

But this is not what Jesus is talking about in Matthew's gospel. Concerned that the leaders of the Jewish community are more concerned with their own welfare than proclaiming and interpreting the Law and the Prophets, Jesus warns them about looking without seeing and obsessing about money and property to the detriment of the Law.

It is often clear in the Gospels that the Scribes and Pharisees are more concerned with tripping Jesus up than with hearing his message or listening to him with respect. Alarmed that Jesus might be stripping them of the little power they had, they challenge his knowledge of the Law and are blind to his good works on behalf of the poor.

The struggles of the Jewish leaders remain ours. Too often we cling to the shallow knowledge we have or defend our behavior rather than ask God for insight about how better to live the Gospel. Unless we remain deeply rooted in the foundational values of the Gospel, we will fail to see the Lord in the faces and lives of the poor.

Today, open the eyes of your heart to those most in need.

What situations in your family or church are most difficult for you to see and address?

Sunday, August 23, 2020

St Bartholomew

"Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him." Jn 1:47

Some people are naturally open, transparent and accepting. Most of us, however, are not. We fear and resist the judgment of others. What can others know about us, we wonder, who have only just met us? While the question is valid, it can reflect an unhealthy desire for independence. Only when we realize that the wisdom and insight of others can be a gift for our own journey do we embrace it and grow from it.

St. Bartholomew is the poster boy for innocence and openness in the gospel, and if we can be open to the lessons he teaches, our lives can be much simpler. People are given to us in life as guides and mentors, and while some remind us what not to be, most can help us take the next step if only we will listen. Bartholomew blurts out, "How do you know me?", but as soon as the Lord answers, his resistance crumbles and he acknowledges Jesus as Son of God and King of Israel.

Today, ask for the gift of openness before God and others.

What helps you put aside duplicity and seek transparency?