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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Unknown Gods

 "To and unknown God." Acts 17:23

Ancient peoples knew that to name God was dangerous, even sacrilege. Naming someone can imply a certain control over the one named and that can never be the case with God. God, by definition, is beyond names. Absolute mystery, God sends Jesus to us so that we can know we are loved unconditionally, not to empower us to name God.

When St Paul speaks with the Athenians about what he sees as he moves about the Areopagus, he wants to honor their religious spirit, and assure them that the unknown God they have not named has in fact been revealed in Jesus Christ. Paul's readiness to acknowledge the quest and yearning of the Greeks is important for us to remember when we proclaim the glory of God is Jesus. Because people come to God in ways we cannot fathom, only praise, we should be careful to guard against a narrow, limiting and rigid spirit in our tradition. God will be God for us and search us out even when we live in darkness.

Today, pray for all those who searching for God in every religious tradition.

How has your own faith evolved and grown as an adult?

Monday, May 10, 2021

Opening Doors of Hope

 "About midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose." Acts 16: 25-26

Jailers at the time of Jesus were frequently retired army officers who would have learned how to guard prisoners and take no chances. In Acts, therefore, when the doors flew open in the jail after the earthquake, the jailer presumed all the prisoners had escaped, and was beside himself. According to Roman law, because he had failed in his duties, he would have been liable for the same punishment imposed on Paul and Silas.

But God had a different plan. Paul and Silas, perhaps knowing the jailer's fate for letting them escape, stayed in the jail, instructed the jailer and his family in faith and baptized them. What a turn of events! Though the jailer would lose his job, he gained the kind of faith that would allow him a freedom to face whatever punishment the authorities might exact of him.

While the stories of faith in Acts might not be repeated exactly in our lives, there will be many small miracles. Doors of hurt, confusion and resentment will fly open if only we allow the Lord to free us and send us in mission to all in need. We may have to change our lives in ways we never imagined, but God will be the strength we need to do whatever he requires.

Today, open a door of forgiveness to someone struggling with faith.

What closed doors imprison you?

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Listening with Hope

 "We sat and spoke with the women who had gathered there. One of them, a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention." Actz 16:13

In my experience at least, women are more likely to listen than men. Why this is, is not always clear, but in Lydia's case it is remarkable. As a dealer in cloth, she was not typical. She had her own source of income, most probably owned property, was literate and had a voice to which others listened. In other words, she had no need to pay attention to the Apostles. That she did says so much about her and about our challenge.

There is always something more to learn about God and about the Good News. Those who read the scriptures regularly are often amazed at how much a scriptural text that have read multiple times comes alive in a new way especially when they are in need. Whether it is a changed circumstance in life or a different problem that faces us, the scripture speaks in ways we never expected and all we did was listen.

Lydia is a wonderful model for men in our society. Despite all the power we think we have, we cannot afford not to listen to the God who is always speaking.

Today, read the Gospel slowly and see what happens.

To whom do you listen with hope?

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Service

 "I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends." Jn 15:13

Service of others, even our enemies, is one of the great hallmarks of the Good News, and while some might not consider service of others good news, Jesus does, in the most emphatic of terms. Unless we learn how to serve others, even becoming like slaves in this regard, the message of the New Covenant will go unheard.

Gratefully, most of us have met and been moved by people whose entire lives are given in service to others. For most of my years as a priest I have had the great privilege of offering the Sunday Eucharist in places where volunteers prepared everything for Mass. I had only to prepare a homily. Everything else was done with love and dedication by people who never looked for special mention or attention. Anyone encountering this kind of dedication cannot help but be moved and lifted up. Whether it was distributing music books already opened to the proper page, or moving chairs so that those in wheelchairs might find a place among us, these loving men and women did everything they could to help create a sacred space for God's people to gather, worship and rejoice.

Today, thank God for the privilege of serving God's people.

When have you known the glory of God in serving others who could not repay you?

Friday, May 7, 2021

Lifting the Burden of the Poor

 "If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first." Jn 15:18

Hate is a strong word which most of avoid. It never seems like a word or an emotion that builds life within or among us. All of us have read of people who so hated themselves because of some serious fault that they took their own lives, and while we know this makes no sense, we understand it. More important, we hear of families and nations who hate one another, and avoid contact with those they hate at all costs. Even thinking about the hated one brings deep distress.

Jesus was hated by the leaders of his own society because he challenged their interpretations of the law and their haughtiness towards the poor. Imagine what it was like for the leaders when he looked at them and insisted: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!"  Enraged and threatened, the Pharisees plotted to kill him because he told the truth. The gospel is intended "to bring glad tidings to the poor... to proclaim liberty to captives...and to let the oppressed go free," (Lk 4:18) not to "lay heavy burdens" on their shoulders while doing nothing to help them. (Mt. 23:4)

Today,  ask yourself whether you are laying "heavy burdens" on others without being willing to help.

Who has been an inspiration to you because of their efforts on behalf of the poor?

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Chosen by God

 "It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you." Jn 15:16

Being chosen for an important task is both exhilarating and frightening. As a young boy I was chosen to be the catcher on our baseball team, and while I was proud and excited, I was also very anxious. If I didn't catch the balls thrown to me, the other teams' runners would be able to advance a base, and the pressure to do my task only increased as I got older. Sometimes we feel this same pressure in our ministerial lives, and while understandable, it is not of Jesus.

Jesus is not speaking about tasks or ministries, but relationships. He wants us to be responsible in our love for one another. When he reminds his disciples that he chose them, he wants them to be assured of his care and his strength in this most fundamental of Christian duties. He will be our strong arm. He will give us the divine energy to live the gospel in our love for one another. Unless we remember to rely on him in all things, we lose focus, and believe that everything is up to us. This unhealthy attitude leads only to anxiety and fear.

Today, rely on the Lord for life and love.

What does it take to remain united to Christ in difficult circumstances?

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Authentic Joy

 “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” Jn 15:11

Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said, “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers.” A friar friend, gently prodding a group of clergy, once asked them to bow their heads, screw up their faces and pray. Only a few participants smiled until the end of the prayer when my friend suggested that if they were happy they ought to inform their face.

It can be difficult to smile, relax and enjoy others when we are troubled or in the middle of a debate like the early church we learn about in Acts of the Apostles. Not sure how best to fold the gentile community into the church, the Apostles struggled with one another. Paul saw things one way; James another and it is clear that everyone was trying to convince the others of their point of view. Being right often kills joy and rather than proclaiming the Good News of Jesus, we act like a group of children after losing a ballgame. 

Today, smile at someone randomly.

Who helps you express the joy you feel as a disciple of Jesus

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Resolving Disputes

 "'Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.' Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the Apostles and presbyters about this question." Acts 15 1-2

Disputes in families and church communities are natural and necessary, but often painful. The early church struggled with how new converts might be faithful to the first Covenant and also be baptized into the new Covenant in Jesus Christ. Converts from Pharisaic Judaism were especially troubled with how gentile converts would fulfill the Torah with regard to circumcision and the dietary laws, leading Paul and Barnabas to bring this struggle to the elders in the hope that some compromise that would satisfy everyone might be reached.

Healthy compromise is hard to come by, but always worth the struggle. One has only to look at the diversity in the Catholic church in the United States to understand this. Folks at the extreme margins of left and right have a difficult time being heard even though they have important things to say. We are, after all, a church of tradition. We respect and honor what has gone before us, but we are also a church that must find ways to announce the Good News to a new generation of believers. Unless we can find ways to incorporate the essentials of our catholic tradition into contemporary life, we will lose our identity and dreams. Reliance on the Holy Spirit alive in the church helped the first Christians. It can do the same for us.

Today, listen quietly and from your heart to someone with whom you disagree.

How do you resolve disputes in your family and parish?

Monday, May 3, 2021

Beyond Fear

 "Jesus said to his disciples: 'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.'" Jn 14:27

The cost of discipleship for Jesus' followers was high. Almost all of his apostles would lose their lives through martyrdom, and many others turned away from Jesus because of their fear.  Jesus acknowledges and addresses the fear in his followers and promises them they will have his peace as a companion, but we should not be naive about this.

The peace of Jesus is the ground upon which we build our faith, but it is often tested, and does not guarantee that we will be free of a fear that can paralyze us. Jesus will experience his own fear during the terrible night of his scourging and on the cross, but gives his life to his Father freely and powerfully. When we stay close to him, he assures us we will have the same strength to face our fears as he had during his agony.

Today, be with your fears and do not turn away from the trials of faith.

What about faith has helped you live with your fears and anxieties?

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Sts Peter and Paul

"Master, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?" Jesus said to him. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." Jn 14:6

Relationships are the key to a gospel life. Without relationships rooted in faith there is no Good News. Though Thomas claims not to know the way, it is only because he has misunderstood Jesus, thinking the Lord is talking about a place to which he is going when he reminds his friends that they know the way. In fact, Jesus is the way. It is only in and through our relationship with him and one another in faith that we witness to God's saving love alive in us.

Most of us, thank God, know this truth intimately. From our earliest years we have been blessed with guides, mentors and soul friends, people who not only instructed us in the formal aspects of faith by teaching us our daily prayers like the Our Father and the Hail Mary, but also witnessed to faith by how they cared for others and reached out to the needy. Today, when we think of them, we are more grateful for the way they lived faith and loved us despite our weaknesses than the catechism lessons they taught us.

Today, pause to remember those who blessed you with unconditional love.

From whom did you learn how to honor God and serve others?

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Back to Basics

"Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth." 1 Jn 3:18 

The scriptures are always trying to get us back to basics, to reclaim the foundational values of Jesus expressed in the New Testament. To do this well and with integrity we need to have spiritual practices that remind us each day about who we are and what we are to do in the world as Christians. It is one thing to say we love God and neighbor, but it is another thing all together to practice loving God and others through prayer and service.

Prayer is important because it is an exercise in which we acknowledge our total dependence on  God. Aware that living a faith filled life is a gift, we pause each day to honor the God who has given us faith and who sustains on our faith journey. Whether we recite a prayer we learned in childhood or ask in our own words for help to live the Gospel fully as disciples, we need to pray regularly. Just as a husband admits how important his wife is to his identity and well being, prayer helps us acknowledge that without God we are incomplete.

Today, express your love for God by quietly sitting in God's presence making yourself available for God's work.

What do you think are the most important spiritual practices in the life of a Christian?

Friday, April 30, 2021

Asking for Help

"And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.” Jn 14:14

Who or what is your refuge? As children, most of us sought protection in our parents and teachers. Realizing our vulnerability, our elders watched out for and over us, making sure that we did not place ourselves at undue risk. While these safeguards are necessary and helpful, at some point, as we enter adulthood, we are forced to find our own places of refuge.

Some find solace and safety in nature. No matter what happens to upset us, they can go outdoors, dig in a garden or take a walk on the beach and find peace. Others seek out friends for a conversation when they are troubled, but in the end, as believers in Jesus Christ, our only lasting peace is in God who assures us that whatever we ask in his name will be given to us.

Listening to Pope Francis over the last few years, I am struck by his insistence that we "confess" Jesus Christ if we want to be authentically Christian. While we honor and celebrate all people who seek the good of others through Non governmental organizations (NGO's,) foundations and other charitable agencies, Christians must be rooted in Christ as disciples if we want to proclaim the fullness of the Good News.

Today, take some to rest in Christ as our ultimate refuge and hope.

What does it mean to you to confess Jesus Christ?

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Accepting Unconditional Love

 "Master, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?" Jesus said to him. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." Jn 14:6

Relationships are the key to a gospel life. Without relationships rooted in faith there is no Good News. Though Thomas claims not to know the way, it is only because he has misunderstood Jesus, thinking the Lord is talking about a place to which he is going when he reminds his friends that they know the way. In fact, Jesus is the way. It is only in and through our relationship with him and one another in faith that we witness to God's saving love alive in us.

Most of us, thank God, know this truth intimately. From our earliest years we have been blessed with guides, mentors and soul friends, people who not only instructed us in the formal aspects of faith by teaching us our daily prayers like the Our Father and the Hail Mary, but also witnessed to faith by how they cared for others and reached out to the needy. Today, when we think of them, we are more grateful for the way they lived faith and loved us despite our weaknesses than the catechism lessons they taught us.

Today, pause to remember those who blessed you with unconditional love.

From whom did you learn how to honor God and serve others?

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

St Catherine of Siena

 "They saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they began to be afraid. But he said to them, 'It is I. Do not be afraid.'" Jn 6:20

Catherine of Siena, unlikely doctor of the church, is one of those saints who challenges all our unexamined assumptions about wisdom, education and sanctity. The 25th child of parents who lost most of their children to early death, Catherine, though uneducated, became one of the most important writers of the 14th century. Her letters and mystical writings remind us to keep Christ close despite the cost.

In a letter to her spiritual spiritual director she writes: "You should not wish to turn your head because of the thorns of so many persecutions, for he is indeed mad who would abandon the rose for fear of its thorns." (Letters) Though unsaid here, it is clear that Catherine was able to ignore those who persecuted her because she knew that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, was her guide and protector and having the rose was more important than the thorns that tore at her life.

The Easter scriptures are forever reminding us that the Gospel, though liberating and empowering, is too difficult to live without the strength of an Advocate, someone who stands behind us, encourages us and assures us that God is with us no matter how heavy the burdens we might have to carry.

Today, be an advocate for someone who seems lost.

Have you ever experienced the strength and support of the Holy Spirit in your life?

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Laying on of Hands

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“'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' Then, completing their fasting and prayer, they laid hands on them and sent them off." Acts 13:3

In many cultures, young people, especially those leaving their country for a new land and a new life, must approach their grandparents to ask for a blessing. This is no small matter. It is as if the young people who are leaving are being clothed in the culture and love of their country and ancestors.

This is what happened to Barnabas and Saul when they were being "missioned" to Cyprus. Strengthened and empowered by the elders in their community who laid hands on them, they knew they were not alone and that the entire community of Christians in Antioch where with them and would strengthen them through prayer.

It is important for us to remember that we have been commissioned at Baptism, especially during a period when our church, nation and world are being shaken by the devastation of the Corona Virus. We are not alone. No matter what happens to us, we are in Christ and our task of announcing the Good News remains. We must live as if death itself does not matter for we have been promised life forever.

Today, act fearlessly but not foolishly. Find ways to engage people with kindness and compassion.

Whose faith life and lifestyle most impressed you and helped you during dark times?

Monday, April 26, 2021

Building Relationships

 "For a whole year they met with the Church and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians." Acts 11:26

Relationships take time, and are rarely easy. Paul and the first Christian missionaries knew this and took their time not only teaching the Antiochenes but getting to know them. Every message, even the Gospel, has to be spoken with one's audience in mind, and nothing is more important in this regard than culture.

Historians tell us that Antioch was among the most sophisticated of ancient cities with a large library, a magnificent theater and a half million people. Paul, who was learned, and his companions were beginning to articulate a theology of Christianity that demanded the attention of Building Relationshipshis listeners, but his willingness to remain in Antioch, to listen and learn were as important as the message he proclaimed.

Listening to others, especially those who expect little from us because we might be more educated or we connected than them, is not only a good strategy, it is a telling act of humility.

Today, listen twice as much as you speak.

What has been the most important thing you have learned by listening?

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Hearing God's Voice

 "My sheep hear my voice." Jn 10:27

Hearing the voice of someone you can trust is a very comforting sound, especially if you are in a difficult or new situation. The first time I traveled to Bolivia I got off the plane after 15 hours of travel, looked around and could not find a familiar face, but after collecting my baggage, I heard the friar I was intending to visit call my name. Although I was far from New York and very tired, I felt at home.

Shepherds in the ancient world did that for their sheep. Most shepherd's had a different whistle or sound for each of their sheep and when the sheep heard their master's whistle, they followed him. He was their guardian and would lead them to fertile pastures where they could eat and drink.

Most of us have had people in our lives who seem able to hear us on a level that both sustains and challenges us. Gifted with the ability not to speak too quickly or forcefully, our shepherds help us understand ourselves and the God who seems silent but always has a message. Although we often resist their insights, eventually we let go and trust the God who speaks through them.

Today, be grateful for the shepherds in your life who help you hear God's voice.

Whose voice was most important to your growth as a person?

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Good Shepherds

 "Jesus said: 'I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.'" Jn 10:11

God as our good shepherd has always been an attractive, inviting and empowering notion for believers. In the ancient world from which this image comes, shepherds were the underclass. Although they had no voice in the society, they played critically important roles, especially for the poor. Because the poor could not afford their own sheep pens, shepherds were hired to look over the sheep of many families in a common pen throughout the night, and  while they were able to rest, they could not sleep since it was their task to protect the sheep from predators. In order to do this effectively, shepherds would lie down across the opening of the sheep pen in order to protect the sheep entrusted to them. That the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament remind us that God and Jesus are shepherds, willing to give their lives for their sheep, is both comforting and challenging.

Parents are natural shepherds, willing to protect their children from anything and anyone who might threaten them. Parents almost always do this without personal concern or fear. They know it is their duty, especially in the first years of life, and would have it no other way. These days, because people are living so much longer, children often become parents to their parents, and it is these "children" caring for their parents who show us a new face of God's unconditional love. Every time I visit a hospital or nursing home and encounter people feeding and clothing their parents of a daily basis, I am moved and strengthened by their generosity and unselfishness. Theirs is a heavy burden, but like Good Shepherds, they do it graciously and compassionately.

Today, thank someone who has been a Good Shepherd to you.

What is your most helpful image of God?

Friday, April 23, 2021

Trusting Jesus

 "Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, 'Do you also want to leave?'” Jn 6:67

When friends are not who we thought them to be, especially if they speak poorly of us, we are disappointed and disillusioned.  We might even be tempted to end our friendship, or at the very least step away from it for a while. Shock does that to us. Unsure of someone else, we also wonder how we missed something important about them. Were we so needy that we failed to realize that our relationship was not as secure or as deep as we imagined?

John's gospel reminds us that not all of Jesus' disciples remained true to him. Discipleship, like friendship, is built not on completely understanding the other, but on trusting that the relationship is authentic and rooted in God's love and the truth of the Gospel. Because we know that God is faithful, we can trust that whatever God teaches is for our good and glory of God. Trusting God is the root of our faith and faithfulness.

Today,  ask not for understanding but acceptance.

How do you manage the loss of a friendship?

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Conversion

 "Saul, Saul, why are your persecuting me?" Acts 22:7

Almost everyone has a conversion experience or three. Struggling for an identity or reflecting on the scriptures, there is a moment that stops us and reminds us who we are. Though it is not always life changing, it can be.

For St Paul, who thought of himself as among the most observant of Jews, it surely was. Blinded by a great light on his way to Damascus to continue his persecution of Christians, he heard a voice telling him, "I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting." (Acts 22:8) Unable to see because of the great light, his companions led him into Damascus where Ananias healed him of his blindness and told him to return to Jerusalem and be baptized. Not long afterwards God told Paul to leave Jerusalem and go to the Gentiles among whom he would find his life's mission.

While it appears that for St Paul the memory of his dramatic conversion was all he ever needed, we can be sure that this is not true. While all who open themselves to the power of the Holy Spirit will be led more deeply into Christ and into mission, there will be moments of disabling doubt and confusion when we will wrestle with God and with life. Only after we lose the battle to be in charge of our own lives and throw ourselves again at God's feet and ask for mercy, will we find the path to the next stage of our journey. Indeed, God has a mission for all, but it is God's mission, not ours.

Today ask God to send you again on his mission, not yours.

How can each of us continue to be converted in Christ?

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Understanding the Bible

 “'Do you understand what you are reading?' He replied, 'How can I, unless someone instructs me?'” Acts 8:30

Unfortunately, in a Twitter world where all communication is limited to 280 characters, too many believers cling to or focus on one phrase from the Gospel and use it as a lens for their spiritual lives. Doing this almost always leads to misunderstanding and confusion.  The New Testament cannot be fairly read or understood when we remove it from its own cultural context and setting.

The Ethiopian eunuch reading the scriptures alone knew he needed help and asked Philip to instruct him There should be little doubt that Philip responded to this seeker's request using all the information and skill he had. Blessed with so much wonderful scholarship and insight, we ought to follow Philip's example in the 21st century. Don't just read the scripture regularly or return to your favorite passages, taste the Word of God, chew on it and savor it.

Today, pick up a Catholic study bible and read the introduction to one of the Gospels.

Who or what most helped you to understand the scriptures more deeply?

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

More than Bread

 "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst." Jn 6:35

Jesus is many things to many people. For some he is healer; for others he is God's word who enlightens the whole world. In today's gospel, Jesus reminds all that he is not simply a source of free food, but the bread of life who will feed us forever if we form a relationship with him.

Right relationships, about which the prophets so often spoke, are always a source of life for believers in the one God. It is through right relationships with God, others and all creation that we enter into the mystery of God's love with awe and thanksgiving. 

Unfortunately, like the people in today's gospel, we too often want God to "give us bread" so that we can go about our lives without worry or need and return to God only when we want something else. More sadly, if God does not give us what we want, we seek other gods and cling to anyone or anything in our path that satisfies us for the moment. Money and the ownership of property, for instance, can appear to answer all our needs, but that is not what Jesus promises. Rather, he wants to enter a right relationship with us that "preserves the integrity, resilience, and beauty" (1) of God and all creation.

Today, examine your relationships and ask God to make them "right.".

Who do you most admire because of the integrity, resilience and beauty of their relationships?

Monday, April 19, 2021

Faith in Troubled Times

 "As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them;' and when he said this, he fell asleep." Acts 7: 59-60

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.

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?

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Desiring Jesus for the Wrong Reasons

 “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled." Jn 6:26

While Jesus accepted the people who followed him for who they were, he also knew that some sought him out for the wrong reasons, and he regularly corrects and challenges them and us not to look to him  only for miracles and food, but to pray and work for a food that will last.

Although we know this side of Jesus, it can be difficult to accept his directives, especially when we are struggling. Anxious to be free of suffering for ourselves or others, we pray for God's intervention without bothering to think or even wonder whether our desire will help build God's reign.

When we read the scriptures about the people Jesus healed, we are reminded not to focus too narrowly on the wonder of healing, but on the life of faith which the healed person led. Mark's gospel is especially telling in this regard. "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." (Mk 10:52) Ultimately, the healing of Jesus is for others. Jesus expect those he heals to "go" and announce the Good News by the way they live and care for others. 

Today, feed someone with kindness.

What most interferes with your following Jesus freely?

Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Gift of our Bodies

 "Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” Lk 24:38

It is easy to take our bodies for granted. Young people are especially vulnerable to this fault, and sometimes even take risks that are foolish and dangerous. Who doesn't remember climbing in a car and driving too fast just for the fun of it, never thinking about our own safety or the threat to others.

Jesus focuses on our senses to help us realize what great gifts our bodies and our faith are. Our eyes for instance, when used properly, allow us to see and appreciate the glory of God in so many ways. 
All our senses can help us grow in faith. When we offer or receive a simple touch of affirmation, we experience the goodness of God in the other and know that people are basically good. How we will see and touch others after death is not clear, but that we will be raised body and soul is.

Today, take a moment to breathe deeply and thank God for the gift of your body and the promise of bodily resurrection.

When have been most grateful for the gift of sight?

Friday, April 16, 2021

Seeking the Gifts of Others

 "They chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism." Acts 6:5


Acts of Apostles tells us why the Apostles chose Stephen to help them in the mission of Jesus. Stephen was "filled with faith and the Holy Spirit," but it simply names the others. Why did the Apostles choose Philip, Prochorus, Nicamor, Timn, Parmenas and Nicholas? Why we have we been chosen as disciples?

Every person has gifts, many of which are hard to see and appreciate. When someone is a good listener, we appreciate their ability to sit quietly and pay attention to us without being distracted, but we can also be frustrated when they choose not to have an opinion about our concerns. Others have the ability to articulate matters carefully and succinctly, but can also make us wonder if life is as transparent and easy as their words seem to make it.

No doubt Philip, Prochorus, Nicamor, Timn, Parmenas and Nicholas had gifts that benefited the community, but we should not expect them or our friends to have answers to every problem. Rather, we pray to be grateful for the uniqueness of what each person brings to us, and seek to make our gifts available to others. Doing this regularly will us find and celebrate our vocation.

Today, pray to hear God's daily call to live the Gospel as a gift for others.

Have you discovered gifts in others that you never knew were there?

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Gamaliel's Integrity

 "If this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” Acts 5: 38-39

Gamaliel, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, warned his compatriots not to disparage the disciples of Jesus unless they were willing to risk their own commitment to the Torah. Gamaliel had a wisdom from which we could all profit. Like Jesus, he insisted that we know others by their fruits, not by their level of insight or the sophistication of their education.

The lesson continues, especially for those ministering in the developing world. Too often those of us from the so called developed world make impossible demands on people wanting to preach the gospel as ministers. Forcing folks from Senegal, for instance, to study western philosophy for two years before entering theological studies in preparation for priestly ordination, seems an exercise in overkill and might prevent future priests (to say nothing of lay ministers!) from studying the philosophies implicit in their own cultures.

Gamaliel and Jesus are clear. Judge people by the quality of their faith life. Do not risk laying heavy burdens upon them without doing a thing to help.

Today, listen to someone whose life you admire for its integrity.

What fruits of Gospel living most move you to transformation?

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

God's Generosity

 "For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God. He does not ration his gift of the Spirit." Jn 3:34

Today's scripture reminded me of my mother's gesture when our entire family of six lived in a four room apartment. Not infrequently, one of our parent's siblings would show up for dinner unannounced. When we sat down to eat, mom would look at each of her children and nod. Her message was clear: "One meatball" or one of whatever we were eating. Guests ate first. It was a simple but clear rule. Hospitality trumped hunger!

God is like my mother. Unable to deny his listeners a full share of whatever food is available, Jesus does not ration the bread because, he wants to remind us, when we are generous, there will always be enough for everyone. Think for a moment about the twelve baskets full of bread left over after Jesus fed 5000 people, or how much wine Jesus made from water after his mother told him there was no more wine for the wedding guests. Six stone water jars each containing 20 or 30 gallons seems enough for a very big party.

Neither does Jesus ration the gift of the Spirit. Whatever we need will be available and it does not matter how much we give away. The gifts of the Spirit are limitless. There will always be enough wisdom, understanding, piety and all the rest as long as we remember that God is not stingy. There is no need to cling to the gifts of the Spirit because, in God, there is always more.

Today, be more generous than you think is reasonable.

When are you most generous to others?

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Locked Doors

 


"During the night, the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison, and led them out." Acts 5:19


Doors are very important symbols in the New Testament, especially locked doors. Jesus appears to his apostles after his resurrection even though they are hiding "behind closed doors," and the apostles are freed by an angel after they had been put in jail by the high priest. Clearly, locked doors mean nothing to the risen Lord, and they ought to remind us that nothing can keep God away from us for long.

All of us have areas of our inner life that we ignore, deny or hide, but none of these strategies help us know and serve God more deeply. Unless we learn to open our hearts to God and for some at least, to seek spiritual direction, we will find ourselves lost more often than not. Trying to keep God at a distance might work for a while, but a spiritual director can help us recognize and attend to those areas of our life that embarrass or shame us, and even more important, a good spiritual director can help us take the risk to enter more deeply into the mystery of God's presence within and among us.

Today, let God do what God wants to do with your life.

What doors are you most likely to close to God and others?

Monday, April 12, 2021

One Heart and Mind

 "The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common." Acts 4:32

The ideal suggested in today's reading from Acts stretches our imagination. To be of one heart and one mind is almost impossible for most of us, even in small matters. That the early Christian community was expecting Jesus to return to take them to the place he had prepared for them was surely an incentive to live simply and to work for unity in their mission, but the passage still challenges us.

In many ways, being of one mind is not even a Christian value. Because the Catholic church so values culture and cultural difference, we expect and celebrate the way people from around the world express and articulate our faith. This is not to say that we differ substantially about our most basic values, but cultures that are communal will naturally emphasize family and community more easily and deeply than cultures like the United States that so values individuality.

Being of one heart, however, is something we must strive for every day, especially across cultures. To be one in heart means we recognize that the love of God unites us in Jesus and calls us to listen together to the voice of the Holy Spirit in order to proclaim God's undivided love for all people.

Today, ask God to free you from any unhealed disunity in your family or parish.

What helps you to be one in heart with other believers?



Sunday, April 11, 2021

Born of the Spirit

 "The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Jn 3:8

Life in the Spirit can be, at the same time, empowering and confusing. More than once, people have told me that the Spirit told them to speak to me about a dream or insight they had, and while I listen carefully and respectfully, I am also cautious. The Spirit does not often speak in ways that can easily be articulated or quantified, and we must discern carefully what it is the Spirit is saying to us individually and as a church.

At the same time, there is little doubt that the Spirit is alive and works in our lives, and always has. The gospel of John assures us that we must be "born from above," or "born again," and that this new birth is necessary for all. The lives of the prophets and saints are testimony this rebirth. Elijah, frightened by the demands of his ministry, runs away only to have God find him, feed him and send him again to speak God's word. (1 Kgs 19)

In his Confessions, St Patrick writes about his own rebirth, but it was only after his life work proved so powerful that we treasured his words.
And it was there of course that one night in my sleep I heard a voice saying to me: ‘You do well to fast: soon you will depart for your home country.’ And again, a very short time later, there was a voice prophesying: ‘Behold, your ship is ready.’ And it was not close by, but, as it happened, two hundred miles away, where I had never been nor knew any person. And shortly thereafter I turned about and fled from the man with whom I had been for six years, and I came, by the power of God who directed my route to advantage (and I was afraid of nothing), until I reached that ship. (Confessions)
Easter is a time to listen and test the demands the Spirit makes upon each of us.

Today, listen quietly to whatever God's Spirit might be saying to you.

What signs do you look for when testing the Spirit's word?

Born Again

 “How can a man once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” Jn 3:4

Sometimes we speak of being born again casually, yet being born again, as Nicodemus testifies, is not easy to understand. To be born again in faith means that we are prepared to let go of our understanding and interpretation of life and faith, and ask God to show us the way to a new life. The great saints demonstrate this over and over.

St Francis of Assisi, born to wealth and prosperity, lived his faith before his conversion, but it was only when God helped him look at a leper by the side of the road with compassion, something he tried so hard not to do, that he was born again and found the grace to become a troubadour of the Great King. Empowered by God to review his life and reassess how he was living, Francis began to care for lepers everyday so that he would see them, not as weak and broken, but as children of God from whom he could learn much about acceptance and hope.

Today, especially during the Corona Virus pandemic, ask for the grace to review and renew your life.

Have you had an experience of renewal of faith that you might call being born again?

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Divine Mercy Sunday

 "Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, 'We have seen the Lord.' But he said to them, 'Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.'” Jn 20: 27-29

We wonder about Thomas. Is he "all of us," full of doubts that inhibit our relationship with God and most of the people in our lives? Is he our stubborn younger brother or sister who was spoiled as a baby and still resists change not to his or her liking? Was Jesus annoyed with Thomas for not listening to the other disciples who assured him the Lord had risen?

None of these questions is answered definitively in today's Gospel. What we can be sure of is that Jesus addresses Thomas' doubts and reminds him that others, who will not have the joy of seeing Jesus in the flesh, but who believe anyway, are blessed. That's us, at least most of the time. Born into faith filled families, most of us treasure the gift of faith, practice it and accept both its limitations and its delights. We know that faith is not intended to free us from every trial, hurt and confusion, but we also believe that faith will sustain us even at those times when life makes no sense, or we must endure suffering and loss.

The mercy of God, we learn, is always available to us no matter how often we take faith for granted or turn away from its teachings. With Thomas, we open our eyes to the work of the Lord all around us and realize how blind we have been. Even as we look, God's mercy is at work.

Today, offer mercy like God, freely and without exception.

How have you experienced God's mercy when you were struggling?

Friday, April 9, 2021

Easter Saturday

 "It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard." Acts 4:19

When "ordinary" (Act 4:13) people begin to act in ways we don't expect, we look for easy explanations. Perhaps they have been prompted to speak by others, or maybe they have had an experience that will sustain them for a while, but will soon dissipate. That they may have been strengthened by the Holy Spirit is often the last possibility we consider. When we do this we risk ignoring God's work in those from whom we expect nothing, and that is exactly what happened to the Jewish leaders in the Acts of the Apostles.

Full of the Holy Spirit, the disciples of Jesus, despite being warned by the Sanhedrin not to speak about Jesus or claim to speak in his name, cannot be quiet, and because of this expose themselves to danger. In every way the disciples' actions are remarkable. Filled with fear just a few days before the death of Jesus, they are now able to speak and act in ways that demand attention. The Jewish leaders are alarmed and try to silence them, but nothing works.

Easter's promises often do this to us. Convinced finally that God will always be with us, our fear subsides and we find the courage to speak clearly about what God has done in us despite the consequences. The early martyrs, including all the apostles, Thomas Becket, Oscar Romero, Maximilian Kolbe, Edith Stein, Jean Donovan, Maura Clarke and thousands of others bear witness to this reality. When the good news of God's justice and freedom is threatened, especially for "ordinary" people and the poor, we must speak out and accept the consequences.

Today, ask God to free you from the fear that inhibits your ability to speak Good News.

Have you known someone who risked everything to live the gospel?

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Easter Friday

 "Simon Peter said to them, 'I am going fishing.' They said to him, 'We also will come with you'." Jn 21:3

All the disciples, it seems, try to return to what they know after the death of Jesus. Whether they were discouraged, confused or upset is not clear. Today's gospel tells the story of Peter and his friends "going fishing." Though fishing for sport and relaxation were not really options in the ancient world, Peter's words remind me of times I've gone fishing to clear my mind, relax my spirit and day dream. I often tell people that I go fishing, not catching, not because I never catch a fish, but because sitting quietly on the at the edge of a stream or lake is one of the most relaxing things I can do.

Whatever the case for Peter and his friends, when Jesus appears to them after they had spent the night catching nothing, he enters their lives again in the most ordinary of ways. He has a charcoal fire going on the shore and asks them to bring some of the fish to him so he can prepare breakfast. Then he gives them bread and fish and they cannot help but recognize him as the same Lord who took a few fish and loaves of bread and fed everyone who was hungry. Even though he has been raised up, he reminds his disciples that his mission is the same and so is theirs. They are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and visit the imprisoned. They need not fear or be confused. Though their ordinary lives will be difficult, they will endure because he is with them. Is it any different for us?

Today, do the ordinary tasks of your life with purpose and hope.

When have you experienced God's presence in the everyday events of your life?

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Easter Thursday

"In the same instant you died and were born again; the saving water was both your tomb and your mother." The Jerusalem Catecheses

At the beginning of the 4th century, the church was faced with a huge catechetical task. The Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, and thousands of Romans wanted to be baptized. Whether their motives were pure is beside the point. The church had to catechize adults in large numbers for the first time.

The sermons and instructions of St. Cyril of Jerusalem are a marvelous tool in this regard. Written for adults as a way to help them understand and enter the mystery of faith, they are full of evocative images and metaphors. Today, in the office of readings, Cyril reminds his students not to think of the death to which Baptism calls us as a tomb, but as a womb in which we are being readied for new life in Christ. By dying to that which keeps us from God and God's love by plunging into the waters of baptism, we break through the waters of death into new life in Christ.

Today, ask yourself what you are doing to understand your faith more deeply.


How do you think the church ought to use technology to announce the Good News?

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Easter Wednesday

 "I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you." Acts 3:6

Easter is not just about receiving with joy the promise of eternal life. It is about giving it away. Peter's response to the man crippled from birth is a perfect example of this. Not worried about what he doesn't have, Peter gives what he does have, and this ought to be the model for every believer. Some have the financial ability to help others. Some have time to give. Others can pray, but all of us have to give something.

Several years before my mother died she wanted to talk about her living situation. Because many people has lost their jobs and homes and she was living in a home with two extra small bedrooms she was guilty about having so much while others were suffering. Mom asked whether I thought she should offer the extra bedrooms to some homeless people. Stunned by her generosity, I also reacted strongly against the proposal. A woman of 85 living alone should not open her home to strangers, but what should she do? More important, what should we do, not just with our surplus, but with our substance.

Today, think of your gifts and share them.

Has anyone ever stunned you with their kindness when you expected nothing?

Monday, April 5, 2021

Easter Tuesday

 "Jesus said to her, 'Mary!' She turned and said to him in Hebrew, 'Rabbouni,' which means Teacher." Jn 20:16

Neither the disciples on the road to Emmaus, nor Mary Magdalene, recognized Jesus immediately after the resurrection. Why this was is not clear. The disciples may have been too angry or hurt by Jesus' death, and Mary's grief may have blinded her, but that they did not recognize Jesus is clear. Only after the Lord breaks the bread and calls Mary by name do the disciples and Mary recognize him.

Most of us have experienced this in everyday life. If we are waiting for someone at an airport or bus station and they don't appear with the other arriving travelers, we find ourselves wondering whether we missed the person for whom we are waiting or whether they are on a different flight. We scan the crowds, ask others if they were on the same flight for bus, and sometimes check to see if they are at other exits. Only when the person calls our name or we see them sitting in a corner of the station do we realize that our anxiety blinded us to the obvious.

It is clear that the gospels want to teach us about the resurrected Jesus through signs and sounds. We have only to quiet ourselves and pay attention to see the risen Jesus among us. Every time we gather for the Eucharist the Lord is among us in the breaking of the bread. Every time we pause to listen to him in prayer, he lives within us. When we open our hearts to hear the word as a call to change, we encounter the Christ who is always active, but when are hearts are troubled or distracted by large or small concerns, we miss the presence of the One who is always looking for us.

Today, remember the times the Lord called you by name.

What concerns most often blind you to the presence of God in the world?

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Easter Monday

 “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep.’" Mt 28:13

Stubbornness hardly seems like a virtue, yet the Chief Priests, still trying to deny the experience of everyday people, do everything they can to undermine the power and influence of Jesus. Resistant to anyone who speaks powerfully about the Torah, and afraid of losing their stranglehold over the peasants following Jesus, they pay the Roman soldiers "a large sum of money," to lie about Jesus' reported resurrection. No surprise that the bible calls money the root of all evil. (1 Tim 6:10)

The lessons of the scripture are difficult to learn, however. Too many people in our society, simply because they are wealthy, seek to exert their influence over others, not for the common good, but to protect their own fragile power. At the same time, because we recognize the same yearning for security and power in our own shallow dreams, we can learn from the Chief Priests and all who cling to the empty promises of wealth and power over others.

Easter's primary message is basic and pure. We have been saved. We have nothing to fear. We have only to give ourselves over to the mysteries of faith without limitation to experience the fullness of God's love, but because this a very uncomfortable promise, Easter lasts fifty days, giving us the opportunity to learn its lessons a day at a time.

Today, let yourself have an Easter dream, one that frees you to live as God would have you live.

What does being free from fear mean to you?

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Easter Sunday

"Brothers and sisters: Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough?...Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." I Cor  5: 6b,8

The primary symbols of Easter, the Christ candle and the new waters that remind us our baptism, remain the focus on our paschal celebrations, as they should. But yeast, which is an irritant, also plays a prominent role, and not just because when activated in flour is makes bread rise, but because it reminds us that a fully engaged Gospel life makes a difference in society. Believers, like yeast, are not simply passive receivers of Good News, but doers of the word whose gratitude expresses itself in works of justice and charity.

Active Christians are like yeast. Their good works can motivate, and at times agitate others. While this might be uncomfortable for some, the hard sayings of Jesus, like loving our enemies, are an integral part of the Gospel. In the long run, a soft Christianity does no one much good. Easter is a time to rejoice and recommit ourselves to a full Gospel life.

Today, take time to rejoice for the gift of faith.

Who has been yeast in your life?

Friday, April 2, 2021

Easter Vigil

"Let there be light." Gen 1:3

Living without light for long periods of time impacts us in powerful and negative ways. We feel isolated and paranoid. We see and hear things that are not there, and we find it almost impossible to know what time of day or night it is. Forced to go within, we are faced with a terrible emptiness, especially if we have lived our entire lives in the external world.

Recent studies about people living in solitary confinement for long periods of time reinforce these notions. Many people who isolated, even from other prisoners, suffer from severe mental illness and take their own lives. The thought of living without the light of conversation, simple friendship and external stimulus is simply too much to take.

The Easter Vigil reminds us of this in the most basic of ways. God, Genesis teaches us, made light for us and for our delight. God made everything for our joy and peace. God wants us to live in light and be light for others. More, God sent the Christ as a light to all nations so that we might proclaim God's love in this most fundamental of ways. The light has come, Easter proclaims, and nothing and no one will ever be able to drag us into eternal darkness. God's light is forever. Nothing says this more clearly than Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

Today, be an Easter light for someone living in darkness.

Who has been Easter light for you?

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Good Friday of the Lord's Passion

 "Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth." Is 53:7

Silence is an essential spiritual practice for anyone wanting to enter more deeply into the mystery of God's love for us in Jesus. Taking fifteen minutes once or twice a day to sit in the middle of life as it unfolds without saying anything or trying to understand, we give ourselves to God without explanation or expectation and we do this in memory of the Christ who lived and hung upon the the cross for us. When we choose to be quiet like this, inside and out, we usually see more clearly, but not necessarily understand more of God's plan. Rather, in silence we make ourselves available to God for whatever God intends. This kind of abandonment is difficult but necessary, especially during the Sacred Triduum.

Good Friday is a good time to look quietly upon the cross, or in the words of St Clare of Assisi, to gaze upon the God who gave his life for us. There are no words to adequately articulate this mystery, and although we try, there is no making sense of God's incredible sacrifice. God wants to be near us for eternity and so does the unthinkable. God dwells among us, suffers and dies so that we might know more completely the depth of his love. We could never imagine this, nor would we want God to die. Death is Jesus' choice, not to exalt suffering for itself, but to submit himself to his Father's will for our salvation. 

Today, find fifteen or twenty minutes to be quiet with God. There is no need to say anything.

How difficult is it for you to sit quietly in the presence of God?

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Holy Thursday

 "When Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, he said to them: 'Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.'" Jn 13:16

When Jesus assumed the posture of a slave and washed the feet of his apostles, he startled them and us. That we ought to be kind to one another and welcoming to all, even our enemies, is clear, but that we should kneel down and wash others' feet made no sense at the time of Jesus and continues to feel alien to us. While we might offer someone access to a bathroom to refresh themselves, the idea of washing their feet would never occur to us.

In Jesus' day washing feet was common, but it was done by women and foreign slaves. Heads of household would never wash feet, and although many of the great figures of the Hebrew bible offered kind service to their friends and family, Jesus' willingness to stoop to wash his disciples feet signalled a new kind of leadership and a radical view of God.  Jesus' challenge was clear. We must see ourselves as less in order that God can be more.

Today, think about the God in others, not your own power or prestige.

Who taught you most about a life of Christian service?

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Wednesday of Holy Week 2021

 "The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, That I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them." Is 50:4

It is always difficult to know what to say to people who are suffering. Sometimes words get in the way, are empty or miss the point entirely. All of us have cringed at wakes and funerals hearing people try to offer comforting words but failing miserably. While we feel for them and are glad they tried, we sometimes wish they said nothing.

On the other hand, the speeches and sermons of people like Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King continue to echo the power and importance of carefully crafted words even in a digital age. Who can listen to Dr King's I have a Dream speech and not be moved?

Although we have no recordings of the Prophet Isaiah's words, that he understands how to rouse the weary is clear. Committed to the God he knows from personal experience, Isaiah assures the Israelites that God pleads their cause, looks past their faults and wants to be close to them, even when they turn away from God. Every time we read Isaiah our spirits are lifted with hope and new dreams, a perfect beginning to Holy Week.

Today, speak a simple word of comfort to someone suffering.

Whose words most move you to help others?

Monday, March 29, 2021

Tuesday of Holy Week 2021

  "Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, 'Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.'” Jn 13:21

There are moments throughout the Gospel of John especially that remind us of Jesus' full humanity. Learning of Lazarus' death, he weeps, and more than once John tells us that Jesus was troubled. That he was at table with friends and disciples when his feelings bubble up makes his situation even more difficult. Meals are supposed to be times of relaxation and rest, especially when we are eating at the end of a day, not a time to wonder about betrayal.

The Protestant reformer John Calvin sums it up this way, “Christ has put on our feelings along with our flesh,” and in doing so the Lord assures us that we are never alone. At the same time, there are situations when we don't want hear about Jesus' feelings. Troubled ourselves, we want Jesus to rescue, not accompany, us. Disappointed, we breathe deeply and wonder where the Gospel is taking us.

Holy Week is leading all of us to Jerusalem and it will not be easy. We must confront our own demons and fears, and admit to the times we have turned away from the Lord, betrayed him and ourselves, by letting our selfishness rule our decision making. In the end, however, Jesus will look past all our shortcomings if we have the courage to ask forgiveness and begin again.

Today, ask to begin the journey again.

What most troubles you about your faith life?

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Monday of Holy Week 2021

 "He shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth." Is 42 2-3

Pope Francis startled us a few years ago with an announcement about the Sacred Triduum. Rather than celebrate the Holy Thursday mass of the Last Supper at St Peter's in Rome, he would preside at mass in a Roman youth prison. Amazing. Of course, his action makes perfect sense, since the liturgy of Holy Thursday celebrates Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, but it was so different from anything we have come to expect, even from someone as charismatic and independent as Pope St. John Paul II, that we were left with our mouths hanging open. How sad Pope Francis must be this year. Unable to travel outside the Vatican because of Covid 19, Francis' celebration and ours will be less dramatic but it doesn't have to be less profound.

Isaiah reminds us that God will bring forth justice for all, not by crying out or shouting, but by offering himself as servant of those most in need. We can do the same. Are we servants of the broken, people of faith unwilling to break the bruised reed? Do we reduce people in prison to objects, men and women to be feared or pitied? Are they people in prison or prisoners? Anytime we can find the correct questions to ask on our faith journey, we are on the right path.

Today, re-imagine how you want to celebrate the Triduum.

What are your biggest Gospel challenges?

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Palm Sunday

 "They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them. The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: 'Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" Mt 21:8-9

Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem is festive, big and frightening all at once. For a local healer and rabbi like Jesus to accept the adulation of the crowd was dangerous. There is little doubt that Jesus knew he was in trouble with the leaders of the Jewish community who now had evidence that Jesus was not correcting those who were hailing him as Messiah. It would not be long before they hauled him before Pilate demanding that Jesus be put to death for the sin of idolatry. All of this makes Palm Sunday a schizoid kind of feast.

One moment we are shouting with the crowds welcoming Jesus into the holy city, and just a short while later, we are witnessing his trial and condemnation. The church offers us these confusing scenes on Palm Sunday for an important reason. Things rarely are as they seem. It was difficult for Jesus' disciples to understand that Jesus would suffer and die in his role as Messiah, and it is difficult for us. Though we all know we have grown through suffering, and sometimes even found our true identity, when we are suffering, growth in faith seems far away. That is why we have Holy Week each year. We need to remember how far God is willing to go for us. That God would send his son makes sense. That the Lord would have to suffer does not until we realize that God will do anything to convince us of his love.

Today, pray to hear the power of God's love for us throughout Holy Week.

What about Holy Week most speaks to your spiritual heart?

Friday, March 26, 2021

Facing Fear

"The Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” Jn 11:46

Fear is a terrible burden. In today's Gospel the leaders of the Jews are fearful that if they don't do something about Jesus, his influence will increase and their ability to control and direct everyday Jews will diminish. Sure that this development will lead to their loss of face and the destruction of the temple, they begin to plan for Jesus' death.

While we might not plan to kill others, our fear can push us to terrible thoughts and actions. How often have we spoken about others negatively, not because they are dangerous, but because we don't agree with them. How often do we fail to speak on behalf of those who are most in need because we are afraid of being labelled as weak and lacking in character.

As Lent continues to unfold during the second year of Covid, we need to ask ourselves how best we can live and announce the Gospel despite its demands. When many people lack the basic necessities because they lost their jobs,  Christians must speak on their behalf without worrying how we might be judged or dismissed.

Today, pray to know how to help those who lack food, shelter and work.

Can you think of people who helped you when you were in real need?

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Enduring Hurt

 “I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me?” Jn 10:32

The drama in John's gospel as we approach Holy Week is building. Everyday people are drawn to Jesus, but the Jewish leaders "pick up rocks to stone Jesus," and as we all know there are many kinds of rocks with which we can hurt others.

Sometimes it as simple as a friend or family member ignoring or turning away from us when we are in need that feels like a rock to the heart. At other times, we undermine or call into question the good will of another by our silence or our unwillingness to defend them. But whenever we pick up rocks and throw them at others, we are not living the Gospel. Thank God, there are also a thousand different ways to put down the rocks we have picked up to defend ourselves and reach out for those most in need.

Today, ask God to let you see someone with whom you are struggling as God sees them.

What kind of rocks are the most difficult for you to endure?

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Annunciation

“"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 sickness 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. We should not assume that Mary understood everything that was happening to her when Gabriel tells her not to be afraid. She was human, like all of us, and fear would have been a natural response to such a bold request, but Luke also wants us to celebrate Mary's faith that let's go and accepts her new role.

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?

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Standing Together in Suffering

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

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

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

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

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

Has anyone ever stood with you in suffering without judgment?

Monday, March 22, 2021

Not belonging to the World

"You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world." Jn 8:23

Feeling like a stranger can be very beneficial, especially if we are traveling in a foreign country. Only those with too much chutzpah think they belong everywhere. Poor people almost never feel this way, but this is not to say they have no pride or sense of themselves. Rather, because their poverty makes them dependent on others, they are slow to judge, demand or condemn. Living in a country occupied by Romans, the Jewish community walked cautiously through life, anxious not to lose the few privileges they had, and it was their humility that make it easy for Jesus to change their lives by assuring them that he did not belong to the world either.

Although the Lord did not come among us to free us politically, he gives us a much greater gift by inviting us to be a part of his Body, God's field, God's building. Reminding us that we are built upon the foundations of the Apostles and prophets, Paul assures us the as long as Jesus is our cornerstone, the ground of our faith, it does not matter how rich, important or powerful we are in the world. All that matters is our commitment to be the Christ in the world.

Today, glory in the gift of your relationship with Christ.

How has faith given you a sense of belonging?

Sunday, March 21, 2021

God's Unfathomable Mercy

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

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

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

Today, ask to be forgiven for your sins.

How do you understand Gospel mercy?

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Giving our Lives for Others

 "I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? 'Father, save me from this hour?' But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Jn 12:27-28

For most of us, thank God, life makes sense most of the time. We are blessed with homes, friends, food and family. We have resources upon which we can call when we are in trouble or sick. We know, even if we do not always appreciate it, that we are not alone. Jesus had this same consolation in today's gospel. Troubled and upset, he hears a voice of consolation and confirmation from heaven which allows him to trust that the suffering he will endure will be for God's glory.

Learning to accept and even be grateful for life as it comes to us, no matter the suffering it brings, is one of the hardest lessons we learn. We push back, avoid, deny and wrestle with the dark turns that life brings us. Suffering is not good, but suffering for the sake of the truth and the voiceless is sanctity.

Today, accept whatever comes to you with gratitude.

Have you known anyone who gave their life for the sake of others?

Friday, March 19, 2021

Defending Jesus

 "Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them, 'Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?'”

It is always heartening to read about heroes whether they be Christian saints or national icons. From St Paul who, after his conversion, went all over the known world as a disciple of Jesus without counting the cost, to Dorothy Day who was unafraid to confront Cardinal Spellman about his support for the Second World War, there are people whose interpretation of the Gospel compels them to speak and act, especially on behalf of the poor.

Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, also demonstrates great courage in trying to get the leaders of the Jewish people to put aside their fears that Jesus was attracting too much attention and distracting everyday Jews from living the Torah. That his challenge was not heard matters little. Nicodemus had the courage to risk his own position and power for the sake of living the law as he learned it. Like St Paul and Dorothy Day, everyday heroes always do the right thing.

Lent is a good time to ask ourselves how much we are willing to risk on behalf of the Gospel. Are we involved in any organization that works for an end to violence or poverty? Are we willing to support financially groups that work on behalf of the unemployed or under employed? Are we open to working with people who help refugees and other struggling minorities?

Today, ask yourself how much living the Gospel costs you?

Who are the heroes you most admire?

Thursday, March 18, 2021

St Joseph, Husband of Mary

 "When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home." Mt 1:24a

There are many ways to wake up. Sometimes, it is simple. Our bodies tell us to pay attention. We have a headache that will not go away or we discover a skin growth that looks strange. Our bodies are telling us to pay attention and take action. At other times, especially when we take time to relax and reflect, an idea that has been percolating in our minds and hearts, takes shape. We read about Covid 19 in Africa or the plight of refugee children in Syria, and we start searching the Internet for places and organizations that are addressing these vital concerns. Waking up to the challenge of acting on the Gospel is important for our own salvation and the good of others.

Joseph, the husband of Mary, troubled by his young wife's pregnancy, wakes up. Not wanting her to be stoned, he decides to divorce her quietly. In this way, Mary will have other chances to marry and build a family. But then Joseph has a dream and when he wakes up, he knows that God wants him to marry Mary despite his misgivings. That he listens and acts upon the message he receives is critical for Joseph's salvation and ours.

Waking up to the immensity of God's love for us, while sometimes very challenging, is a gift that keeps on giving. Not only does it empower us  personally to live more freely and gratefully, it urges us to tell others the Good News of God's desire to love them more deeply an totally.

Today when you wake up, pause and let God speak a liberating word to you.

Have there been moments in your life that changed the course of your faith?

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Resisting God

"I came in the name of my Father, but you do not accept me; yet if another comes in his own name, you will accept him." Jn 5:43

Very little in life is more difficult than letting go of our own will. Even, and perhaps especially, when we are struggling with how best to go forward as a disciple of Jesus, we cling to our own opinions and desires, and often fail to ask for help. Our consolation: Jesus struggled, too.

One of the most poignant verses in the gospel of Luke has Jesus practically begging God, "Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine." (Lk 22:42) Clearly, the specter of submitting himself to the horror of a painful death so threatens Jesus that he asks his Father for mercy.

We should never be too proud to ask for help to find our spiritual path. St. Paul uses the powerful and evocative image of body (1Cor 12) to remind us that eyes can see but can't walk and feet can walk but not see. Only when the parts of our body work together for the good of all can we be called the body of Christ. And even more compellingly, Paul says, "If one part(of the body) suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Today, ask for the strength to do whatever God asks.

What issues most challenge your need for control?

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

St Patrick

 (In the Archdiocese of New York where I live, the feast of St Patrick, patron of the local church, is celebrated.)

“I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me.” Jn 5:30

It should never surprise us how much our earliest experiences in life impact our adult years. When St Patrick, only 16 years old and much like Sudanese and Afghan boys today, was forced into slavery in Ireland, everything changed. Unlike some, however, Patrick's heart, despite the suffering he endured, was touched by the Irish people and after his escape from his captors, he yearned to return to Ireland as a missionary.

Though the church in Ireland is suffering great losses these days, in part because of the sexual abuse by priests and religious in the 20th century, we should not ignore the great work of Ireland's missionaries who went all over the world in the name of the Good News. Fired by the memory of St Patrick's, missionary women and men let go of their homeland and culture to be inserted in churches in North America, Africa and Asia in dizzying numbers, and their influence will continue to be felt for generations to come.

We honor Patrick today, and all those fearless missionaries like him, whose faith was such that they could not be silent about how God has transformed their lives. Listen to the Saints words:
Christ shield me this day: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every person who thinks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me. The Breastplate of St. Patrick
Today, ask God to send you to someone without faith.

How have you been impacted the zeal of St Patrick and the Irish missionaries?

Monday, March 15, 2021

Dying to Self for God's Sake

 "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." Ez 47:9

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. 

Today, choose to die to some simple pleasure for the sake of others.

Has fasting ever brought you to a new place in the spiritual life?


Sunday, March 14, 2021

Aging and Faith

 "Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, who was near death." Jn 4:46

For the last few years I have been talking with and listening to older people, most of whom are open, honest and enjoyable conversation partners. When leading parish missions, I have encountered mostly retirees who have the time to make a parish mission and are anxious to review their lives by making serious attempts at growing in prayer and faith. Rarely defensive nor overly anxious, they are funny and fun to be with, and that is the point. We have many committed seniors in our church but I wonder whether we are taking adequate advantage of their learning, wisdom and passion.

Calling seniors passionate might surprise some readers, but it is exactly this that I experience. Anxious to pass on their faith, the older people I meet wonder just how they might do this most effectively. They pray, they listen, they serve as Eucharistic ministers in nursing homes and hospitals, they drive friends and neighbors to doctors appointments, they visit the sick and the imprisoned, and they do all of this because it is the right thing to do. Occasionally guilty because they failed to find time earlier in life to live their faith more dynamically, they know now they are disciples of Jesus Christ and are anxious to do more. Why do we fail to hear them or see them? Are older believers invisible in the church in North America much like immigrants and uneducated? How can we change this?

Today, ask someone who is older what their faith means to them.

Have you ever gained new insights and hope from listening to older people?

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Anointing Others with Hope and Power

"Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed David in the presence of his brothers." 16 Sam 13

Anointing people for service and leadership is an ancient ritual that religious traditions use to designate men and women as spokespersons for the entire community. In ancient Israel, priests, prophets and kings were all anointed, so too were some of the objects used for worship. In the book of Numbers we learn of Moses’ obligation to anoint the altar, the Ark of the Covenant, the lamp stand and all the temple furnishings.  In this way, people and objects, having been dedicated to the Lord in a special way, are initiated into a ministry not for their own good but for the salvation of all.

Near his death, Jesus challenges his first disciples and all of us to follow him as a servant with a new "anointing" by washing the feet of others.  Jesus does not want his disciples to be known by their power over others, but by their service of those most in need, thus proclaiming a new freedom and hope for all who are held captive by their faults, sins, gender, state in life, class, poverty, ethnicity and culture.  In other words, leading through service breaks down all the barriers that separate us from one another.

Today, remember your own anointing at Baptism and Confirmation.

Who are the people who wash the feet the neediest in our day?

Friday, March 12, 2021

Love not Sacrifice

"For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." Hos 6:6

Mercy is a constant theme for Jesus. Always concerned that the poor, who often thought of themselves as unworthy of God's love, would to be afraid of God or fear they were being punished for their sins, Jesus, echoing the prophet Hosea, reminds them that his Father's love was not a gift for the successful but for the faithful. No longer should anyone think their worth was determined by their status in the community. God wants to be close to all people and when the Pharisees tried to trip Jesus up by condemning his disciples for working on the Sabbath, he pushes back hard.

Jesus reminds the leaders of the Jewish community and us that mercy towards the lowly is the path we must take if we wish to know God's desire for us. In the 11th chapter of the prophet Hosea we read:

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
 But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
 I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them. (1-4)

If God bends down to feed us, must we not do the same to those who are hungry for mercy?

Today, offer a hand of mercy to someone who expects rejection.

How do you understand God's mercy?

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Gospel Basics

 "The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Mk 12 29-30

The scriptures are always trying to get us back to basics, to reclaim the foundational values of Jesus expressed in the New Testament. To do this well and with integrity we need to have spiritual practices that remind us each day about who we are and what we are to do in the world as Christians. It is one thing to say we love God and neighbor, but it is another thing all together to practice loving God and others through prayer and service.

Prayer is important because it is an exercise in which we acknowledge our total dependence on  God. Aware that living a faith filled life is a gift, we pause each day to honor the God who has given us faith and who sustains on our faith journey. Whether we recite a prayer we learned in childhood or ask in our own words for help to live the Gospel fully as disciples, we need to pray regularly. Just as a husband admits how important his wife is to his identity and well being, prayer helps us acknowledge that without God we are incomplete.

Today, express your love for God by quietly sitting in God's presence making yourself available for God's work.

What do you think are the most important spiritual practices in the life of a Christian?

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

A Divided Kingdom

 “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house." Lk 11:17

Though  I rarely comment on politics in this blog, the text today certainly seems to apply to our nation and church these days. Like most Americans, I am befuddled by the the ongoing primary battles in both the Republican and Democratic parties. The candidates seem unable or unwilling to speak with one another in a civil way and I find myself dismayed and angry. What happens to us as a people when we fail to look at issues and concerns from the other side of wherever we stand, and more important, what happens when we only think about protecting our own assets?

Jesus faced this in his life and warned his sisters and brothers in the Jewish community against being so divided that they collapse. Surely, he would say the same to us in the church in the United States today. How is it possible not to work for a deeper unity when so many believers have walked away from the regular practice of their faith? Are we not listening to one another? Are we so rigid that we can't find a way to move beyond the "theologies" that divide us at our core? Are we only speaking about issues but failing to hear the person behind the issue?

If the church of the 21st century hopes to have a voice in civic affairs, then it must get its house in order. Unless we provide a united front and find a way to speak with one voice about critical issues like hunger, housing, health care and immigration reform, we will be a clanging symbol that everyone ignores.

Today, be silent. Say nothing for a while and see what happens when you listen.

What do you think most divides us as a country and a church?