Friday, October 15, 2021

Doubt and Faith

 "But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” Mk 3:29

All of us doubt. We doubt ourselves and the adequacy of our skills. We doubt the reliability of friends and family. We doubt the ability of our civic leaders to govern, and we doubt God, or more precisely, we doubt the God we created or think we learned about in school or church. Hearing that God is all powerful, we sometimes naively think that God's power allows God to heal at will, depose unethical leaders and make the world a more just place. But saying that God is all powerful does not mean that God takes away our freedom. God's power is much more extensive that our self centered desire or limited view of the world.

God is with us, among us, present to us individually and communally. God's power allows God to accompany us, to direct us (when we listen!), to challenge us to be the voice and heart of Christ in the world. While this aspect of our baptismal charge is often overwhelming, it is ours for the taking, and to deny it is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy is nothing more than refusing to reverence the God who is, or asserting that God lacks the power to be present to us all the time.

Letting go of the fear that God will not act for us and for our good is the greatest challenge most of us face. Because we do not understand all of God's ways, we panic and begin to pray only for what we see and perceive, and while this is understandable, we must pray to let go totally into God's good hands and trust. Practicing this every day is the essence of prayer.

Today, pray for an increase in faith and to accept God's mercy.

What aspects of faith are most challenging to you?

Thursday, October 14, 2021

All are Welcome

"Does God belong to Jews alone? Does he not belong to Gentiles, too? Yes, also to Gentiles, for God is one and will justify the circumcised on the basis of faith and the uncircumcised through faith." Rom 3:30

Although it is clear from the earliest days of his ministry that Jesus has come, not only for the Jews, but for the entire world, his message is slow to enter the consciousness of his listeners. It is no different for us. Somehow we think Jesus belongs to us exclusively as Christians, and this is simply not true. In fact, it is our duty to announce his saving work to all people knowing he wants to be with all forever.

Belonging to someone or something is important. Often it gives us a sense of identity. We call ourselves Americans, for instance, with a certain pride in all that the United States has made possible for so many, especially immigrants, but when being American or Christian leads to arrogance or dismissiveness of others, it does not serve us or God well.

Discerning how best to root ourselves in Jesus and the Gospel without forgetting that discipleship demands we open ourselves to radical difference and diversity for the sake of God's Kingdom is essential to the Christian journey.

Today, speak with someone you might otherwise ignore.

How do you negotiate being committed to Jesus without being exclusive?

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Letting go of our Opinions

 “Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.” Lk 11:46

First the Pharisees, now the scholars of the law. Anyone who imposes burdens on others without helping them to know and do better, has no place in the heart of God. Committed to freeing people from the burdens of the law, and the weight of poverty and illness, Jesus assures his listeners that God wants to set them free. God does not seek to punish us for our faults, even less for our illnesses, but to heal us and fill us with hope.

Sometimes, by insisting loudly on our opinion, we lay heavy burdens on peoples' backs.The force with which we present our point of view is intimidating and dismissive of others whose speaking skills are weak, and makes it impossible to recognize or acknowledge the insights they have. Worse, when we ignore the uneducated, we make them invisible, and fail to profit from the wisdom they have gained "on the streets" of life.

Today, listen to someone from whom you expect nothing.

Have you ever learned about life and faith from the poor and uneducated?


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Laying Heavy Burdens on Others

 “Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.” Lk 11:46

First the Pharisees, now the scholars of the law. Anyone who imposes burdens on others without helping them to know and do better, has no place in the heart of God. Committed to freeing people from the burdens of the law, and the weight of poverty and illness, Jesus assures his listeners that God wants to set them free. God does not seek to punish us for our faults, even less for our illnesses, but to heal us and fill us with hope.

Sometimes, by insisting loudly on our opinion, we lay heavy burdens on peoples' backs. The force with which we present our point of view is intimidating and dismissive of others whose speaking skills are weak, and makes it impossible to recognize or acknowledge the insights they have. Worse, when we ignore the uneducated, we make them invisible, and fail to profit from the wisdom they have gained "on the streets" of life.

Today, listen to someone from whom you expect nothing.

Have you ever learned about life and faith from the poor and uneducated?


Monday, October 11, 2021

Facing our Weaknesses

 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence." Lk 11:38

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 10, 2021

St John XXIII

“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” 
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep." Jn 21 15-21

Who wouldn't be distressed if a friend and colleague questioned you over and over again about your loyalty and love? It is unnerving and upsetting, to say the least, when someone you trust seems to doubt your integrity. That Peter is troubled is not the point, however. Jesus is asking Peter not simply to be his friend, but to love him unconditionally just as Jesus loves Peter, which is another matter altogether.

When you read it plainly and openly, the Gospel is very demanding. Jesus challenges us to love one another, even our enemies, in the same way God loves him and us. It is a daunting task, but one we can complete with God's grace. While the Gospel is impossible when we think we must live it alone, it becomes a joy when we enter it with God and all the saints who have ever proclaimed God's name.

Before he was Pope, St John XXIII tried not to be too harsh with his clergy. He told himself: See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little. I believe God is like this.

Today, ask for the grace to love God unconditionally.

Have you known the unconditional love of God in difficult circumstances?





 

Saturday, October 9, 2021

The Challenge of Wealth

 "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God." Mk 10:23

When social standing, wealth and power lead to blindness of spirit, they become impediments to knowing and loving God, and must be avoided or rejected. Only those, rich and poor alike, who see with the eyes of God and respond in justice to the poor deserve to be remembered, named and imitated. Every person, no matter how poor, has a dignity and importance in the reign of God. This is a great obstacle to many.

People of every generation, social class, race and culture need to remember that it is not our accomplishments or wealth that lead us to God, but our humility and love of all creation which save us. Jesus expresses this bluntly in today's Gospel. "It is easier for a camel to pass through [the] eye of [a] needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mk 10;24) When wealth blinds us to God's will and others' need, we are from the reign of God. Only a change of heart can help us.

Today, pray for anyone you may have dismissed because of their weakness, race or poverty.

How do you understand Jesus when he says that it is terribly hard for rich people to get into heaven?

Friday, October 8, 2021

Living our Faith

  "Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it." Lk 11:28

There are some who might get upset with this passage from Luke. When a woman in the crowd seems to praise Jesus’ mother saying, "Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed," Jesus reacts. A person’s life is not of value, he says, because of her parents or relatives, but by her willingness to listen and live the good news.

The Jesus of the gospels would never disparage his own mother’s goodness, but he would and does use the words of an anonymous woman in the crowd to remind his listeners that being born a Jew guarantees nothing. Were he alive today, he might well say that being born a Catholic means little unless one lives one’s religious faith and tradition.

Jesus was trying to remind his Jewish brothers and sisters that they were not better than others simply because of their religious clothing, roots or heritage. Rather, he wanted them to live their faith with integrity and a deep sense of justice not by lording it over others but by always remembering their own slavery in Egypt and their times of exile from the Promised Land.

Today ask God for the grace to go beyond the essentials of religious practice.

Have you had experiences that helped you appreciate the great gift of religious faith?

Thursday, October 7, 2021

A Divided Country and Church

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

Like most Americans, I am befuddled by the ongoing political battles in our country.  Those elected to national office 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?

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Our Lady of the Rosary

 "Through you shall all the nations be blessed." Gal 3:8

The rosary is a fascinating prayer. For Catholics born prior to the Second Vatican Council, it was one of the first prayers we learned. Simple, straightforward and clear, we prayed it often individually and as families. While the rosary may have lost some of its luster in the last 50 years, I feel sure it will return to the devotional lives of Catholics in the 21st century because it is a simple form of contemplation and so much like the method at the heart of the Centering prayer movement.

The Cistercian, Thomas Keating, has become one of the best known teachers of Centering prayer. Keating suggests we find a quiet place, sit still and straight, breathe slowly and deeply, and then repeat a word or mantra, like Jesus or peace or help me Lord.  When our attention wanders, we begin again by repeating our mantra, word or the Jesus prayer.

Isn’t that what the rosary helps us do? As we repeat Hail Mary's we focus on a mystery of Jesus' life to help us stay centered and rooted in Christ. There is no need to concentrate on every word of the Hail Mary. Rather, we breathe, enter into one of the mysteries of the Lord's life and ask the him to keep us “centered” in his presence. For those who might find the idea of centering prayer intimidating, the rosary is a wonderful invitation to contemplation, a prayer form to which all of us are called.

Today, ask the Lord to keep you quiet enough interiorly so that you might be startled by the God who is always with us.

Do you have a special devotion that helps you pray everyday?

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Learning to Pray

 "Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray.'" Lk 11:1


What did Jesus' disciples see or sense when Jesus was praying? What did they want to learn from him? Did he seem especially quiet or reflective when he prayed? Were his disciples afraid of what they were experiencing?

Learning to pray, while simple, is difficult, but studying the Our Father can be powerfully instructive. Acknowledging God's sovereignty before all else is important because it reminds us that God is always among us, aware of our needs and anxious to be near us. Only after we put all our trust in God do we ask for forgiveness and our daily bread. In other words, asking for help is secondary to honoring the God who is always near. When we follow these simple directives, no matter what prayer we say, we will be praying as Jesus taught us and the results will not matter.

Today, say the Our Father with gratitude.

What are your biggest obstacles to a more consistent prayer life?


 

Monday, October 4, 2021

Martha's Bold Faith

 "Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?'" Lk 10:39

Because she is sometimes sneered at for complaining that her sister Mary is not helping prepare a meal for Jesus, Martha can be easily dismissed as a second class saint, but she deserves our praise and admiration. Because she is straightforward with Jesus, Martha helps free us from treating the Lord like a plastic amulet whose only purpose is to protect us from harm. Honest and direct, Martha reminds us not to be afraid of the Lord, but to pour out our hearts to him like we would to a treasured friend.

In responding to Martha, Jesus teaches his disciples and all those who were following him that he is their hope and their life, and that through him all will be raised up on the last day. For those who accept this message and acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior, Jesus' promise is the foundation of our faith. As Paul reminds us, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." (1 Cor 15:14)

Today, ask Jesus to help you better understand his message of salvation.

Is there a person who has challenged you to grow in faith?


Sunday, October 3, 2021

St Francis of Assisi

 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes." Lk 10:13

The name Francis remains in the forefront of the news these days. Pope Francis has made it so, but it is not always laudatory. Humble, honest, and unafraid to speak his mind, our Pope has challenged us to face the sexual abuse crisis head on and captivated the imagination of many around the world especially with his call to Care for all Creation. Calling the church to return to its foundations, Pope Francis is living up to his name, and although, like St Francis, he is making some Catholics nervous, he is doing what he promised when first elected.

St Francis of Assisi not only thought about the poor, he became poor and allowed God to turn his life upside down. Like the 3rd century martyr, St Maximilian, who said "I am a solder of Christ, I cannot fight," Francis fought not for dominance over his neighbors but for Gospel purity. Wanting to live so poorly that he and his brothers would have nothing to defend, he directed the friars to own nothing, eventually convincing the Roman hierarchy to approve their way of life. Francis' example continues to inspire thousands of women and men today.

Today, live simply so that others can live.

What should be our response to the poor?

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Marriage in the Church

 "What God has joined together no human being must separate." Mk 10:9

Marriage is a sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church, and like all sacraments, an enduring sign of God's love for us. The love of wife and husband for one another in faith is a witness to God's unquenchable and total love for us, and the fundamental reason for the church's prohibition against divorce. Since Christ cannot stop loving us, married couples are challenged to love one another through every trial. St. Paul says it most simply.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church... husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. :..."For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery, but I am talking about Christ and the church. Eph 5: 25-26
The challenge of Paul's sentiments can seem overwhelming to married couples, especially when they are struggling with their commitment to one another. Nevertheless, the vision and hope of Paul remain. There is no clearer sign of Christ's love for the church than a married couple trying to heal one another, push past infidelities great and small, and build their relationship into a transparent witness to Christ's love for the church.

Today, pray for those struggling in marriage.

How important do you think marriage is in and for the church?

Friday, October 1, 2021

St Therese of the Child Jesus, Doctor of the Church

  “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” (Lk 10:21)

Therese of Lisieux, who came to prominence at a time when the world was experiencing two world wars and violence of a kind never before seen, was one of the most popular saints of the 20th century. Therese’s “little way” made sense to the people of the United States who were overwhelmed by the loss of husbands, children, brothers and friends in wars fought far from home. Living each day with simplicity, handing one’s life over to God, and offering “every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love,” helped people who were being bombarded with painful news on a daily basis.

In recent days, the end of the United States presence in Afghanistan, calls for deep discernment and prayer. We cannot help but wonder where the violence will end, and whether there isn't another way of responding to those whose tactics are so overwhelmingly violent. Unless we search for new responses to those with whom we disagree, we will surely become numb and unable to to respond with a Gospel heart to those with whom we differ.

Perhaps Therese’s little way can still help us. If we commit ourselves anew to a simple path of prayer, conversation and patience, without denying the horrors of war, famine, disease and hunger, we might discover a God who is only too anxious to help us.

Today, live simply so that others can simply live.

How do you respond to violence against you in your own life?

Thursday, September 30, 2021

St Therese of the Child Jesus

 “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” (Lk 10:21)

Therese of Lisieux, who came to prominence at a time when the world was experiencing two world wars and violence of a kind never before seen, was one of the most popular saints of the 20th century. Therese’s “little way” made sense to the people of the United States who were overwhelmed by the loss of husbands, children, brothers and friends in wars fought far from home. Living each day with simplicity, handing one’s life over to God, and offering “every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love,” helped people who were being bombarded with painful news on a daily basis.

In recent days, the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Syria, which seem endless, call for deep discernment and prayer  .  We cannot help but wonder where the violence will end, and whether there isn't another way of responding to those whose tactics are so overwhelmingly violent. Unless we search for new responses to those with whom we disagree, we will surely become numb and unable to to respond with a Gospel heart to those with whom we differ.

Perhaps Therese’s little way can still help us. If we commit ourselves anew to a simple path of prayer, conversation and patience, without denying the horrors of war, famine, disease and hunger, we might discover a God who is only too anxious to help us.

Today, live simply so that others can simply live.

How do you respond to violence against you in your own life?

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

St Jerome

 "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." St. Jerome

St Jerome is one of the most important scripture scholars in the history of the church. His translation of the bible into Latin, completed in the 4th century, was the basis of every translation into modern languages until the middle of the 20th century. His brilliance and discipline were such that he was able to produce not only a translation of the bible that continues to be a resource for contemporary students of scripture, he also wrote dozens of commentaries on the bible, and more than a hundred letters.

This being said, Jerome was a volatile, tempestuous and driven man. Reading a few of his letters makes you glad you were not in his sights. Jerome lived at a time and in a church that badly needed reform and his answer was a rigid asceticism. In what many consider his most famous letter, he warns St. Eustochium about every possible threat to her virginity while also acknowledging that even when he went to the desert to escape the insanity of the Rome of his day, he was tormented by fantasies of Roman dancing girls.

Jerome because is a powerful example of how God works with us as we are and uses even our faults for the good of others. Jerome’s life reminds us that when we submit ourselves to God, great things happen, and that God and history remember all the good Jerome did and underplay his shortcomings. What a wonderful lesson for us.

Today, ask for forgiveness of your sins, but don’t forget to be grateful for the gifts God has given you.

Have you experienced God dismissing your faults but using your strengths?

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Sts Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Archangels

Blogger tells me that they no long offer the service of sending you an email each day with my blog, but you can go to  http://brjackspreachingministry.blogspot.com/ and read it each day. You might want to bookmark the above internet address to make it easier to read.  Thanks for your patience.

"In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord." Ps 138

In our information saturated culture, it is easy to forget how important messengers are. In many parts of the world, there are women and men who write letters for those in their families or villages who are illiterate. Many of these scribes, knowing how desperate their clients are to speak of their love or concern, try not just to communicate a message in a literal way, but seek to put tone and feeling into their writing.

In the ancient world, angels were messengers. Their primary task was to speak on behalf of God to people God wanted to address directly. Gabriel comes to Mary asking her to be the mother of God's son; Michael reminds the church that God will always guard us; and Raphael assures us that God will be our loving guide.

All of us are called to be angels to one another. Not only are we challenged to speak the Good News, we must be the Good News especially for those who are lost and broken, and this happens every time we let the word of God live in and through us. 

Today, be an angel to someone starving for a word of comfort.

Who has been an angel of God to you?

Monday, September 27, 2021

Being Different

 "On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they (the Samaritans) would not welcome him....When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?''' Lk 9 51,55


Few passages in the Gospel tell us more about the radical demands of the Gospel than Jesus' refusal to condemn the Samaritans. The laws of hospitality which the rabbis taught were strict. Because Israel was a desert land populated by nomads, travelers and strangers had to be welcomed. By Torah law the Samaritans should have welcomed Jesus and his disciples. But because the rabbis condemned Samaritans, the Samaritans wanted nothing to do with Jesus. Even though the prophet Isaiah reminds his readers to feed the hungry lavishly, the Samaritans, hurt and angry by the failure of the authorities to accept them, reject Jesus and his disciples. Still, Jesus will not condemn them.

Clearly, Jesus' demand that we love our enemies interprets the Torah in a much more radical way and pushes Christians even further. It is one thing to welcome strangers and offer them a bit of bread, it is another altogether to love those who attack you or with whom you have been at war. If God's love for us is going to be announced clearly and dramatically, then Christians have to go the extra mile and let go of our resentments and desire for vengeance in order that God can be known.

Today, love someone who has hurt you.

Who has lived the Gospel most powerfully for you?


Sunday, September 26, 2021

St Vincent de Paul

"It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them." St Vincent de Paul (1)

St Vincent de Paul has always been one of my favorite saints. His words are clear, direct and uncompromising. Two of his more noteworthy sayings are: “Extend mercy towards others, so that there can be no one in need whom you meet without helping. For what hope is there for us if God should withdraw His mercy from us?” And, "Make it a practice to judge persons and things in the most favorable light at all times and under all circumstances."

But no saying of Vincent has impacted me more than his demand that we love the poor, not just feed them. In truth, one can only know the power of this directive by experiencing it. Of all the ministries to which I have been called, it is my encounters with the poor that have been most life changing.

In Tanzania this past summer I visited with one of the first young women the African Women's Education Fund helped educate. Honorata joined the friars for a 6:30 am mass after traveling 150 miles to say thank you. After mass, she did not eat until she was sure the older and infirm friars were fed. As we talked at breakfast I said that I had never her sing like she did at mass that morning and her response was beautiful. I don't have much I can give to God but I can sing and dance for him. These are gifts God gave me and I am happy to return them.

Today, ask God for the grace of merciful eyes and a forgiving heart.

How do you think you can love and serve the poor?

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Pay Attention

  “Pay attention to what I am telling you.” (Lk 9:44)

Paying attention to others, especially when they speak, is a simple act of courtesy that every person deserves, especially children and the elderly. Nevertheless, for any number of reasons, we often fail in this regard. We are busy, distracted, and anxious or have a cluttered mind or schedule. Unfortunately, because children and the aging have less to distract them, they notice when we are not listening, and while they may not say anything, they are often hurt and confused by our failure to be fully present to them.

I wonder if it was like this for Jesus when his apostles failed to listen to him. No doubt they were sometimes afraid or confused about what he was saying, especially when he told them he would suffer, but the Lord was not asking them to understand everything he said, he was simply asking them to listen. Like us, they could walk away, and many did, especially when he spoke about his flesh as real food, but that was not the point. (Cf Jn 6) Listening to him was.

Today, try listening to someone intentionally. Ask God for the grace to be still and to be attentive to the other with reverence and patience. Don’t ask for the right answers. If that kind of response is necessary it will come. Rather, ask for the ability not to run away from another’s struggle and the courage to walk with them in silence.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Not Understanding Jesus

"But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them. "Lk 9:43

Rejection is always painful whether it comes from a superior, a coworker or a family member. Usually we become defensive and angry even if we saw the rejection coming for a long time. We also struggle to understand it and put it in a category that protects us from further harm. But rejection comes to everyone in life and unless we learn to accept it for what it is, we will struggle with it more than necessary.

The Apostles and disciples find it almost impossible to understand much less accept what Jesus is saying. The Lord has been a successful preacher. People follow him from place to place and his promise to set them free reminds them of God's promise through Moses to the Jews in Egypt. While they might not have thought of Jesus as the new Moses, neither did they expect him to suffer greatly and be rejected. No doubt they resisted his message for fear that they too would undergo the same trials.

Although the call to discipleship involves suffering, we do not have to be afraid. The Lord promises to accompany his disciples until the end of time. As long as we stay close to the Lord through prayer, service and worship, there is nothing to fear.

Today, listen without fear even to difficult messages.

What has been your best response to suffering


Thursday, September 23, 2021

Suffering

"The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised." Lk 9:22

Rejection is always painful whether it comes from a superior, a coworker or a family member. Usually we become defensive and angry even if we saw the rejection coming for a long time. We also struggle to understand it and put it in a category that protects us from further harm. But rejection comes to everyone in life and unless we learn to accept it for what it is, we will struggle with it more than necessary.

The Apostles and disciples find it almost impossible to understand much less accept what Jesus is saying. The Lord has been a successful preacher. People follow him from place to place and his promise to set them free reminds them of God's promise through Moses to the Jews in Egypt. While they might not have thought of Jesus as the new Moses, neither did they expect him to suffer greatly and be rejected. No doubt they resisted his message for fear that they too would undergo the same trials.

Although the call to discipleship involves suffering, we do not have to be afraid. The Lord promises to accompany his disciples until the end of time. As long as we stay close to the Lord through prayer, service and worship, there is nothing to fear.

Today, listen without fear even to difficult messages.

What has been your best response to suffering


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

St Padre Pio

 “No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light." Lk 8:16

What must we do when our inner demons urge us not to display the light God has given us? This is no idle question, but a deep struggle of conscience that many saints have had to face in their lives. The doctor of the church, St. Hildegaard of Bingen, very much wanted to ignore the dreams and visions she had from an early age, but her confessors and spiritual directors, convinced of their value, insisted that she share them. Eventually they reached St Bernard of Clairvaux, the great founder of the Cistercians, who brought then to Pope Eugenius III. When Eugenius read them, he knew they were a gift from God that would enlighten many peoples hearts with the power of the Gospel.

Padre Pio is another saint who struggled mightily with the gifts God gave him. Blessed with the Stigmata, Pio was frightened when first presented with the gift of Jesus' wounds appearing in his own body. Writing to his friend, Padre Benedetto, Pio told the priest that when he first received the Stigmata he thought he was dying, and would have died had not God intervened. Worried about the reaction of others, Pio asked God to take the outward sign of the Stigmata from him. Willing to endure the pain of the wounds, he did not want to face the questions and doubts of his confreres and superiors about their authenticity.

With both saints, there was no choice. God wanted to speak and be a light in the world through them. Neither Hildegaard nor Pio was permitted to extinguish their light or avoid public scrutiny. More important, while not as dramatic, none of us are free to let the light of God shining in and through us be extinguished. Rather, our lives of faith are designed to be a guide for others seeking to know God's Good News.

Today, let your light, no matter how weak, shine for God's glory.

What most troubles or unnerves you about being God's light in the world?

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Nothing for the Journey

  "Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two .... He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick –no food, no sack, no money in their belts." Mk 6:7-8

Over the centuries much has been written about why Jesus sends his disciples two by two. Some commentators remind us that in the ancient world when anyone testified in court there had to be two corroborating witnesses in order to avoid having someone accuse another of a crime to hurt the other. Only when two people concur about a misdeed could their testimony be trusted. From this perspective the disciples were more believable when two witnessed to what happened to them when Jesus entered their lives.

Even more important according to other commentators was the quality of the relationship of the disciples had with one another. Their love for one another in Christ would be a great sign of the "truth" of Jesus message and life. That the disciples asked nothing of those to whom they were sent, nor carried anything to demonstrate their wealth or power was also important.

Knowing how difficult it can be to love one another consistently, and to live with little material wealth, the first hearers of the disciples had to be impressed. When people are willing to move beyond self absorption and share everything in common, they speak of a world beyond what we see and a promise of salvation that it is a gift to us not because of what we own or know, but because of God's gracious love.

Today, love another disciple not for what it gives you, but because of the Gospel.

What draws you to a deeper belief in Christ?

Monday, September 20, 2021

St Matthew, Evangelist

  "Follow me." Mt 9:10

Matthew must have been amazed and delighted when Jesus called him to follow. Amazed because he was a tax collector, a man despised for what he did and who he was. Tax collectors were most often Jews who worked for the Romans. Upfront, they would pay the Romans the taxes of those from who they collected taxes and then charge Jews whatever they could, and this would often be exorbitant and excruciating.

Matthew also would have been delighted. Here was Jesus, a prominent Jew and rabbi, calling him, accepting him, sitting down at table with him when everyone else in the community was shunning him. Matthew knew that he was being given a second chance and he was anxious to take it.

The message of the gospel is clear. All of us will get a second chance and it is up to us to take it, to follow the Lord and let go of behaviors and practices that oppose God's law and God's desire for us. As long as we are willing to admit that we are in need of a physician, the Lord will come to us like a doctor who sees only that we are in need. The Lord wants to heal us. How wonderful.

Today, acknowledge your weakness.

Who looked at you with love when you could not accept or love yourself?

Sunday, September 19, 2021

St Andrew Kim and Companions

"To anyone who has more will be given." Lk 8:17

Jesus' answer to the Pharisees who are complaining about his eating with tax collectors and other sinners seems so obvious, we wonder how the Pharisees could be so blind and deaf. They must have known that the law not only allowed conversations with sinners but demanded it. Like us, the Pharisees often heard and saw what they wanted to see and hear. Secure in their knowledge of the Torah and satisfied with their modest power, they wanted only to find something to criticize in Jesus' behavior in order not to listen to him, but when Jesus responds to their resistance and dullness, he teaches all of us.

Change is always difficult, and it is easier to criticize someone than to search for their goodness and compassion. Jesus sees past the sins of the tax collectors. Inviting them to supper and building a relationship with them makes it possible for him eventually to speak with them about changing their lives and turning away from their sin. Rather than attack their profession, he sits at table with them in the hope that they will be able to see the error of their ways and change.

Today, praise someone whose behavior often irritates you.

Have you ever been changed by someone's kindness and understanding?

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Selfish Ambition

 "For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice." Jas 3:16

Selfish ambition is a tough nut to crack, especially in a culture like the United States. Almost every day our children hear that they can strive for anything in this country, and if they work hard enough they can fulfill their dreams. While this is part of the "myth" of the United States and continues to draw people from all over the world to our country as immigrants, it is a dangerous notion when left unexamined.

Ambition can be a virtue when it is sandwiched by compassion and integrity. Who would challenge a young person wanting to do something to help the hungry, homeless and jobless in our country or around the world?  But when ambition is naked and unaccompanied by compassion for others and deep integrity it can lead to selfishness and the inability to consider any one else's needs or rights in the pursuit of one's dream.

All of us know people like this, and, of course, there is a bit of the selfish, worried, and self -absorbed person in all of us, but we cannot allow the "sinner" in us to direct, much less, dominate our behavior. Selfish ambition may lead to success in a career, but it can also leave us empty and confused. As Jesus says, "What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" (Mt 16:26)

Today ask God to fill you with compassion and integrity to combat any naked ambition.

Has ambition ever undermined your life or the life of your community? Please leave a comment.


Friday, September 17, 2021

Learning to be Generous

"The seed is the word of God. Those on the path are the ones who have heard, but the Devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts that they may not believe and be saved." Lk 8:12

Years ago I remember a young mother of six exhorting her second youngest child to let his younger brother play with his toys. The little boy protested, but his mother only smiled and picked him up. If you let Jimmy play with whatever he wants, he will forget about it in a few minutes and you can have it back. Try to be patient and see what happens. The little boy took his mother's advice and learned a great lesson. If he did not cling to his own small possessions, he would be free, and soon enough he would learn that there were enough toys for him and his brother. Indeed, there is enough for all when we learn to let go.

When we allow our possessions, our power or our fear to possess us, it becomes impossible to hear Jesus or anyone else. We build walls and fences to protect what little we have and vow to defend it with our lives. It is clear that the leaders of the Jews saw Jesus as a threat who was stripping them of what little power they had and so plotted to trip him up, not because he was dishonoring God, but because he was threatening their security, and all this in the name of God!

Today, give something away to someone freely, and do not expect it to be returned.

Who is the most generous person you know? 


Thursday, September 16, 2021

Women in the Church

 "Some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources." Lk 8:2-3

In the United States, at least, women have almost always carried the burden of keeping our parishes organized, welcoming an functioning smoothly. Where would our parishes be without the women who lead and teach Catechetics, organize celebrations and picnics, and make sure the parish is active in reaching out to the poor and needy? This is not to say that men haven't played key roles in the church, but it is women upon whom falls the daily and weekly tasks that make a parish live and go. They are its face, even more so during the Covid pandemic.

It seems St Paul benefited from the same kind of help from the women of his day. In Luke's Gospel, which scholars suggest tells Paul's story, Mary, Joanna, and Susanna were not only faithful disciples of Jesus, they were also generous in their support of Paul' missionary journeys.  Wouldn't it be good to know more about them? Unfortunately, in the ancient world, and too often in our world, women's voices are rarely heard, and their stories seldom told. We should work hard to change that.

Pope Francis continues to move the church in this direction by encouraging what he called,
The indispensable contribution of women in society, in particular with their sensitivity and intuition toward the other, the weak and the unprotected." He also noted that "many women share some pastoral responsibilities with priests in looking after persons, families and groups" and he said he had hoped that "the spaces for a more diffuse and incisive presence in the church be expanded."
Today,  pray for a woman you know who has been generous but under appreciated in her service to the church.

What steps can and should the church take to highlight the contributions of women to our faith communities?

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Sts Cornelius and Cyprian, Friends and Martyrs

 “He deserves to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.” Lk 7: 4-5

Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian were friends, and when the church was under enormous pressure in the third century, their friendship became an important tool for reconciliation and healing. When Novatian insisted that anyone who denied faith, along with murderers and adulterers, could not be reconciled under any circumstances, Cyprian interceded with his friend Pope Cornelius, and Novatian's position was condemned. The fragile nascent church, with only 50,000 believers and 50 priests, was sustained because of the friendship of Cornelius and Cyprian.

Not infrequently, like Cyprian and Cornelius, we do things for friends who ask a favor on their own or their family's behalf. It is not difficult to be gracious, especially when the request is something we do easily or naturally. Jesus is able to hear and respond to the request of the Jewish elders to heal the centurion's sick slave because they asked him to do something as a friend of the Jewish nation.  In the long run, however, while loyalty and friendship captured Jesus' attention, it was the faith of the centurion that moved Jesus to act. 

Not wanting to trouble Jesus with a visit to his home and being very aware of the differences between them, the centurion insists that he is not worthy of Jesus' care. When the centurion further suggests that a word from Jesus will be enough to heal his slave, Jesus uses the centurion's faith to teach the Jews saying, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Faith, like the centurion's, and friendship and faith, like Cyprian and Cornelius shared, can forge a church of great power and strength.

Today, pray in gratitude for the gift of friends.

Which of your friends are you most grateful for today?

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Our Lady of Sorrows

 “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” Jn 19:25

Who stands by you compassionately when you are struggling or lost?

In the Office of Readings today, St Bernard of Clairvaux, writing in the 12th century, calls Mary “a martyr in spirit,” because of her compassion, never abandoning her son even on the cross. Bernard writes: “Perhaps someone will say: “Had she not known before that he would not die?” Undoubtedly. “Did she not expect him to rise again at once?” Surely. “And still she grieved over her crucified Son?” Intensely. Who are you and what is the source of your wisdom that you are more surprised at the compassion of Mary than at the passion of Mary’s Son? For if he could die in body, could she not die with him in spirit? He died in body through a love greater than anyone had known. She died in spirit through a love unlike any other since his.”

Standing with others in their suffering, not taking it away, not offering empty words of consolation, not trying to understand it, is a kind of death, a martyrdom. Helplessness is often the price of compassion and Mary, the mother of Jesus and our mother, helps us learn this vital Christian virtue.

Today, pray for those who have no one to stand with them in their suffering.

Have you ever been called to be a companion to someone who is suffering alone?

Monday, September 13, 2021

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

 "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." Jn 3:13

The cross of Jesus Christ, as St Paul says, is a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness for Gentiles, (1 Cor 1:23) but the believer continues to hold the cross high, to exalt it, as a sign of God's unconditional love for us. Never easy to understand or to penetrate its mystery, the cross remains for those who believe a book of life, or as St Francis said, the only book we will ever need.

How we read the book of the cross is fundamental to our growth in faith. How, for instance, do we understand or interpret suffering? How should we approach death and dying? What can we expect from God when we carry our own crosses? Martin Luther King, speaking of what he labels unmerited suffering, writes, "Recognizing the necessity for suffering I have tried to make of it a virtue. If only to save myself from bitterness, I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation which now obtains." (MLK)

We should never be turned away from a full Gospel life because it makes others uncomfortable and us suffer. Many younger friends of mine have been discouraged by their friends and families when they decided to leave the United States to minister to the poor overseas. "There are plenty of poor people here in the U.S.," they are told, and, "Why do you have to be so radical in your convictions?" Hearing this, these young people suffer, but often enough, when they read the cross of Jesus, they are comforted, especially when they hear him say: "Take my yoke upon you, for I am gentle and humble of heart." (Mt 11:29)

Today, ask God for the grace not to be afraid of the cross.

What about living a Gospel life causes you the most suffering?

Sunday, September 12, 2021

St John Chrysostom, Doctor

 "I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry." 1 Tim 1:12


Considered the greatest preacher in the early church, St John Chrysostom is also sharply and justly criticized for his antisemitic homilies.(1) His legacy provides us with an opportunity to pray and write about the importance, power and danger of preaching today.

Since the close of the Second Vatican Council, which mandated the use of the vernacular in the liturgy, preaching in the Roman Catholic Church has become increasingly important. Encouraged to offer a brief homily each day and to root them in the sacred texts preachers, many priests try to do this, but with mixed results. North Americans want both an insightful and brief homily even on Sunday's, and while this is understandable, it risks missing the primary teaching of the Second Vatican Council which reminds us the Eucharist is the source and summit of Catholic life.

When preaching, no matter how lively, profound and articulate, pushes the liturgy of the Eucharist to the background, it needs to be reexamined. Good Catholic preaching ought to break open the sacred scripture, attend to what is happening in society and the world, and lead seamlessly into the breaking of the bread. When the liturgy is planned carefully with the preacher, something wonderful and exciting can happen, but when preaching overwhelms the listener and fails to remember that we are a people of word and sacrament, it fails as Eucharistic preaching.

Today, pray for preachers.

Have you ever heard preaching that helps you enter the liturgy of Eucharist more fully?

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Carrying our Crosses

 “Whoever wishes to come after me, must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." Mt 16:24

Crosses come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, none of them easy but all of them real and important. Some carry a paralyzing fear, others an impenetrable darkness. Still others suffer addictions that terrorize them and their families, but most of us have simpler, if not less heavy, crosses. We talk or eat too much, we don't listen to our friends or God and we wonder whether our lives have impacted anyone or anything. These are heavy crosses indeed.

Following Jesus means accepting who we are, what we've done and what we have failed to do, while at the same time praying to be free of our self absorption and fear. Knowing the Lord will guide and lead us to places, situations and people that will allow him to be known and loved makes this possible and desirable.

Discipleship is not first of all about doing penance or growing in faith, but about following Jesus. The Lord is more concerned about our willingness to repent and begin again each day than about our faults. When our humility deepens we begin to realize that Jesus can even use our weaknesses for the good of others and the announcement of the Gospel.

Today, carry the first cross you encounter without grumbling.

What are your most difficult crosses?








Friday, September 10, 2021

Bear Good Fruit

"A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.” Mt 7: 19-20

Every person has faults, makes mistakes and loses focus. To do anything else would not be human, but we must never measure our life only by our failures; we must also celebrate its fruits. Jesus is clear about this, and though we sometimes are tempted to dismiss the good we have done, we need to listen to his guidance.

In 12 step spirituality, like Alcoholics Anonymous, program people are encouraged to work through the twelve steps and make a searching and fearless inventory of themselves (4th step). For those who do this with a sponsor, it is also important not just to acknowledge one's faults but to record one's successes. For most addicts it is easier to list their faults than to name their strengths, and I often think this is true for all of us. It is easier to list our faults than count our successes. 

It is very clear in the scriptures that God is always willing to look past our sins and focus on our gifts, and this is true throughout the Bible. Very few people would forgive David his lust for Bathesheba and his willingness to put her husband Uriah in a position where he would surely be killed. But God does. Even more remarkable is the story of the forgiving father who embraces his younger son who has squandered his inheritance. God wants us to succeed and be reborn.

Today, accept the good God has done through you.

When was the last time you took the opportunity to praise someone for their good qualities?

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Judging Others

 "Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye?" Lk 6:41

Over and over, Pope Francis calls believers everywhere not only not to judge others, but to look rather at their strengths and virtues. When writing his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, the Holy Father further challenged us to revisit our priorities personally and communally,
I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.(1)
It should be clear that when the Holy Father encourages us to "hit the streets", he is also reminding us that people who are engaged in trying to help others and proclaim the Gospel have little time to judge others. They are too busy being Good News.

Today, if you are tempted to judge someone, praise them instead.

Do you know people like Pope Francis who refuse to judge others?

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

St Peter Claver

 "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church." Col 1:24-25

People of a certain age were introduced to the saints as children, and St Peter Claver captured my imagination when he wrote, "I must dedicate myself to the service of God until death, on the understanding that I am like a slave." That our religion teacher was Fr Peter Claver Eich also helped. A smiling and athletic friar priest, Fr Peter Claver encouraged everyone he met with a boundless energy and kind spirit. I wanted to be like him and St Peter Claver.

It's good and important to remember how our spirits were shaped. Although we were carefully and deeply catechized with the aid of the Baltimore catechism, it was the people we met along the way who brought the catechism and the scriptures to life and most shaped our early spiritual lives. People living the Good News with passion and hope do more to spread the Gospel than any sermon.

Another Jesuit, Alonso de Sandoval, cared for the slaves of Columbia for forty years before St Peter Claver arrived, and it was Alonso's example that shaped and formed Peter. That Peter learned from Alonso is clear, but he took service to the slaves another step. While Alonso visited and cared for the slaves where they worked, Peter met them at the docks with medicine, water, and food. Though opposed by some of his fellow Jesuits who believed slavery was justified, Peter continued to care for and love the slaves and worked for their civil rights by preaching to slave traders and businessmen in the city square while staying in the slave quarters at night.

Today, pray for those enslaved by their fears and rage.

Whose passion for faith most helps you to live the Gospel?




Monday, September 6, 2021

Called by name

 "When he came down from the mountain, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose twelve." Lk 6:13

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. When the Apostles heard Jesus invitation to follow him, they knew who they were and who they were called to be.

The same was true for St Paul when he was blinded by a great light and 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.

Jesus calls each of us by name. Are we listening? Will we ask for the faith to respond?

Today, thank someone who increased your faith?

Do you think you have an obligation to invite others to follow Jesus and the Gospel?

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Labor Day

 “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.” Col 1:24

Today is Labor Day and I invite you to pause in gratitude for all those who keep the world moving and alive by the work of their hands, minds and spirits.  I am especially conscious of my Dad today who supported our family proudly by the "sweat of his brow."

What a complex, even confusing, text we have for reflection today.  Is St Paul glorifying suffering?  A less than careful reading of this text might suggest this, but suffering for suffering’s sake is not a good. It is a trap we must avoid.  Suffering for the sake of others can be heroic and a powerful sign of contradiction to those who avoid suffering at any cost.

Early in my ministry as a priest, I met an older man who was helping his wife die. It was not an easy task. His wife had a form of cancer with external sores that had a terrible odor.  Nevertheless, everyday he visited her in the hospital, gave her a big kiss and asked how her night was.  Though his wife could not answer easily, she always smiled softly and thanked him for coming.  After watching this simple but profound drama, I asked the man to step into the hallway with me. I wanted to ask him how he was doing and tell him how much I admired his sacrifice.  Looking at me a little strangely, he said, “It’s no sacrifice, Father. We have been married for 47 years, and although I was not always the best husband, my wife always supported me, always encouraged me. Coming here each day is a privilege I would not want to miss.”

My older friend was suffering and rejoicing, just like Paul.  He would have done anything to help his wife and ease her suffering, but he knew there was little he could do.  Staying with her, helping bathe and feed her each day, though difficult, was something he properly called a privilege.  This is the kind of suffering most of us can never avoid.  It comes to us as an ordinary part of life, and faith tells us to respond in love. 

How do you understand suffering?  Has someone walked with you in yours; have you had the privilege to journey with others in their suffering?

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Fear Not

 "Be strong, Fear not." Is 35:4

Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., one of the most important and respected theologians of the 20th century, said that it would not be rash to reduce the entire Gospel to three words Jesus said often: Be not afraid. Reminding all who believe that they have already been saved, Schillebeeckx insists there is no theological reason to fear because God has come in the flesh and promised to live with us forever.

This is not to say we won't feel fear when we are in physical danger, but the deeper fears about the after life and God's concern for every person should have no place in the life of those who believe in Jesus Christ. While we will have doubts and will regularly turn away from this basic truth, Jesus' coming among us in human form is God's promise that we we can always return to God's heart where every fear will be washed away.

What must have Joseph felt when Mary told him she was pregnant? Though betrothed, they had not lived together. He could not have been the father of her child, but in a dream, which he trusts, God tells him not to be afraid. No matter how others might look at or ridicule him, he should welcome Mary to his house, and with his yes his life and ours change. Overcoming his fears and confusion, Joseph becomes a model for us in times of doubt. God is near to him and will help him through his darkness. God is also near to us and this reality is what we celebrate and proclaim so loudly at Christmas.

Today,  put aside fear. Put on love.

What fears continue to haunt you on your faith journey?

Friday, September 3, 2021

Sabbath Challenges

 "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." Lk 6:5

Sabbath and Sabbath law is complex, confusing, impossible and important. Unfortunately, in Jesus' day those who interpreted Sabbath observance lost sight of the purpose of Sabbath and attached so many proscriptions to it that the average person could never hope to know or observe them all.

The poor knew they could glean corn and other produce after the owners or tenant farmers had picked the field clean, and could do this on the Sabbath because gleaning was not considered work by most rabbis. The Pharisees, however, said that rubbing the grains of corn off the cob was a form of harvesting and preparing a meal, and this was forbidden on the Sabbath.

In truth, there were many rabbis who would have suggested that the poor be encouraged to glean on the Sabbath since doing deeds of mercy was not only permitted but required. Because Jesus knew this, he reminded his listeners that David took the bread of offering and gave it to his companions as an act of mercy.

Sabbath observances and rest have a very distinct purpose. Because we so often forget who we are and how much God loves us, we need to stop every seven days and remember the mercy of God. If God's mercy does not encourage us to act like God, especially on behalf of the poor, then the purpose of the Sabbath is lost, and we would be better off not observing it at all.

Today, look at the people around you, not with the eyes of the law, but with eyes of mercy.

Do you take Sabbath rest seriously?

Thursday, September 2, 2021

St Gregory the Great

 " I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living." (Ps 27)


St Gregory, like so many others saints, lived fully in the world in his early days, but after five years as prefect of Rome, lost confidence in the society to direct or discipline itself. Hoping the monastic life would give him some clarity about how to live the Gospel, he joined the Benedictines, but shortly thereafter the Pope sent him to Constantinople as his representative.

Straightforward and scrupulously honest, when he became Pope,  Gregory disciplined wayward priests, used monies from the papal treasury to care for Jews and the sick, and reformed the liturgy. but it was his instructions to bishops on how to conduct their office, read for a thousand years, that sealed his place among the Greats of the Christian community.
It is with profound sorrow we have to admit that though the harvest is great, the labourers are few, because, though the people are ready to hear the Word of God, there are few to preach it. Lo, the world is full of priests, yet in the harvest of the Lord a labourer is very rare, for we undertake, it is true, the office of the priest hood, but its duties we do not fulfill. Yet weigh well, dearly beloved, weigh well the words of the text: "Pray ye the Lord of the harvest that He send labourers into His harvest." Pray then for us that we may have strength to labour for you as we ought, that our tongue may not be slack to exhort, and that, having undertaken the office of preaching, our silence may not prove our condemnation at the tribunal of the just Judge. (Homily of St Gregory)
Today,  dare to be great in Christ.

What most keeps you from the living the Gospel with abandon?

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Deepening our Influence as Gospel People

 "Jesus said: 'Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.'" Lk 5:4

Often, in community organizing, we say that we have a broad influence in the community and have developed leaders in many churches and congregations, but we do not have sufficient depth. In other words, we might have influence in a particular issue but probably did not have the kind of power that would last. Those with power were not likely to ask our opinion or be concerned with our position. They would not have to worry about us unless we put down deeper roots and became a more integral part of the community’s consciousness.

Jesus seems to be suggesting the same to his disciples. Because God’s love is deep, not just broad, we need to go into "deeper waters." God does not just love us as his children, but as Bernard Lonergan, the great Canadian theologian reminds us, God is in love with us. God’s love is active, powerful and transforming. God’s love is total, complete, everlasting and gratuitous. We cannot earn God’s love. God is in love with us as we are and calls us to love others as he loves us. Being in love with someone means that you have not settled for a good companion in life but are seeking to make the love you experience the foundation of everything you are and do.

Today, love someone more deeply than you loved them yesterday.

Who changed your life by loving you more deeply?

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Solidarity

 "Simon's mother in law got up immediately and began waiting on them." Lk 4:39

Many years ago on a trip to Honduras a priest friend who was ministering there told me a story that remains in my heart. Even though they were in grave danger, one community that he accompanied back to Salvador had taken the time to bury their church bell before fleeing their homeland, promising to ring it again when they returned from exile. Imagine their joy, he said, as they watched men from their village exit the buses, dig up the bell, hoist it to the tower and ring it in order to call everyone to a homecoming Eucharist.

How like Simon's mother in law! Cured, home again, she gets up and waits on others.

Today, pray in solidarity with the 40 million refugees in the world, more than 26 million of whom are hungry, sick and exposed to the elements. Pray, too, for those trying to leave Afghanistan. 

What does "home" mean to you? How do you pass on your values to your children?

Monday, August 30, 2021

To Whom do We Listen

 "They were astonished at his teaching, because he spoke with authority." Lk 4:31

While very few would suggest that education is unimportant, it can be overrated. My own parents were bright and wise people who had little formal education, yet they were respected in my neighborhood. They worked hard, had a deep faith and understood life from the inside. Though they were rarely asked their opinion, they knew what they knew and were not afraid to ask for help. Like Jesus, when they spoke, they spoke with authority.

Jesus did not seem to worry much about the education of the the men he called to be his apostles, but the leaders of the Jewish people seemed to think this was a soft spot in the life of the new community. Anxious to stop Jesus' disciples from speaking about their Lord, they called them in and threatened them, only to have Peter and John insist that they had no choice but to speak of Jesus. Clearly, Peter and John were not worried about their lack of education and were not intimidated by threats from the Jewish leaders.

It is always good to take a few moments and ask ourselves to whom we are most likely to listen. Do the highly educated intimidate us into silence about important matters? Are we unwilling to speak of our faith to people of power and prestige in the community?

Today, take time to listen to someone you might otherwise ignore.

What most impresses you about the faith you witness everyday?

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Grieving

 "We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope." 1 Thess 4:13

Grieving is hard work. Today I am spending time thinking about all the people I know who died this past year and the list is long. For many of my friends who have lost spouses the grieving process is even more difficult. The paradox of a happy, long and caring marriage is that when death comes to one spouse, the other hurts even more deeply. While everyone realizes that this is natural and a testament to the love shared, it does not make it easier.

There are no easy answers, but there is a simple response, and it is the Danish mystic and former secretary general of the United Nations writing in his now famous journal, Markings, who says it best for me, "Life only demands from you the strength you possess. Only one feat is possible - not to have run away." Not to run away is always the challenge we face when life becomes difficult, painful and confusing. To stay in the moment, to learn to welcome what comes our way, is the task of every believer and it is possible because our faith promises that Christ is always near and did not run away from his own misery and suffering. 

Grieve today someone who died this past year. Don't be afraid.

Who do you know who grieved deeply and emerged a stronger person?

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Twenty Second Sunday

 “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”  Mt 7:14

Every society that seeks good order among its members needs directives, laws and guidelines.  Speed limits, stop signs, and traffic signals make sure that cars and trucks proceed safely to their destinations while safeguarding the people on the streets and highways. At the same time, when rules seems excessive we chaff.  All of us can remember being funneled from three lanes of traffic into one for several miles only to find no one actually doing anything when we pass the work site. The safety cones, intended to protect workers from speeding traffic, only slow every one down.

Something very similar to this happened at the time of Jesus.  The leaders of the Jewish community took the Torah, which the rabbis often called a wall or a "yoke" around the life of the community to guide and protect it, and expanded it beyond its intended use.  Rules to regulate the sabbath, for instance, had become overwhelming. In addition to the general laws of sabbath which require Jews not to work, cook, carry things or require others to carry them, there are 39 categories of prohibited things one cannot do on the Sabbath.  Within these categories hundreds of other prohibitions had arisen making it almost impossible for the ordinary person to observe the Sabbath well. 

Jesus rails against the teachers of the law and the Pharisees in this regard, accusing them of laying heavy burdens on people's shoulders and doing nothing to help them. (Mt 23:4)  The yoke of the law, intended to guide their behavior for the glory of God, was choking the spirit out of their hearts.

Today, don't let the letter of the law choke you.

Who or what helped you enter the spirit of the law?

Friday, August 27, 2021

St Augustine

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

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

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

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

What keeps you from acting upon the Gospel everyday?



Thursday, August 26, 2021

St Monica

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

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

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

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

Today, pray for someone's conversion.

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

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Stay Awake

 "“Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come." Mt 24:42

Today’s gospel has a very consoling verse for people like me and many older people.  Matthew reminds us to stay awake, to be alert and to respond to others with kindness. Since I am an early to bed person, the thought of staying up very late is not something I would look forward to.  Clearly the issue in this parable is not falling asleep; we all do that when we are tired.  Rather, the Lord wants us to be prepared so that no one can "kill" us in spirit.

Rabbi David Kimchi, a late 12th century Jewish scholar, recorded this lovely story about the great sage, Rabbi Eliezer. "Turn to God one day before your death." Rabbi Eliezer said. But his disciples responded, "How can a man know the day of his death?" Eliezer answered them, "Therefore you should turn to God today, perhaps you may die tomorrow; thus every day will be employed in returning."  Kimchi on Isaiah 65:13.

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

Today, pray and be grateful each day for the gift of faith.  Christ will do the rest.

Who do you most admire for always being alert without being crazed?



Tuesday, August 24, 2021

God's Indulgence

 "And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received it not as the word of men, but as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe." 1Thess 2:12

The word of God is like seed which God keeps casting upon the church and world indiscriminately. We should not be surprised when some of it actually takes root, grows and begins to spread and increase. Something so natural becomes a source of hope for all. Seed, earth, wind, insects and water, working together make it possible for the earth to nurture itself and for all to eat.

Because the natural world is so accessible and welcoming to all, Jesus often uses it to teach us about what we are to do and who we are called to be. Christians must become a living word, going about from place to place and allowing God to use us to spread the Good News in word and deed.

Today, pick one word from the daily scripture and repeat it throughout the day.

How has God's word planted itself in your life? 

Monday, August 23, 2021

St Batholomew

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

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

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

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

What helps you put aside duplicity and seek transparency?

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Facing our Resistance

 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves." Mt 23:15

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 21, 2021

To Whom shall we Go?

 "Jesus then said to the Twelve, 'Do you also want to leave?' Simon Peter answered him, 'Master, to whom shall we go?'" Jn 6:68

Many years ago while visiting the friars in Central America, I learned of a struggle many friars had with women to whom they were ministering in small mountain villages. Abused often by their heavy drinking husbands, the women would not leave their villages. Initially, the friars thought the women were staying because of the vows they took when they married. Only after many visits did they realize they were staying with their abusive husbands because they had no place to go. Penniless, they felt trapped. With three or four children, it seemed impossible to them to go anywhere. Instead, they endured the abuse for the sake of their children, and the friars stood by them as best they could.

For those who work in the developing world, situations like this arise regularly, and sometimes I wonder whether Peter was saying something similar to the women of Central America when he asked Jesus, "To whom shall we go?" Indeed, Peter was a fisherman with few options. He was probably illiterate and owned no property. To what could he return? While the gospel writers cast Peter's response as an act of faith, which it surely was, it might also reflect his powerlessness, a helplessness that becomes his greatest strength. Unable to go anywhere without Jesus, he teaches us how we must live in the 21st century.

Today ask yourself what you do when you feel powerlessness in the face of overwhelming problems?

How can we stand with the poor and the powerless in their everyday lives?

Friday, August 20, 2021

St Pius X

 "I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts." Ex 36:27

Sometimes Popes do things that surprise us. Pius X, who was born in poverty, filled the apostolic palace with survivors after the 1908 earthquake in Messina well before the Italian government acted. Imagine what the 21st century media would do if Pope Francis opened the Vatican to Syrian refugees!

Pius knew, like Ezekiel, what it meant to have a new heart and new spirit. Determined to stand behind those most in need with open arms, Pius also worked to make the Eucharist available to a larger and larger group of people, especially children, and it was his leadership that encouraged all people, not just the clergy, to seek holiness through a devout life.

Like Pius, we must ask for a new hearts and spirits and yearn for a new way of living so the church can become the poor church for the poor that Pope Francis envisions. It is so easy to get comfortable in life and in faith, but when we do, we fail to hear the ongoing call to conversion that is at the heart of the Gospel.

Today, remember what it is like to have your heart and spirit renewed..

How can we help others know the God who continually renews our hearts and spirits.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

St Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor

"If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." Mt 19:21

St Bernard of Clairvaux, in a remarkably moving and demanding sermon, begs Mary to help her sons and daughters:
Let humility be bold, Mary, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.
Reading Bernard's words always lifts my spirits. It is clear that the Saint thought of Mary as his sister, mother, and friend, someone to whom he could speak plainly and with abandon. Mary was not an historical figure, but a living, breathing companion with whom Bernard could plead and beg. His example should embolden us. Both Mary and Jesus are meant to be accessible players in our personal and communal lives. We should never be afraid to approach them and ask for help and guidance.

Today, imagine you are Mary's sister. Stop her and ask for direction and help.

What spiritual practice has most helped you strenghten your faith?

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Sharing Wealth

 "Then the king said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those (the rich and powerful) who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’"  Mt 22: 8-9

Wealth itself is not the issue in the Gospel, but the attitude that rich people sometimes have about what they possess is. It is easy to believe, especially if you have worked hard, that you deserve all that you have and can do almost anything to protect your assets. Worse, when the wealthy act as if they have the power to control life or belittle poor people by stereotyping them as lazy, shiftless and undeserving of a decent wage and modest success, they offend God and the Gospel.

On the other hand, when people have been blessed with good fortune and are always grateful for what they have, they usually are anxious to find ways to help others. Realizing that some of their success came to them because they were in the right place at the right time or they have a rare skill that others need. They live simply, look out for others in need and get involved socially in projects that help the less fortunate to live with dignity and joy.

Today, thank God for the all that you possess and examine your conscience about what you really need to live the Gospel well.

What are your biggest fears about not having enough money, property and possessions?

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

God's Generosity

 "‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’....Are you envious because I am generous?’" Mt 20:16a

Upon first reading Matthew's parable about the laborers who worked only an hour and received a full days wage, we are puzzled. Trained to believe that when we work hard we will receive our reward, Jesus' story turns our expectations upside down, and that is the point. The parable is not about the workers at all. It is about God and God's generosity, and its purpose is twofold: to remind us that God is good beyond our imagination and to challenge us to live more generously than we have in the past.

No matter how hard we try to understand God's greatness, the scriptures keep reminding us that God and God's graciousness have no parallels in human life, and while it is helpful to think of metaphors and similes that open up our understanding, they will always fail to capture the fullness of God's goodness. Most of us have gazed at a sunrise, sunset, the ocean or a majestic mountain and been unable to describe what we experience. The grandeur and power of nature defies description, and  the love of God's is even more impossible to label or name. Only awe and silence seem a proper and fitting response.

What we can and must do is accept God's challenge to live lives of limitless generosity and learn how to spend the love we have been given with humility and delight. While a tall order, even this is possible with God's help.

Today, give someone something they have not deserved or earned.

Do you  have a favorite way or story to desribe God's generosity/