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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Jealousy

 "The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone." Mt 21:43

The scriptures are full of stories of intrigue and violence. Today we are presented with two of them, Joseph  sold into slavery by his own brothers, and the son of the vineyard owner killed by the tenants. In Lent, of course, they are preparing us for Jesus' suffering and death, but there is also a telling reminder in the middle of today's gospel. When we see only with our eyes and "not by faith," we miss hugely important lessons.

Engineers and architects have been fascinated for centuries by the simple but elegant style and form of Roman arches. Strong today even after 2000 years, the arches are built with stones almost exactly the same in size, except for the capstone which allows the arch to stand freely and strongly. The capstone is chipped at and broken so that it fits perfectly between the others. Rejected as a a regular building stone because of its odd shape, it becomes the capstone only after it is hacked at and formed in a way that allows the rest to stand together.  Our capstone, of course, is the Christ, who suffers so that the "arch" of God's kingdom can endure.

What a great lesson. While suffering is one of the most difficult of human experiences to explain, understand and accept, it comes to us all. Joseph must have been overwhelmed with hurt and sorrow when his brothers, out of jealousy, sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And the son of the vineyard owner in the gospel was killed, not because on anything he did, but simply because he was the messenger.  Both Joseph and the owner's son remind us to reflect deeply about our own envies and jealousies. How often we "kill" others with words and rumors thinking we can advance our owns standing in the community, only to have the one attacked become a symbol of hope by her willingness to endure suffering for a greater good. Women and men like Joseph and the vineyard owner's son are capstones and Christ figures who challenge us to transformation through suffering.

Today, welcome the uncomfortable and confusing.

When has suffering in your own life helped you enter more deeply into the mystery of God's love?

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Lazarus

 “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day." Lk 16:19

Purple is not only the liturgical color of Lent, it is also the color of royalty. The evangelist tell us that though the rich man, like the priests, dresses in purple and fine linen, he has no name. Is Jesus using code language to challenge his antagonists? We do not know, but it is even more interesting that the poor man, Lazarus, who the rich man never even notices, has a name, an identity and becomes the key figure in the parable.

Lazarus reminds people of every generation, social class, race and culture 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. "It’s terribly hard for rich people to get into the kingdom of heaven! In fact, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God’s kingdom." (Mt 19 23-24) 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?

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Authentic Service

 "Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mt 20:28

When the mother of James and John asked Jesus to put her two sons as authority figures on his right and left, she is only doing what seemed natural. Wanting her sons to succeed, to move up in the world and to be a part of Jesus' entourage, she reminds us of the father of St. Francis who so wanted his son to succeed that he outfitted him in the finest clothes in order to give him every opportunity to impress others and grow wealthy and powerful.

That the mother of James and John and the father of St. Francis get it all wrong should not surprise us since we have all misunderstood the Gospel from time to time. Their only concern and ours ought to be to listen more deeply to the Lord and change our ways.

Service of others is the hallmark of the Gospel, not wealth nor power over others, and authentic Gospel service means trying to make ourselves prayerfully and unconditionally available to God in order to build God's reign not our comfort or influence.

Today, ask God to know how to serve others with dignity and charity.

What are your biggest blocks to serving others freely?

Monday, March 1, 2021

Preaching without Practicing

 "They preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them." Mt 23:4-5

Most of us preach from time to time, even if don't intend to. Listen to someone go on about the soccer played by Barcelona or Manchester United. Convinced there is only one right way to play the game, soccer preachers will bore you for as long as you are able to take it. In the United States, there are baseball fans who either bemoan or exalt their team in conversations or monologues that seem never ending. But it is priests who can be the hardest preachers to listen to, especially if they are encouraging or demanding a kind of behavior that they rarely practice.

Jesus had a lot to say about preachers, most of it harsh and dismissive. He was especially disenchanted with the Pharisees and Sadducees who have may have been fine fellows, but seemed unable not to interpret the law in ways that led everyday Jews into guilt and shame without changing their own lives.

Although transformation is clearly the goal of every religious tradition, unless we practice our faith with conviction and joy, our preaching will do little good. Who wants to listen to anyone who is more interested in evangelizing others than in living the Gospel themselves?

Today, make a review of your faith life and ask God for the integrity to live its challenges with delight.

Whose commitment to faith has most formed you in your own religious practice?

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Stop Judging

 "Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned." Lk 6:37

Judging the motives of others is natural, but dangerous. Someone acts in a way that makes no sense to us and we immediately interpret it. In this election year we might find ourselves saying, President Trump is just trying to assure himself a bigger share of the black vote, or Bernie Sanders is trying to hide his wealth. We often base these judgments on one thing we heard on the news or our political prejudices. To this point, this kind of thinking and judging is normal and necessary. Not exploring our judgments and conclusions, and dismissing another person or political position completely based on very little evidence, is where we get ourselves in trouble with the Gospel.

Jesus was always being judged. Those threatened by his message tried to convince others that he only wanted to wrest power from the Pharisees and Sadducees, and exalt himself as a prophet and healer. It was very difficult for his enemies, and for us, to encounter a totally other centered person. Jesus came to announce the Good News of his Father. He wanted to remind us that we are saved and have only to turn to God in faith to receive this great gift. The gratuitousness of his goodness was too much to accept, even though it was only a fulfillment of what God had promised the Jews long before.

Today, judge others with God's compassion.

When are you most tempted to sit in judgement of others?

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Abraham's Terrifying Challenge

 God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a burnt offering on a height that I will point out to you.” Gen 22:2

What kind of God is this who asks a faithful servant like Abraham to sacrifice his own son? At first reading, it sounds like God is an abusive father who tests his friends with impossible tasks. Some might even say that God is cruel in playing with Abraham's spirit in this way. That we know the end of the story mollifies us only a little. Yes, Isaac will be spared but at what price? Will he be scarred forever and afraid of a God who wanted his father to sacrifice him? Will he ever trust God himself?

No matter how painful, we must try to enter the story of Abraham and Isaac as it is presented to us, not only for our own spiritual growth but as servants and disciples of a God who challenges us to announce Good News to the poor and set captives free. Because the poor and captives are more likely to face the kinds of impossible challenges presented to Abraham, we need to walk with them  and learn from them as they discover a God who will show them a path to freedom and light.

These painful questions are also necessary for every believer because it is our concept of God that most affects our everyday life. If we think of God as someone who is always watching us like a prison guard, we might behave but we certainly won't believe. Rather, we will try to skirt the edges of faith in order to avoid condemnation, but never know the joy of being in love with God who promises never to stop loving us.

Today, revisit a dark time in your life and invite God to be with you as your probe its meaning.

How do you interpret the the test of Abraham? Can you make sense of it?


Friday, February 26, 2021

Love your Enemies

 "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." Mt 5:44

Rooted in the Book of Leviticus, Jesus' command to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us is one of the more troubling of Jesus' hard sayings. How can we pray for those who persecute us, especially if they are members of our own family or parish? Isn't it more natural to avoid them, to not think about them and live without them as companions in faith?

At the time the gospels were written, Jesus' insistence that we love our enemies was especially difficult since most his followers were considered unclean. Willing to interact with Gentiles and sinners, Jesus' disciples were sometimes excluded from their own families. Indeed, the early Christians had a very rough road to walk, and they needed to hear and remember that Jesus taught his disciples to think like God, to be like the Forgiving Father of Luke's gospel, to welcome sinners and sit at table with them like Jesus did. (Luke 5:29)

There is no doubt that learning to love our enemies is an ongoing battle, one that we will often lose, but one which we cannot avoid. Nothing speaks the Gospel more clearly or deeply than the lives of believers willing to go beyond what seems reasonable in order to proclaim Good News. When we love our enemies, no one can deny the power of Jesus' life and teaching alive in us, and while our enemies might not choose to join us, they will surely respect our faith filled lives.

Today, for the sake of the Gospel, pray for the grace to reconcile with someone who hurt you.

What are the hardest sayings of Jesus for you to understand and accept?

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Reconciliation in Troubling Times

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

True Humility

 "Everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asked for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asked for a fish?"  Mk 7 8-9

Most of us are too proud to ask others for help, except in the simplest matters. Determined to hold onto our independence for as long as possible, we miss some of the great delights of life. When we allow others to help us, everything changes. We realize that it is o.k. not to know certain things, not to be in charge, to be in charge. More important, we often empower others when we ask for their insight or help. This is especially true with our children. I remember well when my parents asked me to help them with their finances. Although I had not had much experience in financial matters, there were plenty of friends who were more than capable, and they were only too happy to help me and my parents.

Jesus is inviting us today to ask for help, to acknowledge our weakness and dependence, asserting all the while that God is waiting for our request and anxious to come to our aid, and while we might not always receive exactly what we think we need or want, the Lord will always be present to us as guide and companion. The 13th century Persian poet, Rumi, says it this way: "The door we are knocking on opens from the inside."

Today, knock of God's door just to tell him you are near.

What makes it difficult for you to ask for help?

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Everyday Epiphanies

 “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah." Lk 11:30

How we miss the everyday Epiphanies in our life is always a mystery. The wonders of creation, the gift of faithful and faith filled friends, and the power of common worship all offer us opportunities each day to celebrate God's presence within and among us, but we fail. Admitting these faults allows us to begin again, but Jesus is angered with those who fail to see God all around them and have the gall to ask for new signs. Until we learn to slow down enough to celebrate the presence of God is so many people and places, we cheat ourselves and God of being grateful.

The saints are those who recognize their faults, ask for help to overcome them and are humble enough to begin their pilgrimage over again each day. St Augustine resisted God's call for years because he preferred to live comfortably and without responsibility, thinking he was better than others. His mother, like most mothers, knew better. She prayed that he might open his eyes, see God and be captured by God's love. Eventually, her prayers were answered and Augustine became one of the most prolific and effective preachers of the early church.

Today, open your eyes and let them slowly move around wherever you are to discover God's presence and promise.

What distracts you most from the presence of God within and around you?

Monday, February 22, 2021

Letting God Gaze at You

 "In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him." Mt 6:7

Many people want to pray more until they realize that they don't know how to pray or think they don't know how, and find themselves in a quandary. Most people of faith learn to pray as children in a very ritualized fashion. They know the Our Father and Hail Mary. Many remember a morning offering and the mysteries of the rosary, but are left wondering what is next.

Today's scripture is clear and helpful. It is not necessary to use many words when we pray. In fact, too many words get the in way of most conversations. What begins as a dialogue becomes a monologue. One person speaks, the other listens. One person is content with the "conversation," the other leaves wondering what just happened, and unfortunately, something like this is the experience of many when they pray.

St Clare of Assisi spoke of prayer in a similar way when she instructed her sisters to let God gaze at them, and they should learn to gaze at God. In other words, prayer can be as simple as taking a long, loving look at the real. Sitting quietly in our rooms or our car for a few minutes before we begin the day, and letting our spirits look at all that is, can allow us to hand our day over to the Lord and trust in his loving presence.

Today, try praying quietly. Don't use words. Let God gaze at you.

Are you able to sit quietly with God and let God look at you with love?

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Chair of St Peter

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


The role of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, has been debated and challenged regularly in history, especially since the middle of the 19th century when the First Vatican Council wrote about papal infallibility. That is why it is so important to listen to St. Peter when he warns Christians not to lord it over others but to be examples to others as Pope Francis reminds us often. This might also be said of parents, grandparents, and everyday adult Catholics. Our primary call is to live the Gospel transparently in such a way that others might come to know and love Christ and follow a Gospel path. Catholcism is first a religion of persuasiveness and example, not of proselytizing and the manipulation of power.

This conversation seems especially important these days as the Church works to confront the sexual abuse crisis sweeping the Catholic world. That is why is it is so important to  pray for Pope Francis as he seeks to chart a Catholic path of deep reform and service of those most in need.

Today, pray for Pope Francis as he seeks to lead Catholics with humility and wisdom.

What do you need from a Christian leader?

Saturday, February 20, 2021

God lives in the Desert

"The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him." Mk 1:12-13

Twice in the first chapter of Mark's gospel there is an Epiphany, a moment of enlightenment and clarity for Jesus and all of us, his followers. The first occurs as Jesus emerges, newly baptized, from the waters of the Jordan and hears God's words, "You are my beloved son; with whom I am well pleased."(Mk 1:11) This is an Epiphany of a kind we all enjoy and seek. It is an affirmation, a light come to us from afar, a confirmation of our identity as God's child.

The second Epiphany, about which we read today, follows immediately, but it is an Epiphany of a very different kind. Jesus is in the desert, the place of terrible cold at night and unbearable heat during the day, and he remains there for forty days and nights. This is a dark Epiphany, a time of affirmation surely, but accomplished in the shadows. Though Jesus is ministered to by angels, he is also among wild beasts. His life is being threatened and his integrity is being challenged. Today's Epiphany is daunting, one which most of us would rather avoid.

The challenge of the Gospel is clear. Are we willing to look for and find God both in the cleansing waters of new life, and in the desert darkness of fear and uncertainty? While it is natural and understandable that we would hope to find God in all the obvious places and situations, in a loving family, in a supportive community and in friends who know us inside and out, it is not enough for the Christian. Our task is more difficult, but also clearer.

Today, return to an unhealed place within your heart and let God be with you.

Recount a time when you discovered God in the "desert."

Friday, February 19, 2021

Not Judging

 "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus said to them in reply, "Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do." Lk 5:31

When the leaders of the Jewish community challenged Jesus about eating with tax collectors, his answer was clear and straightforward. While acknowledging that tax collectors were sick, he reminded his listeners that sick people need help. If the Pharisees did not want to admit their own faults and sickness, they would have no need of God's help. Our first spiritual task is always to acknowledge our own faults, ask for God's mercy and accept it with joy when it comes.

In biblical times, tax collectors were hated. Not only were most of them Jews who worked for the Roman occupiers, they often charged more than necessary if they thought they could get away with it. More often than not, therefore, they would prey on the poor and the illiterate who were unable to calculate their own taxes. Men who took advantage of the poor were despised by Jesus, but if they showed a willingness to let go of their evil ways, Jesus, the merciful physician, would heal them.

Today, imagine yourself sitting quietly at your own "tax collectors table," and ask for help.

When are you most likely to judge others?

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Other Centeredness

"For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." Lk 9:24

The essence of Jesus' message is other centeredness, a virtue that is both difficult and dangerous. It is difficult because it demands that we think of others first, even when they haven't earned our attention or concern, but Jesus is clear when he tells us that it is the sick who need a physician, not the healthy. The gospel demands patience, consistency and compassion, but when the other person ignores our outstretched hand or pushes us away, we can be easily discouraged.

Other centeredness is also dangerous. Too often wanting to please others or being afraid of disappointing them, we worry more about our goodness than the other's need. Anxious to "fix" the sick as a way of proving our fidelity to God, we ignore others in need, even members of our own family. Having a good "soul friend" can help us avoid this danger. All of us need someone to show us how to let go of our pride and will in order to let God do God's work.

Today, pray for the gift of discernment to do God's will not your own.

When is it most difficult for you to be other centered?

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Carrying Our Crosses

 “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." Lk 9:23

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.

Today, carry the first cross you encounter without grumbling.

What are your most difficult crosses?







Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Ash Wednesday

 "Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God." Jl 2:12

External signs of penance are common in most cultures and religions. Kneeling on the steps of a church asking pardon of those entering was common. Dressing in sackcloth and ashes and abstaining from meat were other ways of asking pardon of God and the community for serious faults and sins. Each and all of these penances were encouraged by the church both to help the sinner repent and remind the church community to be transparent examples of Gospel living. The book of Joel, however, is careful to remind believers that the mere exercise of a public penance does not guarantee reconciliation with God and the community. While the external signs of sorrow might be in place, the need for penitent hearts is still necessary, and this is the work we all must do during Lent.

Sometimes it is best to keep things very simple during Lent. Think of a penance that, while stressful, helps you open your minds to new ideas and your spirit to real transformation. It might be as simple as sitting quietly for five minutes in the morning before you make coffee or plan your day. You don't have to do anything during this quiet time except make yourself available to God for God's work.

Today, don't just do something, sit there.

What have been your most memorable Lents?

Monday, February 15, 2021

God Loves and Protects each of Us

 "'Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees...' " Mk 8:14

The disciples were drawn to Jesus for many reasons. He spoke to their hearts. He addressed them with dignity. He was a healer and prophet and he spoke with power. But they were also cautious and afraid when he warned them not be swayed by the leaven of the Pharisees. The Pharisees could intercede for them with the Roman authorities when they were in trouble and they did not want to bite the hand that fed them. No doubt some moved to the background when they heard Jesus' warning. but others listened at a deeper level. Rather than retreat, they moved closer to him because they believed God would protect, guide and strengthen them when they were threatened. What is your temptation when you are challenged?

Today, ask God for the faith to believe in your own worth and not to let your fear get in the way of a deeper relationship with the Lord.

Do you believe that God cares about you and all people personally?

Sunday, February 14, 2021

God Everywhere

“Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” Mt 8:12

How we miss the everyday Epiphanies in our life is always a mystery. The wonders of creation, the gift of faithful and faith filled friends, and the power of common worship all offer us opportunities each day to celebrate God's presence within and among us, but we fail. Admitting these faults allows us to begin again, but Jesus is angered with those who fail to see God all around them and have the gall to ask for new signs. Until we learn to slow down enough to celebrate the presence of God is so many people and places, we cheat ourselves and God of being grateful.

The saints are those who recognize their faults, ask for help to overcome them and are humble enough to begin their pilgrimage over again each day. St Augustine resisted God's call for years because he preferred to live comfortably and without responsibility, thinking he was better than others. His mother, like most mothers, knew better. She prayed that he might open his eyes, see God and be captured by God's love. Eventually, her prayers were answered and Augustine became one of the most prolific and effective preachers of the early church.

Today, open your eyes and let them slowly move around wherever you are to discover God's presence and promise.

What distracts you most from the presence of God within and around you?

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Our Leprosy

 "A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, 'If you wish, you can make me clean.' Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, 'I do will it. Be made clean.'” Mk 1:40


That Jesus listened to the desperate pleading of the leper and allowed him to draw near was remarkable. Jesus knew that by associating with the leper he became unclean himself, but it did not matter. The leper was suffering not just from the disease but from the isolation imposed on him and all lepers.

Lepers had to tear their clothes and call out "unclean" whenever anyone approached them. What a terrible punishment; what an awful life, but the leper who calls to Jesus for help ignores the teaching of rabbis and so does Jesus. After Jesus cleanses the leper he warns him to tell no one. Of course, the man newly made whole and freed from the desperate loneliness that was his life could not keep quiet. Who could remain silent about such a wonderful gift?

There is a leper in all of us. We obsess about our sins, want no one to see as we really are and even try to hide from God. That the society and church sometimes shun us is not the deepest pain. Too often we isolate ourselves through useless guilt. Only when we remember that we have been cleansed once and for all through baptism and forgiven over and over by Christ's redeeming love, are we really free. When this happens we cannot remain quiet. We must find our voice and announce the Good News. God wants us to draw near and desires to set us free. We have only to ask for help and healing will come.

Today, tell someone you have been made clean by the love of God.

How do you respond to people who others think of as unclean?

Friday, February 12, 2021

God wants to Feed us

 "The all ate and were satisfied." Mk 6:43


Knowing who you are and to whom you belong is a foundational first step on the road to spiritual health.  Every adult believer has struggled mightily at times with their identity as Christians and Catholics. Sometimes it is a particular belief or practice that makes us uncomfortable or leaves us full of doubt, and this is especially true when we are struggling with other issues in our life. When a marriage collapses or a parent nears death, we can wrestle with the teaching of the church or its beliefs and practices. Why can't I remarry, some ask?  Doesn't God want me to be happy? Or why is my mother suffering so?  Doesn't God care?

It is at times like this that that we need to remember that God wants to feed us,  but we must present ourselves to him as hungry.  When we are able to remember that God is in love with us, and is our companion through every dark forest or imposing mountain climb, we are able to put aside the particular stumbling blocks along the way and eat the food he offers us.

If we remember that to ask God for help everyday, not just when we are need, God will give us the faith to live with the questions and burdens which have no easy answer. That God is with us in the middle of the doubt, fear and anger is the promise upon which we rely.  God is here. God lives within us and among us. God is enough.

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

What does it take for you to be satisfied?

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Transitions with God

 “Ephphatha!' (that is, 'Be opened!') And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly." Mk 7:34-35

So many aspects of life need to be opened over and over in our lives. We need to have open spirits, open hearts and open minds. Without a life open to God and God's direction, we risk missing the voice of the Spirit who Christ promised us would always be present within and among us. Remaining open to God's Spirit can be especially troubling when we are in pain.

An older friend has remained engaged in life by reading. She reads the newspaper everyday and a novel at least once a week. She also reads history and theology, but recently she has been grappling with vision problems. Almost immobile, my friend is struggling to understand and accept this new burden. The openness she has had her entire life, and which she so prized, is difficult to maintain. Though she knows that she can use her other senses to engage the world around her, her eyes have always been her primary path to enjoyment and conversation.

How we manage the transitions that life presents us is the measure of our faith. Walking with others in pain, reaching out to the hungry, and accepting the limitations that come to everyone, while seeming to close us off to what we have always known, in fact allows God to do God's work in and through us.

Today, open your heart to whatever God asks.

What are the most difficult transitions you have faced?

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Resisting Despair

 “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Mt 15:27

The Canaanite woman in today's gospel who asks Jesus to free her daughter of a demon is a remarkable example of someone who, despite overwhelming odds. refuses to be put off by Jesus' insistence that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Far from allowing herself to be distracted by the rejection of Jesus and his disciples, she continues to advocate for her daughter. That she compares herself to a dog eating scraps from its master's table finally gets Jesus to look at her and acknowledge her faith. 

Giving into discouragement or despair is not an option for Christians when they advocate for the poor. No matter the cost, believers must continue to follow the example of the Canaanite woman and work together with other people of faith for a just life for all in our society and around the world. (Charity in Truth)While we might not be successful all the time, the justice of our cause will surely move the hearts and minds of other believers to work for a society that refuses to allow some to live in destitution while others hoard resources.

Today, ask he Lord to teach you how to help the poor.

What aspects of life make you feel most powerless?

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

St Scholastica

 “I asked a favor of you and you refused. I asked it of God and he granted it.” St. Gregory the Great

Every year the office of readings brings a smile to my face. St. Scholastica, the twin sister of St. Benedict, knowing her death was near, asked Benedict to stay the night at her convent and allow their conversation about spiritual concerns to continue. Benedict, unwilling to break the monastic rule forbidding monks to sleep outside the monastery, refused. Scholastica prays, asking God to intervene. Suddenly, a fierce thunder storm breaks out. Benedict, (I think with a hint of smile) asks his sister what she has done and she responds, “I asked a favor of you and you refused. I asked it of God and he granted it.” Three days later Scholastica died.

Prayer is not intended to change the course of human events, but sometimes it helps.  How important it is each day to stop, ask God to make us aware of his loving guidance and enter more deeply into his presence. Think about what happens to us each time we pause to remember the sick, the hungry, the homeless, the home bound, and those trapped inside countries at war. Prayer allows us, even forces us, to get outside out own worlds and concerns to allow the Spirit to lift us up, center us and strengthen us not to be afraid to let go of our own will and desires. Prayer may not cause a thunderstorm each day, but it lets God do God's work in and around us.

Today, don't be afraid to ask God to free you from rigid obligation and lead you into love.

How do you understand prayer/


Monday, February 8, 2021

Tradition

 "You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on." Mk 7:13

Ours is a traditional faith. We value all that has gone before us, and treasure the memory of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. The word traditional is telling. It means to hand over to the next generation that which has been given to us by our ancestors.

Catholics are traditional in this sense, not only in our parish faith communities, but also in our homes. Rituals are passed from one generation to the next as gifts that carry our deepest values. Almost every culture has its own rituals that complement the Eucharist and other sacraments.

Babka, for instance, is a rich rising bread that people in the Ukraine bake for Easter. Families break pieces off and share it among themselves in order to remember that Christ's rising from the dead is a rich and sweet memory, but like every tradition, it can undermine our  most basic values. When we worry more about celebrating the ritual correctly than the values it represents, we fall into the same sin as the Pharisees. Tradition becomes a trap that trips people up rather than an evocative celebration that sets us free.

Today, bless yourself with holy water and remember your baptism.

What are your favorite family rituals?


Sunday, February 7, 2021

Let there be Light

 “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” Gen 1:2-3

The first book of the bible is thrilling. Dramatic and moving, Genesis introduces us to a loving God who creates all that is as a gift for us and our joy. Light, sky, earth, sea, moon and sun are all legacies that we are to enjoy and share in the name of a living God.

Hidden within these gifts is also a subtle warning. Creation belongs to all, not to a particular race or religion. God spreads God's goodness to everyone like a blanket on a sleeping child. God's love is not something to hoard or possess, but to enjoy and celebrate. So glad are we for God's protection and largesse that we are compelled to tell the world of God's love and work diligently for justice.

The bible is full of stories about God's insistence that we distribute God's gifts freely among all. Today's gospel reminds us that people had only to touch the tassel of Jesus' cloak to be healed. Jesus did not push anyone in need away, but allowed all, even the unclean who believed, to experience his restorative power.

Today, be grateful for the light of creation and friends.

What of creation speaks most loudly to you of God's goodness?

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Faith in Dark Days

 "Job spoke, saying: Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? Are not his days those of hirelings? He is a slave who longs for the shade,  a hireling who waits for his wages." Jb 7:1

The world often gets very small when we are struggling. Danger also makes the world small. When the disciples found themselves struggling to row against the wind in the middle of the night, they did not recognize Jesus coming to them across the sea. Consumed by their fear, that had forgotten the miracle of the loaves and fish which they had just witnessed. Clearly hoping that Jesus show of power was a sign that he would soon lead them into Jerusalem and rid their holy city of the Romans, they failed to understand his message. In fact, the text suggests, their "hearts were hardened."

How often when we are stressed we forget that Jesus is always with us. Determined to work through whatever problem is in front of us, we are like people trying to push back the tide or the waves of an ocean. Our independence or our personal goals become more important than our faith, and when we fail, we complain to God and sometimes even doubt God's existence. Although the Gospel continually assures us that the Lord is always near, when life gets dark, we fall into old patterns of self reliance and howl against the night when all we need to do is stop, rest and let the night play itself out.

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

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

Friday, February 5, 2021

The Companions of St Paul Miki

 "May the Lord be glad in his works." Ps 104

Sometimes, when we celebrate a saint's liturgical feast day, we forget who the companions were. This is a shame because it cheats us from celebrating everyday people. The twenty six companions of St. Paul Miki included people, young and old, from ever walk of life.
The twenty-six martyrs of Japan were crucified on a hill, now known as the Holy Mountain, overlooking Nagasaki. Among them were priests, brothers and laymen, Franciscans, Jesuits and members of the Secular Franciscan Order; there were catechists, doctors, simple artisans and servants, old men and innocent children—all united in a common faith and love for Jesus and his church. (Catholic Culture)
The history of our church is replete with a wonderful variety of saints and blesseds, all of whom deserve our admiration. If only we knew the stories of more ordinary people, not just bishops, priests and religious, we would understand more deeply how important it is to ask God to make us saints right where we are.

Today, pray to one of the lay men and women Japanese martyrs.

What qualities do you look for in saintly people?

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Jealousy

 

St Agatha

 "Jesus Christ, Lord of all, you see my heart, you know my desires. Possess all that I am. I am your sheep: make me worthy to overcome the devil." St Agatha

We know almost nothing of St Agatha. That she lived in Sicily and was martyred are clear. Not much else is known, but there is a fascinating legend that grew up around her. Because she refused the advances of a suitor who wanted her to marry him and forsake her Christianity, she was tortured and died professing her total commitment to Jesus and her willingness to let him possess her.

The word possession is a difficult one. Often used to speak of the action of the devil, we resist the notion of anyone possessing us. But possession can also be used by lovers to indicate their total willingness to be with one another. In fact, poets suggest that only mutual possession can free us to love without fear. Agatha, in love with her Lord, desires this kind of possession. Hopeful that Jesus would give her the strength she needed to resist anything or anyone that would undermine her faith, Agatha asked to be especially close to Jesus, as near as a sheep to her shepherd at night.

Saints like Agatha remind us to ask ourselves how close we want to be to the Lord. Do we desire a kind of intimacy that helps us when we are weakest, when everything seems to be falling apart? Are we willing to sacrifice and risk all in order to be near the one who promises never to abandon us?

Today, ask the Lord to accept you as you are.

How do you react to the word possession?

Wednesday, February 3, 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?

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Respecting Everyone

"Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon?And are not his sisters here with us?'  And they took offense at him." Mk 6:3

Fury is a strong emotion that we sometimes feel in defense of our family or children, nation or culture. Fury can also be a personal defense. If someone questions our integrity, honesty or commitment, we can react and attack them, their positions or their intelligence, anything to deflect attention from our own vulnerability.

The gospel passage we are reflecting upon is set in Jesus' hometown of Nazareth. When Jesus challenges his neighbors to see him for the prophet he is, they react. How could this son of a poor carpenter pretend to be a prophet? No doubt some of them were also wondering what it was that others saw in Jesus and snidely suggested to anyone who would listen that if all the people fawning after Jesus had to live with him they would not be so sanguine about his supposed powers. No wonder they were furious.

It can be very difficult to hear the truth from people we don't like or respect, but that is the challenge of the Gospel. Until and unless we are ready to hear God's word in any form God desires to communicate it, we will miss many opportunities for transformation and growth. Asking for the grace to hear God each day, no matter the messenger or the message, is a powerful Lenten practice.

Today, listen to someone you do not respect.

What areas of your life and faith are most difficult to examine?

Monday, February 1, 2021

The Presentation of the Lord

 "The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him." Lk 2:32

The gospel scene of the infant Jesus being presented in the temple is remarkable, an epiphany of sorts. Entering the temple with his mother and father, he was every Jewish first born boy. Presented to God for God's purposes, he left the temple the Messiah. Recognized and lauded by Simeon as the One promised by God, and spoken about to everyone who would listen by the prophetess Anna, in many ways Jesus' mission began when, as an infant, he left the temple and grew in wisdom and grace because the favor of the Lord was upon him.

Though we know little about the childhood of Jesus, the Presentation offers us a glimpse into his humanity. Though recognized by Simeon as the one for whom he had been waiting all his life, he returns with his parents to his hometown to grow up like any child. Whether he was remarkable or insightful we do not know. What we do know is that he didn't skip over anything that makes all of us the unique persons we are. No doubt he had childhood illnesses, struggled with the Torah, worked alongside his father to learn a craft, and played with other children his age, all of which prepared him to be the Prophet he became. 

Committed like Moses to freeing his people, Jesus seems never to have wavered as an adult from doing his Father's will. Knowing his Father was always near, he teaches us the same simple lesson. God is always near. We have only to live life as fully and honestly as possible and let it unfold as God desires.

Today, be yourself and let God take you where you need to go.

What do you think your parents dreamed about for you?







Sunday, January 31, 2021

Accepting God's Compassion

“Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.” Mk 5:19

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 offers this same consolation in today's gospel. Healing a possessed man who was living among the tombs, in  a cemetery, he sends him home and asks only that he speak to his family about the Lord's compassion.

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?

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Soft Hearts

 "If today you hear God's voice, harden not your hearts." (Ps 95)

All of us have hard hearts from time to time, and while it is understandable, it hurts others, especially those close to us. Just as important it hurts us. When are hearts are hard we let nothing and no one in, and we pay for it. While we can hear others on the most superficial of levels, it is almost impossible to respond to friends and family with compassion and understanding. We are so wrapped up in our struggles that we ignore the needs of everyone around us.

The prophets knew this well, and it is the reason they regularly resisted God's call to announce good news and remind people to listen to God. When no one is listening, it is very difficult to keep speaking, yet that is what God demands of us. Because we never know when someone's heart will soften, we must continue to live and proclaim the Gospel. It does not matter if we are heard. It is not about our success. It is about being faithful to God as God is faithful to us.

It often surprises us, especially after a period of hard heartedness, that God never stopped listening to us and urging us to transformation. Neither do our closest friends abandon us when we fail to respond to them.  They may take a step away from us in order to protect themselves, but they do not abandon us, and it is then that we realize what true friendship is. When our hearts do soften, it is good to remember, especially when friends fail to respond to us, that their hearts might be hard for a little while, and our only task is to wait with patience as God waits for us.

Today, ask God to soften your heart.

What will it take to soften your heart for the sake of the Gospel?

Friday, January 29, 2021

Faith Overcomes Fear

 "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen." Heb 11:1

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 then our self centered desire or limited view of the world.

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, January 28, 2021

Mustard Seeds

 "The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush,and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.'" Mt 13: 31-32

Jesus continually surprises his disciples. Just as they get comfortable with the direction he is taking, he turns a corner and turns their world upside down, telling them that God's reign is like a mustard seed. When someone from the crowd, exultant and full of himself, proclaims that he will follow Jesus anywhere, Jesus reminds him that he has no place to lay his head. Is the fellow from the crowd willing to become a nomad and follow Jesus into the wilderness? Challenge after challenge faces the Apostles and disciples.

In claiming his identity as a pilgrim and an itinerant preacher, Jesus promises us that like the God of the Hebrew scriptures he will follow his flock anywhere and everywhere. Though he makes few demands, he is always imploring us to live like him, without family or wealth, but full of hope and compassion. God will guide us and care for us, he insists, but we have to trust. The emptiness of having nothing in Christ is a fullness beyond compare. Clinging to nothing, we have everything. The faith to believe this is the test we all face.

Today, empty yourself of everything that gets in the way of loving God and neighbor.

Have you known the glory of feeling rich even when you have nothing?

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

St Thomas Aquinas

 "Christ is mediator of a new Covenant." Heb 9:15

No theologian in the history of the Christian west has been more influential in shaping theological thought than Thomas Aquinas. A prolific writer whose works include the Summa Theologica, his thought also helped Christians probe the wisdom of the Greek philosophers, especially Aristotle, as a path to new insights about the Gospels.

There is a wonderful lesson in Thomas' life for all of us. As the 21st century unfolds we need to find new and probing ways of helping the Gospel live in this age, and while the wisdom of the past will always be an aid in this regard, it must be supplemented by tools contemporary believers recognize and use. How the Internet and other social media will open up paths to a new Evangelization is still to be seen, but surely needed.

Today, be wise. Say nothing. Just listen.

What thinker or social media has helped you enter the Gospel message more deeply?

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Rocky Ground

 "A sower went out to sow his seed...Some seed fell on rocky ground " Luke 8:4, 5

There is rocky ground in all our lives, and while we have to acknowledge it and accept it, we should not obsess about it. Whether our early years were difficult and confusing, or your marriage was sour almost from the beginning, we need to find a way not to let our dark days dissuade us from living with joy and hope. Our parents or our partners may have disappointed us, but God cannot abandon us, and faith demands that we ask God to be the ground of our lives. Only then can we be sure that no matter how rocky life is or might become, God's love will sustain us.

Letting God find the good ground in our lives and asking for the grace to let go of our failures is an important step on our spiritual journey. If we worry too much about the rocky ground, we will miss the good God is already doing within and through us.

Today, be grateful for the God has done in you. Let go of failure.

How has God surprised you on your pilgrim journey?

Monday, January 25, 2021

Sts Timothy and Titus

 "I yearn to see you again, recalling your tears, so that I may be filled with joy." 2 Tim 1:4

St Paul's affection and love for Timothy is one of the few instances in the New Testament that allow us to experience the passion present in the first disciples. Paul reminds Timothy of    his roots. Timothy's mother and grandmother were filled with faith and Paul cites their commitment in urging Timothy to live the spirit of the Gospel in a similar way.

Seeing old friends, especially those who strive to live an integrated faith, is always a joy. While many have abandoned the practice of the faith, many more have deepened their commitment by daily prayer, reading and reflection. Some have joined religious book groups; others have entered renewal programs and scripture courses. Some have even become spiritual directors for others.

Joy is an important virtue. Nothing is more able to reflect the delight and gratitude that comes to us in faith. When people encounter believers whose joy is transparent and authentic, they cannot not be impressed and attracted to the One who gives us joy and proclaims through us the  freedom of the sons and daughters of God.

Today, seek out an old friend and share your faith and joy.

Who or what brings you joy and hope?

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Conversion of St Paul

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

The drama of St Paul's conversion is compelling. Travelling to Damascus, determined to capture and persecute more followers of the "way", the gospel of Jesus, Paul is startled by a great light and, unsure of what is happening, falls to the ground. His companions see the light but don't hear the voice of Jesus. Only Paul hears the Lord's question, and frightened, asks what he should do. Jesus' response is cryptic but clear. Paul is to go to Damascus but his mission has been changed. No longer will he persecute Christians, he will join them.

If only faith was this clear for us. Our conversion, which is ongoing but often happens in hidden ways, is essential to our Christian life, but most of us have to read the signs of  times in the light of the Gospel to know the path we should take. While this might sound difficult, and is surely not as dramatic as Paul's conversion, it is easier if we have a spiritual companion and pray regularly. The freedom to speak with another about our own inner journey and our place in the world guides us, through prayer, to make good, thought through and felt through decisions that foster our ongoing conversion.

Today, speak with a soul friend and pray quietly for ten minutes.

What do you need to do to be open to God's ongoing call?

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Jesus, The Flowing Waters of Salvation

 "Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed." Jon 3:4

Jonah's challenge is both similar and very different from the apostle's. Jonah must walk through Nineveh and remind its citizens that unless they reform, their entire city will be destroyed. In this aspect of his ministry Jonah is a forerunner of the apostles, but Jonah is reluctant to assume his new role. In fact, he hopes he fails. His dislike of the Ninevites is deep. He does not want them to reform and hopes that God will destroy them.

The apostles, on the other hand, while no doubt having their own prejudices, are not reluctant at all to follow Jesus. Jesus' personality and power draw them like fresh water in the desert. They do not hesitate leaving their boats and their families to follow the one who promises a new reign and a new world order.

There is a bit of Jonah and the apostles in all of us. Because no one can escape hurt, like Jonah we sometimes harbor and hold onto painful memories that cling to us like an ink stain on a new shirt. We scrub and launder the shirt over and over, but the stain remains. Though we know we have no choice but to find a new shirt, we cling to what seemed so clean and fresh but is now ruined. Unless we change shirts, we will be unable to begin again, and that is exactly what the apostles do. Because the law as they heard it interpreted left them cold and lifeless, they follow Jesus, the living water and are born again.

Today, let go of anything that is keeping you from the enjoying the living water of faith.

Who has been like water in the desert for you?

Friday, January 22, 2021

Not Blaming Others

 "When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, 'He is out of his mind.'” 

We are often tempted to blame behaviors that upset us on mental illness. Mental illness is an easy target, and while we need to be sensitive to anyone who suffers psychologically, we also need to recognize that some people choose to behave in ways that upset others despite the cost to themselves.

Jesus regularly chooses to behave in ways that upset the authorities and his family. He allows  bleeding women to touch him, he reaches out for lepers and the blind, and he ignores some Sabbath laws for a greater good. Though his relatives want to protect themselves from the shame that comes to them because a relative breaks the law, Jesus continues to interpret the law in ways that protect the broken, the poor and the voiceless. We have the same mission.

Today, pray for those you don't understand or agree with.

Whose unconventional life impacted you for good?

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Protection of Unborn Children

 “The Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price,  he goes and sells all that he has and buys it." Mt 13:46

Often great thinkers and saints come along at a time in church history when there is division, even chaos, and rage. St Francis of Assisi changed his society not by being upwardly mobile, but by choosing to live as a poor person among the poorest of the poor in Assisi. Thomas Becket famously said: "I am ready to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace. But in the name of Almighty God, I forbid you to hurt my people whether clerk or lay." And Mother Teresa of Calcutta saw a million people dying on the streets of Calcutta and decided to respond to them with love when no one else wanted to see them. All of them were pearls of great price.

Our task today seems very similar. Sometimes the Catholic church is known more for what it condemns than what it promotes, a comprehensive concern for the human family. While some in the press challenge the church’s condemnation of abortion as limiting a woman's legitimate freedom, the bishops remind us that we must have an “option for the poor and vulnerable," especially unborn children as well as promote workers rights, provide health care for all and welcome refugees fleeing violence and political oppression if we are going to have an authentically formed Catholic conscience. 

Today, practice virtue and justice.

What do you think it means to be a faith filled citizen in the United States today?

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

St Agnes

 "He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd." Mk 3:9

Being ready for whatever comes each day is everyone's goal, but often difficult to do. When we are busy with a matter that demands our full attention, it can be irritating to be interrupted, especially when we determine that our time is precious.  This is not the way of Jesus!

Today's scripture suggests that the apostles and disciples should expect to be interrupted. More, they should be ready to respond. The posture of servant demands that Jesus' followers think more about the poor and lowly who are looking to Jesus for nourishment than their own needs or plans.

A stance so simple should not be confusing or awkward for the disciples, but it is. Too often the disciples forget who they are and why Jesus came. Sound familiar? The lesson today is straightforward. Get ready to welcome anyone who comes seeking faith. Nothing is more important than the discipleship to which we have been called. Stay alert to the seekers all around you. They need the fullness of the Gospel.

Today, make the way of the Lord less cluttered for others.

Who helped you when you were lost and in need?

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Courage of Jesus

 "'Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?' But they remained silent...The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death." Mk 3: 3, 6

The essence of Jesus' message is other centeredness, a virtue that is both difficult and dangerous. It is difficult because it demands that we think of others first, even when they haven't earned our attention or concern, but Jesus is clear when he tells us that it is the sick who need a physician, not the healthy. The gospel demands patience, consistency and compassion, but when the other person ignores our outstretched hand or pushes us away, we can be easily discouraged.

Other centeredness is also dangerous. Too often wanting to please others or being afraid of disappointing them, we worry more about our goodness than the other's need. Anxious to "fix" the sick as a way of proving our fidelity to God, we ignore others in need, even members of our own family. Having a good "soul friend" can help us avoid this danger. All of us need someone to show us how to let go of our pride and will in order to let God do God's work.

Today, pray for the gift of discernment to do God's will not your own.

When is it most difficult for you to be other centered?

Monday, January 18, 2021

Sabbath

 "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." Mk 2:28

When Jesus reminds the Pharisees that his disciples are hungry and need not worry about a particular Sabbath prohibition about picking grain on the Sabbath, they are scandalized. How could this young rabbi presume to to interpret the law so loosely? Jesus is clear. While the Sabbath is important and necessary, it should no be an unnecessary burden on people's hearts, especially those who struggle to make a living.

The same is true for the obligation to celebrate the Eucharist each Sunday. While the law of the church regarding Sunday Eucharist is important because it helps us honor God, and remember we are a community of faith who travel together in Christ, it should never get in the way of common sense. If we are sick or age makes it difficult and dangerous to get to mass safely, we need to find other ways to honor God and support the community.  If we are more afraid of breaking the law than praising God, we can tie ourselves in knots and become totally self absorbed rather than celebrating the God who is always near.

Today, ask God to help you see the big picture about faith.

What does it mean to you to be an adult Catholic?

Sunday, January 17, 2021

New Wineskins

 "No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse." Mk 2:21

In the Hebrew bible a garment signified covering a person's sinful condition. Jesus was challenging his fellow Jews to put aside their old garments which were fraying and welcome the new. Jesus was the new garment of salvation, the new hope, the Messiah. Unfortunately, some see this passage as suggesting that the Old Law no longer had any value, while in fact Jesus always presented himself as an observant Jew who valued the Torah but came to announce a totally new interpretation of the Law.

It is always difficult to recognize and accept the need for change, especially if the status quo has been good to you. A labor union member never wants to give back hard won advances. A politician resists compromising on key issues and grocery stores do not want to lower their prices except to encourage people to buy what they don't need. However, sometimes substantive change is necessary for the good of the entire community. Jesus came to correct Jewish leaders especially and challenge them to step back from their policies and interpretation in order to take a new look at God's dream for the world. When they could not do this, Jesus condemned them.

Letting children grow up and discern how best they can live the values so important to their family is essential if we hope the next generation will internalize what they have learned. If we only do what we have been taught because questioning might lead to rancor and hurt feelings, we will never be able to take the next step in life and faith. We need to encourage one another to live adult Gospel lives. Asking hard questions, being open to necessary change and risking new ways of making the Good News known will serve God and the faith community well in the long run.

Today, take a step back from your faith practices in order not to miss the forest for the trees.

What do you think of Pope Francis as he asks Catholics to reimagine their faith?

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Serving the Elderly

 "When Samuel went to sleep in his place, the LORD came and revealed his presence, calling out as before, 'Samuel, Samuel!' Samuel answered, 'Speak, for your servant is listening.'” 1 Sam 3:10

Anxious to care for Eli, the high priest, as he neared death, Samuel, though just a boy, was like a mother with a small child, and woke easily from sleep when he thought Eli was calling him in the middle of the night. Each time Samuel heard his name called, he thought it was Eli asking for help but Eli assured him it was not him calling. Finally, Eli realized it was God calling Samuel and told him that when he heard his name called at night, to say: Speak, Lord your servant is listening. When Samuel next heard his name called, he obeyed Eli and listened to God but the message was painful. God tells Samuel that Eli's unwillingness to control his sons would never be forgiven. More painful still, Eli demanded that Samuel tell him exactly what God had said. Samuel obeyed and Eli heard God's awful punishment from the boy he had helped raise.

Sometimes we don't get the answer we want from God about our lives and our dreams. Samuel could not have expected that God would tell him that because of  the wickedness of Eli's sons, Eli's reign would soon end forever. How difficult it must have been for Samuel to tell Eli what God had said, but as a prophet, he had no choice. His only task was to speak God's word faithfully despite the cost to him personally, and his fidelity would be rewarded by God.

Telling the truth despite the cost is an important challenge for every believer. Unless we are willing to acknowledge our own failures, and the mistakes of our families, nation and church, we cannot expect God to make up for our faults. God wants to free us from fear and strengthen our resolve but we have to do our part.

Today, ask God to help you live without fear.

How difficult is it for you to speak the Gospel when no one seems to be listening?



Friday, January 15, 2021

Eating with Sinners

"Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Mk 2:16

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?

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Friendship

 "They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying." Mk 2:3-4

Where would we be without friends? A paralyzed man who hears about Jesus has no way to see or visit the Lord unless friends help him. Though Jesus is  surrounded by needy people, the paralytic's friends are not deterred. They go up on the roof, dig through it and lower their friend in front of Jesus. It is really an amazing scene which the scribes cannot spoil with the mumbling about Jesus not having the power to forgive sins. So anxious not to lose their teaching role in the society, the scribes think nothing about the paralytic while the man's friends think of nothing else. Who doesn't yearn for friends like this?

The twelfth century monk and writer, Aelred of Rievaulx, says it this way:
No medicine is more valuable, none more efficacious, none better suited to the cure of all our temporal ills than a friend to whom we may turn for consolation in time of trouble, and with whom we may share our happiness in time of joy. ― Aelred of Rievaulx Spiritual Friendship
Today, be gracious and accept the help of your friends.

To which friends are you most grateful?

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Bold in Faith

 "It was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere." Mk 1:45

It is clear in Mark's gospel that Jesus was becoming so popular that he was bound to be challenged by the leaders of Rome and Palestine. Gathering large numbers of disciples was a threat both to civil and religious authorities that could not be ignored. The Roman leaders and Jewish hierarchy had found a way to coexist, and they resisted any attempt to upset the balance of power they had crafted. Though it was clear that the Jews had little real freedom, at least they controlled the temple and were free to celebrate their traditions.

When Jesus started to attract large numbers of followers he could have negotiated his own terms with the Romans and Jews, but he wanted none of it. Because he knew that his message was not political in a narrow sense, he sought deserted places to pray, regroup and commune with God, but the crowds would not leave him alone. Though he was not trying to gather people to himself but for his father, his power to heal and the strength of his presence were so influential that the civil and religious leaders had to stop him.

Is our faith and its practice ever agitating for others? Does the way we live challenge people to reorient their lives and lifestyles? When we remember that the gift of faith is not simply a personal treasure given to us for our own salvation but for the world to know the saving love of God, we can be sure that it will upset some. Nonetheless, God demands that we live a transparent and simple faith despite its consequences. Jesus modeled this and we have always to learn it.

Today, pray to be bold about your faith.

Whose practice of faith most agitated you? Did it help in the long run?

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Letting Jesus Heal Us

 "Jesus approached, grasped the hand of Peter's mother in law, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them." Mk 1:30

Like most Catholics born in the middle of the last century, I was schooled to believe that the best way to live a devout life was to get to mass as frequently as possible, and to confession every week. These religious practices, good in themselves, often led people of my generation to worry about trivial matters in a way that was out of proportion to the faults themselves.

Worse, we often struggled every day to be better, not so much to honor God, but to "earn" our salvation. Unfortunately, while we became good practicing Catholics, our call to discipleship often got lost in the shadows of our compulsions. When the focus of the spiritual life becomes our personal holiness, union with God often takes a back seat.

Today's gospel offers us a different perspective. God is a healer who wants to lay hands of hope upon us and draw ever closer to us on our journey. When we, like Peter's mother in law, accept the help of the divine physician everything changes. Having confronted our weaknesses, we are freed of our compulsions and return to our daily work more energized and committed to the only one who can make us whole.

Today, who yourself to God as you really are and ask for healing.

What happens when we acknowledge our weaknesses and submit to God?

Monday, January 11, 2021

To Whom do you Listen

 "The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes." Mk 1:22

While very few would suggest that education is unimportant, it can be overrated. Most of the adults I knew as a child had little formal education, yet they were respected in my neighborhood.  Anyone who worked hard, had a deep faith and understood life from the inside was trusted and revered.  Like Jesus, many of my neighbors 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, January 10, 2021

Follow Me

 “'Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.' Then they left their nets and followed him." Mk 1:17


Reading about the call of the disciples, it is natural to wonder if Jesus knew any of the men before inviting them to follow him. Did he notice something in them that would help announce the great salvific message of his Father? Did he know their families? Did he call them because he noticed them listening intently to him when he preached.

We have any number of reasons to hesitate when hearing the call of the Gospel. Discipleship, especially in the so called developed world, does not pay very well, nor does it promise fame or power, but resisting it can be difficult if not impossible for those who are honestly looking for a way of life that respects, even honors, all people.

The simplicity of the Gospel has not changed. Neither has its difficulty. Our task is to live its message of hope, transformation and submission to God with integrity and honesty. Admitting our dependence on God and being willing to serve others in his name remains a powerful invitation to anyone looking for a God who will never stop loving and challenging them.

Today, listen for the voice of the Lord in your life and follow it unreservedly.



Have you ever followed someone immediately without really knowing much about them?

Saturday, January 9, 2021

The Baptism of the Lord

 "I need to be baptized by you, yet you are coming to me?" Mt 3:14

With this feast, the season of Christmas comes to an end, but the challenge to give birth to the Christ begins in earnest and John the Baptist teaches us how to go forward. John's humility about his own role and his assurance that Jesus is the Messiah lifts us up and sends us forth in hope. Jesus, Isaiah and John remind us, has not come into the world to destroy it, but to assure all those listening, especially the poor, that his task is to heal the bruised reed and keep alive the flame of faith, but only if we accept his word and allow his power to transform us.

As Jesus begins his public ministry by having John baptize him, it is clear that he will risk anything so that his message from his Father will be clear and transparent. Jesus is among us to announce Good News, but his message will be difficult for those who want to cling to power, wealth and worldly prestige. Jesus wants to set us free from the domination of all systems that fail to create a just world. This message will be his downfall and our salvation.

Today, put aside your fears of being broken and weak. Our God heals.

Is it time to begin again your own ministry of service and freedom?

Friday, January 8, 2021

Gazing on God

 "The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease." Jn 3 29-30

What was it that John saw? What did the Spirit look like? Most of us have been in the presence of people with political or religious power. We know what that feels like, but Jesus was an itinerant preacher and minor prophet. Surely, John was talking about something more than the power we invest in hierarchies when he said of Jesus, "He must increase, I must decrease."

In order to see, we must look long and hard at ourselves, others and the world. This takes practice and discernment. We cannot expect to see what it is that God is doing within and among us unless we take time to gaze upon God and God's works everyday. Some call this prayer or contemplation but naming it is not as important as doing it. Finding time in our busy schedules to stop, listen, and allow the Spirit of God to guide us is essential to anyone who wants to live the Gospel.

Today, slow down and let the Lord look at you as you are.

What most keeps you from developing a daily prayer life?

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Hiding for God's Sake

 "Go, show yourself to the priest." Lk 5:14

Not wanting to be the focus of people's adulation, Jesus hides from the people after curing the leper because he knew that flattery rarely led to imitation and discipleship.  Jesus wanted the Jewish leaders and the people who first listened to him to fall in love with his Father and commit themselves to God's will.

This was and is a hard lesson for us. It is natural to want security and answers to life's problems and concerns. We go to doctors to avoid and address health issues and financial advisers to help us invest our money wisely and safely, but Jesus did not come to promise us protection from life's every day trials but to accompany us on every journey. He is the new Covenant, the fullness of God's love, the one who will always be with us as a guide. We should not expect him to shield us from difficulty but to be a light in the darkness.

Today, pray to be aware of God's unconditional love and presence.

Who has been with you through every dark night?

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Loving our Enemies

 "If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates his brother, he is a liar." 1 Jn 4:20

Christianity is dangerous. It is not a religion that lets us escape into a world on contemplation and prayer without actions. In fact, it demands that we love our sisters and brothers with the same breath and ardor that we love God.

We all know this, but it is important to remember, especially when we find ourselves enmeshed in political or religious arguments that tempt us to be right rather than in relationship. Real love demands that we listen with the ears of God to those with whom we disagree. Jesus did this with the leaders of the Jewish community and demands we do the same with those elected or called to lead us.

This can be much more difficult when it involves family members or friends with whom we disagree. As the 2020 presidential election nears, all of us will be tested not just to listen to God but to listen to all those with whom we differ and seek common ground. When Jesus found faith outside of Jerusalem, he honored it and challenged his contemporaries to do the same. He continues to do this if us and through us today.

Today, pray for someone with whom you disagree and ask for the faith to listen to them with God's ears.

Whom do you find it most difficult to listen to?

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Lost at Sea

"Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid." Mk 6:51

Imagine yourself in a small boat at night when a sudden storm starts blowing you all over the place. The day has been long and you need to rest, but the storm is fierce and demands your attention. You need help, but feel very much alone. If this sounds like more than a few days and nights you have had, then you know how the apostles felt during the storm on the sea of Galilee. Very much afraid when they see Jesus walking on the water towards them, they want to take him into a boat and possess him when suddenly they reach land.

Today's gospel is best understood as a metaphor for life, and especially for those who are grieving. The bereaved often feel "lost at sea". Nothing they are experiencing after losing a friend or having a loved one dies seems ordinary or understandable. Tempted to panic, they may seek solace in all the wrong places, when what they must learn is to wait for their "boat" to reach land again. This can be easier said than done, but it was very necessary for the disciples to experience what it would be like not to have Jesus with them all the time, and it is just as important for us.

Stay still when you want to run or scream, and try not to panic. We may not be able to see the Lord all the time, but he is with us, guiding us to a place where we we will be safe and able to start over.

Today, remember a time when you felt lost and discovered that God was with you in ways you did not know.

What would you tell someone who feels lost at sea?

Monday, January 4, 2021

St John Neumann

 "If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?" 1 Jn 3:17


St John Neumann knew well the truth of John's first letter. Because he saw so many in need, he did everything he could to respond, including learning Spanish, Italian, French and Dutch. As a missionary to the United States, he became a kind of itinerant pastor, but acknowledging his need for community, he joined the Redemptorists.

Named bishop of Philadelphia at 41, the young Redemptorist, anxious to respond to the needy and unlearned, approached the teaching brothers and sisters in the area and invited them to serve with him in the schools of Philadelphia. Determined to give immigrant children a chance at a better life, John immediately began to build Catholic schools. In less than a decade Philadelphia, which had only two Catholic schools when he arrived,  had more than one hundred.

Success stories like John's continue to lift us up with hope. When people of faith work together for the good of all, everyone benefits. The parochial school system that John helped build not only provided Catholics with a good education, it prepared them to make a difference in society, and taught them how a deep faith life could impact their neighborhoods and cities for the good of all.

Today, pray to know how best to announce the Good News with your lives.

What aspect of church life has been most important in your faith life?

Sunday, January 3, 2021

St Elizabeth Ann Seton

 "We have found the Messiah." Jn 1:41

Elizabeth Ann Seton had any number of firsts in her life. She founded the first American congregation of religious sisters in the United States, opened the first parish school and the first Catholic orphanage, but none of these is her greatest triumph. Despite being widowed at 30 with five young children, she decided to become a Catholic despite strong opposition from her staunch Episcopal family.

Elizabeth's courage at a time in her life that begged her to be careful and conservative remind us that when we depend totally on God wonderful things can happen. Not only are we able to make difficult decisions, we do so with conviction and serenity. When God is on our side, and God always is, no obstacle is too big to overcome.

In the United States women have always been the foundation stones of our parishes. They teach religious education, serve on every committee and week after week faithfully celebrate the Eucharist with devotion and passion. In all of this they have a wonderful model in Elizabeth Ann Seton. Not deterred by being ignored, dismissed or rejected, women know, like Elizabeth Ann, that God is their center and their guide. Nothing else matters.

Today, listen to a woman of faith.

What woman of faith do you most admire?

Saturday, January 2, 2021

The Epiphany of the Lord

 "Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you." Is 60:1

Searching for the living God is a life long adventure, and the feast of the Kings reminds us of this. Don't be afraid the astrologers from the East remind us. As long as you are looking for God, God will find you. Sometimes it will be a star in the sky. At other times, it will be a sunset in summer or a flower in winter that captures us with its beauty and reminds us to keep going, to keep searching. Though God is very near, we do not always sense God's presence, but as long as our spirits remain open, our journey will not be in vain.

The church may be very weak in the United States, and our parish churches almost empty in places during these days of Covid 19, but as long as we accept the call to discipleship, we cannot go wrong. Assuredly, the message about the Messiah came to God's people from beyond their shores, but for those who kept listening to the signs of the times there was no surprise. God will come to us as God wants. We have only to be ready.

Today, expect a surprise.

How has God entered your life in ways you did not expect?

Friday, January 1, 2021

Sts Basil the Great and Gregory Naziansen

"When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires, the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper....our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians." (1) St. Gregory of Nazienzen

The saints whose lives we honor today were, in contemporary language, "soul friends."  Basil, who is recognized as the father of monasticism in the East, could be fierce and unbending. Much like Mother Teresa of Calcutta in our day, he was a reformer and  made decisions quickly, often without much conversation with others. Gregory, on the other hand, was shy and retiring.  When appointed Archbishop of Constantinople, he lived with friends rather than take up residence at the city's center. Both men were accused of heresy and were slandered by those who resented their power and fortitude. Despite their differences, they remained friends.

All of us need people with whom we walk closely in faith, especially when life is difficult and confusing. Having one other person to accompany us through the dark and light times is a gift beyond words. Gregory and Basil had this in one another, and although their relationship was often under great stress, Gregory reminds us that their "great pursuit...to be called Christians" kept them together in love and hope.

Today, treasure the gift of a  soul friend.

How important have your friends been to your faith life?