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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?