Saturday, July 3, 2021

July 4th, Independence Day

 “May God give to you of the dew of the heaven. And of the fertility of the earth abundance of grain and wine." Gen 27:28

Unfortunately, independence rarely comes to individuals or nations without violence. Because people often want to possess others as if they were slaves, people feel compelled to fight for their freedom. This was the case for the pilgrims who came to the United States from England.

Seeking religious liberty, the pilgrims left their homeland in order to live in a place that would respect and protect their desire to live and worship as they chose. First settling in the Netherlands, eventually, in order not to lose their English language skills, they came to America because, like the people about whom Amos wrote, the Pilgrims were experiencing, "Not a famine of bread...but for hearing the word of the Lord."

Regrettably, however, the Pilgrims did not extend religious liberty to others in the New World, and their rigidity was mirrored throughout the early colonies. The state of New York, for instance, banned Catholics from holding public office until 1806, and while Maryland offered Catholics full civil rights, Jews did not enjoy the same privilege. In other words, the freedom that we celebrate of the fourth of July each year had to evolve over many generations before it became the law of the land, and when we forget this, we imperil everyone's freedom.

Today, celebrate religious freedom and pray to end violence in the name of religion.

What happens when people don't respect one another's religious beliefs?

Friday, July 2, 2021

The Power of Kindness

 "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" He heard this and said, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do." Mt 7:12

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, July 1, 2021

Abraham's 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?

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Sarah's Jealousy

 "Sarah noticed the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing with her son Isaac; so she demanded of Abraham: 'Drive out that slave and her son!'"

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

All of us know people like Sarah, and, of course, there is a bit of the selfish, worried, and self -absorbed person in all of us, but we cannot allow the "sinner" in us to direct, much less, dominate our behavior. When Sarah could not bear Abraham a son, she was content to let Hagar do so, but soon after God blessed her with Isaac, she wanted Hagar and Ishmael gone from Abraham's life. We must ask for the grace to welcome all people into our lives, even those who threaten our power and prestige.

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

Has ambition ever undermined your life or the life of your community?

Monday, June 28, 2021

Sts Peter and Paul

 "I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me." 2 Tm 4 6-8

Discovering our role in life is always important. Some are called to be husbands and fathers, others women religious and prophets, still others leaders and community organizers. More important to remember, these roles shift, change and are sometimes turned upside down, and the measure of our  character is our ability to understand and eventually accept these role changes.

The challenge to change roles was important in the lives of both Paul and Peter. Peter was married, perhaps a father, and had a role in his society, even a prominent one, as a fisherman. Fishermen like Peter had to be savvy businessmen and multilingual if they wanted to compete with Greek speakers who would also have been fishing in the Sea of Galilee. They had also to be able to negotiate contracts about taxes with their Roman masters. Leaving all of this security to follow Jesus was difficult. Only someone who spoke with power could have convinced Peter to let go of everything he had worked for and treasured.

Paul, on the other hand, was a respected rabbi and teacher, especially among prominent Jews. When he was willing, after Jesus' death, to challenge Christians who appeared to reject the Torah and the authority of the rabbis, his reputation for fearlessness grew. Again, like Peter, only the power of Jesus to reach him in his blindness moved Paul to let go of his reputation among leading Jews and in his own words pour out his life "like a libation" for the sake of the Gospel.

Together today in the liturgical calendar, we hold these two men up as examples. Unless we are willing to listen with our hearts to the saving promise of Jesus we will be unable to accept the transformation to which Jesus calls us.

Today, examine the roots of your faith.

What kinds of experiences have helped you enter the mysteries of faith more deeply?

Sunday, June 27, 2021

St Irenaeus

 "When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes." Mt 7:29

What are the great and wonderful works of God that move you most forcefully to contemplation and transformation?

For some creation itself fills us with wonder and awe. St. Francis of Assisi might be the patron saint of these believers. Francis not only praises sun, moon, fire and water, he calls them his sisters and brothers. Gratitude for creation is the ground of Francis' unique spiritual path while disregard of God's creation is the root of sin.

Others focus their awe on the human person. Both the complexity and simplicity of people stretch us to wonder. We can think, feel, respond to others, love and laugh, and the ease with which we do all these complex actions is amazing. St Irenaeus, whose feast we celebrate today, says it this way, "The human person fully alive is the glory of God."(Irenaeus)

Taking time each day to thank God for all God has done and does can help us grow in the spiritual life. Grateful people exude a joy that both lifts others' spirits and gently challenges them to conversion.

Today, praise God for God's wonderful works.

What most moves you to wonder and awe?