Saturday, August 28, 2021

Twenty Second Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 27, 2021

St Augustine

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

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

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

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

What keeps you from acting upon the Gospel everyday?

Thursday, August 26, 2021

St Monica

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

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

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

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

Today, pray for someone's conversion.

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

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Stay Awake

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

God's Indulgence

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 23, 2021

St Batholomew

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

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

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

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

What helps you put aside duplicity and seek transparency?

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Facing our Resistance

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

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

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

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

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

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