Saturday, September 11, 2021

Carrying our Crosses

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

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

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

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

Today, carry the first cross you encounter without grumbling.

What are your most difficult crosses?

Friday, September 10, 2021

Bear Good Fruit

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

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

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

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

Today, accept the good God has done through you.

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

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Judging Others

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

St Peter Claver

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 6, 2021

Called by name

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

Almost everyone has a conversion experience or three. Struggling for an identity or reflecting on the scriptures, there is a moment that stops us and reminds us who we are. Though it is not always life changing, it can be. When the Apostles heard Jesus invitation to follow him, they knew who they were and who they were called to be.

The same was true for St Paul when he was blinded by a great light and heard a voice telling him:"I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting." (Acts 22:8) Unable to see because of the great light, his companions led him into Damascus where Ananias healed him of his blindness and told him to return to Jerusalem and be baptized. Not long afterwards God told Paul to leave Jerusalem and go to the Gentiles among whom he would find his life's mission.

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

Today, thank someone who increased your faith?

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

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Labor Day

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

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

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

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

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

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