Saturday, February 5, 2022

Fear and Faith

 "When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, 'Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.'” Lk 5:8

Fear is a complex emotion. Absolutely necessary at times, especially when we are in physical danger and need to escape quickly, it is also an emotion that causes us to turn away from people, places and situations that are challenging. The mentally ill, for instance, can frighten us because we don't understand what they are saying or how they are acting, and we can be afraid of leaving a hotel in a new country even if we are assured that the area is safe. Not knowing where we are can be overwhelming.

Like he so often does, St Peter helps us in this regard. The Gospels portray him as a man quick to act and speak, especially when he is unsure of what is happening to him or around him. When Jesus suggests the disciples cast their nets to a different side of their boat, Peter is perplexed but submissive, and when the nets are filled to overflowing, Peter asks the Lord to leave, very much like a leper or a sinner might tell someone not to come near them because of their sinfulness. But Jesus, recognizing Peter's anxiety, tells him not to be afraid.

The message is clear. We cannot let fear or shame about our own sins and faults keep us from the Lord. Jesus tells his new disciples that they will be catching men and women if only they listen to him, accept his directives and follow him on the road to Jerusalem. This same invitation is ours if only we put our fear in the Lord's hands and follow.

Today, acknowledge your fear and stand still.

Which of your fears is most disabling in your call to discipleship?

Friday, February 4, 2022

St Agatha, Virgin and Martyr

 "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, 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 will give her the strength she needs to resist anything or anyone that would undermine her faith, Agatha asks 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?

Thursday, February 3, 2022

God's Rules

 "Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him." Mk 6:20

Good people like John the Baptist often trouble us. A few years ago in Kansas City, Ardie Bland, a judge who once sentenced people protesting nuclear weapons to jail, had a change of heart after hearing another group of protesters defend their actions. When the prosecuting attorney asked 80 year old Fr. Carl Kabat whether he taught people to obey the rules, the priest answered, "God's rules." Citing Rosa Parks as an example of someone who disobeyed the rules that made her, a black person, move to the back of the bus, the priest obviously moved Judge Bland, a black man.

Knowing that the law would not allow him to ignore the fact that protesters trespassed on government property, the judge sentenced the defendants to answer five troubling questions. The fourth, You defendants say you are Christians and one is a Buddhist. Fr. [Carl] Kabat says that you should disobey ungodly laws. How do you respond to someone who believes there is no God? Who is to say what God believes, for example, when Christians used God to justify slavery and the Crusades? 

Fr William Bichsel, SJ, answered this way. We give people reason to believe there is no God. We need to follow Jesus: lay down your arms, forgive one another, love one another. In the Lord’s Prayer, we say give us this day our daily bread. We mean nobody should be without bread. We say forgive us our trespasses. We mean nobody should be without forgiveness. Do we give people reason to believe there is no God by our failure to live the Gospel?

Today, pray to be true to your Gospel convictions.

How would you answer Judge Bland's question?

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Courage in the face of Rejection

“Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” Mk 6 12

Finding the courage to continue announcing Good News when one is rejected or persecuted is one of the great challenges of discipleship. We should have no doubt that the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish leaders was difficult for the apostles and disciples. Uneducated and illiterate for the most part, the disciples would find it difficult to defend the Good News formally or intellectually. Nevertheless, they continued to go around Palestine preaching God's word.

Most people who hear the Gospel these days benefit from a basic education, and a majority of the clergy have a sophisticated knowledge of the scriptures and church teaching. At the same time, defending the message of Jesus is as difficult as ever. While it is important for us as a church to articulate our faith carefully and comprehensively, we should not be naïve'. A few may challenge our theology or spirituality, but most people choose not to accept the Good News and no amount of argument or reason will satisfy them.

Today, ask for the strength to preach the Gospel simply and powerfully.

When is it most difficult for you to live or preach the Gospel?

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

The Presentation of the Lord

 "The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him." Lk 2:40

The gospel scene of the infant Jesus being presented in the temple is a remarkable one, 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?

Monday, January 31, 2022

David and Absalom

 “My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!” 2 Sam 18:30

A father's love never dies. Even though David's son Absalom plotted against his father, David could not stop loving him. Learning that all of Jerusalem had turned against him, David flees to the Mount of Olives. When Absalom chases his father intending to kill him, he gets caught by the hair in an oak tree. Hanging there, one of David's servants sees him and reports what he has seen to Joab, Knowing Absalom intent, Joab kills Absalom, but when David  hears of his son's death he is devastated. Despite Absalom's rebellion and desire to kill him, David cannot forget that Absalom is his son and wishes that he had died himself.

David's lament echoes through the centuries. How often we are disappointed in those closest to us, especially when they choose a path that seems so different from one we taught and try to walk. How often we are disappointed in ourselves! Only when we allow God to direct our lives and show us the path to authentic peace can we hope to live humbly and honestly.

The awful lesson of David and Absalom's life can still teach us. Who we are, how we act and the example we give to others is more important than what we say or write. Our witness to a living God can be best heard by our willingness to care for the hungry, sick, imprisoned and lost. Nothing else really matters.

Today, think before you act or speak.

Who taught you prudence?

Sunday, January 30, 2022

St John Bosco

 "We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another." Heb 10:24St John Bosco was a dreamer. Realizing at a very young age that violence only begets violence, John Bosco listened to the God of his dreams and began to treat other children with kindness and compassion, an action that was so counter cultural it caused others to laugh at him.

The author of Hebrews, like John Bosco, insists that rousing others to love and good works is one of the primary works of believers. Only when we encourage one another to lives of service and compassion do we live as Jesus asks.

There is an important lesson in John Bosco's life and the letter to the Hebrews. While it is reasonable and understandable to leave or avoid the church because of its obvious dysfunction and confusion, we must try to live counter intuitively. The best way to enliven others is from within the messiness of the church as it strives to live the gospel. Encouraging others works best when we acknowledge our own weakness and inspire others to live in peace and harmony despite our differences.

Today, encourage someone who is struggling.

Who has encouraged you to patience with yourself and others?