Friday, August 30, 2013

God Wills Your Wholeness

St. Paul reminds us in today’s first reading, 1 Thes 4: 1-8, that God’s will for us is our “holiness.”  God wills our integrity, our transparency, our wholeness, our honesty, our purity, our simplicity; in short,  our sacred commitment to Truth, to Life, to  Christ--the way to the Father.  God wills that we again become childlike: innocent, awe-filled, loving and trusting, inclusive, transparent, faith-filled and hope-filled.  God desires that you and I refrain from immoral acts: acts of evil intent, malicious acts, hate-filled acts; that we refrain from deceitfulness and from all that is contrary to godliness, to loving and forgiving as God loves and forgives us.  God wills our good. 

What do you will for yourself and others?  Is your will worthy of being carried out in actuality, that is, are your actions and attitudes in sync with your innermost desires, those that come from your God-self, or are they aligned with the propensity to act contrary to God's will, to succumb to the weakness of sin that exist within each one of us?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Temptations: Feeling Trapped between Right and What is Not Right

Today we celebrate the feast of John the Baptist, the one who prepared the people for God the Son’s coming into this world to walk among us as a human being, teaching us the way to the Father, to God’s Kingdom here on earth and in eternity.  Herod was fascinated by John, loved to hear him preach but did not follow his counsel, living according to his own will, not God’s, as did Adam and Eve and their descendants to this very day.  John, being a righteous man, confronted Herod when he married his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias.  It was Herodias and his own daughter who trapped him into doing that which was truly against his conscience.

Herod, Herodias and their daughter’s lives were dominated by wealth, power and self-indulgence, a form of self-idolatry. We ourselves live in a world ruled by secularism, materialism and unlimited freedoms, a  narcissism and forms, also, of self-idolatry.  We become our own gods, so to speak.  Hence, as with Herod, temptations abound in our lives.

To whom am I going to listen today: my narcissistic self or my God-self, the voices of others egging me on to follow the Father of Lies or the voice of the Spirit inviting me to follow Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life which the world does not recognize?  The choices is ours!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

God's Intimate Knowledge of Us

“You have searched me and you know me, Lord,” we pray in today’s responsorial psalm.  In the Gospel,  Mt. 23: 27-32, Jesus searches the hearts of the Pharisees and confronts them for their hypocrisy. Exteriorly, they look very holy with their elegant, officious robes, sacred phylacteries and tassels.  Interiorly, however, they are anything but holy.  “They tie up heavy burdens…and lay them on peoples’ shoulders but they will not lift a finger to move them.  All their works are performed to be seen,” Matthew tells us in verses  4-5 of this same chapter.  There is a Pharisee in all of us, that is, all of us are hypocritical from time to time and appear to be living impeccable lives. All of us, on occasion, do things for show. We also have the ability to be authentically holy, that is, to be persons who recognize and acknowledge our sinfulness; are merciful, compassionate, kind, just, forgiving and caring toward others, willing to lift their burdens, to share their grief, to help them find love and peace and joy for their sake alone. Yes, we truly care, are genuinely involved in making the world a better place because we are, in fact,  cooperating with grace to the fullest of our abilities.
 The Lord knows because He searches our hearts! And even when He finds “the Pharisee” there, God still loves us ,redirects us toward an authentic Christian life and forgives us our failings.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

God's Infinite, Loving Knowledge of Us

Today’s responsorial psalm, Ps 139, reminds us that God searches us and knows us.  “…You understand my thoughts from afar,”  as He did, for example,  the thoughts of Peter, John and James; Mary of Magdala, his own Mother Mary, the woman who touched the hem of His garment and was healed, the woman he met at the well and told  that her present husband was not her husband.  Yes, God knows you and me intimately.  “Even before a word is on…[our] my tongue[s],” God knows it all. God knows when our thoughts are negative or positive, critical or accepting; yes, even venomous or generously kind and merciful like His own.  God loves us no matter how wayward or holy our thoughts might be.  God guides our thinking to the way God thinks.  God directs us to thoughts that generate positive energy, that deepen our hope and our faith and the hope and faith of others.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Monica. For thirty years she prayed for Augustine, her wayward son, a child living an immoral life, a child who had turned away from Christ.  God knew her agonizing thoughts, saw her weep over her son’s disobedience to God’s Commandments to love God above all (the first three commandments) and to love his neighbor as himself (the other seven commandments).  Through her, Jesus interceded for Augustine.  Her waiting upon the Lord was richly blessed, as her son converted, abandoned a life of sin and consecrated his live to the Lord as His priestly servant.

To what is God calling you and me? In what ways are we in need of conversion in our thoughts and in our actions? And for whom are we praying?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Impulsive or Reflective Living: The Consequences

Today’s first reading, Judges 11: 29-39a, was very disturbing to me when I first read it. Jephthah vows to the Lord that, if He delivers the Ammonites into his power, he will sacrifice to the Lord whoever comes out of the door of his house to meet him on his return. His only child, a daughter, so excited over her father’s military victory, comes out playing the tambourines and dancing. In anger, I ask: How can anyone make such an impulsive, rash decision in the name of God! As I prayed over the Scriptures, the thought came to me that rash, impulsive decisions are carried out every day in the name of God, of religion, even when falsely perceived as right and just, as obligatory. Such actions are common even to this day. Human lives are sacrificed daily and persons are harmed by any one of us acting impulsively, rashly, as we glory in ourselves and our accomplishments, as did Jephthah. These actions may be as “small” as entertaining gossip, raising ourselves above others by “having fun,” “fitting in,” at the expense of another. Though not as tragic as was Jephthah’s vow, such behaviors still affect us and others in negative ways. And so all of us come before the Lord in humble repentance, asking for mercy and forgiveness and the courage to live reflectively instead of impulsively.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

God's Generosity concerning the Kingdom of Heaven

In today’s Gospel, Mt 20: 1-16, Jesus states that “the Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.” Those hired later in the day, even those hired at 5 p.m., received the same wage as those hired at dawn. What a message of hope for all of us! Those who accept Jesus’ invitation to work in His vineyard, whether accepting that invitation as children, adolescents, young adults, middle age adults, those of advanced years or on their death beds will be treated equally. Recall the thief on the cross who acknowledged Jesus and said to Him: “Remember me in your Kingdom” and Jesus’ response was “This very day you will be with me in Paradise.” We may want to protest: “No fair. I lived a good life for 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 years and a thief just before he breathes his last get the same treatment I do!” God’s mercy, God’s generosity, God’s love is infinite. It has no bounds! It is inclusive. No one is turned away who repents! Salvation is free to those who believe in the Lord and rely on God’s mercy! May I be that generous!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Being God's Champion

In today’s first reading, Judges 6: 11-24a, an angel of the Lord appears to Gideon and says to him: “The Lord is with you, O champion.” Gideon’s response, in today’s parlance, sounds something like this: “O yeah! Then why are we facing such horrible possibilities as being slaughtered by our warring neighbors?” Gideon was in the process of beating out wheat in the wine press to save it from the Midianites, certainly not a pleasant job given that they were soon to be delivered into the enemy’s hands. Gideon complains: “If the Lord is with us, why is all this happening to us? Where are the wondrous deeds that our ancestors tell us God performed for us in Egypt?” The angel of the Lord says to Gideon: “Go with the strength you have and save Israel from the power of Midian!” Gideon objects: “Me? My family is a nobody in Manasseh; and, in my family, I’m totally insignificant. You’re really talking to the wrong person, Lord!” Sound familiar? You and I could dance the same dance in which Gideon engages. We could come up with similar complaints—our world, too, is in a mess, about to be overpowered by enemies within and outside of the U.S. As the fires and the floods rage in fury; when terminal or chronic illness strikes our families, we, too, might wonder where God is. Like Gideon, we could manufacture the same arguments when God calls us forth to take responsibility to make something happen to change the course of our lives when we are at our end’s wit. The choice is ours: we can engage in arguments and do nothing or, in faith, to take up the challenge to make a difference, to radiate possibilities in a seemingly impossible situation. I pray for the courage to do the latter! What about you?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Wanting to be right with God!

In today’s Gospel, Mt 19: 16-22, the rich young man, who faithfully obeyed all of the commandments, approaches Jesus, wanting to know what more he has to do to gain eternal life. He, obviously, knows that something is missing but doesn’t know what. It seems that this young man is busy accumulating brownie points, if you will, keeping track of his accomplishments, checking off a list, so he can assure himself that he is doing everything right. Jesus knows that this man is attached to his riches, to his accomplishments, to his pride. “Go sell all that you have and give it to the poor,” Jesus tells this man. His riches are not only of material origin but also rooted in his pride of what he has accumulated, what he actually does own and his efforts in becoming a rightful owner: doing everything right. He lives that way also in relationship to God. He wants to know what more he has to do. Eternal life is not about what you and I have to do. It is about relationships: a personal relationship with Jesus and right relationships with one’s neighbor, especially the poor and needy. The rich young man in today’s Gospel was not willing to let go of any of his riches for the sake of the poor. He was too attached to his wealth. That is who he was. No way was he going to let go of his materials things, of his accumulated riches, to focus on relationships. Of what is God asking you and me to let go for the sake of meeting another’s need today: That person’s need to be heard, to be understood, to be affirmed, to be comforted? That person’s need for a meal, for school supplies, for whatever?

Friday, August 16, 2013

God's Faithfulness and Oneness with Us

Today’s readings are about fidelity: God’s fidelity to the Chosen People and God’s fidelity mirrored in marriage. In Joshua 24: 1-13, we are reminded of the way in which God was one with the Chosen people throughout their history: leading them away from countries in which they were worshipping pagan gods, acting independently of God, alienating themselves from God. He reminded them that He created darkness between them and Egyptian warriors who were pursuing them, that He delivered their enemies into their power that He “sent hornets ahead of you that drove…the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites out of your way; it was not your sword or your bow.” Yahweh also reminded them that they were given “a land that you had not tilled and cities that you had not built, to dwell in; you have eaten of vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.” In the Gospel, Mt. 19: 3-12, Jesus speaks of the fidelity of married men/women: “…a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh…[T]hey are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.” How do these readings apply to you and me? God is also one with us, leading us away from idols which we choose as god substitutes: materialism, consumerism, sexism, capitalism, liberalism, to name a few, and any of the addictions that take away our freedom. God also delivers “enemies” into our hands, putting darkness between us and that which lures us into sin: our pride, our selfishness, our efforts to control others and to act superior to them, our apathy, our fears, our prejudices and judgments of others, and so on. Furthermore, God gives us “lands” that we did not till, “cities” we did not build and “vineyards” and “olive groves” we did not plant: our faith, our families, our teachers, our counselors, our healthcare professionals, public servants, much of the food that we eat, the entertainment we enjoy, the beauty of the universe, and on and on. All because God loves us!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mary's Assumption into Heaven

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, body and soul. Mary is the holy one, the Ark of the Covenant in which God dwelt, through whom the Son of God became man, whereby salvation and power, the Kingdom of our God, the authority of his Anointed has come into the world. Mary, our Mother, the one who believed “that what was spoken to you by the Lord, would be fulfilled” (LK 1 39-56) enters the place of her King, takes her place in eternity as queen of heaven and earth. This is the one of whom Jesus spoke when he said: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Lk 11: 27-28. Mary is Jesus’ first disciple, a woman of staunch faith, a woman who treasured extraordinary secrets of divine origin within her, beginning with the Annunciation on into the Visitation, the prophesy of Simeon, the Flight into Egypt, the quiet years at Nazareth, the loss of Jesus in the Temple, Jesus’ public ministry, His passion, death and resurrection; His ascension, Pentecost, and the spreading of the Good News both among her own people and the Gentiles. Mary says to us: “Blessed are you who believe the Word and keep it, the Kingdom of heaven is yours.” She testifies to the authenticity of her Son’s promise of an inheritance out of this world that shall not be taken from us, no more than it was denied her. At God’s right hand, she intercedes for us that we, too, like her, will hold fast to Jesus, our Savior and Lord, the Anointed of God, who is at our side day and night ministering to us, restoring us to grace when we fall, guiding us through the perils of this life and rejoicing with us in the rising to new life in big and small ways along our journey to “the Promised Land.” With Mary, let us magnify the Lord for all that He has done through Mary and does through us.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Power of Binding or Loosening

In today’s Gospel, Mt. 18: 15-20, Jesus says to us: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” We may think that Jesus is talking about the power given to a priest to forgive sins. However, binding or freeing is a power given to each one of us. People can be bound for a significant amount of time because I am holding a grudge against them or thinking negative thoughts about them. I can also hold myself bound by putting myself down, telling myself that “I am stupid,” that “I am a failure,” that “I do nothing right,” that I am forever nagging or critical, forever making mistakes, and so on. I can also loosen the bonds I place upon myself and others. When I replace my negative thinking with positive thoughts, when I think kind thoughts of others and of myself, I radiate positive energy. I am then empowering them and myself to soar toward the greatness of which we are capable. I am then setting them and myself free to accomplish the things we are capable of doing to make this world a better place. Who am I going to set free today? Am I willing to “loosen” the bonds by which I hold myself hostage? Will I live “in the current/wind/fire of radiating possibilities” today and connect with others in this way, instead of focusing on what’s wrong and assuming the role of critic? When negative thoughts enter my consciousness today, will I entertain them or simply thank them for showing up and then move on to following my dreams of making a difference, contributing and making happen what I want to make happen today?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Promised Land of Grace

In today’s first reading, Dt. 31: 1-8, Moses tells the people that he will not be crossing the Jordan with them but that the Lord Himself “will cross before you” and that He “marches with you.” Moses also reminds them that the Lord will destroy “these nations before you, that you may supplant them.” How does this passage apply to you and me? Today, as we move into the “Promised Land” of our lives, God also marches with us. In fact, He crosses “the Jordan,” before us, removing the obstacles that we will meet today. He will destroy “the nations” that threaten to block us from knowing God today: our fears, our distrusting spirits, our weakened faith, our pride and self-centered or narcissistic desires. As we journey to the “Promised Land” of grace, we will be accompanied by the Spirit of God who also dwells within us. God’s Spirit girds us with the faith, the obedience, the humility, the meekness and the patience of the Son; empowers us to trust the Father, and strengthens us with the Spirit’s courage. In other words, just as the Son destroyed Satan’s power on the Cross, so, too, the Son destroys “the nations” that threaten our entrance into the Promised Land of the Holy Spirit’s domain today. Satan will not succeed over the long haul!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Dying and rising with Christ

In today’s Gospel, Mt 17: 22-27, Jesus tells his disciples that “the Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” The disciples were overwhelmed with grief, St. Matthew tells us. They did not yet get it. Jesus is not of this earth. He is God in human form and will be returning to the Father when He completes the Father’s will here on earth—our salvation through the blood of the cross. The cornerstone of our salvation will be rejected by the builders and put to death and will rise again. Death will have no power over Him and not over us either. I could not help but think how often I see only the negative, that which I judge disastrous, that which I believe is not supposed to be. Throughout the day, God gives me opportunities to die to selfishness and rise to new life through Him. Fearing that I will lose something of value, I may hang onto being right, arguing my point, clinging to that to which I may believe I am entitled—the opportunity of a resurrection may be lost in the process.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Trusting against formidable odds

In today's first reading, Numbers 13: 1-2, 25-14:1, 26-29a, 34-35,  we read about the Israelites' preparing to enter the Land promised to them by the Lord, the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey.  The Lord instructs Moses to "send men to reconnoiter the land of Canaan….” The men reconnoiter the land for forty days and, indeed, discover that it is flowing with milk and honey. It is also populated by giants and people who are considered "fierce."   The towns are also well fortified and very strong. 
The reconnoiters return to report to Moses and Aaron. Some of the men spread disparaging words, discouraging the people from even thinking a victory is possible. As far as they are concerned, the answer to "Should we advance forward" is a no brainer.  Caleb, on the other hand, tells Moses and the people: "We ought to go up and seize the land, for we can certainly do so." The persons spreading "bad" news outshout Caleb:  "The land that we explored is a country that consumes its inhabitants. And all the people we saw there are huge, veritable giants..."  They would rather die in the desert than enter the land of Canaan.  And that is what happens.  This generation of people does not enter the Promised Land; their descendents do. "Forty days you spent in scouting the land; forty years shall you suffer for your crimes: one year for each day. Thus you will realize what it means to oppose me. I, the Lord, have sworn to do this to all this wicked assembly that conspired against me: here in the desert they shall die to the last man."
Who am I in this story? 
·         When I or others are faced with a challenge, am I like the princes who reconnoiter the land and return with a disparaging report, spreading despair, convinced that what God is asking of me/of us is impossible?
·         When I or others have surveyed the challenge and truly see what the Lord wants of me/of us, am I like Caleb, confident that the task is possible? Do I spread hope among the people?
·         When I or others have gathered all the facts of what it will take to accomplish what God is asking, am I a part of the assembly wailing against it and wonder why anyone would expect this of me/us?
The Phoenician woman in today’s Gospel, Mt 15: 21-28, gives us an example of complete trust in Jesus! In all humility and with deep faith, she persists in seeking Jesus’ help. He tells her that He “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” “Help me,” she says.  “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs,” is His response. The woman does not flinch but comes back with: Jesus, “even the dogs eat of the scraps that fall from the table of their master.” Jesus sees her faith. In the midst of what could have been perceived as formidable odds and thus the petitioner walking away, the Phoenician woman hangs in there and her daughter is healed, she tastes “The Promises” of the Lord.
What about you and me when we encounter difficulties in our lives?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Transfiguration

Today’s Gospel, Luke 9: 28b-36, gives us the story of the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor. Jesus is revealed to Peter, James and John in his glory while He was at prayer: “…his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white…Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory,…spoke [to Jesus] of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem [his passion, crucifixion and death on the cross].” On Tabor, these three apostles, though at one point overcome with sleep, were fully awake and frightened when “they entered…[a] cloud.” From the cloud they heard a voice saying “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” The Transfiguration occurs every time we celebrate the Liturgy and the bread and the wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. Transfiguration also occurs whenever we receive any of the sacraments. Miracles of conversion take place in our personal lives and the lives of others on a regular basis—the birth of a child, a couple falling in love, a reconciliation of differences, the asking of forgiveness and the healing of hurts that follows, a person reaching out to be neighbor to a stranger, a child filled with awe over the beauty of God’s Created Universe, to name a few. Like Peter, James and John, our ears are also opened in the “clouds” of our lives--in our confusion and emptiness, our disappointments and in our disillusionment--times when we may be more receptive to our need for God and more open to hearing God say to us: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” My prayer today is that I will let God transform my life into the life of Christ and that I may I hear God speaking in the clouds of my life. I also pray that, at Jesus's invitation, I will go up to the mountain top to pray, to allow God to converse with me about what is happening in my life or about what is about to happen, so,I too, will be ready when God calls me to exodus from this earthly life and enter eternity. ,

Monday, August 5, 2013

Communicating with the Lord in all Honesty

In today's first reading, Numbers 11: 4b-15, the people are complaining bitterly against Moses about being stuck in a desert without their cherish foods, especially meat.  "...[W]e see nothing before us but this manna."  God responds angrily, the author of Numbers tells us, at the people's grumbling and forgetting how He freed them from 400 years of slavery. Moses, likewise, is angry. "Why do you treat your servant so badly?...Why are you so displeased with me that you burden me with all this people....If this is the way you will deal with me, then please do me the favor of killing me at once, so I need no longer face this distress."

"Moses, don't you know that you are talking to God,"  we might want to say to Moses.   God does not kill Moses and neither does Moses take his own life.  What we learn  here is to deal with crises in our lives by being totally honest with the Lord.  No pretensions!  It is okay to say: "I'm angry, Lord. I feel treated poorly. What gives!"  With close friends, a person does not need to mince words! Neither do we need to withhold our real thoughts and real feelings from God. When I was grieving the death of my mother, the absence of my father, hate letters from my stepmother, and a host of other smaller losses, I was outraged at God.  My anger was palatable.  I was also convinced that God was displeased with me--why else was life so awful, at least it seemed that way to me at the time.  The Lord made it clear to me during one of my prayer times that He had no problem with my anger but that I did.  

Moses and God were intimate friends.  They talked "real" to each other all of the time.  What about you? Are you transparent with God?  Are you honest with God, sharing all of your thoughts, feelings aspirations, hopes, dreams, fears; sharing the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the positive and the negative?  If not, why not?  And do you wait upon the Lord for His response?  Do you take time to listen to the Lord to communicate with you, to assure you of His Presence, of His cconcern?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Openness to Jesus as He Reveals Himself in the Now of My Life

In today’s Gospel, Mt. 13, 54-58, Jesus is visiting his hometown.  How sad it was for Him that they had no faith in Him. “Who is this man?” they asked. “We know him as the son of Joseph and Mary, ordinary people. His father was a carpenter. We know his brothers and sisters! Where does he get his wisdom? And those might deeds?”    We can experience disillusionment from the good or the bad another does.  We can dismiss a person by our knowledge of his/her past.  “Good from that person? Wisdom coming out his//her mouth?”  “She/he’s presenting at the parish tonight?  No way!  I’m not attending that!” 

Jesus, sadly, leaves that place, not working “mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.”  How many events and/or encounters by which God gives me the opportunity to experience His Wisdom and His mighty deeds in my life do I miss because of my lack of faith, my preconceived ideas, my prejudices, my “know-it-all” attitudes, my clinging to past experiences?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

God's Presence Among Us Always

In today’s first reading, Exodus 40: 16-21, 34-38, we are given information of how the Israelites knew God’s will for them.  A “cloud covered the meeting tent and the glory of the Lord filled the Dwelling….Whenever the cloud rose from the Dwelling, the children of Israel would set out on their journey. But if the cloud did not lift, they would not go forward; only when it lifted did they go forward.” A cloud was seen during the day and “fire was seen in the cloud at night…by the whole house of Israel in all stages of their journey.”  This was the presence of God in their midst. God also gave them the Ten Commandments and wrote the Law in their memories:  “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (Jer. 31:33).

Reflect for a moment on the fact that the whole house of Israel in all stages of their journey was privy to this reality of God’s direction. That means that children, adolescents, young adults, middle-age adults, adults in their declining years—everyone—sees God at work in their midst and within them, knows God’s Directives and recognizes when  to move forward (even when they refuse to do so).  The  Israelites did not go forward unless the cloud lifted.  Imagine you and I heeding the clouds in our lives as a message from God not to make major decisions at that time, not to go forward when our minds are foggy, when we feel confused, when we really don’t know what to do or what to think.  That is the time to recall Isaiah’s advice:  “By waiting and by calm, you shall be saved; in quiet and in trust your strength lies” (Is. 30: 15).  Also, then, imagine us following the directives of the Lord when “the cloud is lifted,” knowing that it is time to move forward , to implement a decision about which we are clear.

Like the Israelites, God dwells in our midst, in fact, God dwells in the very core of our beings. We are Temples of the Holy Spirit.  God’s law is also written on our hearts and inscribed in our minds.  The Holy Spirit lives within us “to infuse our knowledge with divine grace and guide us with divine creativity and wisdom” so that we, too, are able to stay on the right track on our journey to the Promised Land of Eternal Life with God (See The Word Among Us,  July/August 2013, p. 51).