Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Choose To Be a Life-giving Person

In the Gospel of today for the 21st Wed. in Ordinary Time, Mt. 23: 27-32, we again read about Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees, whom Jesus describes as whitened sepulchers, pretty to look at but filthy on the inside. What an indictment!    The “Pharisee” in human nature is that part of us that  is not life-giving to others. It is the part of us that heaps burdens on others, that does not lift a finger to lighten another’s load, that shows no compassion, love, forgiveness; that does not  look for ways to assist the other, for instance, in finding shelter, in improving one’s life, in instilling hope, restoring faith, in becoming more free and in believing in self.
What will I do today, and every day, to help rather than hinder, to encourage rather than frustrate, to lift up rather than tear down, to lighten rather than burden, to instill confidence rather than fear, to bring hope rather than despair.  If I am a person who makes the world a better place, who  brightens rather than darkens  other peoples’  hopes, then I will not hear Jesus say to me:  “You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead…[persons’] bones and every kind of filth.” No, Jesus will say to me: Blessed are you who hear the word of God and observe it (cf  Lk 11:27).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


In today’s Gospel, Mt 23: 23-26,  Jesus confronts the Pharisees in being more concerned about the exterior, how one looks on the outside, than one’s interior, on judging others  by external laws as they did when Jesus  healed on the Sabbath or when he and his disciples pulled grains of wheat from the stalks on a Sabbath.  All they say were the exterior acts in relation to the letter of the law, not the interior disposition of meeting another’s need for food or of treating others with compassion. They were so caught up in imposing the letter of the law that they forgot to look deeper or to live from a deeper level where mercy, compassion, and love guide one’s actions.
This Scripture passage may become clearer, also,  by looking at it from the perspective of a visitor to my house. When they walk into the house, what they see is that everything is in its proper place. The rooms that they see may be  immaculately clean, everything in its proper place,  while those “off limits” are cluttered to the point of not having room to get to the bed or the computer desk or whatever.   I alone know whether or not I truly am a good housekeeper.  To pretend to be and to be so are two different realities.  Jesus was challenging the Pharisees to live authentically not pretentiously, to be truly free rather than to pretend to be free, to live lives of integrity rather than to pretend to be persons of integrity by exterior criteria alone.    What matters to God is the real thing: the Mother Teresa’s, the Martin Luther Kings, the Gandhi’s and so many others who do not only talk the talk but  walk the talk as well.  Their exterior matches their interior.
This is the challenge of ongoing conversion! Who I am on the inside is as important as the person seen by others from the outside.  How I dress may make me look beautiful on the outside.   Who I am truly from the inside fills me with a joy and a peace no piece of clothing can give me. It is inner beauty that radiates the God-life within and transforms what I do into what God does through me. There is no comparison.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Revealing the Christ to the World

In today’s Gospel, Mt. 16: 13-20, Jesus asks the disciples: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?  And they give Him a variety of answers. Then Jesus says to them: “Who do you say I am?” Whenever we reflect upon the Scriptures, it is important that we hear Jesus speaking directly to us.  What is Jesus saying to us? What is Jesus teaching us? How is Jesus challenging our way of living, being, acting, and  interacting with others? 

Who is Jesus for me? My very life today depends upon Jesus, the Son of the Living God, the one who created me, brought me into existence, sustains me here on earth, guides me to His purposes, to the fullness of life that He promises and enables me to bring  to others. It is Jesus who feeds me each day with the Bread of Life, quenches my thirst each day with Living Waters. It is Jesus, this day, who keeps me from the Evil One, who sends me His Spirit each moment to guide me to Truth. It is Jesus, who, each day in the liturgy of the day, says to me: “Take and eat. This is my Body given up for you. Take and drink. This is my  Blood poured out for you,” as He includes me in the Supper of the Lord, in the heavenly banquet, when He does that which is only possible for the Son of God: change bread and wine into His Body and Blood, making us one with Him, reconciling us, transforming us, nourishing us for the journey through this “vale of tears.” It is Jesus, who, throughout the day as we encounter Jesus’ passion and death being lived out in humanity, asks us to show the world who He is in by showing  mercy, love and compassion to those in need. He asks us to show the world who Jesus is by standing in solidarity with those who suffer. He asks us to follows His Mother’s example, by offering  support to those who are being crucified by the forces of the world that know not God. Will we step up to this challenge as Christians today or will we deny Jesus by denying others and/or ourselves a taste of God’s love, God’s compassion, God’s mercy, God’s patience, God’s wisdom?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Humans as Vehicles of Hope

In today’s Gospel, Mt. 22: 34-40, Jesus is being needled by the Pharisees who ask Him which commandment in the law is the greatest commandment. He responds: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…and your neighbor as yourself.” If you do not love yourself, this commandment is unfulfillable. You cannot love your neighbor if you despise yourself. You will end up despising others as well.  Neither will you follow the Lord’s commands, if you do not love God above all.  The other “loves” in your life will give you a run for your money and you are likely to follow other “loves,” not God who is love itself.
In the first reading of today’s liturgy, Ezekiel 37: 1-14,  we have the example of a man who loved God above all else. Out of that love he is ready to do whatever God asks of him. Ezekiel is staring at a pit of dried up bones of the entire army of the Israelites, persons killed, no doubt, in wars against other nations. Imagine yourself being Ezekiel and coming across this pit of human remains and God asking you to prophesy over these dead bones, saying: “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord….I will bring spirit into you, that you may come to life. I will put sinews upon you, make flesh grow over you, cover you with skin, and put spirit in you so that you may come to life and know that I am the Lord.”  Without faith and trust in the Lord, with no love of God in your heart, there is no way that you would carry out God’s wishes.   Nor  would you believe that God, in truth, loves us with all His heart, and with all His soul, and with all His mind and wants to restore “dead bones to life.”  What are you doing to develop a loving relationship with God? What are you doing to strengthen your  faith and trust in God?  Without that relationship, it will be impossible to stare death, destruction, decay, lifelessness  in the face  and believe resurrection, new life, is possible.  So I encourage you to begin to seek to know the Lord by spending time in solitude with God, by taking time to read your favorite Scripture passages, by letting yourself be loved by another person and, in turn, loving the other for his/her own sake. You will find God and God will find you in that love.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Seeing and Hearing God Walking in our Midst

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, a priest  who, in the Auschwitz concentration camp asked that he be taken to the starvation room in place of a man who had a wife and two children.  His request was granted.   In light of the first reading of today’s liturgy, Ez 12:1-12, Maximilian, unlike the chosen people, had eyes that saw and ears that heard the Lord’s invitation to give of his all,  to act with justice, to love tenderly and walk humbly with his God (Micah 6:8).   In his willingness to give his life for another, Maximilian also was granted the grace to forgive the Nazis who imprisoned him along with millions of other Jews. Nothing, in the words of St. Paul, came between Maximilian and the love of Christ (Rom 8:39).

Today we have millions enduring the martyrdom, not of the concentration camps run by the Nazis but  of those run by other ruthless persons. Millions are being silenced by others in various ways by being  deprived of justice, denied their integrity as persons, treated poorly and abusively. Some are being stoned to death for alleged crimes while others are being victimized by the corrupt use of emotional, psychological, political, ecclesial, intellectual powers.  Many are being “martyred” as slaves of pimps, human traffickers, drug traffickers, unjust employers and so on.   Yes, we  live “in the midst of a rebellious house; they have eyes to see but do not see, and ears to hear but do not hear…”  God’s call for justice, truth, reconciliation, forgiveness and love frequently falls on deaf ears and hardened hearts.

What part of me could be described as rebellious? What part of me, like Ezekiel, sees and hears God walking in our midst?  In what ways am I willing, as Maximilian was, to give my life that another can live? Am I willing to give up gossiping about another, judging others, judging myself, criticizing others, putting others and self down? Am I willing to forgive others and forgive myself, not once, but in the words of today’s Gospel, 70xs 7 times?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Signed for and by Christ

In today’s first reading, Ez 9: 1-7, 10; 18:22, we are presented with the fact that those who were faithful to the Lord and who lamented the abominations practiced by some of the Chosen People were marked on their foreheads with a “Thau” cross and were spared from being wiped off the face of the earth. In Baptism, you and I were marked on our foreheads, as well, and sealed for Christ in our Confirmation. We belong to the Lord and He will never abandon us. The Lord God will protect us in all of the vicissitudes of our lives. The day will come, as with Ezekiel, when we will see the glory of the Lord above us in eternity, where a place is prepared for us as well. Truly, as we pray in today’s responsorial psalm, “From the rising to the setting of the sun is the name of the Lord to be praised. High above all nations is the Lord; above the heavens is his glory. Who [we ask with the psalmist] is like the Lord, our God, who is enthroned on high, and looks upon the heaves and the earth below?”

What am I doing to ready myself to see the Lord in my midst when God chooses to reveal Himself? What am I doing as I await the Lord’s appearances? As Satan prowls the earth, will the Lord say to the evil spirits: “See the Thau cross on her/his forehead; do not touch her/him?” And finally, what am I doing to prepare myself for that day when the heavens will open and the Lord escorts me into paradise?  Am I keeping my focus on Jesus each day, each hour, as I live my life for God alone, as I strive to become one the Trinity?

Monday, August 11, 2014

An ever-present God

In today's first reading, Ezekiel 1: 2-5, 24-28c. Ezekiel,  who was among the exiles  deported to Babylon and are miles from their beloved Temple, has a vision of the heavenly kingdom. "The hand of the Lord came upon me. As I looked, a stormwind came from the North, a huge cloud with flashing fire enveloped in brightness, from the midst of which (the midst of the fire) something gleamed like electrum.  Within it were figures resembling four living creatures that looked...human....Above the firmament over their heads something like a throne could be seen, looking like sapphire. Upon it was seated, up above, one who had the appearance of a man. Upward from what resembled his waist I saw what gleamed like electrum; downward from what resembled his waist I saw what looked like fire; he was surrounded with splendor. Like the bow which appears in the clouds on a rainy day was the splendor that surrounded him. Such was the vision of the likeness of the glory of the Lord."

God appears in the least likely of places: in a foreign land, away from the Temple amidst a people who are exiled from their homeland, like so many refugees today fleeing for their lives, at the mercy of their captors, fleeing those who have taken their land by force.  In the midst of darkness and despair, Ezekiel carries the message of a glorious God who stoops down from heaven to enter our darkness, to bring comfort to us in our most destitute of experiences.  When we think all is lost, God appears wherever He wills and speaks to whomever He pleases.God is sovereign. God is in charge, especially at times when we think God has abandoned us, as Jesus thought had happened to Him on the cross. "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me."  God identifies with us in every event of our lives, as He did with the Israelites.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Living Life to the Full

Today we celebrate the feast day of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein).   Edith Stein was born in 1891 into a prominent Jewish family in Breslau, Poland.  She stopped believing in God at the age of 14.  She was a brilliant philosopher, having earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1916 and taught at the University of Goettingen until 1922. During her years as an distinguished philosopher, she published 17 volumes of writings.  Her appointment as a lecturer at the Education Institute of Munich ended under pressure from the Nazis. 

She was enamored by the life of St. Teresa of Avila.  Inspired by this saint, she was converted to Catholicism in 1922.  She entered  the Carmelite community in Cologne, Germany, professing her vows as a Carmelite in 1934. In 1938 she moved to the Carmelite monastery in Echt, Netherlands. In 1940, Dutch Jews who had become Christians were arrested by the Nazis in retaliation for being denounced by the Dutch bishops. A few days before her deportation from the Netherlands, Sister Teresa Benedicta dismissed the question about a possible rescue: ‘Do not do it! Why should I be spared? Is it not right that I should gain no advantage from my Baptism?....”  She, along with her sister Rosa, also Catholic, died in the gas chamber in Auschwitz on August 9, 1942. (Source: “Edith Stein,”  American

As I reflect briefly upon her life, I am in awe of life itself in its likeness to the life and death of Jesus. Like Jesus, also hunted down by authorities, who goes to his death like a sheep led to slaughter, Edith Stein does not rebel or resist those seeking to destroy her.  Am I willing to live and die for the Lord? Would I, like Edith Stein, ask: “why should I be spared”  the traumatic events of life here on earth, even if such events are the result of other people turning against me, rejecting me, tossing me into a “gas chamber,” treating me as trash?  Or would I allow myself to sink into a state of “poor me?  Would I pout and react violently when I am treated poorly with no entitlements to my name, no privileges!  When I find myself thinking this way, perhaps the strength and the humility of Edith Stein will help me let go of such destructive ways of looking at life and follow Jesus to the cross, where all sin, mine included, was destroyed by God’s love and mercy.




Friday, August 8, 2014

God's Restorative and Reconciling Presence in our World

In today’s first reading, Nahum 2: 1, 3; 3:1, 6-7, the prophet  vividly describes the horror that descended upon the Israelites through their enemies.   “Woe to the bloody city, all lies, full of plunder, whose looting never stops! The crack of the whip, the rumbling sounds of the wheels; horses a-gallop, chariots bounding, cavalry charging, the flame of the sword, the flash of the spear, the many slain, the heaping corpses, the endless bodies to stumble upon!....”  Sounds like recent descriptions in our evening news: bodies piling up in Palestine, in Syria, in the Ukraine, in our city streets; children abandoned at our borders, persons dying of Ebola and other diseases, Christians driven out into deserts  left to die by Iraqis.  Many times, we wait to hear what the Israelites heard from Nahum when God delivered them from the violence and destructive forces of their enemies: “Celebrate your feast, O Judah, fulfill your vows! For nevermore shall you be invaded by the scoundrel; he is completely destroyed. The Lord will restore the vine of Jacob, the pride of Israel, though ravagers have ravaged them and ruined the tendrils [vines].”   
All of us, obedient to God’s laws,  striving for justice, loving tenderly, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8), will experience God’s restorative powers, the reconciling love that unites us with our compassionate, loving, merciful God. Already, we have been made one with the Father through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  As we journey through this “vale of tears” there are times when we experience this union, especially when we receive the Eucharist or are Eucharistic people to others, giving of ourselves in love in our own brokenness to bring healing to others, to comfort those in pain. We will also know the fullness of being one with our Creator when we pass through the doors of our suffering and death and enter into eternal life, as did Jesus in His resurrection from the dead.
Praise and thanks to our God!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Standing up for the Truth

In today’s Scripture readings, Jer 28: 1-7, the phophet Hannaih prophesizes that  that the Lord “will break the yoke of the king of Babylon” and that within two years the vessels of the Temple will be restored and that the people will be returned from exile in Babylon.  His prophesy is false. Yes, eventually the people will return from exile and the Temple of Jerusalem will be restored, but not in the time frame Hanniah gives.  In efforts to win the people’s favor and be popular among them he gives a false message that is not from the Lord. He raised false hopes, causing much pain among the people.
Am I like Hanniah, providing false promises,  painting rosy pictures, when, in the immediate future, there really is none.  Am I lying in order to avoid  coming into disfavor with  those who do not want to hear the truth, especially  when times are difficult, even treacherous, dangerous and extremely unpleasant and there is more of the same on the horizon unless hard choices are made?  Or, am I, like the prophet Jeremiah who speaks the truth, even though the consequences of doing so  were anything but pleasant. In fact, some people wanted Jeremiah put to death.

Let us pray, with the psalmist of today’s responsorial psalm: “Remove from me the way of falsehood, and favor me with your law. Take not the word of truth from my mouth, for in your ordinances is my hope” (Ps. 119).

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Challenge to Stand Up for Truth

The Gospel of today, Mt 14: 1-2, presents the story of the murder of John the Baptist, who Herod wanted killed ultimately because he confronted him on taking his brother’s wife as his own, committing adultery with her.  The story is atrocious, as his wife’s daughter ‘s emotional hold on Herod leads to him ordering John the Baptist’s murder at the daughter’s request. The daughter is responding to her mother’s evil motive of doing away with John the Baptist, as well.  All are bound up in each other’s narcissistic, pride-driven, emotionally blinding intrigues.   Herod knows he is doing wrong but is too weak to acknowledge his rashness in promising his wife’s daughter anything she asked for—that is how taken up he was her dancing at his birthday party.  One sin leads to another and another and another.
Who would I have been in that crowd, as a participant in that party? Would I have stood up and challenged Herod? Would I have confronted Herodias and her daughter? Or would I have simply gone along with what was happening, too frightened of the consequences of standing up for truth and justice?

Lord, may I have the wisdom and the strength to step aside when emotions blind me from acting rationally and standing up for truth and justice.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Listening to God's Messengers in our Lives

In today’s first reading, Jer 26: 1-9, Jeremiah is asked to deliver a message to the house of Judah, warning them that they are to become a city of ruin like Shiloh, remembered as a disgrace and referred to in future curses.  Not a pretty picture, by any stretch of the imagination. The people of the city of Judah can change that if they repent of their wrongdoing and return to the Lord.  “Perhaps,” God says through Jeremiah, “they will listen and turn back, each from his [or her] evil way, so that I may repent of the evil I have planned to inflict upon them for their evil deeds.”  Empowered by God, eager to do God’s bidding and, no doubt, hoping that the people do repent, Jeremiah delivers the Lord’s message. The result? The people attack him and demand that he be put to death.
In the Gospel, Mt 13: 54-58,  Jesus enters his home village and he, too, excited to return home, to bring Good News to the people, is met with disappointment.  “Who is this man? Is he not the son of a carpenter? Where did he get this wisdom?” And “they took offense at him.” In fact, they attempted to throw him over the cliff, to kill him. They’d have nothing to do with him, much less listen to him.

You and I have similar experiences throughout our lifetime. We enter our marriages all excited about building a great life together. Or we join a  religious community all excited about a complete commitment to the disciplines of religious life, the demands of community life, willing to make whatever sacrifices marriage or religious life  demand of us. Then things begin to fall apart! We become lax. We drift into acting independently, non-collaboratively, less and less willing to sacrifice for  one another. “Me first” creeps into our lives. “My way” becomes my preferred way of doing things. We are faced with the need to repent, reform, make sacrifices, look at how we are moving further and further away from our first fervor, our initial willingness to work at our marriages, our commitment to the ascetical practices that enhance community living and whereby we live for each other’s well-being and the common good of the family, of the community.  Am I willing to change, to be converted, to be called to greater faithfulness, to renew my commitment to the other, to something greater than myself? Or, like the people of Judah and the people of Nazareth do I attack the person who hints at the need that I make changes in my way of acting, that I become more family centered/community centered?