Friday, January 22, 2016

The Letter of the Law versus the Spirit of the Law

In today’s first reading, 1 Samuel 24: 3-21, Saul with 3000 warriors goes out “in the direction of the wild goat crags searching for David to kill him.  They come to “the sheepfolds along the way,…found a cave, which [Saul] entered…David and his men were occupying the inmost recesses of the cave.”  According to the letter of the law, David could have killed Saul that day but didn’t. David, who cuts off the end of Saul’s mantle, says to his men, who are encouraging him to put an end to Saul’s life: “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, as to lay a hand on him, for he is the Lord’s anointed.”

What would you do if someone were out to kill you? Spare his life or take it in self-defense? Sometimes we are highly critical of those who spare the other’s life when, in fact, the intent of the other is to commit murder, not just of one person but thousands!  Many times we want revenge! Kill them, we say. Do away with them.  This is the rhetoric we hear, even today,  from some of those running for the office of president. Unknowingly, this is the intent of those who say that every woman has a right to decide the life of the child in her womb!

We need to learn to live the spirit of the law from King David and the ways to ensure right decisions from Jesus, who spends the night in prayer before choosing his apostles, men who will cast out demons and spread the good news of the Gospel throughout the world!  May we, Lord, cast out the demons that lure us to choose to kill for our convenience, revenge, hatred or prejudice.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Struggle of Good and Evil Within

"In God I trust; I shall not fear" (Ps 56)  had to be David's mantra, as he learns that Saul is determined to kill him. Saul is jealous that David, following his killing of Goliath. The women from all the cities of Israel attribute to "David ten thousands, but only thousands to me. All that remains for him is the kingship" (1 Samuel 1: 6-9). Saul's son Jonathan intercedes on his behalf, convincing his father not to kill David. Though he does not do so, his jealousy is aroused over and over again, as is that of David's own son Absalom.  David spends a lot of time hiding from those who seek to kill him.   In the Gospel of today, Mark 3: 7-12, Jesus asks his disciples to provide him a boat "because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him".   We also know that eventually the Scribes and Pharisees were so jealous of Jesus' popularity and afraid the people would put Him on the throne that they, too, plotted to kill him and did so.

Jealousy and envy are attitudes that can lead nations, families and individuals into murderous plots and/or other behaviors that bring harm to one's perceived enemies as well as to oneself. What do I do when the "Saul," the "Absalom," the "Scribe," or the "Pharisee" in me dominates my thoughts and actions?

May jealousy and envy within us be transformed by an attitude of thankfulness and rejoicing in the Lord. May we  put "on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts" (Romans 13:14) or, in the words of Ephesians 4:24, by our putting "on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness".

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

David and Goliath; Jesus and Satan

Today’s first reading presents us with the battle between David and Goliath, the Philistine.  Saul challenges David, saying, in effect: “Who do you think you are going against this Philistine. You are a mere youth while this guy has been a warrior since his youth. You cannot do what you plan to do. It will not work!”  David does not flinch.  “The Lord, who delivered me from the claws of the lion and the bear, will also keep me safe” from the claws of this Philistine.  Saul’s response: “Go! The Lord is with you.”

David approaches Goliath, taking with him his staff and five stones. With one of those stones he kills Goliath.  After cursing David, Goliath approaches David and says to him: “Come here to me, and I will leave your flesh for the birds of the air and the beasts of the field.”  David says to Goliath: “You come against me with sword and spear and scimitar, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel that you have insulted. Today the Lord shall deliver you into my hand; I will strike your down and cut off your head….All this multitude, too, shall learn that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves. For the battle is the Lord’s and he shall deliver you into my hands.”

Pass forward to Holy Week.  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus is approached by men armed with spears, chains and swords. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is unafraid; the Father and the Spirit are with Him.  Jesus takes on Satan, the “Goliaths” in our lives, crushes Satan’s head, cuts it off, so to speak, so that his power over us is destroyed by Jesus’ death and resurrection.  By His five wounds, not five stones, we are saved.   As Jesus is dying, someone acclaims: “Truly, this is the Son of God!” To this very day, multitudes have come to believe in Jesus as the Savior of the world!

That is my belief! What is yours?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Choosing according to God's Counsel, Wisdom and Enlightenment

In today’s first Scripture reading, 1 Samuel 16: 1-13, God asks Samuel to go to Bethlehem to meet Jesse, “for I have chosen my king from among his sons.”  Samuel is frightened.  “How can I do that? Saul will kill me,” is Samuel’s response.  How often do we not use a similar excuse” “I can’t do that, Lord!  So and so will kill me.”  “I can’t do that Lord! What if so-and-so hears about it; my name will be mud!”  “What will so-and-so think if he/she hears what I’ve done?”  “No, Lord! No way; I will get into trouble if I do that. I will lose friends.  I will lose that promotion. I will be looked upon with disdain,” and so on and on we go with excuses of why we cannot follow the Spirit’s lead!

When Samuel gets to Bethlehem and meets Jesse’s sons, he is awed by the ones Jesse presents.   In fact, he is so enamored by the appearance and lofty stature of the first of Jesse’s sons, Samuel is convinced that he is the one God has chosen. But God lets Samuel know that it is not so. “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because he sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” Among the seven sons Jesse presents none is the one God has chosen for His anointed. So Samuel asks:  “Do you have any other sons?”  And Jesse says “Yes, my youngest son is tending sheep.” “Send for him,” Samuel orders. It is the youngest son, the one excluded, the one assigned menial tasks, the least likely humanly speaking that is chosen to be anointed the next king of Israel.  Samuel anoints him “and from that day on, the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.”

Jesus, in today’s Gospel, Mark 2: 23-28, is also doing the unthinkable. He and His disciples are traipsing through someone’s wheat field and, not only that, stripping the wheat of its grain! Furthermore, they are doing so on the Sabbath!  Jesus ignores two rules: 1) you do not create a path through a neighbor’s wheat field nor do you strip the ripe grains and 2) you do not work on the Sabbath!  For Jesus, there is a human need that must be met: His disciples are hungry and need something to eat to continue the journey.  And furthermore, as He tells those objecting to His behavior, the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath!

What might we learn from these readings? 1) that judging by appearances is usually off base, 2) that it is the Spirit of the Lord that empowers one, including me and you,  to do what God is calling us to do,  3) that, sometimes, the unthinkable is the right thing to do and 4) that the objection  “what will others think of me” can be Satan’s cunning way of luring us into the temptation of choosing human will over God’s will!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Stop to Listen!

Today’s first reading, 1 Samuel 15: 16-23, is a continuation of what happened when Samuel went back to sleep and when hearing his name called a fourth time answered: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” God had a message that He wanted Samuel to deliver to Saul.  To get Saul’s attention, he said to him the next morning: “Stop! Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”

As I reflected upon that passage, I realized how often I do not stop. I plunge into the day’s work. I move forward full speed into what I was bent on doing.  Sometimes, many times perhaps, I need someone like Samuel to say to me: “Stop! Let me tell you something that the Lord wants me to share with you.”  I may still keep right on going: “I can’t listen to you now. I am busy.”  Or, I may say to myself: “Who does this person think he/she is to tell me what he or she believes the Lord wants me to hear. I will go directly to the Lord myself. I don’t need an intermediary.” Or more blatantly, I might say to myself: “No one tells me what to do!”

Pride precedes the fall! I need to pray for humility to listen! And, if this person is telling me something I already know, I need humility to say: ‘Thank you!’  The person does not need to know that I already got the message and am working on the very thing she or he was bent on telling me “for my own good.”  I also need to pray for the gift of courage and the strength to choose humility and what humility asks of me in my interaction with people each day!  I think of a professor who said to us counselors: “Act dumb and ask questions!”  What if, instead of bulking when I do not want to hear what another is saying, I truly listened, acted dumb and asked questions.  Would that not build the other’s self-esteem, strengthen our connection and, yes, transform my “water” into “wine”?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

God's Call Heard in the Ordinary Events of Life

Both of today’s Scriptures, 1 Samuel 9: 1-4, 17-19; 10: 1a and Mark 2: 13-17, are about being called by God.  Saul was out looking for his father’s donkeys when he was called by Samuel and anointed for the purpose to which God was calling him, that is, to be king of the Jews or, in the words of 1: Samuel 10: 1a,  “commander over his heritage.”  Levi was collecting taxes and, yes, pocketing some of the money, when Jesus walked by his station and called him to be one of the apostles.  God calls us in the ordinary events of any given day.  Am I listening? Do I hear God’s call, whether that be one’s vocation in life, a career choice, the choice of a college, to risk dating so-and-so or the challenge to reconcile with someone or an ordinary every-day decision such as doing a particular chore? Do I respond affirmatively or do I simply ignore Him and go my own way?

Where were you when God called you to the vocation you have chosen, whether that is marriage, religious life, priesthood, or the single life?  I was in eighth grade and, out of the blue, I knew that I was called to be a Sister.  At age 20 that call became a reality for me when I made first vows as a Sister of the Sorrowful Mother; five years later I made that commitment permanent.   Many years later I found out the origin of my call. After being a full-fledged Sister of the Sorrowful Mother for many years, and perhaps when I was in my 30s or 40s,  I heard in prayer from my identical twin sister (who returned home to heaven at age 2 ½) that my religious vocation was a gift from her. She wanted me to experience the intimacy with God that she enjoys.  And religious life provides all kinds of opportunities to grow in that intimacy. I have been truly blessed.  I cherish the vocation to which I was called, not that it is better than any other vocation but it is God’s will for me.  It’s choosing that vocation to which God is calling you that will give you the fullness of life, the peace, the joy, that God wills for you.

Which vocation is right for you?

Friday, January 15, 2016

God's Respect for Our Freedom

In today's first reading, 1 Samuel 8:4-7, 10-22a, the people ask Samuel to appoint them a king to rule over them, like other countries have.  Samuel is upset at their request and goes to the Lord to complain about it.  God says to Samuel: "Grant the people's every request. It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king."   Samuel warns the people that a king has the right to "take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot. He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers. He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will use your daughters...He will take the best of your fields, vineyard, and olive groves, and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and your vineyards, and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves," and much, much more! The people still insist on having it their way!

God lets the people choose their will over His, as He does to this day.  How often do we not reject an authority figure, not realizing that the difficult time that we give someone in authority is actually a rebellion against God as our Ruler, our King!   Moreover, how many persons absolutely reject the advice and ignore the warning of their parents, grandparents and other adult family members, church leaders, community leaders and get involved in things that will lead to their own slavery, to their own downfall and misery beyond all telling!

Lord, forgive me for the times I reject Your authority over me that is revealed to me by persons in leadership of any kind. Forgive me for the times that I let pride guide me and insist on doing things that are ultimately not for my good or for the good of others affected by my decisions.  Have mercy on me when I insist on my way and reject Yours!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Reliance on God's Mercy and Power to See Us through Defeat

In today's first reading, 1 Samuel 4: 1-11, the Israelites are defeated by their enemy, the Philistines. In the first battle, they lose 4,000 men. Astounded that the Lord allowed the Philistines to defeat them, they go to Shiloh to get the ark of the Lord to take into battle with them. The ark of the Lord to the Israelites might be viewed as we Catholics view the Tabernacle. In this second battle, the Philistines defeat the Israelites again, killing 30,000 men. The ark of the Lord was captured as well and Eli's two sons, Hophne and and Phinehas, were among those killed in the fight!

Is it possible that the Israelites relied more upon a religious symbol than upon the Lord's mercy? Do we sometimes rely on our religious traditions and symbols to bring about our victories? The time will come for all of us when all we have is our naked faith, so to speak, and nothing we attempt will work! Totally powerless,  we will stand before the Lord in our defeat and say with the psalmist:

" have cast us off and put us in disgrace,
and you go not forth with our armies.
You have let us be driven back by our foes;
those who hated us plundered us at will. 
You made us the reproach of our neighbors,
the mockery and the scorn of those around us.
You made us a byword among the nations,
a laughingstock among the peoples.
Why do you hide your face,
forgetting our woe and our oppression?
For our souls are bowed down to the dust,
our bodies are pressed to the earth" (Psalm 44 of today's liturgy).

It is very challenging to be faced, at times, with the fact that religious symbols and rituals, even when multiplied many times, may yield no results and we are left standing before our Savior begging the Lord to "redeem us because of His mercy" and not because of our multiplication of religious rituals or our addition of an enormous number of rote prayers (see the response to today's responsorial psalm).F

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Circumstances that Prepare us to Hear the Lord

In today’s first reading, 1 Samuel 3: 1-10, 19-20, Samuel is awakened three times. Each time he thinks that Eli, his master, is calling him, so he goes to Eli, awakens him and says: “Here I am; you called me.”   Finally Eli realizes that it is the Lord calling him so he says to Samuel: “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’.”  Note that it is in the dark of night. It is silent and, more importantly, Samuel, too, is silent, not distracted by the busyness or distractions of the day.  Furthermore,   Samuel relies on an elder, a trusted individual, to show him the way, as he” was not familiar with the Lord, because the Lord had not revealed anything to him as yet.”  Jesus, in today’s Gospel, after a very busy day, rises “very early before dawn,” and goes off to a deserted place to pray—a place apart from the busyness and distractions of His life.

From both Scriptures, we learn how important it is to take time to listen to the Lord, to hear His voice and the circumstances under which we are more likely to be predisposed to hear the Spirit speaking to us: in the quiet, in darkness, in a deserted place, by being instructed by our elders (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, counselors, trusted friends/peers, anyone  familiar with and genuinely devoted to the Lord; in short, persons of integrity)  and, especially people like Eli devoted to the ministry of the Temple/the Church: priests and women and men religious, deacons and others in the service of the Church who exemplify a life of prayer, are devoted to the Scriptures,  holy reading and, in short, seek God above all else and, yes, are persons of integrity.

What circumstances do you create in your life to hear the voice of the Lord?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Come, Follow Me!

Imagine living during the time that Jesus was involved in active ministry. Imagine also that He sees you fishing and or mending your nets in preparation for a future expedition or whatever your job is.  He calls out to you: "Come, follow me and I will make you a fisher of people." You've never seen this man before and He asks you to abandon your business and follow Him. Who is He, you wonder momentarily but you leave your business, your coworkers, your family's ways and follow Him for a lifetime as a married person, a religious, a priest, a single person.  You listen to One who speaks with authority, to One who heals all who are brought to Him, does not turn the sick or the weak or the vulnerable away and asks the same of you and me. He raises the dead, gives sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and invites you to treat these people kindly, that is, in a way that fosters healing, physical or spiritual.  He also casts out demons from ranting and raving demoniacs, not afraid to interact with them. He asks the same of you and me.  He gently and lovingly touches lepers and others deformed by their physical or psychological ailments and asks the same of you and me. His teachings and actions are strange: turn the other cheek, forgive sinners, do not throw stones at persons caught in adultery (or any other sin, for that matter),  do good to those who hate you, wash each others' feet, welcome children, include women--in fact, Jesus chooses a woman to be the first to see Him after His resurrection and sends her to be the first to announce the good news. He does not treat women as inferior to men. Yes, Jesus shows us a new way that was not popular in His time or ours!

Come, follow me! Are you/am I willing to follow the Lord when He invites me to do so?

Friday, January 8, 2016

Respect, Reverence, Humility: Significant Elements of our Faith

Today’s Gospel, Luke 5: 12-13, a leper approaches Jesus with reverence, respect and confidence.  He truly believes that Jesus will show the compassion that is our God.  Trustingly, he says to the Lord: “…if you wish, you can make me clean.” And Jesus  stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’”  Jesus does not let the practices of His day to stop Him from touching the leper, as, in His day, anyone who touched a leper was declared unclean as well.  Jesus acts freely in accord with God’s will for this man.  He then orders him to tell no one. “Go,” He says, “and show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”

Why didn’t Jesus want him to tell anyone?  Because Jesus did not cleanse him to bring attention to himself, to pile up accolades here on earth, or for the people to fall head over heels in seeking glorious, triumphal experiences of the faith. That is not what the essence of the spiritual life is about or what co-operating with the will of God is about either.  Quietly, Jesus did what the Father asked of Him: show my compassion to those who believe, to those who are respectful and reverend of My ways and My thought, knowing that they are above those of humanity.  How do I honor Jesus’ ways and commands?

Secondly, Jesus asked the healed leper to submit to the laws of Moses. He does not want him to excuse himself from the ordinary ways and traditions of his faith nor does he want us to do that.  How obedient and humble am I in respecting the commandments and the laws of the Church?  Do I follow the traditions of my faith humbly, respectfully?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Immersed in God's Love and Directed by His Spirit

God is all around us, within us, within the universe, residing in the core of every human being. St. Paul tell us: In God we live and move and have our being. In today's first reading, 1 John 4: 11-18, St. John says to us: " No one has ever seen God."  God is as hidden from the naked eye today as He was as an infant in Bethlehem and as He is in the Sacred Host and Precious Wine,  consecrated on the altar during a Catholic Mass.  I know Him present and hidden by the eye of faith.

St. John goes on to say that  "if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us."  What a gift love is. I was born to love and be loved, to give witness to God, who loved me first and enables me to love as He did and does: giving of myself selflessly for the salvation wrought by God Himself and communicated through humans and all of creation, as God's continues to work in silence and in disguises.

This morning I was going to address a situation that is troubling to me. God's response, as I complained to Him about a specific situation: "My ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts." And then He counseled me: "Do not fix what is not yours to fix!"    In faith, I did not write the email I had intended to write!

If we take time with the Lord, if we  bring our issues to the Lord, if we seek God's counsel every day, in all of the day's circumstances, if we bring our concerns to the Lord with an open mind and heart and will, God will, in truth, direct us and spare us untold sufferings that come from acting alone!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Generous, Attentive, Listening God

In today's Gospel, Mark 6: 34-44,  Jesus is concerned about a crowd of people. They are, He says, "like sheep without a shepherd.  He takes time to instruct them "in many things".  It's getting late and the disciples ask Jesus to send the crowd away so they can get something to eat for themselves in the nearby villages and farms.  Jesus challenges them to feed the crowd themselves. They wonder how the heck they are to do that without losing a day's wage. Then they notice that someone in the crowd has five loaves and two fish. He orders the 5000 men (women and children not counted) to sit down in small groups. Looking up to heaven, from where all good comes, Jesus blesses and breaks the bread and divides the fish. All are fed and there are leftovers of both commodities!

Who are you/who am I in that passage? a member of the crowd? one of the disciples who is afraid of losing a day's wage to help out those in need? one of the disciples who asks Jesus to dismiss the crowd and does not want to be bothered? Are you/am I the person with the five loaves and two fish that I need for my lunch but am willing to give them to Jesus to feed the people? Are you/am I one of the disciples who notices Jesus' generosity and is grateful or one who does not notice but participates in the meal? Are you/am I one of the disciples who listens to the Word of God and puts it in practice, following the Spirit to be of help in whatever little way I can?

Lord, help me to become more of a listening person and a doer of good for other's benefit, willing to let go and not cling to "my possessions," my time, my energy or whatever you are asking me to share with others for the common good or the good of my family/my community!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Transformed in Christ's Presence

We are celebrating the Epiphany of the Lord!  The three wise men followed a star, a Light, until they found  the child Jesus, the Word made Flesh, the King of all kings, the Savior of the world. At one point the star seemed to disappear, so they stopped in Jerusalem to inquire about the newborn King of the Jews. When  King Herod  heard of the Magi's visit, he was greatly troubled, as were the people of Jerusalem. King Herod inquired of them "where the Christ was to be  born: "In Bethlehem of Judea," they told him." Herod instructed the Magi to find Him and then let him know so that he, too, could go worship Him.

We know Herod's intentions. God knew Herod's intentions, as He always knows what motivates us in the choices, good or bad, that we make.  The Magi do not return to give Herod any information, as God directs them not to respond to Herod. They return home by another route.  When you and I encounter the Christ, we, too, if open to grace, are transformed, changed, converted.  We are not the same as prior  to the visit, the encounter!

In what way have you been changed by your reception of the Eucharist, by your reading of the Scriptures, by your interaction with a faith-filled individual?

Lord, open my mind, my heart, my will to You in whatever way You choose today!