Monday, February 28, 2011

TUESDAY: And what's in it for me?

In today's gospel we hear in Peter's words that are the expression of someone who is looking for more:  "We have given up everything and followed you."  Isn't Peter's statement a question?  Aren't his words the expression of someone not satisfied with what he has?  Perhaps his sentence could be rephrased:  "My friend, yes, we have turned away from our gobs and what we had to work with you.  We've made sacrifices.  Can we expect more than pipe dreams?"

Jesus, not one to back away from a challenge, makes it clear to Peter:  the kingdom of God is truly unique.  In the big picture what Peter and the other disciples have given up is insignificant compared to the extraordinary reward that will be theirs.  The good things that belong to all of them in life thus far is hardly what awaits them.

Peter and all of us who might have doubts that seem to underlie his thoughts cannot forget that the life of a disciple is not a "quid pro quo" bargain.  There will be days and moments of sacrifice but the reward that awaits is extraordinary.  The here and now is never a garden of Eden.

It is the faith that assures Peter and the disciples as well as ourselves that trust and perseverance as a part of one's life.  Can we not endure this?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

MONDAY: Raise Your Hands! Surrender!

When "things" seem to go wrong with some regularity and the "loser" feels impelled to wonder if it is ever possible to succeed.  Most likely most will eventually stop and ask, "God, where are you?  Why can't I overcome whatever is blocking my being at peace with myself."

Today's gospel offers an answer worthy considering:  Jesus says "it is easier for a camel pass through the eye of the needle [those escape hatches in the bottom of the fortress walls]" to a number of failure questions.  No doubt this scene can be repeated today in many instances where men and women struggle to be free from the shackles of a wide variety of treasures.  What is it that Jesus is teaching?  He makes it clear: "For men (humankind) it is impossible but not for God."

On the journey of life genuine peace of heart and human success are achieved when are strong enough to raise our hands to the heaves and say with all honesty, "God I surrender."  This is the sign of reaching the apex!  This is the experience of true freedom!  This is when the impossible is morphed into the possible and man or woman accepts the Creator God as the power in his or her life.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Saturday: The Mystery of the Child

In today's gospel, Mark 10:13-16, there are words that, when fully understood, are genuine eye openers!  In essence, Jesus is teaching adults a lesson, one perhaps too easily overlooked or not understood.  For certain what Jesus says about children would greatly unsettle the cultural understanding that children had not reached the status of being fully a human person.  He is teaching his contemporaries and all subsequent generations that children are our spiritual teachers.  Even in our present culture few would look to children as having a genuine spiriutuality.  Yet, Jesus says to us:  "Amen (translation = 'so be it'), I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it."

This is truly a life stopper!  What does Jesus mean?  Have we ever taken the time to try understanding what Jesus is calling us to understand?  Why would Jesus remind his disciples "the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these"?  What is there in children that Jesus wants humankind to recognize in how children approach the Kingdom of God?  How do children "accept the Kingdom of God" differently than adults?  Jesus, in this instance does not hesitate to put before us a truly challenging consideration.  What is it, how is it that children come to accept the Kingdom of God that we adults might easily overlook?
Not being a parent but having watched seventeen nephews and nieces struggle with their parents and grandparents to be the spiritual teachers Jesus says they are, I am forced to wonder what Jesus means.  So, I am sitting and wondering what it is that these young people can teach us today.  Simplicity?  Children are so free in spirit.  Honesty?  Out of the mouths of babes!  Love?  Their need to be cuddled, to be affirmed teaches us what loving means.  Wonder?  How many times have their been when greeting children after Mass that I could see a youngster standing back and staring my way.  After a few words the inevitable question is placed?  "Are you God?  Amazing what vestments will do!  Consider how your heart and mind are moved when you hold a little child -- why else would you be so caught up in the wonder of the reality:  you are holding a child of God! 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Firday: Embracing Relationships

Today's first reading:  read it again; hear it again.  The words, the thoughts are powerful.  Each verse is a guidepost along the way of life.  What should shout out to every reader or hearer is this:  among the jewels in your life are the relationships you develop, the relationships your nourish.

The first reading presents the relationship between friends and the second looks at the bond of marriage.  God's nature also affords us the opportunity for meaningful relationships (you know that favorite spot along a river or in a park where you love to be alone with your inner self).

The words of these readings are an invitation to you today to accept all that God has created as a gift for you to have meaningful relationships.  These words are a challenge for us to see beyond personal desires and affections for a limited number of people or things in our lives.  Ours, as creatures of an all-embracing God is a challenge to wrap our hearts and love around all God has given to us.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Thursday: Loss? What Am I Losing?

Yesterday we were reminded that Jesus is the wisdom of the Father.  What actually comes from lips is  the wisdom of God.  But, let's be honest, let's be "transparent", as we hear so often of late.  How seriously does each Catholic strive to learn about Jesus, to learn more of the Father's will for us through his Son?  Do we make any true effort  to build up a reserve of Jesus wisdom?  No doubt in each person's life there are moments when the wisdom of God is so needed.

Our lives today are, in most instances, so much of our  way of life seems to be distracted from building up a good relationship with God our Father.  Of course, there must be scripture phrases we recall from our youth.  Somewhere along the line for many American Catholics, "Life in Christ," became a waster of time.

If we truly believed that Jesus is the wisdom of the Father, it would seem that everyone would be reading and re-reading the gospels and other New Testament writing.  And when his words are read to us or when we ourselves read them, does anyone among us stop to consider the mammoth gift that God is giving us?  What is it like to be rejecting the wisdom of God?  Is it not arrogance to be so sure that one does not need his graces, his words?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wednesday: Today's Wisdom

Today's first reading immediately focuses our attention on a power that God wishes each of us, not just some of us, to possess.We can ask ourselves this question about this particular power:  "Do I possess wisdom, the wisdom Jesus tries to embed in our hearts, in our lives?

Surely some may describe this unique virtue as teh ability to make good decisions, to brng good people into their lives.  Others might perceive it as the ability to reach levels of success, the gift of uncanny insight into human nature.  YET how many would describe Jesus as "the wisdom of God"?

Consider this, if you will:  the way a person answers what wisdom is so often seems to set up a description of the "haves and the have-nots."  "He is a person of remarkable insight."  Is that to say that only some have the gift of insight while others lack it?  She is truly a woman of wisdom."  And the others are not?

Concerning the faith, if Jesus is the wisdom of God and if we realize God's ways, God's will for us is different from our ways, then, what do we consider wisdom to be in the lives of all of us?  How do we bring our ways, our wisdom into a conformity with Jesus, the wisdom of the Father? 

Perhaps there could be a reason, a purpose for each of us to make every possible effort to know "every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Oh, might this be true wisdom?  How wise am I?

It is knowledge to know that a tomato is a fruit.  Not to include it in a fruit salad is wisdom!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Today's Leadership Test

Leadership!  Leadership!  Leadership!  The Chair of Peter!  Isn't this the reason people have begun to use protests that are challenging the leadership conditions in so many foreign lands as well as in the United States as well?  It is not only leadership in civil governance that is beneath the microscope.  The men who were appointed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to be (arch)diocesan leaders are also confronted by their once faithful following.  Throughout the world  the men who done the mitred-look are facing scrutiny in area never before challenged by the people of God.

Today our Church, wounded in so many different parts of the world, is confronted by what feels like a tsunami to the pastors, priests and laity who have dedicated their lives to the mission of the gospels,  Never before has any scandal sent so many fissures in the very foundations Peter and his successors labored to create for our Church.  To read that an American Cardinal notified the Pope, following a visitation to Ireland where pedophilia has so damaged the Catholic Church, that the Irish Catholic Church in Ireland could collapse in another ten years!

Today we celebrate the authority God has entrusted to Peter. It is the same authority and leadership expected and demanded of Bishops and other clergy persons.  Unfortunately, we see in more than just a few local Churches, the spiritual and personal power has seemingly failed.  As a result many Catholics have begun to question their faith or the leadership in what we used to call "Holy Mother Church," a descriptive phrase that seems to have evaporated in the steamy climate of Catholic jargon today.

As we recall the leadership entrusted to one man who was called into a group that was to change the world, we must recognize how different the challenges today are compared to today's expectations for bishops and other church leaders.  On this special days, the truly faithful are called to pray to God that the leaders to whom the care of the Church has been entrusted today may know the abundance of his graces in challenging times.

Faith: What does it mean to me?

"If you can!
Everything is possible to one who has faith!
Surely each reader  or hearer of these words must be stopped for even a brief second or two to reflect on personal questions about what might be challenges in life.  "Why this?"  "Why that?"  "I really don't understand." All these and many more that could be put forward here.

What does the word "faith" mean to me when I hear it or read it?  A basic question could be do I have "faith" of any kind or description?
Consider a scale, like the one just above.  On one side place the importance you give to knowing faith and living in that knowledge.  On the other scale place the number of times you have run to Jesus with the question of the concerned parent in today's gospel reading:  "If you can ....!"  Would the scales balance?  Or, which side would go down? 

Perhaps a simple exercise such as this can help us strengthen the reality of faith in our lives.  And, while at this, don't forget there is another component that is very important:  wisdom!  What part does wisdom play in faith?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s gospel:  there is a sentence I am sure most people in churches this weekend will give little attention.  So here it is so that your readers can be ahead of others!!!  The sentence is also from the Sermon on the Mount.  Here are those words:  “Should anyone press  (force) you into service for one mile, go for two.”  What does this mean?

Remember who was the ruling power at the time:  yes, it was the Romans.  It was the practice for the Roman soldiers to command a Jew who might be on the same road as soldiers could be mandated to carry some of the soldiers’ gear for a mile.  After that another Jewish person would be commanded to take the next mile and so on.  So what is the reason for Jesus’ adding to the law with telling his hearers they should go the second mile.  He wanted the people who followed him to be recognized for their “going the second mile” characteristic.  Jesus wanted his followers to go beyond an enemy’s expectations.  Christians are to be first and second mile people.

today we are more than a few years distance from this unusual and seemingly unreal teaching of Jesus. But we have it read to us and have to consider what it might mean for us today.  Does it have any real significance today?  Imagine a military man or woman stopping you as you are driving past your church today:  “I need a ride to a downtown hotel.  Take me to Massachusetts Avenue.  You would imagine that the person had lost his or her mind.  If you returned home and announced what had happened and you did what was ordered, people would look at you in disbelief and had you done it they would think that you had lost your mind.

Yet what Jesus’ words to his hearers were meant to suggest is that first and second mile Christians have made peace with what seems to be the Christian message.  Of course our natural reaction to the military person’s directive would be to fire back a remark that says in essence “Take a walk, sir, if I have to say so.”  When anyone offends us most do not sit back and move on.  Yet a true Christian accepts the teachings of Jesus  that we are all of us children of God and that it requires of us the need to reach out to others.  And the Christian is at peace with this.

When you see people who volunteer at a local soup kitchen, people who speak out or march for the right to life or who do extraordinary works for the needy,  you are watching people who are at peace with themselves and their accepting that there are many parts to Christianity that are not easy.

Those first and second mile Christians can accept who they are as Christians because there was a moment when the words of an old gospel hymn became a moment that meant something to them:  “He walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own.”

Today we are called to be followers of Jesus.  How many times in a week are there moments when someone says offensive words, moments when you might wish you had brass knuckles!  Today Jesus calls us to help those whose lives have been damaged by recession, by the loss of jobs.  He calls us to do this first and second mile.  “Why?” you might ask.  The answer:  because he did that exactly for you -- he accepted and was at peace with who he was and embraced the Father’s will for him.  This is the joy of the true believer.  These followers know the road to genuine happiness.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Friday: How Many Marbles?

Reading a wonderful story about a how many opportunities we have and have missed, I think this is somewhat the message of the first reading today.  Despite the message of the great flood, human beings continued, seemingly, to do what separated them from what God was calling them to be.  The land of Shinar.  The land of Babel.  The human thoughts about how great the mind can be ... forgetting the one who made and created all.  Ignoring his great love and care for us.  The Tower of Babel incident, as recorded in Genesis should be a reminder to us that it is so easy for us to allow different forces take over our lives despite all the good that God showers upon us.

Let me adapt the story mentioned at the outset.  A man was brought to consider this:  how many Saturdays has he had in his lifetime and, based upon the projections for average life expectancy, how many Saturday would he have remaining?  If 79 is the average life expectancy today, there would be 4108 Saturdays in the average life.  If that is the case, how many Sundays of the 79 years have I used as God wants me to use them?  Soon to be 70, I can count that by that birthday there will have been 3640 Sundays in my life.  How many of those days have been used as a time not only for Mass but times for some quiet, some family or community gather or for little other that just doing and not "resting" on the day of rest?  To make things more realistic imagine how many Sundays there will be after my 70th birthday until the projected end of my life in nine years?  So, 9 time 52 equals 468.  Wow!  That really is very different from 3640 isn't it.

To make the matter more impacting, what if I were to go to the craft store and buy enough bags of marbles to provide me with 468 marbles and then placed those 468 marbles in a clear glass cylinder-like vase and then began to remove one marble with each Sunday.  If it did not hit me with the number of past Sundays I will have celebrated by the time of my 70th birthday, 3640, I know that seeing only 468 marbles will definitely impact my thinking.  
Pope Benedict has reiterated this message many times:  we human beings need a place for God in our private lives.  Each time in the future, when I will be removing a marble from the vase, will I sense a wasted day or one where I have put aside some time for God and am all the better because of that?
This little exercise is indeed an eye opener.  It surely awakened in my mind the need to reconsider how I use the days in my life that God has arranged for me before my body gives out and there will be no more tomorrows, no more days I can delay doing what is best for me.  

And you?  How does this little story impact you?  Will I by chance run into you in one of the craft shops asking the salesperson, "Where do you have bags of marbles?"

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thursday: In God's Image Is the Secret Power

Today's verses of the Book of Genesis remind humankind of the dignity of each human being.  Why is there such an insistence from God to respect one another?  "For in the image of God has man been made."  

These words of God are a clear call  from the Creator God to each man and woman to respect the lives of all human beings.  Every God created person has a God-given right to life and respect.  Therefore it is truly a jolt to another human being say with sincere meanness, "I hate ..."

We have heard it said before:  You do not have to like them; you do have to love them.  And how does this apply to me each day at home, at work, in the community or in my home?

Wednesday: New Beginnings

Once again we are in the early stages of the season of new beginnings. The up and down temperatures of the pre-Spring days have stirred up a new excitement, a new sense of hope.  Mother nature is reminding us once again that there is a very interesting play happening for us in our part of the world.  The return to weather that is more comfortable than the freezing days of deep winter can be likened to the experience Noah had in the first reading of today's liturgy.  A dove goes out in search of a new perch but returns, assuring Noah that the great flood is not completely finished.  A second trip out and the dove returns again but this time with a "plucked off olive leave," a sure sign that new growths have become.  Lastly, the third time the dove sets out and never returns, a sign that the bird has found a tree where there is the possibility of building one's own home.  God's loving care and promise of never again allowing such a disaster to happen give Noah the signal to open up the ark and start anew.

"Never again will I doom the earth because of man since the desires of man's heart are evil from the start ....  As long as the earth lasts, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and Winter and day and night shall not cease."  Sounds like poetic words from Yahweh in this part of Genesis.  Surely this is a reminder of God's fidelity to humankind.  Never again!

In the gospel reading we encounter the hopes and petitions of people seeking Jesus' curing touch for a blind man.  "Touch him!"  This was all that Jesus needed to hear to turn his attention to the sightless man.  With a little spittle and being touched twice:  a new beginning for the man who could now see.

You and me:  do we realize the way God gives us to share in his gift of new beginnings not just in the early months of the year but every day of our lives?  How?  Consider the seven Sacraments.  Each of these graced moments is an experience of new beginnings.  Each Sacrament is like a key that opens a doorway to a new beginning especially the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.  Each day can be for us like the times Noah's dove brings a message of hope and fulfillment.  New beginnings are there for us each day.  Do you believe this?  Every sunrise is like the day the dove did not return ... a sign of God's promise for new beginnings.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tuesday: Wondering Maze???

In the words from the early part of the Book of Genesis that we read today, we are witnesses to the Creator God in a moment of utter frustration and regret.    He saw the "incessant sins" of humanity but at the same time looked to a future that would be in the hands of one man he deemed to be righteous.  This man represents the new beginning, the revival of humanity.  Give a few thoughtful moments to these words: "... for I am sorry that I made them.  But Noah found favor with the Lord."  Some believe the words of Yahweh are the signs of one "caving in."  As we know humankind's interaction with God, we might designate these words as the "first divine caving in."

The gospel we read today presents a continuation of humankind's disappointing performance:  "do you not yet understand ....  Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes and see not, ears and hear not?"  these words were put before his special group, The Twelve, because Jesus was so disappointed and frustrated by their "not getting it."  "Do you still not get it?" he asked them after he realized that they did not fully understand the meaning of the two times he multiplied loaves and fish to feed thousands of people. 

Today were the Son of God to physically walk among us would he not ask the same questions?  In our world today "teaching and forgiving" could easily sum up God's work.  Each of us knows that God continues to endure our sinful behavior, our "not getting it."  Shouldn't we be asking ourselves "What kind of God is this?  Why does he continue to pardon, to forgive time after time?  Shouldn't we not find in our answers that our God is "no ordinary God."  And what does this say to me?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Monday: Today's Opposition

In today's gospel we read or hear St. Mark's recollection of Jesus' encounter with the Pharisees.  They were demanding a "sign from heaven to test him."  They wanted a proof from God that Jesus was indeed close to the Father and teaching what God wanted taught.  Jesus faced opposition while he was preaching and teaching the Father's will.  And opposition continues to be placed before Jesus' teachings since the days of his life.  His teachings are not always easy, not always what the mind and heart might want to do.  At times they conflict with our will.  They can be uncomfortable.

What we might consider today is a simple question:  in my life is there or were there issues related to my faith, related to the teachings of the Commandments that I have rejected?  Are there moments when I have put opposition to Jesus?  Are these moments when I am demanding a "sign" from Jesus about his authority, his authenticity?  Have I perpetuated the ongoing opposition? 

A Most Difficult Sermon

A Bed of Roses???

A reality in human life that is not, at least on the surface, complicated.  It is at the heart of what Jesus is teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, especially in that part of the sermon that we read in today's gospel.  What is the reality?  Most of us hear what we want to hear and hear it the way we want it to be heard.  To this human practice let's add the underlying force that Jesus sees in all that we should do, namely the power of love which is fitting on this Valentine Day weekend.

One of the topics that Jesus included in the Sermon on the Mount is the relationship between married couples.  Hopefully most spouses maintain the wedding day promise to remain faithful to each other "until death do us part."  Yet, those marriage vows aside, how many spouses make the serious and at times difficult work to strengthen the deep, passionate love that makes a marriage successful and rewarding?  You and I, we know of so many marriages that are simply spouses living under the same roof and that's about the extent of the relationship.  Long gone is the reality of "a happy marriage" because one or both spouses pay no attention to the desires of the other for the love that is necessary for a marriage to be what it was meant to be.

A second topic that Jesus puts before the people is the matter of murder, that commandment that so much more depth than most people realize even today.  Murder is the worst possible expression of a relationship between two people.  It makes people shudder.  But what Jesus is teaching is this:  taking another person's life is the ultimate human disrespect.  Dr. Martin Luther King once remarked that "You can kill a person without killing that person."  He was speaking about anger that develops between two people.  He was speaking about what we say about other behind their backs.  That is the sharpest sword or the most cutting sword we possess.  Anger left unchecked can ultimately result in the read death of another person.

Likewise one of the current woes of our society, abortion, is a manifestation of anger, of lacking respect for the unborn life that is usually kicking his or her way to freedom from its birth place in his or her mother's womb, the way God planned for his or her arrival into this world.  The tragedies of abortion in our world today are examples of a deeply seated lack of respect for human life.

A third topic that Jesus puts before the listening crowd and even us today is a sin that is so prevalent that few people think it to be a sin.  As one spiritual writer declared in his writing:  lust is everywhere in our modern culture ... the tv, the movies, the Internet ... and in so many direct and indirect ways.  Jesus condemns more than adultery.  He directly attacks the power of Satan that lures human beings to the experiences of lust.  He does what he can to convince people that adultery is wrong sexual activity between two people.  He reminds his hearers that lust is as dehumanizing and unholy as adultery because while it is so secret, so much a personal, internal activity, it demonstrates a complete lack of respect for another person.

Lastly, Jesus speaks about the importance of the value of a person's word.  He uses the matter of swearing to treat this topic.  We don't need to swear he said.  He is teaching what used to be the way people said what was in their hearts:  a handshake was a signal to another person that what was being said was coming from the person's heart.  A person's word was an expression of his or her intention to do exactly what was being said or promised.  In essence Jesus was saying your promise have to be more than the wind that comes from the throat when speaking to another person.  And just think how lying and deceitfulness are so abundant in our culture.

So, the Sermon on the Mount is some of Jesus' most direct and difficult teaching.  It is in this particular teaching session that Jesus genuinely makes us confront the reality of Original Sin that exists in human nature.  It is a reminder to us today that all of us have struggles if we truly want to follow the will of God for us.  Being a genuine Christian, a genuine follower of Jesus Christ is not easy.  It is a true challenge that we have to hear not just what we want to hear but that we have to hear what Jesus is teaching us because it is the Father's will for us.  Life is not always a bed of roses!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Saturday: Change through Peace-filled Actions

Even Camels Dialog!

How many times on Friday did you hear these words:  "History was made today in Egypt."  Surely there were and continue to be many reasons for rejoicing in Egypt.  While most "evaluators" (TV and Radio commentators) noted on several occasions that it was a secular event we watched take place.  There were no religious leaders guiding or clearing the pathway for a fore that removed a seemingly not-so-admirable leader from his position of authority and power.  Yet how often did we hear "Allah or God be praised"?  It was clear that the people recognized the presence of a divine power in the historic 18 day journey to national freedom.

More significant that the above is this:  a victory was won without the use of guns or torture, without the firing of the tanks that were stationed around Freedom Plaza in Cairo.  The forced resignation of a president came about through people power -- people expressing their dissatisfaction, their rejection of so much suppression simply by gathering in large numbers, by voicing their discontent by chanting slogans, standing against oppression without war.

For a few moments bring this subject from a national to a personal level.  How often do we hear or experience conflict between friends, spouses, siblings, children and their parents in bitterness and harmful words, even in physical abuse.  Doesn't the reality of what the world has witnessed during the past 18 days tell us conflict does not need fight or disrespect.  Surely the Egyptian people have put before the world  what it means to resolve differences peacefully.  It is a call to each person who lives in situation of bitterness and anger to consider peaceful resolutions.  Yes, "let there be peace on earth ... and let it begin with me."  Even the camels in the Egyptian desert seem to be in dialog!

The Garden Trap Still Exists

Genesis 3:1-8.  The Garden of Eden trap continues be trap human beings.  In these verses we are privileged to witness the sin of Adam and Eve.  It is the failure to know the duplicitous power of evil in our world, in our lives.  The first parents of humankind are tricked by the evil spirit, portrayed as "the serpent."

When asked if it was true that God has restricted them from eating the fruit of a particular tree, Eve assured "the serpent" that God had indeed forbidden them from eating the produce of that tree.  Furthermore they were not "even (to) touch it, lest (they) die."  We know the rest of the story.  Adam and Eve  were weighed down by their primal garden nakedness.  What had never been an issue for them suddenly became an experience of shame and fear.  They hid from God when they heard him approaching.  They felt the consequences of their disobedience.  They knew that the evil spirit had duped them in telling them they would be as gods if they ate the fruit.  They had fallen for his trickery.
They were sold a lie and they bought it.  "The serpent" did not tell them the consequences of their action.  Their life would never be the same.  The wisdom of the evil spirit did not share with them the feat and shame that would weigh down upon them from that time onward.  Imagine how troubling life was for them having to hide from the God whose presence they had obviously enjoyed.  Consider the freedom lost in their dealing with each other: they had to hide their own nakedness.

The story repeats itself day after day since then.  The consequences of sin remain the same:  guilt, personal frustration, disappointment and a genuine fear of God.  The evil spirit continues to dupe the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve through half-truths.  The evil spirit continues to invite God's people to know what is best for themselves, to ignore what God has put before them as his Commandments, his laws.  "The serpent" continues to assure humankind that they are endowed with certain rights to do with their minds and bodies as they wish.
There is a simple question:  how many times does a person take on sinful failure and its consequences, its shame, its guilt, before they seek to strength to follow God's will for themselves?  We do live in a garden today.  There are many trees that can lead us to failure.  Wealth, knowledge and free will.  We have especially the tree of knowledge than can bring us to understand the consequences of sin.  Nevertheless, being a human being continues to suffer the plague of that original sin.  Taking the bate.  Falling into the trap.  And what are these?  Buying into half-truths presented to us by the evil spirit.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Today's readings for ordinary time as well as for the feast of St. Scholastica, the twin sister of St. Benedict, bring our focus upon the celebration of love.  Scholastica did not see her brother, Benedict, all that often.  During a visit through the area where Sister Scholastica was living, Benedict was able to "fit in" some time to see his sister.  When he decided it was time for him to move on to his next stop, Scholastica prayed for something to detain him since it was so rarely that he came into the neighborhood where she live.  She dearly loved her brother and desired to spend more than just an hour or two visiting with him.  Love prevailed.  A terrible storm drenched the area of her convent forcing her brother to remain over night in the guest quarters of the monastery.

Consider the millions of people who have or will have attended Mass on this day before the sun begins its first rays of light on tomorrow.  Consider the millions who  take even a moment today to pray.  What are these millions doing?  Why are they doing what they doing what they are doing?  In most instances these folks along with you who read these words and those who will be present with me during Mass (in a short time from now) ... all of us will be responding to an inner desire to pray for others, an inner desire driven by love for that person or special need of others as well as for ourselves.

Recall that we are made by God; that he has embedded in each of us something of himself.  It is the desire to love and the desire to be loved.  Love is a divine gift to each human being.  It is a need most of us have to let this gift of love spring forth from our hearts.  A question we might ask is this:  how do we unwrap the gift?  Our prayer for the faithful prayed during each eucharistic celebration is one way we unwrap the gift from God.  What will you be doing today to make real God's gift to you today?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wednesday: St. Mark's "Within"

Looking Within!

St. Mark!  What a writer!  We have to acknowledge once again how this evangelist had a way of addressing the basics of the Jesus-message.  In capturing these words of Jesus about where a human being will find his/her source of what become psychological burdens (as well as joys), Mark gives us an opportunity to understand the driving force(s) within our lives.  Thus, "Looking Within."

Are there not times when we ask ourselves: "What is bothering me at the moment?" or "Why do I feel the way I do?"  We know well it is from the heart that our bodies find life.  It is the heart that pushes "life" through arteries and veins.  At the same time it is our heart, that intangible heart of our very being, our soul, that  makes us what we are.

While Jesus' words were an attempt on one level to address Jewish practice about what foods to eat or not eat, he also takes his disciples beyond religious custom to a basic of human nature.  Medical doctors and nutritionists today speak to our physical well being -- our bodies become what we eat, what we drink, what we breathe.  Today's spiritual spiritual guides offer insight into what makes the "me" that I have become, the "me" that is the driving force of personality I present to the world both knowingly and unknowingly.

So how do the various evils Jesus mentioned come from the heart, that intangible heart, your very soul?  How is it that we can hear a call to service of one kind or another and say "Not for me!"  What can bring us to lie, to fabricate an untruth? What stirs a person to immorality, to unethical practices?  Is this not a part of what St. Paul was writing in his letter to the Galatians in Chapter 2, verses 16 and 21:  that holiness comes through faith in Jesus not the observance of the law?  The "heart" can lead us around the "law" but it is the spirit within that leads us to faith in Jesus and the ability to follow him.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tuesday: Dominion over God's Creation

We find ourselves in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, considering a primary responsibility of God's creation -- responsibility for what God has done for us.  After creating us and a wide variety of living creatures, giving all the command to increase and multiply, God turns our attention to all that is around us, all that we are "in" -- his created world.  We are called to "steward" his creation by his empowering us to have dominion over all living creations.

As we draw closer to the days when from the earth we shall see springing up much new life in the world of flowers and plants.  Many forests come alive again in the many shapes and forms of green.  What has been entrusted to us by our God has been ignored by some.  Others see and fulfill God's expectations of us:  a conscientious care and respect for our fellow human beings as well as all that lives and  breathes on this planet we call earth.  And so?  What has been my response to this challenge to care for God's created world?  Consider how many mock and ridicule those who have taken up the banner to defend anything "green," anything, any effort to "steward" the earth God placed in our care actually for our own well being.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Monday: To God Be the Glory

We have another opportunity to focus on one theme in the three readings:  "Oh, what a wonderful world we live in!"  For today just take sometime to look at the world around you.  Try separating yourself form your day-to-day worries and experiences.

Imagine you are standing in the "new world" before bridges, buildings, autos, jet planes, tv and computers, interstate highways, tall buildings, apartment buildings and homes.  Just you and God are present to each other.  He speaks to you for simple words:  "This is for you."  What a wonderful world!  What a world made by God just for you.  Can your heart and prayer be anything but awe, praise and gratitude?  Let your heart pour out words of gratitude to your God. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday 5 - Ordinary Time: Salt and Light

In today’s words from Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, we hear words for the disciples as well as for ourselves.  “You are the salt of the earth” Jesus says.  Continuing on he says “You are the light of the world.”  To be honest these two commands are a genuine challenge to many, if not most, people in today’s world.  Yes, there are some who seem to be ever-ready bunnies, always ready to be helpful.  Obviously Jesus feels that being salt or light is not an impossible task.  So, what are we supposed to do.  How can we accomplish the task put before us by a man who himself always worked for others yet did find time to go aside for prayer or to be with the Twelve?  Is it possible?  Well, let’s look at some people not necessarily known to be  perfect or saints but ordinary people who did extraordinary things.

Booker T. Washington.  This gentleman was a slave child in the south. Who was freed while in his teens.  Freedom came but that did not erase racism.  He was determined to achieve greatness and to assist the American Negroes who were beginning a new lifestyle no longer locked in slavery.  Mr. Washington did not let the color of his skin nor the continuing racism block his vision.  He had what was a unique observation for his generation:  whatever anyone wished to achieve would be measured by the “obstacles which they overcome.”

Another 19th century figure we know is Abraham Lincoln.  I know there are few who could list all of the failures this future President of the United States would have before he achieved his vision.  Numerous attempts to be elected in various positions in his home state failed.  A first marriage ended by the death of this wife.  In his second marriage he endured the loss of one son.  And surely we know the saga for the Civil War and the price he paid.  But he persevered.  He did not give up.  He relied on his God and his determination.

Let me go back just a few years ago.  Together with a fellow-novice, I was assigned the care of the yard at front door of the seminary.  A large circular drive, two gardens and the flower beds and grass in the circle.  One day, when we reported for work, we were confronted by large trucks dumping macadam on the old driveway.  We were delighted.  We would not have to worry about pulling the weeds and grass that often grew in the gravel that was the old driveway.  8” of macadam was poured out on the old gravel.  Steam rollers then compacted the materials.  We   were happy.  No more pulling weeds.  Not until the next Spring when to our surprise in the middle of the driveway there was a crocus that had made its way through the macadam and during the night had blossomed.  What determination mother nature has.  It was a great lesson for us. 

There are two women who exemplified determination, trust in God, and perseverance that I put before you.  First, Helen Keller.  She was the first woman to earn a college degree ... the first deaf woman.  In her diary you can find this thought: “Only through the experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision clarified, ambition inspired and success achieved.”  This is a reality we must adapt in our own times of suffering, our own frustrations.  These are the ingredients that make the salt worthy and the light bright that we bring to others and ourselves.

People like these are men and women who know what this sentence means:  “Nothing is forever, and this too shall pass.”  Whatever setback there is, we should not forget that it will not last forever, that is but a stepping stone to success.

Lastly, consider a famous First Lady of the United States:  Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Theodore Roosevelt.  This young woman never went beyond high school.  She was a severe dyslexic.  But that did not stop her.  After marrying Mr. Roosevelt, she became the mother of their five children.  All through those early marriage years, Eleanor was hounded by her mother-in-law who felt she could not do what she should a wife and mother because she had so little education.  Then she also had to care for a polio victim whose legs were paralyzed, her husband, President Roosevelt.  As their marriage went forward, she learned and lived with the reality that her husband had a mistress for some nineteen years.  But she did not give up on her marriage.  What gave her strength?  She realized her mission in life and would not bend to the outside pressures.  She said these remarkable words as a sum of her determination and strength.  Perhaps husbands should take note:  “A woman is like a teabag -- you never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.”

Lastly, most successful people, those who have overcome difficulties, know they have a mission.  They know that the salt-light command of Jesus applied to them and they took it seriously.  Many of them often would speak about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel... always keeping the eye focused on the goal.  In frustration and stress it is easy to be distracted by different salts and different lights.  One woman writer, BJ Gallagher, said words about those different salts and different lights that could mislead:  Make sure the light at the tunnel's end is a grace from God. Pray that it is not a train!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tuesday: Focus, Focus, Focus

The readings used for today's liturgy remind us that we are blessed to have had so many exemplary people precede us in our journey of faith.  When the going gets rough, do we stop and turn to those given to us by God as models:  first and foremost his Son, Jesus, and then the many women and men of both Old and New Testament history and then the saints whom the Church has put forward for us as models and then those men and women and sometimes even young people --- all of these people who mirror for us the goodness, the love and the care of our God for us in whatever circumstances we may be.  Ours is the opportunity to "taste and see" this goodness of the Lord if we but focus, focus, focus on what is outside ourselves during difficult times and even in happy times.