Thursday, May 22, 2014

Concrete Love

The readings from the Acts of the Apostles over the past few days have highlighted the controversy in the earliest communities of the faithful over how the Gentiles (non-Jews) who came to believe in Christ would be able to be a part of the community. Many thought that, since Jesus was a Jew and all of the apostles and disciples were Jews, and since they all were following the laws of Judaism as well as coming together for the "breaking of the Bread", anyone who took part in what we would call the "Christian" part also had to be Jewish. Others thought that, since the Holy Spirit was obviously within them and they desired to be a part of the "Christian " community, they did not have to convert to Judaism. Paul, Peter and the others debated this at what has been known as the "First Council of Jerusalem". James, the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, is the one who made the ultimate decision. "It is my judgment, therefore,that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God,but tell them by letter to avoid pollution from idols,unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood." These four things may seem strange, but we have to remember that the faithful at that time gathered for the "Breaking of the Bread" not as a separate ritual like we do, but rather as a part of a full meal. A devout Jew would not be able to sit and eat with someone who had offered sacrifice to idols, was in an unlawful marriage, ate the meat of an animal that had been strangled or consumed food that had blood (Not Kosher). Therefore they would not all be able to sit together for the "Eucharistic Meal". The solutions was one that put the primary law of love into practice. It would be a very concrete way of showing love for the Jewish members of the community to accept those Gentiles who believed. And it would be a sign of love for those Gentile members to make sure that they did nothing which would prevent the Jewish brothers and sisters from being able to eat with them. The words of James show a masterful way of everyone living the command of Jesus to "love your neighbor as yourself". Certainly we should be glad that it did, because if the outcome was different, we might not be Christian today! It also is a great example for us of how to look for ways to resolve differences by living the commandment of love. When I have a disagreement, I will always find the best solution if I strive to love the other person as I love myself. By asking "what can I do or say that will show the most love?", I am always going to come up with creative ways of doing or saying the right thing. So many times we have disagreements over what really are trivial matters. By not always thinking in terms of winning and losing, I can change the dynamic. In any healthy relationship that is built on love, we do not think about winning, because that means that the other person (spouse, child, parent, sibling, friend) is a loser. So we should not approach any relationship with the idea that I have to win. Making our love concrete might mean saying to ourselves "It really is more important that the other person feels good rather than I get what I want." And surprisingly, when I do this I always end up feeling pretty good! Love has that kind of result, you see. The more we show love in concrete ways, the better we feel about ourselves! So, maybe we need to have our own sort of "Council of Jerusalem" from time to time if there are tensions or disagreements. Applying the law of love in a concrete way, as James did, just might make all the difference in the world.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Easter Season - Look Out!

Sorry for the delay in posting. I guess I just got caught up in Easter Joy!! I love the fact that we have an entire season to reflect on the Resurrection. We sometimes forget just how much happened in a relatively short period of time. And we certainly can use the time to think about its impact on our lives. Whether the whole "doubting Thomas" event, or the encounter with the two on the road to Emmaus, it seems that the Lord was popping up all over the place, and when people least expected. But isn't that really the way He continues to enter into our lives? Naturally we do not see the risen and glorified Body as they did 2,000 years ago, but Christ comes to us nonetheless in unexpected ways. I try to think of Easter as a season when I am on high alert to have an encounter with the Lord and should be on the look-out. I mean, we believe that He is always with us, of course, because He promised this. But He also said that "Where two or more gather in my name, I am there in the midst." And so I want to make an extra effort to hold Him to that promise. It is not a magic formula, but rather a challenge. It means that, when I am with others, I have to do and say things in His name. So I should be extra careful to make sure that the things I say and do are what He wants said and done. That is how I can insure that I will not miss any opportunity to meet the Lord as I walk "on the way". Care to join me along that road?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Life Saver

For me, Holy Week is really more of a goal, rather than a name. As a priest, I think it is sometimes more difficult to really get into the spirit of the week, since we have so many different liturgies to plan and celebrate. And the hectic schedule means that there is even less time than normal for reflection. But despite this, I think it is important that I make the time to contemplate the truths behind what we are celebrating during this week. I need to let go of my need to have everything just so, and embrace the "chaos" of what the week represents. Certainly nothing went according to anyone's plan during that last week of the Lord's life, so why should I expect that mine will? It is probably more the norm that when a person makes a great sacrifice, it is not something planned out ahead of time but rather a response to the situation of the moment. The Lord certainly could have said "Wait a minute, let's take our time here". After all, He always had those "legions of angels" that could come at any moment. But He chose not to call them, not to use His divinity in order to save his human life. Putting aside His own comfort and control, He allowed Himself to become a pawn of others. And He did it for us. That is the thing I must never forget. He died for me. Wow. Think about that statement - one which we all can make. Jesus died for me. Imagine if I said that about, for example, a firefighter. How would I feel if a firefighter died in order to save me from a burning building? Sit with that for a minute. A man rushes into a burning building, saves you and then dies as a result. Well, that is exactly what Jesus did. And it was not just a burning building, but "the fires of hell" from which I was rescued. And, just as any emergency responder would say when asked "why?", the Lord also says "because that is what I do." Wow, indeed! This meditation is what I need to make this a Holy Week. And I pray it will be that for you also.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

In today's Gospel (John 8:31-42), the Lord points out that sometimes people use words to identify themselves but those words do not correspond with reality. In this case, he was speaking to people who identified themselves as children of Abraham - children of God. But their actions betray them, since they do not accept Jesus and live the way they should. It is a good meditation for me and for everyone who calls themselves a follower of Christ. We are quick to identify ourselves as a Christian, Catholic, or with other words that imply we follow the example of Christ. But often our words betray us, since our actions show a very different identity. I know that I am guilty of this, and it challenges me. When I look at others who do or say things that bother me, or fail to live up to my expectations, I do not treat them as Jesus would but rather with impatience and annoyance. My face, I am told, reflects this and I am ashamed to say that it has hurt people. If I am to be authentic, I need to work on this, and try harder to continue to treat people with love, even when I am upset. It certainly is not something that comes easily to me, but as a true follower of Christ I have to respond as He would. I have to work on allowing the love I really feel in my heart for people to shine through, especially when they do not live up to my expectations. And in doing so, I will then be reflecting by my actions more clearly that which I give voice to with my words. Jesus loves us all immensely, and I need to be that presence of love for those whom the Lord sends into my life. Certainly a big challenge for me in these final days of Lent, and, I am sure, a work that will take a lifetime to perfect. But together, with the help of God and those He sends into my life, I am convinced that I can make improvements each day so that my actions will speak louder than my words.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Help Wanted

Today's Gospel (John 5:1-16) is in some ways very sad. It tells of a man who has been sick for 38 years, and is desperate to be healed. He sits by the one pool that is said to have miraculous powers to heal people, but only when the waters are stirred up by an angel. Unfortunately, he has no one to help him get into the pool in time, so he never makes the small window of opportunity. Then Jesus comes along and cures him. It is so sad that he had no friends, no family members who were there to help him. And then I reflected on the fact that the normal way God performs miracles is by using other people. Miracles of healing are accomplished every day by those whom God uses in the medical profession by giving them the skill and knowledge needed to help people. Miracles of feeding the hungry require those who offer not just from their surplus, but from their own need. Miracles of shelter come about when those with comfortable homes support shelters for the homeless. Miracles of peace take place when someone takes time to listen to the hurts and sorrows of a friend or a stranger. You and I are the ones that God uses to perform miracles, just as he uses people in our lives to perform miracles for us. The tricky part is that we have a choice. We can decide whether or not to do what Jesus did - to love the people who come into our lives, whether for a moment or for a lifetime. Had just one person helped that man at Bethesda, things in his life might have turned out quite differently. Now you may think "Yeah, but he did have Jesus Himself heal him, which is pretty wonderful". But I think he would have traded that experience if he had been able to live the previous 38 years as a healthy, productive man. The point of this Gospel for us, I think, is that you and I will be given opportunities today (and every day) to help God perform miracles. And without our cooperation, they may never happen. Someone's pain and suffering may never go away if we do not take the time and love them enough to nurse, feed, shelter or listen to them. We may be the only person that God asks to assist Him in making sure the miracle happens. Our help is wanted by God, my friends. The question is: Will I take the time today to respond to His request?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Attention Please

Today's celebration of the annunciation of the Lord highlights the wonderful event during which the angel proclaimed a special announcement from God to Mary. This announcement, that she was chosen to be the mother of His Son, was not a command. It was really more of a request, a revelation of His will for Mary, and she had to pay attention. In all of human history, this was undoubtedly the most important announcement made to any single individual, and we are all blessed through her "yes". But is is certainly not the only "annunciation". In fact, every day God tries to announce to us His intentions, His will for us. The problem is when we think that, unless there is an angel who appears to us, this revelation does not happen. Not true! Angels as messengers were the means that God chose to deliver His messages (make announcements) to people prior to the coming of Christ. Shortly after the life, death and resurrection of the Lord, angels were no longer necessary. The Lord's own words and the words and example of His followers became the means by which God would communicate with us. And that is still the case. This is the reason why we need to become more and more familiar with the teachings and example of Christ. Sacred Scripture, then, is crucial to hearing and understanding the daily "annunciations" that are meant for us. And we need to surround ourselves with others who are trying to follow Christ. In every situation, every encounter, every decision we have to make, God tries to reveal His will for us. In order to attune ourselves to this voice of God, we need to examine the words and actin of the Lord and listen to the wisdom of our sisters and brothers in Christ to see if we can more clearly understand God's will. Just asking the question "What does God want me to do?" can help us become more aware of and open to doing what is right, what is best, what God wants. As we continue to celebrate the Annunciation of God's will to Mary, let's also try and see what announcement God is trying to make to us. Please God, help us pay attention!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Rich Man, Poor Man

Today's gospel (Luke 16, 19-31) is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, who sat outside his door begging. Since it was a made-up story, Jesus deliberately selected every detail, and I think they can be helpful for meditation. To start, we only know the name of one of the men - the poor one. Now, this in itself is unusual, since the name of a rich, powerful man is usually more likely to be known than that of a poor one. But the name "Lazarus" is given to the poor man. Maybe since the rich man found his identity in his wealth, maybe the Lord decided that it was the only designation he should have. In any case, Lazarus lived a very hard life, hoping for the scraps that were left after the rich man ate. Once they both die, Lazarus is in heaven and the rich man in hell (they did not use those terms in the parable, but it helps for our understanding). The rich man asks "Father Abraham" to send Lazarus to bring him some relief - water. Two things strike me. First, the rich man knows Lazarus' name. So he cannot even use the excuse that he did nothing to help him when he was alive because he did not see him. Second, the rich man still thinks he is better than Lazarus, even though he is the one in hell. He speaks as if Lazarus was a servant or slave who should be sent to help him. He does not even address Lazarus directly! When Abraham explains that it is not possible, the rich man shows a surprising side - he is concerned for someone else. Granted it is concern for other members of his own family, but it at least shows that he was not completely evil and uncaring. Abraham says no, stating that his brothers have "Moses and the prophets - let them listen to them." The rich man knows that his brothers are no more likely than he was to pay attention to Moses and the prophets, but reasons that they will if someone comes back from the dead. In a wonderful prediction, Abraham says that those who do not listen to Moses or the prophets will not be persuaded, even if some should rise from the dead. So the question is - where am I in the story? I know that I am not completely bad, but neither was the rich man. But how many times have I seen people around me but really seen what they needed? How well have I listened to Moses and the prophets? How well have I listened to One who rose from the dead? It was too late for the rich man in the story, but it is not too late for me. I can still take care of Lazarus, and still change my life to do God's will rather than my own. In fact, I want to work so that God's will becomes my will. And by doing this, I just may end up being the one in heaven with the name given me by Jesus.