Monday, February 28, 2011

Instant Communication

We live in a world of instant communication. But  what are we communicating? Sometimes the means seem to be more important than the message. This was the theme of a wonderful presentation I heard this morning. It reminded me of how important it is to use the latest means of communicating for a good reason.
Now, many of you know that I have just recently come to the world of blogging and facebook. In fact, I am just now breaking the one hundred mark with this blog.
As I began to contemplate starting this blog, I was wondering what I would do with it. I must be frank - I was not sure if I had anything to write that anyone else would want to read. I have discovered, however, that there are people out there who are searching for something of substance. It does not have to be long (in fact, it is better if it is short). But the challenge is always to make sure that I use these means of sharing with you to lift spirits, build up relationships and create unity in the online world.
I think that this is also the challenge for everyone. There are so many ways that people can tear down one another, and I hate to think of the damage that thoughtless or intentionally cruel comments can do to people. We have only to think about the recent young man who killed himself after discovering that moments that he thought were private had been broadcast on the internet.
I would like to extend to you the same challenge we received this morning: use all available means of communication, but remember that the message, not the means, is what is important. Most people really do not care if we are going shopping or have just returned from work, but they just might be interested to know that you saw someone help an elderly woman with her packages in the mall parking lot, or that a co-worker did something to ease your job today.
I know that for me it requires a different way of looking at my life, at what is important. But I think that if I can get into the habit of looking for good things to share, the means of instant communication can help me spread this and, perhaps, inspire others to do the same. I hope you will try it yourself. Let me know how it goes.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Aspects of Life

Today we heard from a very wise woman, Eli Folonari, who spoke about the need to allow God to penetrate every aspect of our lives. So often we try to wall God off into a very separate, very small space in our lives. Perhaps it is once a week or month at  Mass, or maybe every day for a few minutes of prayer. As one of the closest companions of Focolare founder Chiara Lubich, she shared Chiara's insight (we see it as a gift from God) that God wants to be present in every aspect of our lives. This not only includes our spiritual side, but also how we deal with other people, our studies, our health, etc.
She told us that Chiara Lubich did not sit down and think about this, but rather experienced it. She realized that it was necessary if someone wants to live a life in unity with God and others. And we were all challenged to see if there are any areas of our lives from which that we keep God separated. I have to admit, it is very challenging for me. I sometimes think about my work, for example, administration in the parish, as not really connected with God. It seems, at times, to actually hold me back from my "ministry". What I came to realize today is that, if I bring God with me to all of the things I do - to the administrative, fiscal,  organizational side of my days - I will have a lot more peace, and a lot more success in God's eyes.
So, the challenge is to examine our lives and see if there are aspects in which God is not really present every day. It is really about living in union with God throughout the day. And if you have trouble with this, ask someone you know and trust to help you. If you begin the conversation by declaring that the things you say and you want to do in the name of Jesus, He has promised that He will be there in your midst. And between the three of you, you will figure it out!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sharing Experiences of God

For many people, their relationship with God is a private thing, not shared with anyone else. The wonderful secret is, when you share how you experience God in your life with another, it intensifies it and enhances it. Unfortunately, even those who are married do not always see it this way. I find it very sad that people who have chosen to share their lives with one another keep this part of their life hidden, or at least do no speak about it to their spouse.
Part of this week for me has been the opportunity to share with brother priests how God is impacting my life in these days. Sometimes the words do not come easy, but the more I practice it, the easier it becomes. And in sharing the experience, I find that I discover even more than I originally thought was there. Knowing that you have to share with another also makes you more attentive throughout the day and so you become more aware of how God is acting in your life.
This probably sounds crazy to a lot of people, since we are accustomed to thinking that our relationship with God is private, personal and no one else's business. But I believe God gives us these moments not just for ourselves, but so that, in sharing with another, He can impact more than one life.
So the challenge for today is to try and share with someone a way in which God has impacted your life today. It may be your spouse, parent, child or good friend. It may feel awkward the first few times, but I assure you, it is worth the risk. And by sharing these experiences of God with one another, the world will be transformed. And if you are able, send me a comment and let me know how it went. I predict you will be surprised by the results!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Raising a Saint

Last evening, I had a very unique, strange privilege - I met the parents of a saint! Well... technically she is only a "Blessed", but I believe that Chiara Luce Badano will be canonized (officially recognized by the Catholic Church) as a saint in the not-to-distant future. She died in 1990, just 3 weeks shy of her 19th birthday.The cancer that took her life did not diminish her spirit, nor her faith. She was a member of the Focolare Movement, as am I, and the spirituality helped her live and die well.
Her mom and dad spoke so beautifully about her, and what impressed me was how normal they are, and how normal her life was. Her mother told us that they had tried for 11 years to have a child, until finally Chiara was born. As you can imagine, she was considered a special gift to them from God, and they tried to raise her to be grateful for her life. Neither her truck driver father nor her mother had any thought about raising a saint. All they knew was that she had been entrusted to them by God and they tried to do the best they could. When asked what advice they could give to parents, they replied simply - "always teach your child to try and do the will of God as best they can. That is what will make us all saints!"
There is a brief biography that you can read on the web page dedicated to her. It can be found at
After the experience of listening to Ruggiero and Maria Teresa Badano, I wondered how many parents today has God chosen to raise a saint? And how many of us have parents that God chose to raise a saint. The answer: all of them... and all of us! So, let us try and live the  will of God today, and every day. Ciao for now.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Choosing God

Sometimes we forget that we are able to, and in my opinion are called to, make a choice for God. Now for many of us, a choice was made when we were just babies. Parents have a right, and indeed an obligation to decide what kind of (if any) relationship their child will have with God. This is only natural, as much as they have to choose what food the child will eat, clothes they will wear, and with whom the child will associate.
But as we age, we also have decisions to make. We discover that we like different foods, different taste in clothes, and choose different friends than our parents. Sadly, too many people never make a conscious decision regarding their relationship with God. This shows itself in many ways. Instead of choosing how they will relate to God, they simply drift away from the faith of their childhood, not quite abandoning it, but allowing it to move to out of their conscious thoughts. Not only does church become marginalized, but God does too.
As the demands placed on us by parents fall away with maturity, religion tragically is too often a casualty. it goes out the window with curfew, allowances and borrowing the car. But I believe it is an important part of maturity to make a decision regarding our relationship with God. In choosing God, I am actually responding to God's choice. For you see, God has chosen me first. And in this choice I make, I am deciding whether or not to consciously work on my relationship with God.
We can compare it to human interactions.  When you think about your friends from childhood, you can probably place them in several categories: those with whom you have lost touch completely, those you see or speak with occasionally, and those with whom you have maintained a close relationship. Now, the ones who are in the third category are not there by accident. At some point, you and they made a conscious decision to work on the friendship, not letting it fall away. It requires phone calls, visits, communication. It was a choice and continues to be a choice that requires work! We have the same options with God. We have to make a choice and continue to make that choice each day. At any time we can decide to let a friendship slip away, if we choose not to maintain the contact. And both parties have to decide and work on it.
God makes the decision every day to reaffirm His love for us and to work on the relationship.
Today I am making a choice again. I am choosing God. I hope you will think about it. And I hope that you too will choose God!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Doing the Will of God

Greetings from Italy! I will try to write a short reflection each day on the conference I am attending at Castel Gandolfo, which is outside Rome. It is a meeting of priests who are members of the Focolare Movement - Priests Volunteer Branch.
The conference here is off to a great start. We had a wonderful presentation on always trying to do the will of God. Doing the will of God in each moment, in each situation, is the path to holiness. Sounds so easy but is difficult to practice. I guess that's what it means to be a  "practicing" Catholic! I hope we can all practice doing the will of God today. And remember, Jesus said that if we gather with one or two others in His name, He is there in our midst. So, with Jesus in our midst, let's try to by holy - do His will - today.
God bless!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I will Be Away

I will be journeying to Italy (Castel Gandolfo) for a conference with other priests from around the world who are members of the Foclolare Movement (Priest Volunteers Branch) from February 20 until March 5. I am not sure if I will have the ability to update this site. In case I do not, I hope you will understand and pray for me and the other priests from around the world who are gathering to deepen our understanding of the Spirituality of Communion. If you would like to learn more about the Focolare, check out the
God bless!

Going the Extra Mile

Today's Gospel (Matthew 5: 38-48) is one of the most challenging. Just when they thought they were getting it, Jesus challenged His disciples to do more.   Jesus says that "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth) is not enough. And it applies to us as well. If we are to be His followers we must do more - turn the other cheek, give the clothes off of your back, go further than you are asked.
Sometimes our idea of fairness can get in the way of being a Christian. Especially here in America, we think that everything should somehow be balanced - you do for me, I do for you. We are so concerned with not being cheated that we forget our focus is on a different ideal. I am always amazed when I hear those who consider themselves to be Christian complaining about people who get more than what they consider fair. We refer to those who are looking for a "handout" as lazy, worthless, milking the system.
The root of this type of thinking is found when we fail to recognize others as brothers and sisters. Now I realize that we cannot expect our government to embrace this ideal, and it is not my intention to get into a debate about social programs. But I do believe that the way we speak about others and the way we respond as individuals to those in need should reflect the teaching of Jesus. And our words are not enough. Jesus told His disciples they had to take action.
This is the reason the Church has traditionally seen helping those in need as integral to our faith. We need to examine not only our attitude but also try and find ways in which we can help others. Whether in a local parish, with a community group or by individual actions, there are so many ways that we can go the extra mile and live out today's gospel. While it may not always be easy, convenient or even rewarding, it is what we are called to do because of who we are called to be. Because loving our sisters and brothers is how we can "be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Saturday, February 19, 2011

It Is Good That We Are Here

When Peter, John and James witnessed what we refer to as the Transfiguration (Mark 9: 2-13), their reaction was a completely normal one. The wanted to hold on to the moment, capture it, live in it a while. As they saw Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah (representing the Law and the Prophets), they understood in that moment just what and more importantly who Jesus was. And they did not want to let it go. They offered to set up tents, so that all could remain a while.
What they did not understand is that moments like this are fleeting, and we have to enjoy them and appreciate them at the time. Even though we sometimes do not want great moments to end, they always do. And if we are so intent on trying to capture the moment in order to somehow imperfectly preserve it, we miss out on the fullness of the experience. Do you really think that the camera operator is able to appreciate the Super Bowl game?
Wee too have these momentary glimpses of God's presence in our lives. And we have to be careful that we do not allow distractions divert our attention. And once an experience of God's presence is over, we cannot waste time trying to recreate it, since it is not the type of experience that we can have in the same way twice. I wonder, for example, if Peter, John and James were ever tempted to go back to that mountain to see if Moses and Elijah would reappear?
If we live in the past, trying to recapture the joy of a wedding, birth of a child, childhood holiday, we not only become frustrated, but we also can miss the "now" moments of joy. Each day, rather than trying to preserve what has been, we need to search out what is yet to be. The disciples got a glimpse of heavenly bliss. They spent the rest of their lives living in such a way that they could one day enjoy it for all eternity. God wants to interact with us today. Will we realize it when these opportunities come? We will if we are looking for them. And when they do come, we can echo the words of Peter: "It is good that we are here!"

Friday, February 18, 2011

Three Steps of Discipleship

Beginning at Mark 8:34, today's Gospel spells out what is required if anyone, as Jesus says "wishes to come after me." He then gives us three steps: deny yourself, take up your cross, follow me. Each step is important, and they are listed in order. Sometimes we think that we can just take up the cross without denying ourselves, or go straight to following Christ without denying ourselves and carrying our cross. This does not work. And if we examine the three steps, we see the logic.
1. Deny yourself. If we are focused solely on ourselves, it is impossible to be a disciple. If one thing is obvious from the gospels, it is that Jesus always put others first. We hear various accounts when Jesus would put aside His desire for time alone, for example, because others were clamoring for His attention. One of the realities of the human condition is that we are constantly tempted to be selfish. "Look out for #1", "Take care of yourself - no one else will", and "I have a right..." are all expressions that indicate  how difficult it is to deny ourselves. But if we are constantly concentrating on our own needs, wants, desires, we are incapable of seeing the needs of others and therefore cannot be a disciple.
2. Take up your cross. This is a tricky one. Often we believe we are doing this because we are stuck with situations in which we have no choice. That is not what Jesus is referring to here. He had a choice whether or not to take up His cross. His was a literal one, but crosses come in all shapes and sizes. And we usually do have a choice. Jesus chose to take up the cross in order to save us. Because He had been denying Himself for years, He was able to see how His decision could benefit others, even though it meant He had to suffer. We also have this choice. Parents usually are the ones who best understand this, since they deny themselves so much for their children and willingly suffer to make their child's life better. But it cannot just be for your child. It has to permeate the entire family dynamic. And since we are all brothers and sisters, children of God, we must be willing to take up the cross for others.
3. Follow me. If we have followed the first two steps, this is really the least difficult of the three steps. It is the way that we follow through and continue to live as we implement the first two. Jesus did not just carry the cross for a while and then opt out. He took it to the ultimate conclusion. And what was that ultimate conclusion? Not death, but life!! And this is why following Christ, becoming a disciple is so wonderful. Even though we deny ourselves and carry crosses, we are going to pass through death to life.
Naturally, everyone is going to die. The question is: when we die what will follow? If we use the formula laid out by Jesus, we can be sure that what will follow is resurrection to a new and glorious life. Now, I am not sure what will happen to those who choose not to be disciples, not to follow these three steps. I will leave that to the mercy and justice of God. But I figure - why take a chance when I know what works? I may not get them right all the time and in every situation, but I need to renew my decision (and it is a decision) each day to work through the three stages of discipleship so that I can one day receive the glorious life that God intends for me. I hope you will too!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thinking As God Does

Today's Gospel (Mark 8: 27-32) tackles a very difficult topic - perspective. Perspective is the way you look at life, people, situations, choices, etc. Every one of us has a unique perspective, which takes into account our own experiences and perceptions. This personal perspective is what motivates our instincts, for example. In fact, we share this with other living creatures. Where we are unique as humans is in the fact that we can shift our perspective - put ourselves in another's place. It is what we refer to as "walking a mile in another's shoes".
As much as we talk about how important that is, it is never easy. Jesus today warns His disciples that they are not "thinking as God does". This is a new, unbelievably high standard. Hard enough to think as another person, let alone God! How is it possible?
Well, we have some hints when we examine the words and works of Jesus in the gospels. When we hear Him talk about turning the other cheek or doing good to those who hate you, it only makes sense if we can put ourselves in God's place. He sees us all as His children, loving each of us completely. Just as any parent, God is not always pleased by our decisions, but that does not diminish His love for us. And it is why He does not want to see us interacting with one another in any but a loving way.
Each day we make decisions about how we will react to people and situations, and we instinctively do that based on our own perspective - how we see things. The challenge is to try and see as God does, to think as God does, beginning with a perspective of loving all who are involved. And as we try and make plans for our lives, it is always good to take a step back and ask what God will think. The more we are in tune with the mind of God, the more we will be inclined to make decisions that are right for us and for others. Thinking as God does is challenging, but the rewards are out of this world!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Messy Miracle

Sometimes we think that miracles should be all nice an neat. We ask God for help, our prayer is answered, and we have our miracle. Unfortunately, life does not work like that. Today's Gospel (Mark 8: 22-26) is a perfect example. A blind man is brought to Jesus and people want a miracle. Then something unexpected - instead of just healing the man directly, Jesus take the man outside the village and spits on his eyes! And surprise - it doesn't work, at least not completely. Jesus has to touch his eyes a second time before his sight is fully restored. What in the world is this about?
I think that Jesus wanted people to know that things do not always work out smoothly or neatly. Life is messy, and when God interacts with us it is also sometimes messy. We all want the quick and complete miracle, but few ever receive them. So many people pray for themselves or others who are sick. Instead of getting the complete cure, they see either a little progress, or perhaps even a setback. Why not a miracle? Well, it all depends on our definition of miracle. Several years ago, my doctor told me that a heart murmur that I had since childhood was worse. After consulting a cardiologist, I ended up having open heart surgery. The surgeon does hundreds of these each year, so to him it was no big deal. But to me, the fact that God had given this man the knowledge and ability to open my chest, stop my heart, keep me alive with a machine thaat pumped my blood, fix my heart and start it again was a real miracle.
And there are hundreds of these miracles that we witness each day without realizing it. Even though we understand the mechanics of things, the fact that we can do them is itself a miracle. Flip a switch and a light goes on. Not very flashy, but a miracle. expose a tumor to radiation and it shrinks. Happens every day, but a miracle. Now, each of these did not come about immediately. People had to struggle and try many times before they received the inspiration from God to get it right. And even then it is not always completely successful. (Ever had your computer crash? Talk about an imperfect, messy miracle!)
The point is, we have such high expectations that we fail to appreciate the small, perhaps incomplete miracles. The may not meet our high expectations, they may not do exactly what we want the way we want, but they are all around us. I think the Lord is challenging us today to look for and appreciate these "messy miracles". And if we do, we just may be surprised that we are one of those messy miracles for someone else.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Little Things Mean a Lot

In today's Gospel (Mark 8:14-21), the Lord tried to explain to his disciples that quality is more important than quantity. He uses the example of bread, warning them to beware of the "leaven" (yeast) of the Pharisees and of Herod. The Pharisees were a small group, and Herod one man, yet He knew that their influence could have a profound effect on people, and not in a good way. The tiny grains of yeast, when mixed with the rest of the ingredients, are the catalyst for thee process which makes the other ingredients change completely. Just as a small bit of yeast can cause the entire loaf to rise, so too a bad influence, even if it is small, can effect the entire community.
He then reminds them of the two occasions when He multiplied the loaves and fishes. In these, the foresight of the few people who thought enough to bring something to eat and had the generosity to share with others was the reason so many were able to eat. These good acts were multiplied and impacted the greater community. Just as the yeast impacted the entire loaf, so too the generosity of a few people impacted the whole community.
This presents us with a challenge, then. Every day we are presented with opportunities. We can have a positive impact or a negative one. Whether at home, work, school or with friends and acquaintances, what we do matters. One word or gesture on our part can change someone's day, or maybe even their life. There is a commercial that has been on TV quite a while now, in which one person does something nice for another person. Either the recipient of the act of kindness or someone who sees it does something nice for another person. And so on, and so on.Even though they are trying to sell insurance, it really illustrates the Lord's point in a modern setting.
Today each of us will be given countless opportunities to impact the lives of others. Very few of them will seem important to us. But the way we act, the way we respond to these opportunities can effect our entire community. I hope we can all be on the lookout for these opportunities and take advantage of them. An old song (as old as me!) sung by Kitty Kallen said it wonderfully - "Little Things Mean a Lot."

Monday, February 14, 2011

What Sign?

People really are not so different today than in the days when Jesus walked the earth. They found it hard to believe that He was the Christ, that He had the power others had ascribed to Him. They wanted a sign to prove it. Well, Jesus wasn't about to fall for that trap. He knew that they would simply deny that He has anything to do with it and place the credit elsewhere.
Many people today are the same way. We want a sign. A sign that God loves us. A sign that God is listening. A sign that our prayers have been heard. But the result would be the same. Even now, when we get what we have prayed for, we often ascribe the result to good luck. "Wasn't I lucky" is so frequently heard. God does all the work, and luck gets the credit!
True faith means that we neither look for nor need a sign.Our faith tells us that God not only listens, but also hears us. Our prayers are always answered, even if we do not always understand the response. Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes no, and sometimes it is something completely different. How many times have you prayed and prayed for something, only to receive not what you wanted but something even better. Even when God says "no" to our prayer, it eventually shows itself as being the best answer.
If each day we ask that God give us what we need and what is best for us, we will never be disappointed. And we will never need a sign, because we will know that our faith is sure and that God always hears us.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Higher Standard

The second half of the fifth chapter in Matthew's Gospel today has Jesus in a series of teachings using the "you have heard that it was said...but I say to you..." formula. This repetition reinforces the idea that, as followers of Jesus, we are called to a higher standard.
Take the first of these examples, pertaining to the fifth commandment - You shall not kill. Now, there is an intrinsic understanding in all human beings that killing another person is wrong. You do not have to be a believer in God to see the truth in this statement. But for followers of Christ, it is not enough. We are called to avoid anger. Now, for almost every person, avoiding killing is easy. Avoiding anger, however, is not. But the great thing is that, as followers of Christ we are not left without help. God gives us grace - the strength to rise to this higher standard. We may not always do it perfectly, but if we never have a high ideal, to what can we aspire?
That is why, as people of faith, we need to pay attention to these teachings. Being a disciple means doing more than just the minimum. We are called to go above and beyond, with the bar set much higher for our behavior. The Lord gives a few examples here, but each of us needs to look into our lives and try to see the higher standard that God sets for us. We have the example of Christ as our guide. He was never satisfied with doing the minimum. And so, if we are trying to follow Him, we also need to do a lot more than the minimum. Our ideal is set by Christ Himself. And if we try each day to strive for that higher standard, we will become more and more like Christ and fulfill the high destiny that God has in mind for each of us.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

God Provides

The beginning of chapter 8 in Mark's Gospel tells the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. This is one of the best known of the stories that are contained in multiple gospels, and is a wonderful lesson in trust. all of those people who were gathered had persevered in listening to Jesus - for three days! Surely they wondered about food. They could not possibly have brought enough to last for a long time. But so captiviated were they by the words of the Lord that they didn't worry about food - they trusted that it would all somehow be taken care of. And it was.
In His own way, Jesus showed them that God always is aware of our needs. And He gives us the means to take care of the needs of one another. Notice that Jesus did not just wave His hand and have bread and fish appear in front of everyone. He used what was already there - the loaves, fish and disciples - to take care of the needs of the many people who were assembled there.
This is how God often works even today. Using what is already here, whether it be food, knowledge, a sense of justice, etc., He gives us gifts and tells us to distribute it to those in need. This is the life of a follower of Christ. And this is how God most often provides for His children.
Today we should try and take some time to examine the gifts we have received and see how God may be asking us to distribute them so that He can continue to provide.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hearing and Speaking

In today's Gospel (Mark 7:31-37) we hear of the curing of a deaf man with a speech impediment. There are several details which I think are important if we want to discover what God may be saying to us in this passage.
At the beginning of the encounter, the man is introduced as being deaf with a speech impediment. This indicates that he could not hear anything, and could speak, but not clearly. It is different than being mute, which would mean he could not speak at all. Because of his lack of hearing, he could not speak correctly or clearly.
This man had difficulty carrying on a conversation. He could speak, but not clearly. He could not hear, so he had to respond to what he thought people were trying to communicate, instead of what they were really saying. As a result, he would often have misunderstood the topic of conversation and tried to say things that were not appropriate. And we are then told that, in order to correct the problem, Jesus took him off by himself, away from the crowds.
As I was reflecting on this passage, I saw a wonderful parallel to prayer. So often we try to communicate with God and without really hearing what God is trying to say to us. We end up talking at God, rather than with God.  Just as with the man in the Gospel, our words are not clear, they become distorted, since we are neither sure what we should be talking about nor what they really sound like to God. As a result, this one-sided conversation is not really communication.
What is the solution to this dilemma? Again, we can look to the Gospel. Jesus took this man off by himself, away from the crowds. Our lives are usually so busy, so crowded that we do not have time or space to be quiet with God. How can we expect to hear Him when we are surrounded by distractions? Is it possible for us to replicate this miracle? Can we find a place away from the crowds and noise of our lives? And if we can, what then?
Well, a few other details in this Gospel may help us. The man needed Jesus to help him. He was not able to do it alone. Maybe we need some sort of spiritual guide or director to help us. And even though they were away from the crowd, the physical nature of life was part of the process. Jesus stuck his fingers into the man's ears, grabbed his tongue and spit. If we are not ready to be completely open and honest with God through this guide/director, it will not work. Finally, we are told that Jesus groaned. A groan comes from the deepest part of our being. It indicates that the raw emotion of the healing was neither easy or cosmetic. We have to be ready to work and be transformed if we truly want to engage in this process of healing our prayer life.
I find this Gospel to be very challenging, yet also very hopeful. If I am willing to take the time to work on hearing and speaking with God, I can expect to have my ears opened to His will and speak plainly to my God.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What a Scrap!

Some people seem a little uncomfortable when they hear today's Gospel account of the encounter Jesus had with the Syrophoenician woman begging for healing of her daughter. Mark 7: 24-30 tells the story of this meeting, in which Jesus seems to disallow her right to help because she is not Jewish. Rather than backing down, she holds her ground and comes right back at His comment that "it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She realizes that all she needs is a little of this "food", and so begs for just a "scrap from the table".
Such faith is rewarded bu the Lord, and her daughter is healed.
I wonder how many of us would be satisfied to first hear ourselves compared to a dog and then to beg just for a scrap. Our pride often gets in the way of our own best interests. This woman was thinking only of her daughter, not herself. She didn't care how she would be perceived or spoken of, as long as her daughter would get well. And this is exactly what led to her daughter's healing.
She was  not Jewish, not a believer, yet she came to Jesus and sought His help. Rather than be offended by His words, she embraced the image and found a bright side. And this not only impressed the Lord, it accomplished her goal.
The power of God is amazing. Even what might be considered the scraps can change lives. We often are the recipient of such "scraps", yet we never realize it. Sometimes in looking for the entire meal we neglect what we have been given. It takes a closer look to identify some of the small, ordinary, everyday ways that God blesses us. But even the smallest blessing from God is a powerful thing.
Today I hope to concentrate on looking for the scraps - the little blessings. I really owe God thanks for them as well, and if I don;t look for them I may miss them. The scraps from God's table are worth more than the finest meal at the fanciest table on earth, and I don't want to miss one!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Devil Made Me Do It

We are great at blaming others for things. When I was a child, a popular comedian made a fortune with a routine that had the catchphrase "The devil made me do it". It was a humorous way to try and deflect attention to bad actions committed, and was just as crazy then as now. The devil cannot make us do anything. If God Himself, who has given us free will, does not make us do what He wants, it is ridiculous to try and pass the blame for bad behavior onto others, even the devil. To be certain, the devil tempts us, just as God offers us grace. But the decisions are ours alone.
In today's Gospel (Mark 7:14-23) Jesus tells everyone, in very strong terms, that they have to take responsibility for what they say and do. By declaring that what comes from within is what can defile you, rather than what comes from outside, He is putting all on notice that they will have to answer for their actions. And this proclamation is more needed today than ever before. 
We spend more time trying to blame others when we should be reflecting on ourselves. It is amazing how many people who come for the Sacrament of Reconciliation begin with a litany of what other people have done. It is really an attempt to somehow justify their own actions. "Well, my brother took my toy, so I hit him." "Everybody else at work takes office supplies home, so I took a ream of paper." "I use the Lord's name in vain ad curse when people cut me off in traffic."

The Lord today makes it clear that He will not be judging us on what other do. We will have to answer for our words and actions. On the day of judgment, Satan will not be there to say "Oh yes, I made this person say/do that." The devil will not be held responsible for our sins, we will.
So, we better take time to evaluate, openly and honestly, what we say and do and see how we measure up. And the measure is not how am I compared to other people? Oh no, our standard is much higher. I need to ask myself  how I am speaking/ acting/ living compared to Christ.
God does not want to hear us say "the devil made me do it". God wants to hear us say "Christ helped me do it!"

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tradition vs. traditions

Tradition is a wonderful thing. In fact, we as Catholics believe that Tradition and Sacred Scripture are both tools of Divine Revelation, meaning that God reveals Himself to us through both the Bible and the Tradition that is formally passed down through the Church.
human traditions, however, are another thing. It was obviously an issue that caused some consternation among the scribes and Pharisees, as can be seen in today's Gospel (Mark 7: 1-13). The problem came when they put their traditions above God's commandments. It was as if they were putting themselves in God's position of authority.
We have remnants of this today. How many times do you hear people say "We've always done it this way", as if that in itself is reason and justification for anything. We have seen this kind of attitude regarding the Mass, for example. Some people complain that the Mass should only be celebrated in Latin, as if Jesus Himself spoke that language at the Last Supper. Others complain that we should not now change the words from the English translation used today to the new translation that will be used starting in Advent of this year, as if different English words are a betrayal of Vatican Council II.. Both would hope to rely on past usage and practice to establish some sort of claim to unbending adherence. In other words, these past traditions come to be the overriding basis for what we do in the present and what we can do in the future.
As Catholics, we believe that the Church, through the pope and bishops, is the only authentic interpreter of Tradition. When we disregard God's law in favor of our own traditions, we are really trying to put ourselves in God's place. Today's First Reading speaks of God creating human being in His image and likeness, and He saw that it was very good. But being made in the image of God does not mean we are God. and our traditions certainly cannot supplant God's law as contained in Scripture and authentically interpreted for us by the Church. Tradition (capital T) can never be superseded by traditions (small t).

Monday, February 7, 2011

Good Things

Sorry for the delay in posting today, folks.
Today's First Reading starts a continuous look at the first book of the Bible - Genesis. "In the beginning" we hear that God created, and each day He saw that it was good. What a wonderful way to begin the Bible! It is a powerful lesson for all of us, to begin by presuming the good in the world. I firmly believe that our attitude makes a big difference when dealing with situations or people. Too often we begin by presuming the worst rather than the best. This sort of cynicism is infectious, and can blind us to the good that inherent in all of creation.
as people of faith, I believe it is incumbent on us to search for, find and celebrate what is good in the world. There is nothing worse than a crabby Christian! You have heard it said that some people see the glass as half full and some as half empty. I am finding more and more people who see the glass as half empty, cracked and leaking like a sieve! This is no way for a Christian to live.
God saw everything He created as good - light and darkness, earth and sky, land and sea, plants and trees, sun and moon - everything. Maybe it has to do with perspective. God sees things as all fitting together somehow. We see things in isolation, and only think about their impact on us. For example, we have had a lot of snow in this part of the country. So many of us complain about it, bemoaning te fact that it is disrupting our lives. But if you make your living plowing snow, it is an answer to your prayers. It is not only good, it is great! It all depends on your perspective.
I am going to try and face difficult situations (or people) be trying to see things from a different perspective. Ideally, we would always see as God sees. Difficult to accomplish, but worth trying. If I can try each day to begin by expecting to find good, I just may find a lot more that I like. And really - who wold rather see more good things each day?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Salt and Light

The two images found in today's Gospel (Matthew 5:13-16) are very powerful ones. And the would have been very important for the disciples and others at the time of the Lord.
I sometimes watch different food shows on TV and am always fascinated by the different recipes they show. One thing theat all the expert chefs try and communicate is that salt enhances other flavors. It only takes a little to elevate the intensity of the food, allowing the natural flavor to come out in a more satisfying way. By referring to his disciples (and, by extension, us) as salt, Jesus wanted to show the importance of mixing in with the rest of the world. If humans are good, created in the image and likeness of God, then we, when we live our faith, can only enhance what is already there. Our presence, interacting with others, can allow the true nature of people to come forth in a more intense way. But, just as the Lord warned, if we just sit there and are not "mixing it up" with others, we can go flat, lose or ability to enhance people and situations, and be "no longer good for anything". I see this as a powerful message, and a warning. We better make sure we live our faith in our interactions with others, or else we may lose it.
Light is the other image given by the Lord today. And His warning is a clear one. Light cannot be hidden. It must be used to illuminate everyone around. He would often return to this image of light, frequently contrasting it with darkness. In days when people did not have multiple light sources, the light in each household was important and precious. All in the house needed it in order to complete the tasks of the day. If anyone blocked the light, others would suffer. So too in our relationships. If we do not bring the light of Christ into the situation, allowing our faith to illuminate the various situations, how can we hope to finish what has to be done?
One thing that is clear in both of these images is that we have to work at it  in order to follow the teaching of Christ. We cannot just sit back and think "I believe, so I am OK." Salt must be infused into the mixture of life. Light must illuminate every dark part of life. This is how life can reach its potential. This is how we, as followers of the Lord, assist in the mission. How can we be what we are called to be today - salt and light?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Deserted Place

The Lord was acutely aware of the need for people to find time and space to reflect on their lives. In today's Gospel (Mark 6: 30-34) He calls His Apostles to “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”What great advice for us as well! How many time have you often yearned to do this!
But it seems that they had the same difficulty in the time of the Lord as we have today. People found out and tracked them down. And, quite naturally, Jesus did not send them away or try and move somewhere else. Instead He began to teach them. We find accounts of the Lord going off by Himself at other time, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so successful. But the important thing to remember is that He saw the value and tried to find a time and place where He could reflect and pray. And He sought this out both alone and with His Apostles, so obviously there is value in both models.
We need to try and do the same. It is just as difficult today, especially with ever-present cell phones and blackberries. But if we do not make an effort to find that time and space, we will never be able to hear God's voice as He tries to speak with us. Our prayer becomes a one-way conversation, and we do all the talking. This is certainly not a healthy way to strengthen a relationship.
Just as the Lord, we will certainly not always be successful in trying to get away, but that cannot stop us from trying. In addition to refreshing the mind and body, finding time and space to reflect and pray, whether alone or with others, has to be a key part of our spiritual life. It may be difficult, but it will definitely be worth it.
So, how will you find your "deserted place"? And when will you start looking for it?

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Many Faces of Evil

Poor Herod. He really didn't have a choice. With all those guests around, he simply had to have John the Baptist beheaded, since he had publicly promised the daughter he had sired by his brother's wife she could have anything she wanted. And well, after all... what could he do when she requested the head of John on a platter?? No matter that he was the king. All those people were there.
This type of thinking in today's Gospel (Mark 6: 14-29) is still with us today. We are often more concerned with what others will think of us than doing the right thing. We refer to it as "peer pressure", although in many cases (like Herod's) those involved are anything but peers. People in positions of power, whether priest or politician, often succumb to the false notion that we have to do anything the "people" want. We forget that oiur first obligation is always to God.
But "the people" are not exempt either. Certainly everyone involved in this sordid incident - Herodias, the daughter, the guests - bear part of the blame. It has been said that "all it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing." Well, there also has to be someone who is responsible for doing the evil. So, we need to take a look at ourselvees and see if we are in either category.
Do we do evil things? Now I know we don't like to talk in such sharp terms, but isn't that what a lot of sin is - doing evil? It certainly seems that way when you are on the receiving end, be it lies, gossip, cheating...Evil is afoot. And if, in a particular situation, we are not doing the evil act, are we permitting it, which is itself evil? Or just being silent about it, which is also evil? In any given day, we may find ourselves involved in one of these, and we need to remember this gospel. Herod ordered the deed. The wife suggested it to her daughter. The daughter used the promise to put Herod in a difficult (at least he thought so) position, and the guests just kept quiet. They were all involved in the evil.
So, what will I do today? Will I wear one of the many faces of evil, or will I reflect the face of God?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Two by Two

In today's Gospel (Mark 6: 7-13) there is a small detail that is very important. On this first "missionary" project, Jesus sent out the Twelve in pairs. Now why would this detail be important? I think we can find the answer in Matthew 18:20 when Jesus says "...where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
By sending out His followers in pairs, Jesus was showing them how they would need to work in the future, once He was physically gone. On a human level, we all realize that joining with another helps accomplish many tasks (there is strength in numbers). But on a spiritual level, the support we receive from being around others who believe as we do is invaluable. Because of the Lord, His apostles and disciples were able to accomplish the miraculous. and this did not stop after the Ascension. Working together, those first followers were able to spread the Good News so well that believers are now found in every corner of the world, even in place they did not know existed (like our own land).But the work is not done. And the need to work together is still important to remember.
In our parish, for example, most of our religious education classes have two catechists, so that they can work together. If they work with Jesus in their midst, success is much more likely. Even in other areas of ministry, we see that when people interact with one another in a faith-filled environment, that presence of Jesus makes a huge difference. The idea of "two-by-two" is also what lies behind our requests for others to take our prayer intentions as their own. "Pray for me" is really a request to "pray with me", so that together we can make the Lord a part of our prayer.
This day we will all have opportunities to either go it alone or work together. I pray that we realize the importance of journeying with others. If, as He said, we can gather in His name, we are guaranteed the presence of Jesus in our midst. And with the Lord at our side, we have a much better shot at accomplishing God's will. So let's work on our math today. Two by two equals... the presence of Jesus!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Steadfast in Faith

Today's Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the temple gives us an opportunity to reflect on two wonderful people - Simeon and Anna. Both of them knew that sometimes you have to be patient in order to see God's plan fulfilled. Luke 2: 22-40 details the patient waiting of Simeon, who was promised that he would not die until he had seen "the Christ of the Lord". His beautiful words when he realized that God had finally fulfilled that promise are not only recorded in Scripture, but also are prayed every night by priests, deacons, religious and laity in the official prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours.
Anna, we are told, was eighty-four years old and still in the temple day and night, praying and fasting. When this wonderful woman saw the Christ, she gave hope to all who "were awaiting the redemption of Israel." Now I am sure that many people had told them over the years to go home and "get on with their lives". But if they had we would not be able to see the beauty and dignity of following God's time. We so often pray and ask for God to help us in a particular way. And we usually have a time-line that goes with it. Both Simeon and Anna show us that God cannot be rushed. Sometimes it takes patience before we see the results of our petitions. In fact, often it may seem that God does not hear our prayers when, in fact, we simply have to wait a while until we see the answer. Or we perhaps are so wrapped up in the answer we want that we do not perceive the different answer that God is giving.
This feast focuses on the ceremony in which Jesus was presented to God in the temple, a beautiful but quite ordinary ceremony that every first-born underwent. Those who witnessed it did not give it another thought - He was probably one of many who were presented that day. Simeon and Anna saw things differently. They saw with God's eyes, and realized that prayers were being fulfilled right before their eyes. It would take many more years before Jesus would fulfill His mission and redeem humanity. But Simeon and Ann had already set the tone. If we are steadfast in faith, one day we too will see "a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for Your people Israel."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Praying with Faith

Mark today (Mk 5: 21-43) relates two stories in one - the woman with a hemorrhage and the daughter of Jairus. We hear of the Lord dealing with issues of both life and death.
Jairus was a synagogue official, which means he was a learned man. He knew that approaching Jesus would put him in a precarious position with others in power. But this was his daughter who was dying! He desperately came and begged Jesus to help. And the Lord complied with the request, setting out immediately.
Now along the way, the woman approached him. She had been hemorrhaging for twelve years - imagine! Her life-blood was constantly seeping from her body, and she must have been in a debilitated state. Take into consideration also that, because of her condition, she would have been ritually impure all the time, not just when other women were during their monthly cycle. That means not only could she not go to the temple, but no one in contact with her could either. What a burden! She did not even speak with the Lord, but simply touched his cloak in order to "tap into" His healing power. And it worked! After exchanging words with her, He continued on the way. When others came to inform the official that his daughter had died, Jesus simply told him to have faith and not be afraid. as a result, the child was raised from death and returned to health (proven by her eating something).
Both of these miracles emphasize the need for faith. The woman's faith was so strong that she did not need to say anything, simply touch His cloak. And the official's faith gave him the courage to defy others in power and ask Jesus for help. Both showed a tremendously deep faith in the person of Jesus. They didn't badger or nag, they simply placed the problem in front of Him and expected results. Neither one seemed worried about whether or not they would be successful, they simply turned to Jesus.
And what about us? it is always concerning when I hear about people who go to elaborate lengths to try and impress God. Sometimes they even try to force God's hand. I have little patience with those who put so-called "novenas" into churches that command you to say particular prayers for nine days, make a number of copies of the prayers and instructions, and then place them in a church. "Never known to fail", "God will give you what you want" and other statements are really trying to convince you that you have power over God. What nonsense!
The best examples we have of intercessory prayer are found in Scripture, such as these two in today's Gospel. We always have needs, wants, desires that we submit to God in prayer. But we must do it with the faith that says God will always do what is best for us. Sometimes that means the answer will be yes, sometimes no. And sometimes it will be something completely different than we expect. Whatever the answer, when we pray with faith we can always be confident that God hears and answers according to His will. and we should always pray for the grace to hear and understand the answer God gives. In this way, our faith is increased and we draw closer and closer to God.