Thursday, March 31, 2011

No Neutral Zone

The Lord makes it very clear in today's Gospel (Luke 11: 14-23) that we must decide whether we are with Him or not. There is no in-between, no neutral zone. Because, as the saying goes, not to decide is to decide. And there has never been a more important decision. Using the discussion about demons, Jesus instructs the crowd that there will be no division in His house. All must be on board if they want to be part of the kingdom.
This is a difficult concept for us, since many times we want to do the least possible in order to derive the most benefit. We would normally prefer to sit on the sidelines and then join the winner without having put anything in jeopardy. But that is not possible when speaking about the Kingdom. We are called upon now to work, so that we can enjoy the rewards of eternal happiness. Jesus was clear that we will be judged on the countless ways we treat others, the small but important decisions we make daily to do God's will. And when we do not do what we know God wants, or even ask the question, He wants us to know that we have made a decision. If we are not trying to make the world better, we are hurting it. If we are not aligning ourselves with what God wants, we are going against God. If we are not with Him, we are against Him. There are no neutral zones in life, and no one gets into heaven through the back door.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It Doesn't Matter

With all the times that the Lord called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites, people must have been getting the idea that He did not care about the law and that it did not really matter whether or not they followed it. This was something that the Lord felt a need to correct, and He does so in a strong way in today's Gospel (Matthew 5: 17-19). Not only does He state that the law will not pass away, but goes on to warn that it will not be pleasant for those who teach others to disregard the law.
The sort of attitude was not unique to the Lord's time. With an attitude toward civil laws that tries to find ways to ignore or outright break them, it is no wonder that many have transferred this way of thinking to Go's laws as well. Stealing become "borrowing" things from work. Nothing wrong with a "little white lie". Cheating on taxes is fine - everyone does it. So what if I can not pay for the things I really want? I can just charge it and then declare bankruptcy - no one will get hurt.
The Ten Commandments have become ten suggestions, that too often we feel can be set aside because of my wants, my desires, my dreams. Surely God, who lives me so much, won't hold it against me! I can always just go to confession and, presto, it will all go away!
We are naive to think that God does not care, that our sins really do not matter, that the law is for everyone else. Jesus makes it very clear that it is still, and will always be in effect for us. Maybe we need to go back to the basics and revisit the Ten Commandments. And I am not talking about making sure that children memorize them. How about us adults? Even if we do remember them, do we follow them? The concept of obeying is not easy for us, especially those of us who live in a country that places such a high value on "individual rights". But we can never think that it doesn't matter whether or not we follow God's law. It matters very much to God. And, whether we realize it or not, it really matters to us.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Forgiving from the Heart

The Lord today (Matthew 18:21-35) tells us that we must forgive "from the heart". This is a very powerful expression, because it goes beyond forgiving with our mouth or mind and gets to the most important place were forgiveness must be rooted. The heart is symbolic of the deepest part of our emotional and spiritual self. Forgiving from the heart signifies that we hold no grudge, harbor no doubt, and hang on to no suspicion about this person. It is probably one of the most difficult things for a human being to do, since it always involves "feelings", which cannot be controlled. In fact, it is our feelings that usually get in the way of forgiveness. Even when someone does something unintentional, we say that they "hurt my feelings".
But the Lord calls for us to put that aside and forgive from the heart. Why is this so important? Well, the moral of this story is that God will deal with us in the same way that we deal with others. Imagine how many times you have done things that were against what God wanted? How many times God saw what you did or heard the words that came out of your mouth and was not pleased? And how much would you like to say "I am sorry" to God and have Him truly forgive you? That is why forgiving others from the heart is so important to us. Indeed, we pray "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us", usually every day. This can be a wonderful, hopeful prayer or a condemnation. If God will forgive us in the same manner that we forgive others, what is in store for us? The question may make us uncomfortable, but we really need to meditate on it. And especially we need to ask for the grace to forgive from the heart, so that we can be forgiven by the our God.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Did you ever watch children who do not want to listen to something cover their ears and begin to make make noise? They might sing, speak loudly or just make sounds in an effort to drown out the words they do not want to hear. Maybe it is a childish attempt at "plausible deniability", since if they do not "hear" it, it does not exist and they cannot be held accountable. Adults may not resort to covering the ears and making that "Lalalala" sound, but we too think that if we ignore it it is not so. This is what the people in today's Gospel Luke 4:24-30) were doing. Even though it was past history, they did not want to face reality, as if denying it would change what happened.
God has given us a plan for life. Well, maybe not all the details are filled-in, but the general plan is laid out for us. How to act. How to treat people. What relationships should hold priorities for us. And with the coming of the Lord, humans no longer had to guess how to apply God's teachings to life situations. He showed us how to live and we are expected to follow His example.
I wonder how often we cover our ears and pretend we do not know? I can tell you from personal experience, there are many time when I try to do that, preferring not to think about how God wants me to react to people or situations. But pretending I am unaware does not change the reality, for any of us. Each day we are faced with challenges - opportunities really - to live the way that God intends us to live. Today I will be trying to keep my ears open to God's Word and put His will into practice. It may not be as easy as trying to drown out God's voice in my head, but it will ultimately be what is best for me.

Friday, March 25, 2011

God's Announcement

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 one to which she acceded. In all of human history, this was undoubtedly the most important announcement made to any single individual. 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 that we think that, unless there is an angel who appears to us, it does not happen. Not true! Angels as messengers were the means that God chose to use 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 example 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. 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 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.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Are You Persuaded?

Today's Gospel (Luke 16: 19-31) really demands a response from us. Jesus, through use of a parable about a rich man and a poor man who both die, tries to get us to consider our lives. Since the rich man ignored the poor man on earth, the poor man is enjoying eternal happiness while the rich man eternal torment. When asked if the poor man can go to warn the rich man's brothers, Jesus makes a powerful statement: "They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them." And when the rich man says that this is not enough, Jesus states that "If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead."
Wow, this is exactly what happened! Even today we still demand a "sign" and yet fail to listen to Moses, the Prophets and the One who rose from the dead. How do we change this? I would submit that the way to begin is by becoming more and more familiar with what Moses, the Prophets ad Jesus said and did. Lent is the perfect time to recommit ourselves to reading and meditating on Sacred Scripture. How can we be persuaded by those with whom we are not familiar? When was the last time we actually read about Moses, the Prophets, Jesus? If we do not, there is no chance that we will change. We will remain like the brothers of the rich man, content in our ignorance and doomed by our indifference.
Jesus so wants to help us, to persuade us, to lead us to eternal life. But God will not force us. We have the words and example of Moses, the Prophets and Jesus. Are you persuaded yet?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Drink From the Chalice

Today's Gospel (Matthew 20: 17-28) has what seems to be an amusing story regarding  James and John. Their mother goes to Jesus and ask that they be given places of honor in His kingdom. When Jesus asks them if they are ready to accept what that will mean, they willingly affirm that they are prepared to "drink the chalice". Afterward, the other apostles are not happy about the event. The Lord tries to explain to them about humility and the need to serve others.
These are the "facts" in the Gospel story. But there is more we need to consider. The idea of sitting at His right and left were positions of honor, but there was a twist. Jesus ask them if they are willing to drink of "the chalice that I am going to drink?" This is more than a symbolic question. Kings regularly had others taste their food and drink to insure it was not poisoned. James and John, by answering "yes", indicated that they were willing to die for the Lord.
Now, let's look at some other things we know about the lives of James and John. They were called "sons of thunder", which could have been a comment on the nature of their father's temperament or their own. And given that their mother was the one who made the request of Jesus, it may have been a family trait! They were also chosen to join Peter on the mountain when the Lord was transfigured, and these three were the only ones Jesus asked to accompany Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Obviously Jesus saw something in them that He wanted to nourish in a special way. Flash forward to the crucifixion on Calvary. John would be the one to whom Jesus would entrust His own mother. He must have been impressed with the relationship John had with his own mother, or He would never have thought of leaving Mary in John's care. He would be the only one of the disciples to die of natural causes, and the last survivor of the Twelve. And what about James? Unlike his brother, he would not have to wait years to follow the Lord through death to a new life. He would be the first of the apostles to be martyred (around 44 A.D.), as recounted in Acts 12: 2.
So they did end up drinking of the chalice as the Lord did, albeit in different ways. And we, too, all have a different way that we are called upon to follow the Lord. The "chalices" are different for each of us, but the challenge is always the same: are we willing to drink from it? Each day we are offered a chance, in ways small and large, to imitate the Lord in His willingness to sacrifice. Today, let us ask for the strength to take the chalice, drink from it and follow the Lord's will for us.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Humbling Yourself

The Lord tells us to humble ourselves in today's Gospel (Matthew 23:1-12). In a world that always tries to tell us that being famous, important, rich, powerful is what we should all be striving for, His message is really going against the grain. But then, that is what Jesus usually did.
In contrasting those who exalt themselves and those who humble themselves, the Lord shows in a really clear way the differences. We are tempted so often to see ourselves as the "gold standard" against which everyone else should be measured. And it is a constant struggle to fight this temptation. I know that I can certainly quote what the law, rules, norms, regulations say about any number of different things. I also know that I can find what I perceive to be "loopholes" in almost all of them if I get too uncomfortable. But that is certainly not following the example of Jesus.
Just imagine, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, having to listen to so many so-called experts blather on about any number of topics. And He, who humbled Himself to become human and, forsaking His almighty power, needed to learn just as any other human being, was subjected to these scribes and Pharisees, and would be judged and condemned by those who could not even begin to comprehend who He really was.
This was a true example of humility in action. And yet I can get so full of myself that I think I know so much more than others? When I examine my life, I find an uncomfortable amount of ways that I am no better than these scribes and Pharisees. I need to take time during Lent to re-examine the way I deal with others and eliminate the tendency to "exalt" myself. It is not easy, but I know that if I do not humble myself now, I will surely be humbled later. And that will definitely be much more uncomfortable than anything I could possibly experience in this life!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hard Words

In today's Gospel (Luke 6: 36-38), Jesus has some strong and very difficult words for us. Be merciful. Stop judging. Stop condemning. Forgive. Each of these is a challenge by itself. Put them together and we have a real workout for Lent. But they are not intended to be simply a part of a seasonal "extra" that is practiced for six weeks. No, the Lord means for us to try and always live according to these principles. And He tells us why it is so important that we strive to do these things. He declares that "the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” So we are really deciding on the standard that God will use in judging us.
Well, I don't know about you, but I have a lot of changing to do. If God is going to use the standard that I have used in the past, I am in big trouble! That is the beautiful thing about God, though. He is ready and willing to give us another chance, if we acknowledge our sin and commit to changing. And that is part of the Lenten process. We practice acts of penance and self-denial so that we can more clearly see the things that we have to change in our lives. We are better able to focus on people whom we judge, condemn, or from who we withhold mercy. We are called to concentrate not just on our own need for forgiveness, but also on forgiving others.
This Gospel is one I need to refer to often. Perhaps the more I read and meditate on these hard words, the more I will strive to put them into practice!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Beyond the Minimum

On this Friday in Lent, the Lord appropriately calls us to go beyond the minimum and really love others, even those with whom we may have reason to be angry. Certainly we would all be able to understand that we are not permitted to kill anyone, and i hope that it would never seriously enter our minds. But when He tells us that we should not show anger, and that if we do we will be liable to judgment, that is a different story!
Today's Gospel (Matthew 5: 20-26) then relates something even more amazing. The Lord states that, "if you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar,go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift". Notice, He does not say "if you recall that you have anything against your brother", which would seem to be the more logical thing. But the Lord calls us to be the first to love, the first to reach out. And Lent is the perfect time to see how we can do this. Is there someone with whom you are having difficulties? What can you do about it? Has someone done something that is causing you to feel angry? Can you forgive him or her? Is someone angry with you? How can you reach out and try to resolve things?
The Lord did not promise that it would be easy, but He did say that it is the way we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. So, are you willing to go beyond the minimum in order to get to heaven?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ask, Seek, Knock

Today's gospel (Matthew 7: 7-12) contains one of the more well known sayings of Jesus: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." But we have to be very careful when we read it, because it does not say that we will be given what we ask for, find what we seek or find what we expect on the other side of the door. The example He uses is from their own life experience, quite correctly noting that a parent would never give their child something that would harm them. But, by saying that a parent would not give their child a snake when asked for a fish, He does not say that they necessarily get the fish either. Maybe they will get a bowl of rice, or some grapes.
We all have this sort of experience as well. And in relating it to God, we can see that it is also true. How many times have you prayed for something, only to have a result very different that the one you were expecting? We are sometimes very quick to say that "God did not answer my prayers", just because we did not get exactly what we wanted in the way we wanted. But in hindsight we usually see that God did in fact answer our prayer in a different way.
The important thing is to continue to go to God, to ask, seek, knock. Just be aware that you may not be given exactly what you asked for; you may not find exactly what you were looking for, you may be surprised by what is there when the door opens. But be assured that whatever you are given, find or encounter, God will be there with you to help use it in the best possible way.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Don't Look for Another Sign

If you are anything like me, you probably have said to God at one time or another "Just give me a sign and let me know what to do." And it is not a new phenomenon, either. Jesus talks about it in today's Gospel (Luke 11: 29-32). He tells people that they will not be given any sign "except the sign of Jonah". Now Jonah was a prophet who was sent by God to Nineva, in order to tell the people they had to repent and change the way they were living. Interestingly, the only "sign" we can find in the story is Jonah himself, telling the people that the city would be destroyed in forty days. This was enough for the king and, subsequently, all of the people to decide that they would indeed change their ways. And the city was spared.
Jesus says that He (the Son of Man) is the sign, just as Jonah was. The question is whether or not we will pay attention to it. Most people would tend to dismiss these words of Jesus, still intent on trying to get God to send a "real" sign. A small miracle, perhaps, or a voice telling them exactly what to do. But the Lord is very clear - this is not going to happen. He is the sign. His life and example are as clear as it is going to be. If we change our ways and follow His example, we will be saved. If not, we will perish. But most people do not really believe this, since it seems that those who ignore the way of life that God has in mind for us suffer no more than those of us who try and follow God's will. But this is really a very short-sighted view of things. The real judgment is yet to come. And when we stand before the Lord, we will not be able to claim that we were waiting for a sign to show us what He wanted. The sign has already been given to us. The words and example of Christ are God's sign to us. During Lent, let's try to pay a little more attention to the sign.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Be Careful What you Pray For

In today's Gospel (Matthew 6:7-15) we hear the Jesus teaching the disciples what we have come to know as the Lord's Prayer. It is probably the best known prayer in history, repeated millions of times each day. But I wonder if we realize just what we are asking in this prayer. Jesus was careful to point it out, highlighting the fact that prayer does have an effect.
After giving them the formula, He reiterates the part about forgiveness. When we say "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" we are asking God to use the same standard in forgiving us that we use in forgiving others. The words "as we forgive" mean in the same way that we forgive. And the Lord reassures us that this will happen.
We traditionally use the season of Lent to focus on forgiveness. There are usually long lines for Reconciliation, and most parishes offer Penance Services. But the focus cannot only be on our need to be forgiven. We also need to think about our need to forgive, since this will determine what we receive from God.
Often our willingness to forgive depends on the person's attitude. We want to make sure that they are really sorry, and we sometimes make them jump through hoops to prove their sincerity. I can just imagine God demanding the same from me. What would me reaction be to someone who was asking me to forgive them for some offense against me if they approached it the same way I do when I ask God to forgive me? I shudder to think about it. We are so very casual and assured when we think about God's forgiveness. "Of course God forgives me. He loves me!" And while we cannot doubt His love and willingness to forgive, I wonder if we sometimes tie His hands be asking to be forgiven in the same way we forgive others.
Now the solution is not refraining from praying "Our Father..." No, it has to be a reevaluation of our own willingness to forgive, and what we do to facilitate that process.Lent can be a wonderful time of forgiveness, but it has to start with me. I need to concentrate more on being a person who willingly and easily forgives. In this way I can guarantee that God will do the same with me. And i hope that every time we use the Lord's Prayer, we will renew our determination to be the first to forgive, so that we can be forgiven. After all, that is the standard we ask God to use.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Whatsoever You Do...

Today's Gospel is a vitally important one to remember. In it (Matthew 25: 31-46), the Lord lets his disciples and us know what is going to happen at the end of the world. The tag line, "whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" can sometimes seem like a nice sentiment, but we forget that it is much more. This is the criteria that the Lord Himself says will be used to judge us.
During Lent, most of us adopt extra practices, whether it is a form of self-denial (giving up sweets, alcohol, favorite TV program) or adding things to our daily routine (Mass, Stations of the Cross, Scripture reading). Too often we focus on what we are doing, rather than why we are doing it. When we deny ourselves something, it is so that we will be more in tune with the needs of others. Additional time spent in prayer, good works or reflection is supposed to help us become more aware of God's presence in our lives. If the only result of your having given up desserts for Lent is that you are miserable and complaining to everyone around you, eat a cupcake... fast!
This is supposed to be a time when we become more aware of not only the sacrifice that the Lord made for us, but also our connectedness with God and others. None of us knows when we will be called to stand before the Lord in judgment. But we do know the criteria He will use. Today is a good day to take stock and see how we are doing. We need to see if we are heading to eternal punishment, or eternal life, and decide if we need to make changes in how we are treating the Lord present in one another.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Are You Righteous?

Today the Lord tells the scribes and Pharisees that "I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners." (see Mark 5: 27-32). A righteous person is one who is leading a morally right life. This was in response to their complaint that he was hanging around with sinners.We sometimes think the same way, forgetting that no one is living a perfect life. We tend to put ourselves into the category of those who somehow "deserve" the Lord's attention, since we are trying to do the right thing. He makes it clear that we better acknowledge  that we fall into the category of sinner if we want the Lord to be present with us. This is very difficult for a lot of people. It is much easier to compare ourselves with others than to look at how we are doing objectively. But when we stand before the Lord to be judged, it will not be according to how well we did compared to Joe or Sarah. We will have to stand on our own and be judged on how well we followed God's will for us.
That is the reason Lent is such an important time. It helps us to take a look and see how well we are doing. And the Lord assures us that He is ready and willing to forgive us and help us start over. All we have to do is acknowledge our sins, ask forgiveness and commit ourselves to trying to do better. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the perfect means to accomplish this, and I hope that we will all take advantage of the opportunities (especially Lenten Penance Services) to acknowledge that we are not righteous, but sinners. And it is for us that Jesus came, and it is He who is calling us to repentance.

Friday, March 11, 2011

As the Earth Shakes

We stand powerless before the Lord, asking deliverance for all those who are being affected by the earthquake in Japan. Between the destruction caused by the quake directly, and the devastation wrought by the tsunami that followed and is now surging toward the pacific rim nations, we need to pray - hard. If you needed a special intention for today's Lenten sacrifices, this is it, folks.
Nothing can prepare us for events like this, and the measure of our unity will be seen in our response. May God be with all those who are suffering, and may we all come together to assist them in whatever way possible.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Daily Choices

The readings today make it very clear - we have choices to make! The first reading spells out the decision that people have to make. "Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom..." And it is clear in this passage (Deuteronomy 30: 15-20) that there are consequences to this decision. In the gospel (Luke 9:22-25), Jesus also makes it clear that we have to choose whether or not to follow Him. He is very open about what this choice will mean - losing our life if we follow Him, but saving ourselves ultimately. But He also asks the important question "What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?”
So what do we do with these readings? And how do they fit into Lent? I think that, if we reflect on them, they are very powerful tools to help us this Lent. Most of us have decided to do something different for Lent. Whether it is "giving up" something that we like, taking on extra things (prayers, Mass, acts of kindness) or just being more purposeful in following the will of God, all of these Lenten practices have a purpose. The purpose is to help us make better choices. If I can strip away some of the things (candy, alcohol, obsessing about work) that take up my time and energy, I may be able to hear God's voice more clearly. And if I give myself more opportunities to encounter God (daily Mass, Stations, reading Scripture), it is more likely that i will be better in tune with God as I make choices each day.
Now we have to remember that it is not very often that we make major, life-changing choices. But it is the little, every-day choices that indicate the direction in which we are moving. Unfortunately we usually do not stop to think about them, and that is when we get into trouble. We rarely pause to think about whether or not the person who just cut in front of us in traffic may be rushing to a hospital because they received a call that a loved one is dying. We usually do not consider that a person who made a cutting comment may just have been oblivious to the tone, rather than intentionally cruel. Our reactions to these and countless situations each day are just as thought-less, unless we take the time to make a choice. We can choose how to react to people and situations. And when we do, our reaction is usually much different that the ones that are automatic. How many times have you regretted saying something that just "came out" before thinking?
Lent is a time to think. To think about our reaction to people and situations. To think about our relationship with God and others. To think about where our choices are leading us.
These daily choices indicate how well we are doing as a human being and as a child of God. i hope we will take time today to consider the choices we have to make, and I pray that God will inspire us to make better choices this Lent than we have made in the past.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What Do They Mean?

Well, Ash Wednesday is here. And today you will see a lot of people marked with the ashes. It is puzzling to some why the Church gives us a gospel today (Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18) that seems to indicate that we should not make any changes to our appearance or mark ourselves to show that we are fasting, sacrificing, praying. a careful reading shows that Jesus did not say we should not "perform righteous deeds... give alms... pray... fast". Rather, He said that when we do these things, it should not be so that others see or praise us for doing these actions that are supposed to be between us and God.
This leads us to today's question: "What do the ashes mean?" It will be different for each one of us, but we need to make a conscious decision why we are being marked with them. And it is not for anyone else to know. Maybe they are a sign that I am going to refrain from some enjoyable activity. Maybe they are to indicate that I will undertake a special practice for the season. Perhaps they are a reminder that I have to pay more attention to someone I have neglected. It might be that they are to mark me as a person who will be letting go of a long-held grudge. Whatever the case, they are supposed to mean something, and not to others who may see them. The only person they need to mean something to is the person who looks back at me from the mirror. What will your ashes mean today?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What Belongs to God

Today's Gospel contains the famous phrase "Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and unto God what belongs to God" (Mark 12:17). It leaves us with an interesting question: "To whom do things really belong?"
Property and possessions are important to us. We value our ability to have things. And we are very upset if someone take something that belongs to us. But I believe that the Lord was referring to more than just material possessions in this passage.
Certainly we all know that we have just obligations, whether it is paying taxes or compensating others for their goods and services. No one should expect to receive without any cost. But how much do any material things really belong to us, or to anyone else for that matter? My paycheck, for example, may be made payable to me, but already has been reduced because of taxes paid to the government. Once I deposit "my" money, most of it immediately goes out, because part of it has to go to the mortgage company, credit card bank, gas and electric company, etc. So how much of it is really "mine"?
And then we get to other non-material things. To whom does my loyalty belong? Is my heart mine, or have I pledged it to another? Certainly any parent will tell you that most of their time really belongs to their children. It is relatively easy to see when these material or immaterial things belong to another person or persons. But what about God? What belongs to God?
This is a question that is deserving of a lot of thought, since it can have a major impact not just on the here and now but on eternity. And I think that Lent is a perfect opportunity to consider this question. As we prepare to start the season tomorrow, I would like to propose that we try and use the time to ask ourselves just what does belong to God. And then to consider what we are going to do about it. It may mean that we have to adjust our use of our time. It may mean that we may have to redirect some of our resources. It may mean that we have to re-evaluate what we are doing with the talents God has given us. Any and all of these considerations will make excellent Lenten practices. Instead of just "giving up" things this Lent, how about if we try and give to God what belongs to God? It could just be a very important 6 weeks for us.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Anyone Rejected Lately?

Sorry for the delay in posting, everyone. After the trip home it has taken me a while to get back into the swing of things.
Today's gospel has Jesus talking about rejection. This is probably something most people have felt at one time or another. And sadly it is also probably something that most of us have done at one time or another. The funny thing about rejection is, even if it is for a seemingly valid reason, it still hurts. Watch American Idol sometime if you doubt me. Even those who obviously did not do a good job are hurt by the rejection.
Which leads to the question: What happens after rejection? I guess it depends on whether we are speaking about the one rejected or the one doing the rejecting. In the parable, Jesus obviously says that those who reject others without reason will come to a bad end. This is what we all hope will be the result for bullies and others who make fun of and keep isolated those who do not fit into their stereotype of acceptability. It is why we all need to take a good hard look at our lives and see if we are rejecting anyone and keeping them out of our "world view". Who are the people we simply don't see, even though we come into contact with them, perhaps every day? And what do we think God will have to say about the situation?

And as for the ones who are rejected, the Lord is also pretty clear. The image of a cornerstone is that of a stone with a very specific purpose. A cornerstone is set first, and all the other stones are set in relationship to it. It will, for example, set the angle of the walls and be constantly referred to to insure that the building is being constructed correctly. If a stone "rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone", this indicates that the architect has determined that its value is above all of the other stones that can simply be used in the building anywhere. As we apply this to ourselves, we need to take a rejections as a sign that there is a very specific place and role that God has in mind for us. And this role is one that no one else can fulfill.
So, today we are given opportunities to examine our lives and see if we are rejecting anyone or being rejected by anyone. And God has offered to provide the balance. I pray we will have the strength to examine our lives and begin to stop rejecting people who may not fit comfortably into our little world. And I also pray that we will all see any rejection we may experience as a call to discover the exact spot and purpose that God has in mind for us. If we can do these, we will it will surely be marvelous in God's eyes!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Honoring Our Elders

Today I had the opportunity to visit three priests who are now very old, but were each a vital part of a worldwide movement. Pasquale, Oreste and Fons were three of the most important priests in the history of the Focolare Movement. They helped not only get it organized but also worked throughout their lives to spread the word about trying to live in unity with one another and with Jesus. They are now over 80 years old, yet each still has a spark that time has not extinguished.
It made me think about how many of those who have born the heat of the day are so often just cast aside and forgotten. As is often the case with every new generation that comes on the scene, there is not always an appreciation for the  work and energy  that former generations expended in order for us to be able to have the life we lead today. For example, I rarely think about the sacrifices my family made in order for me to be who I am and where I am and how I am today. But the truth is, my grandparents sacrificed a lot to come to a new country and begin new lives, trying to make things better for their descendants. And they did it!! I wonder how many of us will be able to say the same.
As we visited these three priests here in Italy on our last day of the trip, we were  reminded of the many good men who have gone before us. I think that the same should be experienced by everyone, and not just on the occasion of a trip such as I am making. Perhaps we can take out an old family of photos, or look at a genealogical chart of our family tree and contemplate the life that our ancestors led. Even better, call or visit elderly relatives, friends or former co-workers to give them an opportunity to explain  how and what they did that made your world the way it is.
And if you are  really interested in honoring those who have seen many years, make a visit to a home for the elderly and chat with some of the residents. Ask them about their lives and express appreciation for what they did to make the world a better place. In honoring our elders, after all, we really honor God, who gave us the inheritance that they prepared.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Harmony - Beautiful but Difficult

Today's reflections is on harmony. We are probably most familiar with this term in referring to music. It is when various notes are sounded that fit together so that the sum is more than the individual parts.But is applies to more than just music. People, too, are called to live harmonious lives. When many people live in unity, you have harmony. And living in harmony with God is our highest calling.
We are so often concerned with ourselves - my rights, my needs, my desires - that we forget that everything we say and do is in relation to others. Indeed, there is nothing I can say or do that can truly be said to impact only me. Because of this, I have to try and see how my decisions will impact others. If I do this on a consistent basis, I can be said to be living in harmony with others. And if I make decisions based on God's will and not simply my own, I will become more in harmony with God as well.
This idea of living in harmony can have implications for every aspect of my life. How I dress, how I arrange the  furnishings in my room, how I interact with other people - all of these can be signs of harmony or disharmony. And especially for those who are living in the same house, apartment, dorm, rectory, etc., harmony can be critical for a better life.
 Because we can become our best self when interacting with others, the way we interact with them can help or hurt our maturation. Often people are  amazed in watching a long-time married couple,  for example. They seem to  be able to anticipate each others needs, without a word being spoken. This comes from the harmony they have found after years of work.And it is hard work! But the results are  worth  it. Even if you live alone, it is still important to be in harmony with others. We all know of the horror stories of neighbors, classmates or co-workers who do not get along, and everyone around them suffers as a result.
I would like to propose that today we all try to live in harmony with those around us.Try to anticipate their needs. Think about how your words and actions might be perceived by them before you speak or act. Ask yourself what you can do to make the result of your interaction with  someone better that either of you  could do alone. If we all try this, perhaps the world can become a more harmonious place, and more like the place God created it to be.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Why Study?

I was always under the impression that once I was a "grownup", my need to study would end. Nothing could be further from the truth. I find myself having to study things all the time, because there are always new things to learn. Now I have to admit, most of the time I study things because I need to learn about them for a practical reason. Studying the use of technology, for example, was motivated by a desire to use it in my ministry.
But I was challenged during this trip to recapture the original reason for studying and learning: to help me gain wisdom. But studying alone is not enough. Love is what generates wisdom. If we try to study things from God's point of view we can gain wisdom, because we make ourselves one with God. For example, if I am studying thee current political situation in the USA, Libya, or any other country, if I merely gather information and try to process it from my own point of view, I may gain knowledge but not wisdom. It is an entirely different situation when I try to see it as God does, since the starting point is completely different.
We have been challenged here to look at things differently, and this is one area that I believe could impact many people. If we truly want to become wise, we should start by spending our time wisely. And study can be a wonderful way to use our time, provided we are really seeking wisdom. This means I have to get back to something I thought I had finished with many years ago - philosophy. We are all called to become philosophers, because the word Philosophy means "lover of wisdom." And in order to become more like God, who is all wise, we should try and become as wise as we can. Age is not what brings about wisdom, because I know many older people who are anything but wise. No, the way we approach life is what counts. Those who are constantly open to learning new things, to discovering God in new ways - these are the people who become wise. And this is a great reason to study!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Purpose of Work

I was really challenged today to consider the reason for my labor. Certainly as a priest I try to bring people closer to God. But so often my daily work, the everyday things I do, can seem unconnected to that goal. When you think about the gospel today (Mark 10: 28-31), it is clear that Jesus spoke about doing things for His sake "and for the sake of the Gospel". This should be part of the reflection on the "things" I do each day.
Whether it is office work, interacting with staff or parishioners, even composing this blog, I need to keep my focus on why I am doing these things. Ultimately, I want my labor to have as its purpose the creation of a greater unity with God and others. No matter what I have to do physically, mentally, etc., I need to keep my focus on the reason I am doing it. It is especially important when things become routine, since it is easy to just fall into a pattern and do them to get them done.
But as I continued through my day, I wondered if the people who assembled the car I was in had any idea that their labor would be helping me get to a conference that would impact my life and, I hope, the lives of others. Did the individuals who packaged the aspirin realize that by doing their job, they would help me get rid of a sinus headache so I could concentrate and understand better what was being said? It is amazing when you think about it. The fruits of our labor are not just found in our salary. After all, how much of that is really ours? So much of it goes directly to the government, utility companies, mortgage, insurance, etc. It is really just passing through our hands for a time, and a short one at that. No, the real fruits of our labor last much longer. And the more we can focus on the real purpose of our labor, the better chance we will have to understand that that way we approach our work can have a real impact on the result, for ourselves and for others.
I hope that we will all take some time today and ask ourselves "What is the purpose of my work?" How is my life and the lives of others affected by what I do? And, as I work each day, how am I accomplishing God's will for me through this labor?
If we can only try and see that accomplishing God's will and bringing about a stronger unity with God and others is the real purpose of our labor, I think that our world will be a brighter, less stress-filled place. And we just might get more accomplished as well!