Monday, February 18, 2019

Trusting Always in God

"Do not be afraid; I am with you always."  Rembrandt's Storm at Sea
The word of God takes us back to the sixth century before Jesus. Jeremiah contrasts those who trust in God against those who simply trust in their own resources, e.g., money or power. The author says we have a choice: either trust in God's unconditional love for us and flourish; or trust in your own resources and become like a barren bush in the wasteland.

Paul, in his letter to the Christian community at Corinth speaks about our future. Jesus Christ, once crucified, is now alive. And just as God transfigured the earthly Jesus into a new kind of spiritual embodiment,  so too will God transfigure us in a life beyond this earthly life.

 In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus tells us of blessings and woes. Blessed are they who acknowledge with gratitude their total dependency upon God; who seek God in their daily lives; who endure hardships for the sake of Christ. Rejoice! The kingdom of heaven will be theirs. And then the woes? Woe to those who have "so much" and yet do nothing for the needy, the hungry, the sick and dying.

It’s not always easy to trust in God's unconditional love for us, especially when what's happening to us is the opposite of what we want to happen. Sometimes our prayers are answered. Other times, you and I may pray and find silence. We may even feel like giving up on God; or thinking negatively about ourselves.

I invite us not to get “bogged down” in negative feelings but to rise above them by reflecting on certain faith themes:
1. Let’s re-examine our image of God. Some think of God as a judge. Maybe we copy that sometimes. However, the bible, holding the religious experiences of so many, offers a collage. God is depicted as a walking companion in Genesis. A debater in Job. An anxious parent and a comforting mother in Isaiah. A father of a prodigal son in the Gospels. What is our image? God is our ever-faithful companion.

2. Remember God’s providence. Like a skilled pickpocket, God is present to us in many ways and we don’t always know it, except by evidence afterward. He may seem absent, but our faith says he’s in our midst.

3. Be angry but don’t stay angry. Yes, to demand an answer is to take God seriously, to acknowledge God’s care. But we ultimately have to let go of our anger and move forward; otherwise anger will poison our relationships.

4. Know that you are in good company. Even prophets and saints have argued with God. The point is this: keep praying. God is the best solution. God’s ultimate purpose is to satisfy our deepest needs.

The great 16th century Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila, gives this perspective:
Let nothing disturb you;
Let nothing dismay you;
all things pass;
God never changes;
they who have God find they lack nothing:
God alone suffices for us.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Christ As Our Model

Jesus Calling His Disciples
In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus went into the deep waters of the Sea of Galilee with Peter and the other fishermen. Peter, while skeptical about fishing again after catching nothing all night, recognized something special in Jesus. So, at Jesus’s bidding, Peter cast the nets again and made a sensational catch. Peter experienced the awesome presence of God in Jesus. He cried out, “Lord.” Jesus calmed the fishermen, saying “Do not be afraid,” and called them into discipleship.
They left everything they had and followed Jesus.

Jesus, the master, accomplished much because he loved much: with an intense love of God and a compassionate love of fellow human beings, with a message of hope about the future.

Jesus has called us to discipleship through the life-giving waters of baptism. Baptism is God’s gift to you and me. And our basic response to God’s gift is gratitude.

Baptism defines us, transforms us at the very core of our being. Baptism, in other words, plunges us into the mystery of Jesus Christ. Paul captured this magnificently when he wrote to the Christian community in Galatia: “Christ lives in me.”

Yes, God has made us “new creatures.” The living Christ is our exemplar or blueprint. In fact, the universe reflects the presence of God in myriad forms. And baptized and confirmed in the Spirit, we celebrate the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ at the table of the Lord. This celebration sends us out among others to live a Godlike life, to treat all God’s creatures with respect—for humans are made in the image of God.

What precisely does “sent out to others” mean?

Each one of us has gifts or talents. Football’s Tom Brady, or celebrities like Denzel Washington or Lady Gaga, are not the only people with talents. You and I have special gifts and talents, by virtue of baptism. Within our common Christian life, there are many splendid callings.

I love the image of “a thousand points of light.” God can shine through us with transcendent brilliance. And those who ask for the grace to draw closer to God glow with that radiance. They become a point of light. You have a specific vocation/calling to fire up people with God’s grace so that they will choose their better selves, share with others, and stand for what is right by being an example.

Let us rejoice as the Virgin Mary rejoiced, for God has done great things for us. Yes, always look for the good in ourselves, in others, and in the situations in life.

In the end, the purpose of our baptismal calling is to matter, to make a difference for the better by giving the best we have in service to one another! And then we will realize with God’s grace our authentic selves.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

What's Life All About

It’s Super Bowl Sunday again! Who is rooting for the Patriots? How about the Rams? I especially enjoy those $5.5 million ads.

Today’s word of God takes us back in our imaginations over six centuries before Jesus, traumatic times for ancient Israel. In this passage, God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, to speak on God’s behalf. Jeremiah describes how the Hebrews were unfaithful to their promises in the covenant; and then he proclaims a new covenant and urges the Hebrews not to fight against the ancient Babylonians.

Jesus in the Synagogue
How unpatriotic and outrageous of Jeremiah to say this, many Hebrews said. Yet, because Jeremiah believed God was with him, he continued to speak God’s message courageously. The author may asking whether we stand up for what’s right, or do we simply go along to get along.

Paul, in his letter to the Christian community in Corinth, poetically describes the many facets of love. Love, Paul wrote, is not showy. It is not envious or rude or irritable. Nor does love insist on its own way. No, love is like a prism that reflects the myriad characteristics of love:  patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, forgiveness, compassion, self-discipline, peace, joy. Above all, love never ceases because God is love.

Paul may be asking whether we reflect these characteristics of love in our everyday attitudes and behaviors.

In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus pursued his mission uncompromisingly. He proclaimed that the kingdom of God was breaking into our midst, and that all people can share in this kingdom by living a life of discipleship, of virtue.

That God would include all people – even non-Jews -- shocked and outraged many in the synagogue. Jesus encountered opposition even from his own townspeople. And yet, because God was with him, Jesus continued his mission in life.

Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus had one passion in life: to speak God's message. That message fired them up.

The question for us is, what energizes us? Where do we find purpose in our lives? Some argue convincingly that we find meaning in a mix of what we do, what we experience, and our attitude toward our own inescapable suffering and dying.

Life indeed is worth living to the end. This raises the question, what are human beings meant for? What is our life all about?

Most of our finest thinkers hold that we are meant for something greater than merely existing. Something far beyond mere animal instincts, beyond acquiring and spending, beyond the economic feats and engineering marvels of this world.

What is that “something?” The answer points to something transcendent, beyond ourselves: the human spirit. Always open to a relationship with an awesome God and to one another.

Yes, our purpose in life, no matter what our profession or how old we are, is to be in relationship with God and one another forever. Something to think about and do in light of the word of God.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Seeking Unity in Diversity

Praying for Unity within Diversity: January 18-25
Today we begin Catholic Schools Week.  And we salute our teachers/staff who educate our youngsters for life: excellence in academics and virtue in character.

The word of God takes us back to the fifth century before Jesus. The Jews who returned to the ruins of Jerusalem were rebuilding their lives, much like many of our ancestors did in the aftermath of the 1840s Irish potato famine, the 1870s German kulturkampf, or the two World Wars.

Ezra gathered people together to renew the covenant God had made with them centuries before—a covenant summed up in a moving phrase: “You are my people; and I am your God.” The people who heard Ezra cried out, “Amen. Amen” -- So be it. They will not only be hearers of God’s word but also doers of that word.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Christian community at Corinth in Greece, addressed many problems: squabbles, moral misconduct, personality conflicts, cliques. Paul’s metaphor of the human body describes how different parts—eye, ear, voice, hands, feet—have different functions, yet they all work for the good of the whole body.

Paul championed unity within diversity. We are one with God our Father. God abides in us, and we abide in God within a grace-filled community.

In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus began his public ministry. He went back to his hometown and walked into the local synagogue on the Sabbath, and from the parchment of scripture—in particular, the book of the prophet Isaiah—he read from the magnificent passage:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … he has sent me to bring glad tidings ….”

Concluding, Jesus said, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” This was a bold and shocking statement. In a real sense, this was the “inaugural speech” of Jesus, proclaiming freedom from what enslaves us, vision from what blinds us, and healing from what breaks relationships.

Jesus then set about giving hope and purpose to those who had found little or no meaning in life.
And Jesus prayed that his disciples “may all be one as you, Father, are in me and I in you.”

In the week of prayer for Christian unity (January 18-25), we pray that the Spirit will make all of us one, for together we profess that there is only one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.
Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther's call for reform spread like a divisive contagion. Until the 20th century, when Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope John XXIII, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants generally emphasized what divided them. Good Pope John XXIII realized that for people to discuss division, they have to get to know one another. He moved Christians from diatribe to dialog.

The 1964 “Decree on Ecumenism” encourages conversations about what unites us, what divides us, and how we can cooperate as a “united”people with common goals. That courageous task remains for us today.