Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lent 5 Thursday

A relationship guide for men features a list entitled "Promises Guys Must Keep." Promise number one? "I’ll call you right back!" And number two: "I’ll take care of it." When men don’t keep these promises, the guide continues, women (understandably) feel betrayed.

At times, we can be tempted to think that God doesn’t keep his promises. Consider Abraham in tonight’s first reading. God had promised that he’d be the father of a great multitude, who would enjoy the whole land of Canaan for themselves. But when Abraham died, he had only two sons and a tiny plot of land. At times, it must have been hard to trust that, in the words of tonight’s psalm, "The Lord keeps his covenant forever." But God did keep his promise…in his own time, and in his own way.

Jesus promised all of us in tonight’s gospel that those who keep his word "will never taste death." Yet all of Jesus’ disciples die. One day we will die. Jesus himself died! So has Jesus failed to keep his promise? It’s tempting to think so.

Like Abraham, we need to trust that God always keeps his promises…just not always in the way we think he should, hope he could, or wish he would. That promise about our not tasting death? It took a death to make it come true. We have to die to experience it ourselves. Jesus is indeed true to this and all his promises…but not always in a manner we would expect…or imagine.

My devotional of daily Lenten reflections from 2013 is still available as an e-book from Amazon

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Solemnity of the Annunciation

It’s a very special and wonderful moment when someone learns that they’re going to become a new parent. Yet first-time moms and dads can be apprehensive too. They may worry: “Am I up to the job? How will I juggle work and family? Will my baby be okay? How is my life going to change? Can we afford this?” Expectant parents can feel overwhelmed by their new responsibilities. Some even suffer depression.

Given this, we can appreciate how Mary may have felt at the Annunciation. It was an angel of light- not a nurse- who told her that she’d be a mom. What’s more, she wouldn’t be an ordinary mom- she was going to be a queen mother, as her son was to be a king who would rule forever! To top it off, she wasn’t even married yet, and somehow her child was to be conceived by a “Holy Spirit.”

Scripture describes Mary as frightened and confused- and who could blame her? Thankfully, Gabriel understood. He told Mary to put away her fears, and assured her that nothing is impossible for God.

But - aren’t Gabriel’s words meant for us too? Like Mary, we may face situations that seem daunting- things that fill us with fear, appear impossible, or make no logical sense, and we wonder how it all fits into God’s plan. We may find ourselves asking Mary’s question: “How can this be?”

When we do, Mary invites us to imitate her surrender, entrusting ourselves into the hands of a trustworthy God by saying, “Thy will be done.” Even though we may be afraid; even though we may not understand; even though the way ahead looks dark.

To know “The Lord is with thee” was enough for Mary. And praise God, the Lord will be with us too

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Lent 5 Tuesday

Kevin and Chrissie were two individuals I became acquainted with during my seminary days. Chrissie was Kevin’s mother. At one time, Chrissie had been a nurse and Kevin an aspiring football player. But then Chrissie became an alcoholic, and Kevin soon followed suit. They became homeless, and when not in jail, they would roam the streets, shouting obscenities, getting into fights, and passing out on the sidewalk.

While praying one night, I shook my fist at God, demanding to know why he allowed something so terrible to have happened. But as I shouted, God answered by powerfully impressing upon my mind a vivid image of the cross. I felt chastised but peaceful, because this experience reminded me of an essential truth: To know God, we need to know the cross; without the cross, we can’t really understand God.

Jesus says as much in today’s gospel. People had asked, “Who are you?” To which Jesus replied, “You will know that I AM- you will know that I am God- when I have been lifted up” – lifted up on the cross.

To see Jesus on the cross is the key to understanding who Jesus really is. On the cross, we see humility, obedience, suffering, mercy, forgiveness, glory, kingship, sacrifice, priesthood, death, and victory over death. But most importantly, what we see on the cross is love. Because when Jesus was lifted up, he stretched out his arms, as if to welcome us into the eternal embrace of his love. Truly, to know the cross is to know Jesus. And to know Jesus is to experience his love.

My devotional of daily Lenten reflections from 2013 is still available as an e-book from Amazon

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fifth Sunday in Lent

When you hear the word "glorious," what do you think of? A marvelous sunset? A majestic mountain? A magnificent cathedral? Something glorious is more than merely good, and greater than simply beautiful. Instead, something glorious makes our eyes widen, our jaws drop, and takes our breath away.

When the Bible speaks of the "glory" of God, it typically refers to the awesomeness of God. Consider today’s gospel passage. Certain people wished to see Jesus. In response, Jesus announced that his "hour" to be glorified had come. Jesus asked God the Father to glorify his name and a thundering voice announced that he had glorified it and would glorify it again! How? By Jesus’ being lifted up on the cross and drawing everyone to himself.

To see Jesus on the cross is to see the glory of God, and it is an awesome thing to see. The crucifixion itself isn’t awesome; it’s horrifying and gruesome. It’s awesome because it reveals God’s love for us in a way that nothing else can. It shows that God loves us so much that he’d die for us. That’s a love that can take our breath away. And that love is the glory of God.

However, God doesn’t want his love to simply amaze us. God wants us to love him back! We should ask ourselves: How much do we love God? Think of it this way: Relationships don’t tend to last very long when one person is more "into" the relationship than the other. That’s why pop culture these days encourages us to dump someone if he or she is "just not that into you." Thankfully, Jesus would never dump us, because we could never be "into" him as much as he’s "into" us. But we still might ask ourselves: Are we "into" Jesus as much as we might be? To answer that question, let’s take from the Internet one top ten list of signs that someone’s "just not that into you," and apply it to our relationship with the Lord.

Sign Number One: He’s too busy to meet up with you. Well, do we have time for prayer and doing God’s work? We make time for people who are important to us. Yet what about the Lord? Is time with him a priority? Or are we just too busy?

Sign Number Two: He won’t share his feelings with you. Many of us are afraid to share our deepest feelings with God. We think he’ll be disappointed or angry. So we tell God the things we think he wants to hear, instead of what we really want to tell him. It shows we don’t trust him or understand him. And it makes our faith stale and superficial.

Sign Number Three: He never picks up the tab. God invites us to a banquet every Sunday! But are we a cheap date? Do we give back to him generously, or grudgingly? Do we give with a smile or clenched teeth? Remember: It’s not the amount that counts; it’s the love behind the gift.

Sign Number Four: He’s afraid of commitment. Are we half-hearted Catholics? On again, off-again? Does our Christianity run hot then cold? True discipleship is about surrendering our whole lives into God’s hands. Yet so often we keep God at arm’s length. God doesn’t want us as a casual acquaintance. He wants our faithful friendship.

Sign Number Five: He disrespects you by putting down your values, thoughts, and ideas. Do we disrespect God by ignoring his will? Do we strive to follow his commands? Or do we ignore church teaching we think is unreasonable, too hard to follow, or we don’t really understand? Do we want to do what God wants us to do? Or do we do what we want and hope that God doesn’t mind?

Sign Number Six: There are other women in his life. Now, we probably don’t worship other gods like Zeus or Vishnu. But things like the love of money, power and prestige, an all-consuming project, a hobby, even a relationship, can become idols which displace God from the center of our lives. To be devoted to them can be like cheating on God.

Sign Number Seven: He only comes to see you late at night. Think about it: Do we only have time for God when it’s convenient for us? Is our faith important to us only if it makes us feel good? Do we have time for God only when we need or want something from him? God wants a relationship with us. He doesn’t want to be used.

Sign Number Eight: You never meet his friends or family. Do we introduce God to our friends and family, or are we embarrassed about or ashamed of our faith? If we were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict us? Would people be surprised to learn that we’re Catholic? Or is it evident through what we do and say?

Sign Number Nine: He disappears for days, weeks, months at a time. Sound familiar? Are we Easter and Christmas Catholics? Once a month Mass-goers? And when was the last time we went to confession? Once a year is the minimum. "Out of sight, out of mind," the old saying goes. If God is in our mind, we’ll try to see him, all the time.

Sign Number Ten: He gives you the silent treatment. God wants us to spend quiet time with him. We don’t even need to speak; sometimes it’s best just to listen. But God doesn’t want the "silent treatment" from us. Because communication is key to any relationship.

In God’s love for us, we see his glory. But there’s another meaning to "glory." To give God "glory" is to give him praise. We might say that we glorify God on account of his glory! In other words, we praise God for his love. And the best way we can do that, is by showing how much we love him, in return

My devotional of daily Lenten reflections from 2013 is still available as an e-book from Amazon

Friday, March 20, 2015

Lent 4 Friday

It's easier for an elephant to fit into a mouse's swimsuit, I once heard it explained, than it is for God to fit into our ideas about him. This is an intentionally silly observation, but it's certainly true, especially in light of today's gospel.

The people of Jerusalem think that they have Jesus all figured out. They are convinced that he isn't the Christ, because they know where he came from. But Jesus stops teaching and cries out to them to set them straight.

Jesus sometimes has to do the same thing with us. We create idols- caricatures of Jesus- and he has to come along and displace them. Usually, like the mouse's swimsuit, our image of Jesus is just too small. We tend to emphasize just one aspect of his person and minimize the others. For instance, we might count upon his mercy, but forget about his justice. We focus on Jesus' power, but overlook his humility. We highlight his humanity, but neglect his divinity, or vice versa.

However, whenever we think we have him locked up in a nutshell description, the real Jesus eludes us, just as he slipped away from the angry Jerusalem mob. He knows that we're always tempted to refashion him in our own image. Thankfully, he never stops trying to re-create us in his.

My devotional of daily Lenten reflections from 2013 is still available as an e-book from Amazon

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Solemnity of Saint Joseph

When St. Joseph learned that Mary, his betrothed wife, was pregnant, he naturally assumed that she had committed adultery, a crime for which she could be stoned. But Joseph, being a “righteous man,” chose to “divorce her quietly,” and spare her a violent death.

Women aren’t threatened with stoning in our culture, of course. But they are, very frequently, victims of domestic violence, which includes not only physical harm, but also sexual, psychological, verbal, and economic abuse. Younger, unmarried women are most at risk, but women of all ages, races, and economic situations can be victims. And, sadly, many victims don’t seek help- either out of religious guilt, fear of being rejected by their community, confusion about what to do or where to go, or because they risk being killed.

Our nations’ bishops have issued a statement entitled, When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence against Women. In it, they encourage victims not to blame themselves, think they’re being punished by God, or fear that they betray their marriage vows if they leave an abusive husband. They direct “first responders” to believe victims’ stories, help them assess the danger to themselves and their children, and refer them to safe shelters, and specialized counseling. And they call upon male perpetrators to have the courage to seek help and break the cycle of violence.

All of us, however, need to work vigorously against domestic violence, by examining our attitudes, learning to recognize warning signs, not being afraid to speak up when we think someone might be a victim, repenting for past actions or inactivity on our part, supporting shelters and special services, and of course, praying for an end to the violence, and the spread of domestic peace.

In our prayer, we have a friend in St. Joseph who, as one betrothed to the Queen of Peace, made a choice against violence to women. St. Joseph, pray for us, and all women in harm’s way.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lent 4 Wednesday

Certain husbands are quite comfortable calling their fathers-in-law “Dad.” Other husbands, however, find that to be awkward or inappropriate. The prospect makes them uneasy.

Sometimes we can be uneasy about calling God our “Father,” or even “Dad,” as Jesus always did. In fact, this so outraged our Lord’s critics in today’s gospel that they wanted to kill him! Calling God our “Father” hopefully doesn’t infuriate us like that, but it sure can make us feel uncomfortable.

We can be fine praying to “Almighty God,” as that title reflects God’s distance from us. But “Father” speaks of God’s nearness; it implies love, family, and intimacy. And that can scare us, because we worry about getting too close to God. After all, who knows what that might lead to? We wonder: “What will God ask of me? What demands could he make? How might my life have to change?” It can seem easier, and a whole lot safer, to keep God at arm’s length.

Jesus challenges us to move beyond our fears. As our brother, he wants us to know the Father, not only as one who dwells above us, but also as one who abides within us. The same life and love the Father gives to Jesus, is also offered to us. Our Father doesn’t want to be kept at arm’s length. Instead, he wants to hold us in his arms.

My devotional of daily Lenten reflections from 2013 is still available as an e-book from Amazon

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Memorial of Saint Patrick

Everyone’s a bit Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, it’s often said. Of course, this is just an excuse so that those who aren’t Irish (like me) can join in all the fun. Erin go bragh!

At the same time, it does happen to be true- in a manner of speaking. All Catholics are part of St. Patrick’s family, though the communion of saints. We’re all one in the household of God, just as God is one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In perhaps the most famous story of his life, St. Patrick was standing in a grassy field, teaching a crowd about the Trinity. His listeners, however, couldn’t comprehend that three Persons could be one God. So St. Patrick picked up a shamrock, showed it to the people, and they understood: God is three and one, just as one shamrock has three leaves.

The shamrock is a symbol seen at every St. Patrick’s day celebration. But it’s also a symbol of what we celebrate as Catholics every day: That regardless of where we come from- Ireland or India, Tipperary or Timbuktu, we are all one in God.