Thursday, August 27, 2015

SPIRITUAL AUDIT

1 Thessalonians 3:7-13; Ps 90 Fill us with your love O LOrd, and we will sing for joy; Matt 24:42-51

St Paul is inviting us to take on a  spiritual audit in our life as we read his letter to the community of Thessalonians.

"Night and day we pray beyond measure to see you in person and to remedy the deficiencies of your faith."

My experience is most people think they are just fine in the area of faith and faithfulness.  We all think we are beyond reproach in this aspect of our life and we are all mistaken.

There is deficiencies in our life of faith.  Do we know where they are?  Have we investigated?  Do we take a spiritual inventory of our life, an accounting of sorts to better know where we are lacking?

Unless we are aware of our deficiencies then we will be hard pressed to find the remedies.

Then St Paul acknowledges two areas of deficiencies that is common in all of our lives as disciples.

First, "may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all…"

Love can never be static.  True charity either grows and deepens or it diminishes.  We must spiritually mature daily and the first place or measure of that maturity is the love we offer for one another and for all.

Secondly, the coming of Christ will be the final measure of all human activity.  Jesus will return as judge.  The early christians community in the 1st century was losing their sense of urgency.  They had lost sight of Jesus' return.

Even now centuries later, the coming of Jesus seems increasingly remote yet we must sustain a sense of urgency in this regard.  The urgency of Christ' return must become a vital element of healthy spirituality of the disciple.

We must be alert.  As Jesus tells us in the gospel, "stay awake."  Vigilance and alertness should build a sense of Urgency that keeps the fire burning and keeps us moving forward in a dynamic away in regards to faith and love.

This urgency should help us be attentive to Jesus' presence daily in the quiet ways he comes in to our life.   This urgency as pointed out in the gospel is meant to encourage us to share our time and talent in such way that we nourish other members of our community.

"Blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so."  We all have received gifts.  We must distribute those gifts for the benefit of others.

Do a spiritual audit today.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

DAILY EXAMEN



1 Thessalonains 2:9-13; Ps 139 You have searched me and you know me, Lord; Matthew 23:27-32

"Woe to you scribes and pharisees, you hypocrites..."

Hypocrisy is everywhere.  We live it, breathe it, and build lives upon it. 

Hypocrisy is when we say one thing and knowingly do something else in an attempt to deceive ourselves, our loved ones, our coworkers, our friends. 

There must be a degree of knowledge if hypocrisy is what it is. 

We all deal with on a small scale.  Every time we profess our faith in Christ and yet find ourselves giving in to temptation or vice we find ourselves in the deep stuff.  We find ourselves being hypocritical to some degree but that is only if we refuse to do something about it.  

If we seek to make a change. If we seek repentance and God's mercy.  IF we seek to make amends and hold ourselves accountable then we aren't being hypocritical rather weak and wounded men who know we are in need of Christ strength as we journey back to the Father. 

Hypocrites are different. They know they are doing wrong and they refuse to hold themselves accountable or change.  This latter version is what Jesus is referring us to be on the look out in our life. 

How do we do that?  How do we keep a finger on the pulse of that hypocrisy that he recognizes in the scribes and pharisees that could easily flare up in us?


This is where St Ignatius of Loyola daily examen comes in to play in our life.


The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us. 

 It consists of five steps:

1.  Place yourself in God's presence. Give thanks for God's great love for you.  
2.Pray for the grace to understand how God is acting in your life. 
3.Review your day — recall specific moments and your feelings at the time. 
4.Reflect on what you did, said, or thought in those instances. Were you drawing closer to God, or further away? 
5. Look toward tomorrow — think of how you might collaborate more effectively with God's plan. Be specific, and conclude with the "Our Father."

We can keep our hypocritical nature in check as we allow God's grace to perfect us each step of the way. 


Saturday, August 22, 2015

HARD SAYING

Joshua 24:1-2,15-17,18; Ps 34 Taste and see the goodness of the Lord; Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69

"Many disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it."

What is the saying that is so hard?  Jesus said, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  Just a the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me."

This is a hard saying; who can accept it.

"Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you?  What f you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.  The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life."

"as a result of this many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him."

Notice it is the disciples that walk away.  These are folks who have been intimate with Jesus. They have followed him.  They have witnessed the signs and the miracles. They have eaten with him and journeyed with him. These are not strangers.  These are companions.  Yet, they walk away.

From the beginning the Eucharist has been divisive.  The Eucharist is the line in the sand.  It has become that teaching that separates who we want God to be and how we want God to act from who God reveals himself to be and how he chooses to act.

These murmurs have run down from generation to generation down the centuries.
The bottom line is do we receive Jesus on his terms or do we keep wanting God to meet us on our terms!

The fact that many left Jesus reveals one of the saddest realities of all history.  We want God to be great and far away; we want him to manifest himself according to our desires and our wishes.  We do not want him so near as food.  We do not want him small and humbling himself as he chooses to come to us in the Eucharist.


"Jesus then said to the twelve, "Do you also want to leave?"

Notice Jesus doesn't run after the disciples and say, hold on I think you misunderstood me.  He didn't say that he was only speaking figuratively or metaphorically or symbolically as some would suggest.  Jesus never softens his words but rather he intensifies them, "Do you also want to leave?"

At some point we have to accept that somethings we do not fully understand yet we hold onto them because Jesus is the one who gives them to us.  As simon Peter points out below.

"Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  W have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."

Jesus' words are transformative because his word is the divine word spoken to us.  How often do we see the word of God in action through Jesus transforming reality!

He speaks to the little girl who has died and she rises.  He speaks to Lazarus from the grave and the dead man walks out.  He speaks to the lame and they walk, the blind and they see.  He speaks to the hemorrhaging woman and her sickness is dried up.  He speaks over the five loaves and two fish and 5000 are fed. With a word he calms the storm and the sea.

Jesus' word has transformative power.  He speaks over bread and wine at the last supper and they become his real presence to us on our journey: his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink.

What is going on here.  Two words come to mind: Tran-substantiation and Tran-signification

Tran-signification: is that in which something takes on a change in meaning or a change in use.  For example a piece of cloth  becomes a national flag.  IT is a symbol of a nation.  Because of its new meaning and use it affects a change in the people: we talk our hat off and we salute it and cover our hand over your hearts when it is raised.  It will be put in a museum and it will carry with it all the history of that period and time.  It remains a cloth though its meaning is changed because people agree to its change and significance.  The power and significance depends on the agreement of the people and the governing body.  It is the people's acceptance that give it meaning.  We give cloth as flag meaning because of our yes to it.  If we no longer give acceptance to its meaning then it goes back to being a cloth.

Tran-substantiation-This is different than the above. Transubstantiation is what we use to describe the reality of the Eucharist, the bread and wine be transformed in to the real presence of Jesus in our midst.  The Lord takes possession of the bread and wine; He lifts them up out of their normal existence into a new order that is profoundly different; Where the lord lays his hand something new comes about; transformation is real and total.  This is not a mere change in use or change in meaning but a change in reality itself.  The cloth that becomes a flag depends on functionality.  The Eucharist is not a function.  It does not depend on convention or agreement by the people in which we choose to accept or reject it.  Our acceptance of it does not change its reality.

The Eucharist is because of God's yes regardless of our yes or no to what he gives.
This is the Eucharist Jesus lays out for us in John chapter 6.

Does this shock Us?  Do we also want to leave?  Jesus has drawn the line in the sand.  Belief must bow to him. Belief is always directed toward what is most real.  We may not understand it fully.  But we have an obligation to receive it because of him who gives it.

The Eucharist is the tipping point for all believers.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

BARGAIN SHOPPERS BEWARE

Matt 22:1-14; PS 40 Here I am Lord, I come to do your will; Judges 11:29-39

Toda is the feast day of St Bernard of Clairvaux

Here are a few words of insight from this doctor of the church

"There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is Curiosity.
There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is Vanity.
There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is Love."

"What we love we shall grow to resemble."

Just a few thoughts about our readings for today.

Our first reading is tragic.  There is no way around it.  We have a Father who makes an oath to the Lord that ultimately cost him his daughter's life. 

It points to two realities in life.  God can be served generously and badly.  If it is badly then it should not be done at all.  Morally bad promises are never pleasing to God. 

Secondly, bargaining with God is unhealthy.  It is not part of the healthy and vibrant relationship God wants to have with us.  Many times these bargains, like the one in the story for today, is made out of pride.  Pride is never a place from which we should seek answers to life's problems.  Humility is the ground of all virtue.   

The reading should be appalling. It should strike a chord in us. 
Does God demand that we fulfill every promise?  God demands that every promise we make should be tempered by humility and true charity.  It is charity that covers a multitude of sins not pride. 

Secondly we get to the gospel and what we discover is a truth about the human heart.  There are fifty ways to say "no" to God.  The human heart is skilled in finding ways to avoid the demands that force us to change in regards to our comfort and lifestyle. 

Avoidance we are really good at. 

What of the guest with out the proper garment?  Many fathers of the church point to the fact it wasn't so much his outer garments but rather his inner garment of gratitude that was missing.  Gratitude shows itself externally.  

Others bible scholars suggest that the guest would have been given a garment to wear at the front door.  The king wold have provided garments for every one, almost like those restaurants that demand a coat to be worn but provide them if a guest is without.  It would have been the same in the first century.  If someone invited you to a party then they would had provided the proper attire as well. 

Thus, the guest's refusal to put on what was provided points to a certain stubbornness and pride of life that eventually got him kicked out of the celebration and bound and thrown into darkness.

But needless to say ungrateful guest are always on God's radar. Ingratitude always points to resistance to God's grace offered to us daily. 

God gives.  We are invited to cooperate.  Both together equate to fullness of life and joy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

JUST WAGE

Judges 9:6-15; Ps 21 Lord, in your strength the king is glad; Matt 20:1-16

Before we reflect on the readings here are a few words from St John Eudes

"Jesus belongs to you, but more than that, he longs to be in you, living and ruling in you, as the head lives and rules in the body.  He desires that whatever is in him may live and rule in you: his breath, his heart in your heart, all the faculties of his soul in the faculties of your soul, so that these words may be fulfilled in you: Glorify God and bear him in your body, that the life of Jesus may be made manifest in you."

We look at  story told of the tree looking for leader in today's first reading.  It is worth mediating on.  It offers a unique insight into what makes a good leader, in so far as, what is demanded of the leader who is chosen.

In each of the chosen trees, "olive, fig, grapevine" in order for them to be rulers of the other trees they would first have to give up their own identity, renounce themselves so that they might be completely dedicated to the care and concern of all the rest.  None of the trees were willing to do so.  None were willing to denounce themselves for the good of all the rest, but isn't this exactly what we expect in a true leader.  Isn't this what we see in Christ himself!

But ultimate all human leadership is going to have its limitations.  It is in the experience of this limitations that should ultimately direct our attention to our God  that we might beg strength and wisdom from him.

The gospel we are asked to meditate on also illicit a variety of responses.  Some love it and other are deeply bothered by it.  The parable is that of the landowner who goes out hire laborers for his vineyard.  He goes out and grabs workers throughout the day and upon hiring them he agrees to pay them a just wage.  

In the end when it is time to get paid, those who were hired first begin to be angered over the fact that the last to be hired, those who worked only part of the day, get paid the same amount as those who began early in the morning.

Grumbling ensues and entitlement takes over.  This sounds too familiar to our current state of affair.

The bottom line is that God is ultimately the one who determines what true justice is all about.  Can we really legitimately complain about the justice of God?  Who are we to demand our own sense of justice to met by him?  After all, how often does our own sense of entitlement negatively affect our sense of justice as to what is owed to us?

God wants to save us from this false assumption that we know what is best for ourselves.  The truth is we do not know what his best for ourselves.  Original sin has colored our own sense of value and worth.  We might error in this regard.

God cannot error.  Should we not bow to his justice gladly.

"Are you envious because I am generous?"

In deed these are the words that should be ringing in out ears as we meditate on this passage.  Time and time again we let our own sense of generosity lessen the generous nature of God.

Should we not rather pray that we are set free from our own notion of justice and truly surrender to His, a justice that is most perfectly manifested on the cross on calvary.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

O CHAMPION

Judges 6:11-24a; Psalm 85 The Lord speaks of peace to his people; Matthew 19:23-30

We have turned our attention to the book of Judges.  Moses has died.  Joshua has died.  Now the people are tending to themselves, and as we might imagine, this is a dangerous thing.  In the absence of leadership things do not go so well.

There is a pattern in the life of the nation Israel as we encounter it in the book of Judges.  The people turn away from God, then they get in to trouble, then they cry out to God for help as they ask for forgiveness, then  God sends a judge to lead then forth and they are restored.  Then they are faithful for a time.  And soon they turn away from God and the cycle continues.


Today we encounter the calling of Gideon.  This is one of my favorite stories in the bible.
Gideon is approached by the angel of the Lord with these words, "The LORD is with you, O champion."  How is that for a greeting!

God is already recognizing Gideon's worth though Gideon himself does not see it in himself.  This certainly affirms what we know about God how he will equip those he calls.

But I love Gideon's response, "if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?"

There is a lot of meaning in that line.  How often we find ourselves looking at the mess of life and ask the same question, "Lord, if you are here then why all of this?"  Why does this stuff we do not like keep entering our life?  If you are here Lord, then couldn't you save us from ourselves?

Many time the mess of life can be overwhelming and can leave us a bit discouraged.  Yet the truth of the angel is not lessen because of our experience of life.
God is with us.  He is true to his word.

But sometimes we are not with him.  Sometimes we leave God.  This is certainly the case for the Israelites time and time again.


God gives us freedom and he gives us room to exercise that freedom.  Sometimes we use it selfishly and it causes a mess.

What is God's response to Gideon

"Go with the strength you have and save Israel from the power of Midian."

Go with what you Got and God is promising to provide what is lacking.  Again, these are encouraging words.  God sees strength in us that we do not see ourselves.  God promises to provide where we are lacking if we just follow his lead and his will.

Is there anything more encouraging for us then this?

Yet, Gideon still hesitates. "My family is the lowest and I am the most insignificant in my father's house."  Lord, why do you keep picking on me, can't you see that I am nothing.  I have no skill.  I am not highly favored.


Our often do we let our own lowly estimation of ourselves interfere with God's high regard for us as he calls us forth.

There is a champion in all of us.  If we use the strength we have God will provide where we are lacking.

God never quits on Gideon.  God is very patient.  The lowest becomes exalted.



Saturday, August 15, 2015

DEPRESSION AND SUICIDE

I write this post with a heavy heart.  I know it must be said.  Some times some things need to be said and said and said again.

Depression effects many people in our society: doctors, lawyers, moms, dads, neighbors, church members and the list is long.  Every one is a possible victim.  Depression effects 1 in 10 people in their lifetime.  Suicide occurs 1 every 13 minutes or approximately 40,000 lives each year.

Depression is a sickness, an illness, a disease.  Those who experience it are often too bruised to touch and wounded in such deep ways we can't comprehend or even begin to offer help that can heal.

It is a drowning on the inside where one's energy is exhausted over time and a deep fog replaces clarity and good judgment.

It is an emotional cancer or emotional stroke for lack of better description that cripples the person, distorts their reality, their memory and changes their personality.  The victim of depression is often trapped inside themselves and we can't reach in and they can't reach out.

Our best efforts and their best efforts often equate to helplessness on both ends.

If they could make themselves feel different or feel better they would.  But they can't.  There are variety of factors that cause depression.  It is still so much we do not know.  It can be biochemical; it can be emotional; it can physical or even spiritual.  It can be one event or an accumulation of many.

It may not necessarily be one moment or one event that triggers a depression.  We are often on the outside looking in as a loved one battles depression.  One writer suggest that depression is like a civil war with in oneself.

Depression can lead to a variety of behaviors: hopelessness, isolation, withdrawal, loss of interest in activities usually embraced, thoughts of suicide or taking one's life and many other things. Again it is important to remember depression is not a matter of just making oneself feel better or pulling oneself up by their own bootstraps.

It is a decease, a sickness, an illness that cripples the normal health functions that we take for granted on a regular basis.  It is a void.  It is an absence sometimes of any feelings whatsoever.

When Depression leads to suicide it is devastating. It leaves us with more questions than answers.  The family is often second guessing themselves and their actions.  We are left with questions as to where did we fail? Why did it happen?  Couldn't I have done more?  Where was God?

There is guilt, confusion, anger and even anxiety of faith that accompanies the loved ones who are left behind.

Just as depression cheats the victim of their memories of life and love shared so too it wants to cheat the surviving family members of their memories of life and loved shared with the loved one as well.  We can not let the actions of depression whether it be suicide or other actions, distort the truth of who the person was and who we were with them.

We have to continually redeem the memory of our loved one.

When it comes to suicide and depression, it is often hushed and not talked about.  It is the ultimate taboo.  But the Christian response is not so.

First we should not treat with horror or fear especially in regards to the victims eternal salvation.  If we, in our finite minds can begin to grasp in small ways Depression and its effects, how much more can God who is infinite in his understanding reach into the darkness and intuit the deepest motivations of the heart.  God sent Jesus who came for the sick.  Depression is a sickness.  God's redeeming love is far greater than we can ever fully comprehend.

The victim of depression and suicide is inside God's embrace.  They are enjoying a freedom that was stolen from them because of the sickness, a freedom they wrestled with throughout the sickness.  The victims are being healed by a touch they could not, for whatever reason, experience in the here and now.

On easter Saturday, we commemorate the death of Jesus who as we recite in the Apostles creed, descends into hell.  There is no place Jesus' love and mercy cannot penetrate.  He comes for the lost and the forsaken.

If our hopes in christ are limited to this life only, we are the most pitable of men, as St Paul tells us.  Even in depression and suicide, hope remains for Christ remains steadfast to his word of promise.

Where we are helpless and where the victim is helpless, God is not.  Just as Jesus walks through the locked door in the upper room and breathes his peace to the apostles who are scared and filled with anxiety so Jesus breathes his healing peace to the tortured and crippled souls of those victimized by depression and suicide.

Secondly, we should not speculate as to what caused the depression.  Too often in small communities especially but in all communities, after a tragic event such a suicide, community members whisper behind the backs of families and speculate as to the cause of the depression and suicide.  The truth is we do not know what causes it completely.  There are too many factors to try to comprehend.  Speculation and whispering is not healthy for the community, to the families dealing with the depression or the suicide, to ourselves as well.  Our judgments are all to often wrong and miscalculated.

We should pray for them.  We should pray for their healing and their strength as they process the events that have entered their life like an avalanche.  We should talk about these things openly and grow in our own understanding of depression as a sickness and how to recognize the signs. We should be advocates for change and hope and never just gossip.  Gossip never helps anyone.

We should express our sorrows but never think we fully understand what the family is going through. We should practice the art of love: patience and kindness and compassion.  We love them.  We pray for them.  We are compassionate with them, as StPaul says we weep with those who weep. We find ways to help bear the burden until healing is realized.

Together hand in hand we go through this fog of confusion and hurt and pain.  Each day we beg Him who said He is the light of the world to shed some light for us.