Friday, January 14, 2011

The "Off" Switch.

Hebrews 4:1-5, 11

In today's reading, St. Paul reminds us of the importance of the Sabbath.  It is God's invitation to find the quiet of our hearts to engage in the conversation of our soul: our soul's discussion with its Creator.   St. Paul admonishes our forefathers' disobedience in this regard.  His admonishment is for both  disobedience and ingratitude. 

The Goal:  finding the quietness and the charity to listen

St. Paul's admonishment is really an invitation.  In our day, it is an invitation to switch the switch "off."  In the midst of daily life (and especially on the Sabbath), we are invited to turn it all off.  Understand this-- I am as guilt as anyone to the over-scheduling and fast pace of modern life.  But what was true in the time of St. Paul is as true or even more true today.  With the "noise" of life, we often miss the whispers of true Life.

I think about it like this.  I have an 11-year old daughter-- equipped with a DS, iPod, Kindle and periodic access to TV.  She needs to focus on preparing for an important exam.  I tell her to turn EVERYTHING off.  Turn it all off-- and focus on her exam preparation.  This is akin to what our Heavenly Father is telling us to do.

Turn it off.  Turn it all off, and turn to God:  brief moments during each day and in a very special way on the Sabbath.  He is trying to reach us, and all He asks is that we clear the channel and listen.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In Just Three Days.

Luke 11:29-32

In today's reading, we learn a little about the notion of expectation. Jesus challenges the crowd to not be satisfied with quick answers and teaches them that what they seek will come assuredly from down deep within. He is trying to teach them about faith.

Jesus explains that the forefathers were given signs that foreshadowed perennial truth sought by the crowd. He explains that prophesy, judgment, and wisdom is among them. But without eyes of faith, they are not able to see it.

What are we missing?

Two thousand years of hindsight is 20/20. I think about this exchange and wonder what I would have thought. I liken the whole scenario to when you watch a good mystery movie for the third time and still pick up clues that you missed during the first two viewings.

In so many ways, we are blessed to be living in our generation. We have the Internet, vast libraries, sophistocated communication mechanisms. But, do we have any more faith? I doubt it. In many of the important areas, man has not really changed much.

Jesus tries to tell us (like he told the generation in this passage) that the signs have always been there for us, if we use our eyes of faith. The final and most complete sign was Jesus, himself. In just three days, he taught us the meaning of our lives. In the resurrection, we had proof of our savior.

Like Talking to a Friend

Matthew 6: 7-15

Today's reading gives us a grand prescription. Here Jesus teaches us how to pray. It is a formula for the most perfect prayer.

Step One. Acknowledge who you are addressing: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Step Two. Unite your will to God's: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Step Three. Petition God modestly for both your material and spiritual needs: give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Step Four. Ask for fortitude and protection: and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

We have all heard it. Some of us have likely prayed it-- but do we understand it?

What Does It Really Mean to Pray?

In it's essence, all prayer really is is our soul's conversation with its Creator. The Church and Tradition have passed along many beautiful prayers, and Scripture is full of them.

But, sadly, I have found that one of the things that people who question their faith struggle with is the misunderstood notion of prayer. These people are cynical and view memorized or rote prayer as meaningless and even disingenuous. In some instances, they may be on to something. But, I have to believe that focusing the mind on God can't be all bad? Truth is that pray is not really about the words you say so much as it is about the intent of your heart.

What I can say for certain is that some of my most powerful prayers have been the simplest. "Thank you." "Help me, please." "I love you." Offer up your prayers like you are talking to a friend-- your best friend.

But remember that a friendship requires the time and attention of both friends. God is always with you-- even if you don't necessarily see him or feel him. Have faith. Spend some time with Him-- whether you have the grace to see Him in the Blessed Sacrament or if you simply reach out to Him in your mind. Talk awhile with a friend.

Monday, February 22, 2010

My Toe, His Toe.

Matthew 25: 31-46

Today's reading gives us the mother of all previews. Jesus tells His disciples exactly what it will be like during the final judgment of our souls.

Here is where it pays to know your animals. Jesus uses yet another analogy, the basic meaning of which we will discuss here. However, be warned that my limited knowledge of animal behavior may very well miss some slight nuances.

In its essence, Jesus explains that (in the end) God will bring together everyone, and he will be like a shepherd separating the sheep from the goats. The basis of separation is how we have treated our fellow man.

Why this analogy, and why this standard?

The analogy is clever. Think about what we know about sheep, for instance. Sheep are loyal and obedient whose physical image is one of whiteness (purity) and warmth. Now consider the goat. A goat is generally thought to be headstrong and obstinate, with a physical image of being dirty and gruff. In what sense are we either sheep or goats?

We are either sheep or goats by virtue of how we treat each other. We decide. What Jesus tells us is simple. What you do (or don't do) to your fellow man, you do (or don't do) to Me.

This is a very challenging notion if you stop and think about all of the interactions you have on a daily basis. The good thing, I suppose, is that each day we get ample opportunity to try.

In this passage, Jesus gives us very concrete examples-- feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the poor, care for the sick, welcome the stranger, visit the ill and imprisoned. It is one thing to be kind to those in our life that we love-- and even those in our life that we like. It is something else altogether to recognize the face of Jesus in those we don't love (or even like). . . and even harder still to see His face in those who despise us.

Try to think about it this way. . . one toe at a time. Each time you stub your toe (or someone else's) you stub His. My advice: keep your feet clean, put on your shoes and walk around awhile. Life is there waiting for your next step.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Audacity of the Devil.

Luke 4:1-13

Today's Gospel recalls the story of Jesus' temptation by the Devil. If you are unfamiliar with the story, it goes a little something like this. . .

Jesus spends 40 days in the desert to offer penance and prayer to His Father. (This act alone should be enough to affirm the efficacy of prayer and penance-- but, I will leave this to another post.) At the end of these 40 days, Jesus was hungry, weak and tired. No doubt about that. This is when the Devil struck.

The Devil tempts Jesus three times. First, the Devil goats Jesus to turn stone to bread. Second, the Devil offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the Earth. Third, he dares Jesus to jump from the parapet of the temple to tempt God to save Him.

There is logic in the madness.

You see-- the Devil strikes when we are weak. The Devil tries first to tempt Jesus through his physical senses. Use the unnatural to satisfy a physical need. Then, the Devil tries to tempt Jesus through pride. Use the unnatural to satisfy a spiritual need. Finally, the Devil tries to tempt Jesus through a perversion of His relationship with God. This takes the most audacity. But ultimately, the Devil fails.

Think about all the ways little and large-- physical and spiritual-- that we are tempted everyday. With most of us, the Devil gets off easy. We succumb without much fight. But, perhaps you can recall an instance when you were tempted in a way that perverted your very relationship with your Creator? Think of the audacity of that. Did you succumb?

We all fail. But, rest assured that there are those praying that we get up, brush ourselves off and understand that even the best of us are tempted. . . and Jesus proves that it doesn't matter if we fail. There is someone who has won.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Is There a Doctor in the House?

Luke 5:27-32

In today's Gospel, Luke recalls the scene where Levi, the tax collector, responds to Jesus' call. Levi drops everything, leaves his post and follows Jesus. Thinking in terms of the circumstances of our own day, this scenario is hard to imagine.

But taking the entire episode at its face (without really even examining what in the world Levi must have been experiencing in the exchange) we see something that the religious of the time could not understand. Jesus was not seeking out those who were righteous. He was reaching out to those who were perceived the dregs of their society. The guys you love to hate: the tax collectors. (Lenten restraint prevents me from making a bad IRS joke.)

Later in this passage, we are told of the gathering and dinner Levi hosts where Jesus is the guest of honor among a group of other tax collectors-- some of the society most notorious sinners.

What is going on here?

We must remember who Jesus is-- God. We must remember His job-- to proclaim the Truth about our destiny as man. Jesus uses the analogy of the patient-doctor relationship. This is a simple one to understand. Jesus reached out to the sick-- in this case, the spiritually sick.

This story says something beautiful about all of us. Whether we are believers or not, there is something inside each of us that knows that there is something missing in all of us. We may not always sense it. But, I think if we are honest with ourselves, we can point to episodes in our lives where we have felt a void.

The lesson today is that God makes house calls. We just have to recognize our symptoms and be honest enough with ourselves to tell the doctor the truth-- regardless of our fear of treatment.

The Meaning of the Fast

Matthew 9:14-15

Yes, Thursday's cross still has me off a day. But, today is the day to get back on track. Recall from yesterday's post the inconvenience of losing Internet access. But, I think there is a lesson here.

Friday (yesterday) was the first Friday of the Season of Lent (more about this over the next 40 some days of posts...). There I was-- rushing about my busy day. Truth be told, I was pretty distracted and a little anxious and stressed out. Not unlike days that you have had, I'm sure.

I was invited by some colleagues to join them for a casual lunch out of the office. We find ourselves at a little pub a few blocks away. We are having an enjoyable conversation (despite dozens of televisions fixated on the Tiger Wood's press conference). We order, eat, talk and laugh some more, and then we leave.

The problem is that in my stress and distraction, I completely forgot my obligation to fast and abstain. Not six steps out of the front door of the pub, I realized it. Then the cherry-on-the-top: the "Oh, _ _ _t." I admitted my sin. One of my two colleagues said she had noticed when I ordered and had contemplated kicking me under the table-- the whole thing was kind a disaster. But let me tell you what I learned:

God gives us penances as a gift and as a tool.

The day's Gospel reading tells the story of when Jesus was asked why His disciples do not fast. Jesus' response is so very simple. He uses a wedding analogy and asks the question: "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?" What does this mean? Well, after my first Lenten blunder, I completely understand.

You see, God gives us the discipline of fasting to help us to feel hunger. Why? It helps us to focus our mind. It is a "rumble in the tummy" reminder. Everything we have and everything we are comes from God.

I was so caught up in my day that I forgot. The irony is that I really needed to fast on Friday. I needed God in the midst of my busy and stressful day. Intellectually, I knew this. But to really grasp this, I needed to feel this.

The disciples did not fast when they were with Jesus because His presence was already there. In my next fast, the door will be open for Our Lord to come on over and stay awhile. He is the friend I need on those busy, stressful days.