Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Talk the Walk

April 30 Wednesday of the 2nd week of Easter: A thought for those who want to bear prophetic witness through lifestyle
Acts 5:17-26; Psalm 34:2-3,4-5,6-7,8-9; John 3:16-21

“Tell the people everything about this life.” Acts 5:20

The operative word for Christianity is “life.” Jesus came that we might “have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). And have it “eternally.” The angel told the apostles, “Tell the people everything about this life.” So as “witnesses” to the Good News, we need to talk about what it is like to live a life of relationship (constant interaction) with Jesus.
Is that your most frequent topic of conversation?

Golfers talk about golf, because they enjoy it. Investors talk about the market, because they are invested in it. Parents talk about their children, because they are wrapped up in them. If we don’t talk about Jesus, what does it say about our relationship with him?

What feelings do you associate with “religion”? Obligation? Guilt? Joy? Excitement? Love? Is your religion an intimate, exciting relationship (interaction) with Jesus?

For you, is “talking religion” more about doctrines or experiences?

Is it more about obligations or openness to others? Guilt or gratefulness? Is Jesus someone you enjoy? Are you invested in his work? Wrapped up in dealing with him? Are you constantly “telling people everything about this life?”

John says that anyone who “lives the truth” of Christianity is glad to “bring it into the light.” That is one way of knowing whether you are a witness,

PRAY: Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

PRACTICE: Talk more about your experience of Jesus.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Look Up, Not Askance

April 29 Tuesday of the 2nd week of Easter: A thought for those who want to bear prophetic witness through lifestyle
Acts 4:32-37; Psalm 93:1ab,1cd-2,5; John 3:7-15

Jesus prayed “that they may all be one… so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).

We become one by looking up to “what is above, where Christ is” (Colossians 1:3). When we look around at the differences of opinion on earth, we become divided. But God’s “plan for the fullness of time” is to “gather up all things in him,” until all of us “come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 1:10; 4:13).

We don’t bear witness to Jesus by focusing on the differences that divide us as Christians. In The Joy of the Gospel (94) Pope Francis criticizes the “spiritual worldliness” of Christians who “feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past.” Their “supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads… [them to] analyze and classify others, and to exhaust their energies in inspecting and verifying instead of opening the door to grace. In neither case are they really concerned about Jesus Christ or others.”

We will be drawn together if we look up admiringly to Jesus and share what we see instead of looking critically at one another while leaving Jesus out of the picture.

PRAY: Lord, draw our eyes to you.

PRACTICE: Never debate doctrine before sharing devotion.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Seek What You See

April 28 Monday of the 2nd week of Easter: A thought for those who want to bear prophetic witness through lifestyle
Acts 4:23-31; Psalm 2:1-3, 4-7a, 7b-9; John 3:1-8

The Gospel is logical: Jesus says, “Unless you are born from above, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” It follows that, if we do see the Kingdom of God, we must be “born of the Spirit.”

What we seek is what we see. If we are visibly living for the Kingdom, the enlightening Spirit in us becomes visible to others.

Paul makes it a choice: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above.” If we have God’s divine life in us, we have God’s divine desires. That becomes evident—becomes Christian witness—if we visibly “seek what is above” instead of living for what is immediately available and enticing on earth.

We can only do that if we keep ourselves aware of our divine desires for the “more” that our deepest self longs for. Reading God’s word reminds us. Getting in touch with our feelings awakens us. Reflecting on our mood changes alerts us. Reviewing our daily choices enlightens us. Sharing deeply with others stimulates us.

The goal is to live “with the eyes of our heart enlightened,” so that we and others “may know what is the hope to which he has called us” (see Ephesians 1:18).

PRAY: “Send forth your Spirit, and our hearts will be regenerated. And you will renew the face of the earth.”

PRACTICE: Don’t live an “unexamined life.” Know your heart. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A New Birth, a Living Hope

April 27 Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy): A thought for those who want to bear prophetic witness through lifestyle
Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118:2-4,13-15,22-24; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Peter wrote: “Although you have not seen him, you love him, believe in him, rejoice with an indescribable joy, as you attain the goal of your faith.” Witnesses do that visibly.

People saw that the disciples “devoted themselves to the teaching”; to “meeting together” every day; to “the breaking of bread and to the prayers… All who believed… would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.” No wonder that “every day the Lord added to their number.” Their life was proof that Jesus was real—not only to them, but in them.
Their lifestyle bore witness to the risen Jesus. So does every authentic Christian life today.

Christian living is characterized by discipleship—reflecting on God’s words in private and together with others; by assembling for Eucharist; and by a detachment from this world’s benefits that lets us put the needs of others—especially the poor—ahead of our own selfish interests.

This makes visible our “new birth,” our “living hope.” This offers a hope to others that there is more to human existence than living and dying in this world. Christians bear witness to “new birth” by a new way of living.

PRAY: Lord, let me live so that others may believe.

PRACTICE: Make your relationship with Jesus visible by being “devoted to the teaching,” to “meeting together,” and responding “to each one’s need.”

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Companions of Jesus

April 26 Easter Saturday: A thought for those who want to bear prophetic witness through lifestyle
Acts 4:13-21; Psalm 118:1,14-15ab,16-18,19-21; Mark 16:9-15

The disciples “amazed” people by their “boldness” in proclaiming Jesus. They explained, “It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”

It has to be impossible for us. If it isn’t, we aren’t conscious of what we have seen and heard; we aren’t “disciples,” focused students of the Good News.

To bear witness to Jesus alive, we have to be “recognized as companions of Jesus.” Our way of acting and speaking must show he is real to us, present to us, interacting with us, alive in us. He will be if we constantly read his words, reflect on them, talk to him about them, respond to them in choices.

It is simple. And very easy to do. Unfortunately, it is also rare.

Be the exception. Be someone so aware of what you have seen and heard, so intent on listening and responding to Jesus, that it is impossible for people not to recognize you as his disciple and him as your constant companion.

Be a prophet. Announce the Good News.

PRAY: I will give thanks to you, Lord, for you are with me.

How to Fill the Nets

April 25 Easter Friday: A thought for those who want to bear prophetic witness through lifestyle

Acts 4:1-12; Psalm 118:1-2,4,22-24,25-27a; John 21:1-14                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
It doesn’t take signs and wonders to convert the world; just the “sign of Jonah,” which is Jesus visibly risen in every member of the Church. God sends out his Spirit, our hearts are regenerated, and he will renew the face of the earth. We just have to “cast the net on the right side of the boat.” Which side is that?

It isn’t stupid to say, “the side where the fish are.” We have to go out to those who are hungry—physically and spiritually. To the “poor in spirit” who know they haven’t “got it made” rather than to the complacent. To those who seek Christ rather than to those who stagnate in the security of rules. Pope Francis wrote in The Joy of the Gospel:

“My hope is we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules that make us harsh judges, within habits that make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus keeps saying to us: ‘Give them something to eat.’”

The day of the prophets is here. We need to challenge by word and deed those who want to be challenged.

PRAY: Lord, help me make you the cornerstone.

PRACTICE: Make your life show that “the poor have the Good News brought to them.”

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Christian Mathematics: Jesus Multiplied

April 24 Easter Thursday
Acts 3:11-26; Psalm 8:2ab, 5,6-7,8-9; Luke 24:35-48
I used to wonder why Jesus didn’t say on earth after his resurrection, so we could all meet him. Then I did the math. 

If we settled for a three-day retreat with Jesus once in our life, in a group limited to fifty so everyone could have a personal interview; and if Jesus gave two retreats a week all year long, for him to reach just the 65+ million Catholics in the United States would take over ten thousand years!

So, like a grain of wheat that falls into the ground, Jesus rose multiplied. He rises in every person who “becomes Christ” through Baptism (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 795). We are his body. Each of us says with Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me”(Galatians 2:20). We can meet Jesus, talk with him, serve and be served by him in each other. If we believe in the resurrection.

True, no one is perfectly Jesus. Even Paul “saw in his members another law at war with the law of his mind” (Romans 7:23). But in the measure that we are responsive to the Spirit poured out in our hearts, Jesus acts with us, in us and through us as in his own body on earth.

 PRAY: Lord, act with me, act in me, act through me.

PRACTICE: Look for the Spirit in everyone.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Event That Shocks

April 23 Easter Wednesday
Acts 3:1-10; Psalm 105:1-2,3-4,6-7,8-9; Luke 24:13-35

There is a three-step pattern to the proclamation of the Good News in Acts. First, an event that shocks and raises questions (pre-evangelization: 2:7, 3:10). Then the preaching of the Gospel in answer to the questions (evangelization 2:16. 3:16). Finally, the evangelized celebrate what they have believed (eucharist 2:41, 4:4).

To evangelize, we ourselves must be the event that shocks—by living in such a way that our actions cannot be explained without the Gospel. This is witness, the essential preliminary to proclaiming the Good News. Christians don’t “fit in.” If they do, they are not living like Christians. If their brand of Christianity is not news, either good or bad, it is a betrayal of the Gospel.

Are those hard words? Are they harder to swallow than the death count from centuries of wars fought by conforming Christian soldiers? Harder than the reality of slavery, imposed by millions of conforming Christian slaveowners? Harder than the death-dealing pollution and diet-related diseases caused by conforming Christian employers and employees?

Are they harder to face than the erosion of ideals (balanced, it is true, by the upsurge of others) that we take for granted in daily life?

If we don’t devote ourselves to bearing witness, what are we liable to witness next?

PRAY: Lord, help me make known to the nation your deeds.

PRACTICE: Keep asking, about everything, “Is this Christianity or conformism?”

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why are you weeping?

April 22 Easter Tuesday
Acts 2:36-41; Psalm 33:4-5,18-19,20,22; John 20:11-18

First the angel, then Jesus asked Mary, “Why are you weeping?” Jesus knew the answer. He added, “Whom are you looking for?”

We weep over many things in this world. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. But only one sorrow can take away our joy: it is losing Jesus. If we have him, and his divine life in our hearts, we literally have All. And we will enter into complete possession of All, into perfect union with Jesus, when we die.

If we lose Jesus, we literally have nothing. We lose God and everything, everyone God has made.

The strongest experience of union with Jesus is the Gift of the Spirit that completes Baptism. John wrote: (1John 4:13): “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” We experience the Spirit when, moved by his inspiration, we do things we never thought we could do. Like walking on water.

Try walking on the water of Baptism by loving as Jesus does. When you find yourself doing it, you will know Jesus is risen and living in you. That is the Gift of the Holy Spirit.

PRAY: Lord, this is the day that you have made; let me be glad and rejoice in it.

PRACTICE: When you feel you can’t do something, pray and do it.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Witnesses to the Resurrection

April 21 Easter Monday
Acts 2:14, 22-33; Psalm 16:1-2a,5,7-8,9-10,11; Matthew 28:8-15

The great event to which the apostles bore witness—and to which we are called to bear witness—was the resurrection of Jesus. But how can we be witnesses? The apostles saw the risen Jesus. We haven’t.

We witness by making the risen Jesus visible in us. We do that by living a lifestyle that cannot be explained unless Jesus is living in us, enlightening and empowering us to live in a way that is more than human. Our morality, our goodness, has to go beyond the Ten Commandments. The guidelines for a Christian life are in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew, chapters five to seven. They sound totally unrealistic.

They are not meant to be taken literally. They are wild examples to show us the way God thinks. We are supposed to base all our behavior on God’s divine attitudes and values. That challenges us to think.

If we try to apply God’s attitudes and values to daily life, we will come up with new and creative ideas. Our behavior will be different; raise eyebrows. Then we will be “prophets,” living lives of “prophetic witness.”

We will be the sign and proof that Jesus is risen from the dead.

PRAY: Lord, show me the path to life, fullness of joy in your presence.

PRACTICE: Ask before every choice “How does this bear witness to the values of Christ?”

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bearers of Good News

“Let us rejoice and be glad.”  
Responsorial verse

Pope Francis began his 2013 “vision setting” letter to the Church: “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.”

It is the mission of all Christians to give joy to everyone around them. We need to be conscious of this all day. We have the Good News. God wants us to spread it. How?

The last way is by talking about it. The first way is by living in a way that cannot be explained without it. A way that raises questions. We have to be sure our conduct always does that. By our body language. By our facial expression and tone of voice. By the way we respond to what is happening to us and around us. No matter how bad things are, we must keep ourselves conscious of what we rejoice in. And let it show.

We don’t deny evil and pain. Jesus made that clear on the cross. But we don’t stop there. We remember Easter Sunday and all that it says about what has happened, is happening, and will happen. The bottom line of everything is joy. We have to make that visible.

PRAY: Lord, give me the joy of your salvation.

PRACTICE: Look at the whole picture until you find joy.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What if…

What if this year, or next year, or every year, the bishop of Rome took the part of Jesus in a passion play? What if, as part of the Holy Week celebrations, Francis had himself dragged out in front of a mob screaming abuse and throwing garbage at him, accusing him of everything the Church is truly guilty of in our time, especially in the “public face” of her bishops and priests…

“Child abusers! Liars! Pompous hypocrites! Pharisees!”

“Hey! Your Holiness! Eminence! Your Excellency! Monsignor! Reverend Father!”

“What about your million-dollar mansions? Your thirty-four-thousand-dollar Cardinal’s robes?

“What about the people you drive away from the Church by your laziness? Your arrogance? What about the ones you bar from Communion?”

“You teach little children God is a monster! You tell them their little faults are ‘mortal sin’! That they are going to Hell for doing things no parent would reject them for!”

What if everyone in the crowd were invited to take out on the pope their anger against the Church? To yell out everything bottled up inside of them?

What if they had a mock scourging, with cords doctored to leave red marks on his body?

What if the pope then preached, still dirty from garbage and imitation blood. What if he made a public confession in the name of the whole Church, admitting the defects and failures both clergy and laity are guilty of in our day, begging pardon for everything that is really going on? What if he admitted his guilt, the guilt of the bishops and priests, and invited the laity to acknowledge their guilt in the Church’s failure to convert the world?

What if he then made a sacramental confession in the sight (not the hearing) of everyone? And then all the priests present did the same, confessing to one another?

What if the priests then put on some kind of penitential garment over their clerical costume – and, put on view as fellow sinners, made themselves available to hear the confessions of all present?

Would this have an effect? Would it say something in a way we could hear it? Would it be a catharsis? A moment of truth? A healing?

Would it bring reconciliation?

What if every bishop did this in his diocese? Every priest in his parish?

What if I did it with the Hispanic community here at His Way House?

This is scary. What do you think?

(We invite your comments).

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A New Take on Contrition

The classic prayer for forgiveness is Psalm 51, known from its opening word in Latin as the Miserere. It’s a breast-beater and a good one. The most profound there is. I’ve been praying it (on my knees, no less) every day during Lent.

I made a discovery. (Okay, God showed me something).

The first five verses are contrition: admitting guilt and asking pardon. David had more need of this than any of us, since, in addition to his wars and other despotic acts, he raped the wife of a loyal officer, then murdered her husband in a shameful betrayal and cover up. But his heart was deeply afflicted over it. Generations have echoed his repentant words:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

But then the next verse takes us in a different direction. With a perception I had never seen before, David realizes that contrition can also have bad effects. He changes focus and asks God not to let sorrow crush his spirit by making him feel alienated from God. He prays to put his sins behind him, asking God to keep him balanced in the truth, to let him feel clean, experience joy and enthusiasm again, and not just give up on doing great things for God and for the world. He prays for a confident and willing spirit.

 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

David goes beyond himself and his self-reproach. He looks outwards to work to be done; to others who need help, his help. He turns his thoughts to God and to praising God. He realizes that immersion in sorrow for sin can become immersion in self. He asks God to turn his thoughts to praising him and proclaiming his mercy to others.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

David knows the desire of God’s heart. God doesn’t dwell on anyone’s sins. He is not interested in endless breast-beating or efforts to make up for what one has done wrong. It is enough for God that we have seen the truth about ourselves and about him. Now it is time to act on what we know.

For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

God always looks to the now and to the future: to what we can do for him today and for our fellow humans. When we have all helped each other to come together in the “peace and unity of his kingdom,” then we can spend eternity caught up in the one Sacrifice that abolished sin once and for all and made us a new creation.

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

I used to think a “firm purpose of amendment” looked backwards to sins committed, with concern never to repeat them. Now I see it is above all a looking forward to living and working immersed in Christ, without allowing anything, especially our past sins, to discourage or distract us.