Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Price of Love

August 1: Friday of Week 17 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Jeremiah 26:1-9; Psalm 69:5, 8-10, 14; Matthew 13:54-58

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

“And they took offense at him.” Matthew 3:57

Jesus came that we might “have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). He went about teaching truth, preaching goodness, and healing people with love. And so many hated him for it that they drove him out of his home town and eventually crucified him. Why?

Few people cling to being evil. But many settle down in mediocrity and resent it when their complacency is disturbed by a call to be better. They are more dangerous, because it is easier to rationalize inadequate goodness than inordinate malice. Pharisees are more self-righteous than prostitutes, and those who hide their heartlessness under laws are more hardened than open oppressors. Only the Jews in “good standing” rejected Jesus: the hierarchy (chief priests), approved religion teachers (scribes), and those obedient to them, the law-observing Pharisees. That gives us something to think about.

The greatest test of those who minister with love is to persevere in loving those who hate them for it. To minister as “priests in the Priest” we must be willing to suffer as “victims in the Victim”—to endure whatever is done and “love back.” Because this is what Jesus did. God arranged that the last expression of his body would be his heart opened to the world.

That is ministry: to open our hearts to the world.

PRAY: “Lord, give your love with me, in me, through me.”

PRACTICE: Express truth and show love without fear.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Seven Parables

July 31: Thursday of Week 17 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Jeremiah 181-6; Psalm 146:1-2, 3-4, 5-6; Matthew 13:47-53)

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

“Do you understand all these things?” Matthew 13:51

Five of Matthew’s seven parables (13:1-53) connect the failure or success of ministry to our five baptismal consecrations as Christians, Disciples, Prophets, Priests, and Stewards of Christ’s Kingship.

Sower: Ministry fails when recipients won’t break with the culture (“beaten path”) to accept a new identity as Christians; or won’t reflect deeply as Disciples (“shallow ground”) or change their lifestyle as Prophets, because “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word” in their hearts (thorny ground).

Mustard Seed, Leaven, Treasure, Pearl: The Church community ministers well when: 1. we are dedicated to mission as Prophets announcing the Good News, drawing “the birds of the air” into a growing Church; 2. are surrendered to interacting growthfully with others in ministry as Priests, like leaven active in dough; 3. have taken “ownership” of the “treasure in the field” as Stewards of Christ the King, abandoning ourselves and all we have to the work of establishing his lifegiving reign over all creation. This is wisdom in both its meanings: seeing everything in the light of our last end (treasure in heaven); and having a “taste” for spiritual things that makes us able to appreciate the “pearl of great price.”

The Weeds and Net parables say the Church is a “mixed bag” of saints and sinners, all-inclusive and non-judgmental. We don’t pronounce sentence before God does.

PRAY: “Open my heart, Lord.”

PRACTICE: Live out your Baptism.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

On-the-job Training

July 30: Wednesday of Week 17 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Jeremiah 15:10, 16-21; Psalm 59:2-3, 4, 10-11, 17, 18; Matthew 13:44-46

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

“If you repent… If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be my mouthpiece.” Jeremiah 15:19

People are rejecting Jeremiah and his message. He doesn’t understand. He is not living a bad life. He complains to God—who tells him to “Repent!”

Ministry is purifying. Sometimes just to say or do what is good is “worthless.” It takes something “precious” for us to be heard. In our efforts to find it, we purify both our hearts and our ministry; our message and the way we deliver it

Jesus failed to convert people too. They didn’t listen to him until after he had spoken from the cross. Whatever drives us to closer union with him, especially in his suffering, is good for our ministry and good for us.

The great temptation is discouragement. That is why we need to keep reminding ourselves that the very things that discourage us most are probably strengthening our ministry: failure, opposition, criticism, indifference, lack of resources—all of these make us first examine ourselves, then look more deeply into the message and the Lord’s directions for delivering it.

Pope Francis attributed his failures as a young Jesuit superior to authoritarianism and a failure to consult. As pope he is outstanding for personal dialogue and unprecedented commitment to collegiality. He “learned obedience” to the Holy Spirit “through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).

PRAY: “Lord, let me hear your voice.”

PRACTICE: Seek advice, change and grow.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Never Alone

July 29: Tuesday of Week 17 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Jeremiah 14:17-22; Psalm 79:8, 9, 11, 13; Luke 10:38-42 (Matthew 13:36-43)

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

“Do you not care that my sister has left me to do the serving by myself?” Luke 10:48

If it were up to us, would we leave Jesus alone to serve God’s people? (Or the clergy? Or “more involved” members of the church?) Jesus said at the Last Supper, “The hour is coming… when… you will leave me alone.”

But he added, “Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.”

And those who minister as his body on earth are never alone either. Jesus ministers with them, in them and through them. Otherwise, they are not ministering; just going through the motions.

When Martha complained that Mary had left her alone to do the work, Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part...” The “better part” is being with Jesus, whether working, playing, or resting.

 “Praying,” wasn’t included above, because that is what “being with Jesus” is. To “pray always” (Luke18:1) is to consciously let Jesus act with us, in us and through us. When we don’t do that, we are “leaving Jesus alone” to keep saving the world without our conscious cooperation.

He still uses us, but he can do it better when we are aware of what we are doing. Cultivate awareness.

PRAY ALWAYS: “Lord, do this with me, do this in me, do this through me.”

PRACTICE: Keep a crucifix in sight. Be creative about it.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bearing Fruit

July 28: Monday of Week 17 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Jeremiah 13:1-11; Canticle: Deuteronomy 32:18-19, 20, 21; Matthew 13:31-35

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

“Like a mustard seed… like yeast.” Matthew 13:31, 33

Jeremiah’s buried loincloth rotted. Jesus echoed this in his parable about the man who “received one talent” and “dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.” He thought he was keeping it safe, but he really made it useless (Matthew 25:14-30).

All God’s gifts to us are investments intended to bring increasing benefits to us and other people. Jesus compares his grace in us to a seed that grows into a bush so big “the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.” And to yeast, an active ingredient that causes the dough it is mixed with to rise. When Christians are mixed into any group—any business, family, or circle of friends—that group should rise to a higher level of understanding and love. If not, we have to ask whether those Christians have a live faith, a living hope, an active love.

Any parish that is not growing and attracting more people to “dwell in its branches” is a dead parish. Pope Francis wrote in The Joy of the Gospel (28):

In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers. It is… a center of constant missionary outreach.

Is my parish that?

Jesus said, “I chose you to bear fruit.” But if we bury our faith in silence, the fruit may rot on the branch.

PRAY: “Lord, let me do more.”

PRACTICE: Discuss this with your pastor.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

First Things First

July 27: Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time:
1Kings 3:5,7-12; Psalm 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-130; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-52

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

“Give your servant an understanding heart.” 1Kings 3:9

The readings are all about priorities. Solomon’s was “an understanding heart.”

Jesus says that if we have an “understanding heart” and find the “pearl of great price” he offers, we will give it priority by “selling all we have” to buy it.

Paul says God’s first priority was that we should “be conformed to the image of his Son,” meaning that his “predestination,” his original, “pre-creation” destiny for all humans, was that we should all “become Christ” as his body on earth.

And God follows through by “calling” us to faith, “justifying” us in Baptism, and “glorifying” us by letting Jesus and the Father be glorified in us when the gift of divine life becomes visible in our words and actions (John 15:8; 17:10).

The bottom line is, our first priority in life should be to let Jesus “glorify” himself—make visible his divine life in us—by giving visible, physical expression in our bodies to the divine gifts of faith, hope and love. Then, “on that day” when Jesus comes, he will be “glorified in his saints and marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony was believed” (2Thessalonians 1:10).

We live “so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever” (1Peter 4:11).

This is our ministry.

PRAY: “Lord, speak in me and through me.”

PRACTICE: Surrender all day long.

Friday, July 25, 2014

See In, Speak Out

July 26: Saturday of Week 16 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Jeremiah 7:1-11; Psalm 84:3, 4, 5-6, 8, 11; Matthew 13:24-30

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

“Blessed they who dwell in your house! Continually they praise you.” Psalm 84:4

Two readings speak of the temple, one of God’s “field.” God’s presence makes both holy, but both can be corrupted. God says “I will remain with you only if you no longer oppress immigrants” or  “shed innocent blood”—for example, by executing criminals now innocent through repentance—or “follow strange gods” by focusing on making money (Mammon) instead of on giving mercy to the poor: specifically “widows and orphans,” e.g. single-parent families with no male provider. Those who distract us from this are the “enemy” who “sows weeds among the wheat.”

God’s field are those who “hear the word, accept it and bear fruit” (Mark 4:20). His temple now is us: “God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1Corinthians 3:17). God dwells in our bodies as in his own house. “Blessed are they” who dwell there consciously with him; the Psalm says, “Continually they praise you.” If we look in to what we are, we will speak out in praise and thanksgiving.

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!

If we don’t give expression to praise and thanksgiving, we won’t be aware of why we should. The fact is, what we don’t praise we won’t appreciate. To know either God or ourselves, we have to say what we see. If we don’t we go blind.

PRAY: “Lord, open my eyes and my mouth.”

PRACTICE: Look, speak, act.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Drinking His Cup

July 25: Feast of Saint James, Apostle:
2 Corinthians 4:7-15; Psalm 145:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Matthew 9:18-28

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

“I believed, therefore I spoke.” 2 Corinthians 4:13

What if the Apostles had not spoken about Jesus?

Well, for one thing, they would not have all been put to death.

And we would not have been brought to life.

We have to make it clear the Good News is something to die for. We can begin by just showing it makes us happy; by expressing some enthusiasm. The Psalm says it was because “our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with rejoicing,” that “they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’”

Is your mouth filled with laughter when you go to work? Is your tongue filled with rejoicing when you are at Mass? They go together: what we celebrate at Mass is what we experience at work. And at home. In everything we do. If we don’t have anything to celebrate at Mass, we don’t have anything to rejoice in the rest of the time. Without the meaning the death and resurrection of Jesus gives to our time on earth, life is ultimately as empty as the epitaph on an ancient Greek gravestone:

Naked at my birth;
Naked back to earth;
What’s it worth?
So why did I pretend?
Why did I buy and spend?
For a naked end.

Christians, however, always have a reason to be happy—even if we’re killed for it.

PRAY: “Lord, let me be good news where I am.”

PRACTICE: Show what you know.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Seeing Needs Saying

July 24: Thursday of Week 16 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Jeremiah 2:1-3, 7-8, 12-13; Psalm 36:6-7, 8-9, 10-11; Matthew 13:10-17

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

“The priests asked not, ‘Where is the Lord?’” Jeremiah 2:8

When God says the “priests and shepherds,” those who “deal with the law,” “know me not,” it means religion is withering. “They have forsaken me, the source of living waters.”

We don’t know God because we don’t talk about him. He becomes a non-thought. Then we don’t see him where he is: in the gifts he gives us, in the people we deal with. The proverb becomes: “Out of mind, out of sight.”

We don’t see what is never said. We don’t look for God in his words, because no one ever repeats them. We aren’t aware of him at Mass because no one seems to know he is there. If he is making an impression on the congregation, they are hiding it well.  “Enthus—as in theos—iastic” means “possessed by a god.” Unenthusiastic means closed to the divine.

Preachers can talk about the law without knowing God. We can keep God’s laws without talking to or about him him. Jesus said, “It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). If our mouth is silent, our heart is probably empty. If we talk about everything but God, our religion shrinks to being about everything but God.

So say what you see. If you have nothing to say about God, start looking.

PRAY: “Lord, open my lips. Help me to praise you.”

PRACTICE: What God shows you, show others.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ministry is Vulnerability

July 23: Wednesday of Week 16 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Jeremiah 1:1, 4-10; Psalm 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15, 17; Matthew 13:1-9 (Cf. 15th Su. July 13)

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

“See, I place my words in your mouth!” Jeremiah 1:9

Isaiah (6:7) was afraid to speak because he had “unclean lips.” Now Jeremiah says, “I know not how to speak; I am too young.” We all give excuses. We are afraid to give expression—physically, and especially publicly—to the faith in our hearts. To our divine hope. To the love we feel for God. We aren’t even good at expressing love for others.

We are afraid to expose ourselves. It makes us vulnerable. We hide our emotions. Spontaneity is giving up control. Crying is weakness. Showing religious enthusiasm is inappropriate. Joining in celebration is losing ourselves. That is the real reason people won’t sing at Mass! Parents won’t even tell their children what they feel about God.

It began when Adam and Eve clothed themselves in Eden. Guilt = shame = vulnerability = fear. Jesus reversed it, naked on the cross, his heart laid open by a spear. Being Priest made him Victim. To be “priests in the Priest” we must be “victims in the Victim.”

Ministry is surrender to Jesus in us wanting to express himself through our bodies: his truth, his love, the hopes he has for others. Making our invisible faith, hope and love visible is sharing life. But we don’t give life without risk.

PRAY: Stand before a crucifix. Say, “Lord, give yourself with me, give yourself in me, give yourself through me.”

PRACTICE: Practice expressing love in every interaction with others.

Monday, July 21, 2014

God is Family

July 22: Tuesday of Week 16 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Micah 7:14-15, 18-20; Psalm 85:2-4, 5-6, 7-8; (John 20:1-2, 11-18) Matthew 12:46-50

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

Shepherd your people. Micah 7:14

What religion is all about is relationship. What we believe about our relationship with God tells us what our religion is. The Jews knew they were related to God by the Covenant: they were his special People, and he was their Shepherd and King.

In Matthew 12:50 Jesus says, “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” In John 20:17 he tells Mary of Magdala, “Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Christians are related to God and each other as family.

And since we can’t really say that anyone we meet has not accepted the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,” perhaps without knowing it, in practice we minister to everyone as to our brothers and sisters.

In Eucharistic Prayer IV we ask the Father to remember “all your people, and all who seek you with a sincere heart”; those who have “died in the peace of Christ, and all the dead whose faith is known to you alone.”

In all our dealings with others we assume divine life (grace), express divine life, and expect the fruits of divine life. We interact consciously on the level of divine faith, hope, and love. We try to make all our dealings with others divine.

PRAY: “Lord, act with me, in me, and through me.”

PRACTICE: Think of everyone as family.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Heart of the Matter

July 21: Monday of Week 16 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Micah 6:1-4, 6-8; Psalm 50:5-6, 8-9, 16-17, 21, 23; Matthew 12:38-42

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

“You have been told what is good.” Micah 6:8

God likes to simplify things. Ten Commandments, that Jesus condensed into two: loving God and neighbor (Matthew 37-39). One desire: “Strive first for the kingdom of God... and all these things will be given to you” (Matthew 6:33). One essential preoccupation: “There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part” (Luke 10:42). And now a simple formula for pleasing God: “Only to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

John brought it down to love: “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them” (1John 4:16).

Ministry combines all of these. It is the supreme love of neighbor, and it is the expression of God’s love experienced, absorbed in prayer, and given.

It must be characterized by mercy and humility to be authentic.

It seeks to make every encounter with others a lifegiving experience of the love, joy and peace (“fruit of the Spirit,” Galatians 5:22) that will be made perfect in the Kingdom, when all sit down together at the “wedding banquet of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).

Ministry is simply giving expression to the heart of Christ, inspired by awareness of the expression Jesus gave when he offered his body on the cross.

PRAY: “Lord, give yourself with me, give yourself in me, give yourself through me.”

PRACTICE: Speak and act from the heart.

Winners Can Wait

July 20: Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Wisdom 12:13,16-19; Psalm 86:5-6,9-10,15-16; Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-43

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

“Your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all.” Wisdom 12:16

The strong are free to forgive. Those assured of victory can wait.

Sinners don’t threaten Jesus. They can neither destroy nor diminish his victory. All he wants is to forgive them.

God created us to love like God: freely. Christ’s victory is not measured by how many choose that; he won by restoring our freedom to choose or reject it. He overcame sin, not by abolishing it, but by making it avoidable and forgivable. Now every human has the option to choose to be like God. Humans created to be free have been made free—or freed to become free—in spite of sin and error in the world. That is Christ’s victory. It is complete, regardless of the numbers.

Christians minister to freedom. We have power to forgive and power to love, but no power to destroy. Destroying sinners destroys freedom. Destroying freedom repudiates the purpose of creation. So we spread truth and love among the mixture of wheat and weeds, leaving everyone free to choose.

Error restricts freedom. So does prohibiting error. Truth makes people free, not ignorance of error.

At the end, there will be nothing left but people who are what they have chosen to be: the victory of a God who creates us to be like himself—free—for better or worse.

PRAY: “Lord, you empower my choices. Guide me.”

PRACTICE: Give freely what you have freely received.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Strategic Retreat

July 19: Saturday of Week 15 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Micah 2:1-5; Psalm 10:1-2, 3-4, 7-8, 14; Matthew 12:14-21

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

Strategic Retreat
Why, O Lord, do you stand aloof? Psalm 10:1

When people mess up the world, God seems to stand back. But the Psalm continues: “You do see, for you behold misery and sorrow, taking them in your hands.” The essential is that God is present to our pain; reaches out; touches us. This is the essential for ministry as well.

We can’t always stop evildoers. Even God doesn’t. He leaves them free. But we can be present to victims. The only real remedy to evil is love. We can give that.

When the Pharisees plotted against Jesus, he “withdrew.” In Matthew's Gospel Jesus never "flees." He "withdraws"—usually into greater solitude. The purpose is to hear God's voice. Our strength comes from union with God, fostered by prayer. We cannot be present helpfully to victims or oppressors unless God is present to us and we to him.

To pray, read God’s word, reflect, is to acknowledge we can do nothing to make the Father known and establish his Kingdom unless the Spirit makes us responsive to Jesus working with us, in us, through us.

If we simply lose ourselves fighting the evil around us, we will make it worse. If we keep our hearts withdrawn into union with Father, Son and Spirit, we can be present lovingly to hate. Only love changes victims into victors.  

“I shall place my Spirit upon him... In his name the Gentiles will hope.”

PRAY: “Lord, hold me.”

PRACTICE: Be present and love.

Friday, July 18, 2014

God is Lord

July 18: Friday of Week 15 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Isaiah 38:1-6, 21-22, 7-8; Canticle: Isaiah 38:10, 11, 12, 16; Matthew 12:1-8

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

God is Lord
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Matthew 12:7

God is Lord:
• over the laws of biology: he cured Hezekiah’s sickness to preserve life;
• over the laws of nature: he reversed the shadow of the sun as a sign;
• over his own laws: in today’s Gospel Jesus does not say his disciples are not violating the Sabbath. He says God permits it because they are hungry and God is merciful. And “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Eastern Catholic tradition (the Greek Church Fathers, St. Basil) uses the word oikonomia for “a moral concession in contrast to the rule of order.” It means that, in “imitation of the divine mercy” and in “fidelity to the Redeemer who did not come for the just and strong, but to heal the sick and the weak,” we allow people to break laws impossible for them to observe—as long as nothing done is intrinsically evil. Its purpose is “to remove the hindrances to salvation” created by laws so impossible for particular persons that enforcing them would cause spiritual harm. The model of oikonomia is Jesus who broke the law by eating with tax collectors and letting sinners touch him (Luke 7:34-39. Google John Sabu, oikonomia; see Catechism of the Catholic Church 236).

Pope Francis referred to oikonomia when calling for more “merciful” treatment of the divorced and remarried. It gives us something to think about.

PRAY: “Lord, have mercy. Kyrie eleison.

PRACTICE: Show God’s mercy when dealing with the weak.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Secret of Success

July 17: Thursday of Week 15 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Isaiah 26:7-9, 12, 16-19; Psalm 102:13-14, 15, 16-18, 19-21; Matthew 11:28-30

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

The Secret of Success
“Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Matthew 11:29

Ministry is the ultimate experience of powerlessness. Even sin we can reject—theoretically—with our free wills. But we cannot bestow grace or force its acceptance on anyone. With Isaiah we cry out like a woman in labor: “Salvation we have not achieved for the earth; the inhabitants of the world cannot bring it forth.”

Jesus answers: “Come to me, all you who labor…, and I will give you rest.” He reminds us and promises: “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16).

The secret of success is knowing where it comes from. And trusting, regardless of visible results. Jesus says, “The Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.” We say, “It is you who have accomplished all we have done.”

Ministry is built on faith, sustained by hope, and experienced as love. Achievement doesn’t enter into it. Ministry depends on and drives us to union with God. The more we go out to people, the more we cry out to God: “My soul yearns for you in the night…”

And Isaiah responds in God’s name: “Awake and sing, you who lie in the dust. For the land of shades gives birth.”

To those who minister, God promises a posterity.

PRAY: “Lord, act with me, act in me, act; through me.”

PRACTICE: Persevere.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

God Waits but Wins

July 16: Wednesday of Week 15 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Isaiah 10:5-7,13-16; Psalm 94:5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 14-15; Matthew 11:25-27

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

God Waits but Wins
You fools, when will you be wise? Psalm 94:8

Isaiah is vivid to anyone who has seen documentaries of the Nazis in their heyday. Hitler, reviewing his jackbooted storm troopers, could say literally:

By my own power I have done it,
  and by my wisdom, for I am shrewd.
I have moved the boundaries of peoples,
  their treasures I have pillaged,
  and, like a giant, I have put down the enthroned.

But we all know how it ended. Being powerful is the most dangerous condition on earth. That is why Jesus sends us to minister in weakness: “Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey… I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:9).

Paul understood this. He wrote: “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2Corinthians 12:10).

When I’m right, I’m wrong;
When I’m strong, I’m weak.
When I’m weak, I’m strong;
When I’m wrong, I seek.

Jesus praised the Father because “you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, and revealed them to the childlike.” Need we say more?

We believe in using every human means and talent—reminding ourselves it is stupid to depend on them or count on them.

PRAY: “Lord, teach me the wisdom of the weak.”

PRACTICE: Never act alone. Act always with Christ, in Christ, through Christ.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Don’t Judge by the Scoreboard

July 15: Tuesday of Week 15 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Isaiah 7:1-9; Psalm 48:2-3, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; Matthew 11:20-24

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

Don’t Judge by the Scoreboard
Unless your faith is firm, you shall not be firm!” Isaiah 7:9

Ministry is discouraging. Today’s Gospel lists three cities where Jesus himself preached in vain—at least in terms of the fruit he expected. Should we wonder when we fail to achieve what we work for?

Ministry is not like any other work. The goal is spiritual conversion (any change that increases faith, hope and love: not conversion “to the Church”). It is conditional on two things we have no control over: grace and free will. So the ordinary rules of cause and effect don’t apply. We might do what we do perfectly; but that does not guarantee any spiritual result.

Furthermore, no ministry to many is “perfect.” Words perfect for some might be pointless for others. We win some and lose some. Even Jesus did. So we just keep trying.

But we are intentional about results. We don’t just keep doing robotically what we always have. Pope Francis wrote:

An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful… The sower who sees weeds sprouting among the grain does not grumble or overreact, but finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear (Joy of the Gospel 24).

PRAY: “Lord, work with me, in me and through me.”

PRACTICE: Do your best and trust in God. Eventually, he wins.

Monday, July 14, 2014

War For Peace

July 14: Monday of Week 15 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Isaiah 1:10-17; Psalm 50:8-9, 16-17, 21, 23; Matthew 10:34 to 11:1

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

War For Peace
I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” Matthew 10:34

Jesus did come to bring peace. The word occurs 92 times in the New Testament. As “priests in the Priest” we have received “the ministry of reconciliation” from God who “reconciled us to Himself through Christ” (2Corinthians 5:18).

Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” But he added: “Not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). Christ’s peace is inseparable from unity, goodness (love), and truth.

These are the “transcendentals”—characteristics that “transcend” all differences in being. Anything that exists as a being must be one (identifiable as a cohesive whole), good (have value or purpose), and true (intelligible). In the Church we attribute our goodness to the Father, truth to the Son/Word, and unity to the Holy Spirit. Peace requires all three.

For peace we must accept with hope the goodness of “dying to self” as a goal. This can cause conflict.

We must agree on truth with faith. That is not easy.

And we must “walk by the Spirit” in love (Galatians 5:25), which puts us in opposition to “the flesh.” James wrote (4:1): “Don’t the quarrels and conflicts among you come from your desires that battle within you?” For peace we must conquer ourselves.

Our priesthood is to lead people gently to peace through war.

PRAY: “Lord, give us your peace.”

PRACTICE: Try to live in unity, truth and love.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Good Soil, Bad Soil

July 13: Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

Good Soil, Bad Soil
“My word shall not return to me empty.” Isaiah 55:11

Discouraged, Jesus sat by the lake to think. People were not responding. But a crowd gathered, so he preached. He talked about why his words were not bearing fruit. Seed doesn't grow on the “beaten path,” in shallow soil or unweeded ground.

Surprise: even God’s words fail if 1. our culture makes us impervious to change; 2. we don’t reflect on them deeply; or 3. refuse to transform our lifestyle. But in hearts that are open, deep, and ready to respond in action, they “bear fruit” a hundred, sixty, or thirty times over. That puts the ball in our court.

Ultimately, God wins. “My word shall not return to me empty.” Jesus failed to convert Capernaum, Jerusalem, or the people in his home town (see Matthew 11:21; 13:54; 23:37). But after his resurrection he said: ““All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:18).  Paul failed with the Jews of Corinth, so he turned to the Gentiles (Acts 18:6). Whole countries have given up Christianity; new ones have accepted it. If one generation defects, another generation will embrace. God’s word does not return to him empty.

But if we ourselves refuse to be free, reflective and responsive, God’s own words will leave our hearts empty.

PRAY: “Lord, open my heart. Clarify my mind. Wake up my will.”

PRACTICE: Read, reflect, respond.

Friday, July 11, 2014

God vs. Good

July 11: Friday of Week 14 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Hosea 14:2-10; Psalm 51:3-4, 8-9, 12-13, 14, 17; Matthew 10:16-23

To surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

God vs. Good
“I will heal their defection… I will love them freely;.” Hosea 14:4.

Jesus sent his disciples to bring life to others by dying to themselves and to everything this world offers. People will accept you if you do what is good, but kill you if you urge what is best. That is why we killed Jesus.

Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” Try urging people to love and forgive the rapist, the child abuser, the decapitating terrorist, the suicide bomber who kills women and children indiscriminately. The murderer who killed their own spouse and children. Try abolishing the death penalty. Or handguns intended solely for killing those who would kill us. Suggest non-resistance to genocide. This is the “best”—the way God loves. It is abhorrent to us.

“Nice” is acceptable. “Religious” is suspicious. “Fervent” is fanatic. Do you dare talk about love for God? (When did you do that last?) You can’t be a priest and shield yourself from being a victim. It takes vulnerability to heal.

Test yourself. Sing enthusiastically at Mass. Say the Gloria as if you meant it. Are you afraid to be “a sheep among wolves,” a singer among the silent?

Are you afraid to express what you really believe? Suggest loving as God does? Propose dying as a way of life?

Ministry is surrender to expression. Expression is vulnerability. Vulnerability can get you killed—in more ways than one.

PRAY: “Lord, let your Spirit speak in me.”

PRACTICE: Speak out when afraid.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Why Do You Minister?

July 10: Thursday of Week 14 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Hosea 11:1-4, 8-9; Psalm 80:2, 3, 15-16; Matthew 10:7-15

To surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

Why Do You Minister?
“Freely you received, freely give.” Matthew 9:36.

Through Hosea, God says he loves like a father. Fathers don’t give to their children to get something out of it. They want to give, because they want what is good for their children. A parent’s love is not conditional.

Our ministry as “priests in the Priest” should be like that of Jesus—pure gift: not conditional on people approaching us in the right way, at the right time, with the right kind of compensation, or making the right kind of response. Priests give because they want to give. They live to give. Not to be used is the worst thing that can happen to a priest. This is true of those in Holy Orders as well as of those who have the “root” priesthood of Baptism. For a priest, ministry is fulfillment. Ministry asks nothing in return, not even gratitude. Ministry is its own reward.

It is the same reward that parents get: posterity. Giving life. The “joy that a child has been born into the world” (John 16:21). Paul called his converts, “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you (Galatians 4:19)

This is the reward God gets out of creating and redeeming us: our life, our happiness.

When what makes us happy is the happiness of others, we have the heart of Christ.

PRAY: “Lord, live and love in me.”

PRACTICE: Give life as freely as Jesus does. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Whom Do You Serve?

July 9: Wednesday of Week 14 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Hosea 10:1-3, 7-8, 12; Psalm 105:2-3, 4-5, 6-7; Matthew 10:1-7

To surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

Whom Do You Serve?
“Go rather to the lost sheep.” Matthew 10:6.

Pope Francis wants parish life designed more to attract the absent than to please those present: “I dream of a missionary option that changes everything—customs, styles, schedules, language and structures—into a channel to evangelize today’s world instead of preserving what we already have.”

Francis wants to inspire in pastoral workers “a constant attitude of ‘going forth’ that will encourage a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself’” (Joy of the Gospel, 27).

Why do we blame the youth for not coming to Mass instead of blaming ourselves for what they experience—or don’t experience—when they do? The liturgy depends on “full, conscious, active participation” by everybody there. Anyone who does not sing at Mass has to take full responsibility for every empty pew.

How many people have we personally invited to come to Mass with us? How many have we visited when we noticed they were absent? How often told the pastor what struck us as good or bad? The parish is a community. We are communally responsible for everything that happens there.

Jesus gave us all responsibility—and therefore authority—to  “drive out unclean spirits and to cure” everything wrong in our parish. This came with our baptismal consecration as priests—a priesthood even more fundamental than that of Holy Orders.

PRAY: “Lord, renew your Church.”

PRACTICE: Let God do through you what you are asking him to do.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

What Do You See?

July 8: Tuesday of Week 14 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Hosea 8:4-7, 11-13; Psalm 115:3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10; Matthew 9:32-38

To surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

What Do You See?
“At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36.

What do you feel when you see “the crowds”—on the street, in restaurants and stores, at the airport? Or maybe even in church? Do you ever wonder if they are “sheep without a shepherd”? Do they know Christ? Are they happy?

If this strikes you as judgmental, you are thinking of religion as an obligation. If for you Jesus is Good News, you are just wondering whether they have heard it.

Don’t mothers feel maternal toward every child they see? Don’t doctors and nurses instinctively look for signs of sickness? Hosts for indications that guests are not enjoying themselves? What do you look for? What does that tell you about the way you understand your role in life?

Jesus went around “teaching… proclaiming the good news… and curing.” He told his disciples, “Ask the Lord to send out laborers for his harvest.” Do you see yourself as bringing in the harvest? Are you alert for sheep who look “distressed and dispirited”?

We were all consecrated “priests” at Baptism. This means we are commissioned to care.

PRAY: “Lord, let me bring in your harvest.”

PRACTICE: Notice need. Respond to it.

Monday, July 7, 2014

God is Spouse

July 7: Monday of Week 14 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Hosea 2:16, 17-18, 21-22; Psalm 145:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Matthew 9:18-28

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

God is Spouse
You shall call me “My husband,” and never again “My baal.” Hosea 2:18

Women commonly called their husbands “Baal,” which means “lord, master.” It was also used for the fertility gods, the baals. Hosea calls us into spousal love with God, which is a mutual commitment to strive for unity of mind, will and heart.

All religions require submission to God. For Muslims the word “Islam” (from the Arabic root salema) means “submission to the will of God.” Many Christians, in practice, go no farther than this. But when Jesus quotes the “Great Commandment”— “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,” he adds, “and with all your mind,” which includes seeking to know God as spouses pledge to keep striving for perfect knowledge of each another (Mark 12:30).

We forget this. Even at Mass we keep calling God “Lord” when clearly addressing the Father (e.g. “You are indeed Holy, O Lord… for through your Son…”). We repeatedly emphasize adoration over intimacy.

Both are necessary, of course. But Hosea gives a radical image that can transform our whole relationship with God. He invites us to deal with God as spouse.

PRAY: “Lord, teach me your heart.”

PRACTICE: Think of what spouses pledge to each other. Do that with God.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Do Not Be Afraid

July 12: Saturday of Week 14 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 93:1-2, 5; Matthew 10:24-33

To surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

Do Not Be Afraid
“Whom shall I send? “Here I am,” I said; “send me!” Isaiah 6:8.

Three times in the Gospel Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” First, because the disciple should expect to be treated like the teacher. Second, because those who kill the body can’t kill the soul. Third, because nothing can happen without our Father’s knowledge and consent.

Isaiah was afraid because he was “a man of unclean lips.” An angel touched his lips with a burning coal from the altar, and said, “Now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed.”

Then, when the Lord said, “Whom shall I send?” he answered: “Here I am; send me!”

Can we guess that the fire in that coal was divine love? Lips touched by love and speaking love can speak for God. No other lips can.

No one speaking love need be afraid, because that is what Jesus did. Love can survive anything. Love “bears, believes, hopes and endures all things. Love never ends” (see 1Corinthians 13:1). Jesus promised, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” That settles all three fears.

And if we lack confidence, Jesus says, “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send, will teach you everything” (John 14:23-26).

So do not be afraid.

PRAY: “Lord, touch my lips with love.”

PRACTICE: Think love, speak love, do love. 

Loving Is Knowing

July 6: Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145:1-2, 8-11, 13-14; Romans 8:9,11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

Thoughts to help us surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

Loving Is Knowing
“Learn from me… and you will find rest.” Matthew 11:29

Before all else, Jesus lived and died to make the Father known and loved: “Hallowed be thy name!”

I came that they may have life… And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God… (John 10:10; 17:3).

God is misunderstood. Many don’t believe he is “merciful… good and compassionate toward all...” And in his deepest being, God is a mystery only God can fully understand: “No one knows the Father except the Son.” By the gift of divine light, however, the Father can be known by “anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” This is the mystery of “faith,” the gift of sharing in the Son’s own divine act of knowing.

In Jesus the mystery of God is “translated” into human words and actions. Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). And we “know God’s love for us by this, that Jesus laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”

We don’t really know God until we experience his life in us by loving one another: “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love (see 1John 3:16; 4:8).

As “priests in the Priest” and “victims in the Victim,” we “lay down our lives for one another” in ministry.

PRAY: “Lord, teach me to love.”

PRACTICE: Show love to everyone you meet. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Religion is Relationship.

July 5: Saturday of Week 13 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Amos 9:11-15; Psalm 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14; Matthew 9:9-13

To surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

Religion is Relationship.
“The Lord speaks of peace to his people.” Responsorial, Psalm 85:9

For days God has been telling the people through Amos that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between their refusal to obey him and their experience of suffering. Sins have built-in consequences. But in today’s reading, “The Lord speaks of peace to his people.” The bottom line is, God is a Person, and in his love for us as persons he overcomes even the evil we bring on ourselves by our sins. “I will bring about the restoration of my people.” More important than objective cause-and-effect, or even objective good and evil, is the relationship we have with God.

Jesus teaches the same when they ask him about fasting. Fasting is not just some objectively good practice that goes with being “religious.” Jesus says the real value of fasting is in what it expresses of the relationship we have, or want to have, with God. Leave out personal relationship, and no religious acts—even keeping the Commandments—are what they should be. Religion is a relationship between persons consciously interacting with each another.

Jesus says true fasting expresses awareness of hunger for God. We need to ask what we are expressing in all our religious acts; e.g. when we go to Mass or say prayers, sin or refuse to sin. What are we saying about our relationship with God?

PRAY before you act: “Lord, you are my....”

PRACTICE: Always ask why you do what you do. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Special Blog, Fourth of July

This poem, by Emma Lazarus, is on a plaque on the Statue of Liberty which greets everyone coming into the country through the port of New York:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

PRAY: “Lord, give me your love for the tired, the poor and the homeless who come to this country seeking a better life.”

PRACTICE: If you believe in the sentiments of this poem, be sure you reflect that in your words, your actions, and your vote as a citizen of the country that proclaims them.

The Face in the Window

July 4: Friday of Week 13 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Amos 8:4-6, 9-12; Psalm 119:2, 10, 20, 30, 40, 131; Matthew 9:9-13

To surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

The Face in the Window
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Matthew 9:13

Matthew (called Levi then) was a social outcast. He sat in his booth and collected taxes for the enemy when the fishermen brought their catch up from the lake. No one would talk to him.

He wasn’t a “practicing Jew.” He didn’t keep the rules. His friends were other tax collectors and “those known as sinners,” who like himself, “disregarded the law.”

Matthew had heard about the popular preacher who was announcing the reign of God. But he never went to hear him. Whatever the message was, it wasn’t for him. He had excluded himself from all that.

Then one day he saw a face at the window of his booth. It was Jesus. No annoying blame. No unwelcome sympathy. Just, “Follow me.”

He “got up and followed him.”

That’s all it took: someone who accepted him as he was and offered him friendship; was even willing enlist him in what he was doing. Matthew never turned back.

This is priesthood: offering “our bodies as a living sacrifice,” so Jesus can see through our eyes, speak through our lips, and act through our bodies to heal and enliven with love.

PRAY: “Lord, I give you my body. Use me to show everyone what you feel about them.”

PRACTICE: Be sure that the faith and hope Jesus has in people inspire the attitude you express toward them.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Power of Forgiveness

July 3: Thursday of Week 13 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Amos 7:10-17; Psalm 19:8-11; Matthew 9:1-8
(Also the Feast of St. Thomas: Ephesians 2:19-22; Psalm 117:1-2; John 20:2-9).

To surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

The Power of Forgiveness
“Take heart; your sins are forgiven.” Matthew 9:2

Suppose you know a bully. Or a wife abuser. He is so bad you finally get two men and set out for his house to physically beat some sense into him.

When you arrive, you find him paralyzed by a stroke. Now how do you feel?

You went there thinking you had the power to stop him from doing evil. Now that what we (blindly) call “an act of God” has stopped him from doing anything at all, how do you feel? Satisfaction? Or sympathy? Do you feel you have power now?

The paralytic they brought to Jesus had done bad things. Jesus’ first response was, “Have courage. Your sins are forgiven.” After that he said, “Stand up and walk.”

All sinners are paralyzed. Whether too weak or too unwilling (same thing), they can’t stand up and walk straight.

What can heal them? Jesus made that clear: forgiveness. The real power is the power to forgive. That is the power that makes “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers clean, the deaf hear, and the dead come to life” (see Luke 7:22).

As prophets we can proclaim the Good News. But our mission is missing something until, through our ministry as priests, “the poor have good news brought to them.” It only reaches them through forgiveness and love.

Force without forgiveness beats down. Love lifts up.

PRAY: “Lord, teach me to forgive.”

PRACTICE: Forgive everyone. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Deliver From Evil

July 2: Wednesday of Week 13 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Amos 5:14-15, 21-24; Psalm 50:7, 8-9, 10-11, 12-13, 16-17; Matthew 8:28-34

To surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

Deliver From Evil
“Let justice surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream.” Amos 5:24

Through Amos God says religious acts don’t please him unless we show justice and goodness to others. We can’t be “moral” without being merciful. It is hypocrisy to vote for politicians who defend “public morality” but do nothing for the poor. To be a “good Christian” we have to be good to others, beginning with the poor, the immigrants, those without adequate health care, and the prison population. This is the list Jesus gave in Matthew 25:44, to those who were surprised to find themselves condemned: “Then they will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger (alien) or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’”

James 1:27 would include single mothers: “…to care for orphans and widows in their distress.” It isn’t just bereavement that leaves a woman alone to fend for herself and her children. And it isn’t a Christian role to judge.

In the Gospel, Jesus didn’t ask how the two demoniacs came to be possessed. He just delivered them. And today his first response to those possessed by drug and alcohol addiction, by sexually transmitted diseases, or by “repeat offender” crime as the only way of life they have ever known, is love. Not, “How do I punish,” but “How can I heal?”

PRAY: “Lord, teach me to love.”

PRACTICE: Support the Saint Vincent de Paul society. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Jesus is There

July 1: Tuesday of Week 13 of Ordinary Time, Year A-II:
Amos 3:1-8,4:11-12; Psalm 5:4-6, 6-7, 8; Matthew 8:23-27

To surrender to Jesus expressing himself through us in ministry.

Jesus is There
“Why are you terrified, you of little faith?” Matthew 8:26

God is many things for us. But when he took flesh in Jesus, he came as Savior. The name “Jesus” (Yeshua in Hebrew) means “God saves.” Jesus’ surname, “Christ,” is really a title. It is the Greek for Mashia, “Messiah,” which means “the Anointed One.” As Messiah, Jesus was anointed for his triple role as Prophet, Priest and King. The “messianic anointing” that is part of the rite of Baptism consecrates all “Christ-ians” to continue the mission of Jesus on earth as prophets, priests, and stewards of his kingship.

Since Easter, we have been reflecting on our role as prophets. Now we focus on being “priests in the Priest.” Our mission takes on the gentle, healing, nurturing attentiveness to persons that claims priority in ministry. Our dedication to accomplishing what Jesus came to do segues into surrender to what Jesus is doing in us right now. To minister as “priest” is to let Jesus express to others his truth, his trust, his love, in and through our human words, our physical actions.

Today, Jesus reveals himself as Savior. He “got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm.” When we are in danger of anything—being killed, hurt, or rejected; losing jobs, friends, or opportunities; failing professionally, socially or spiritually—Jesus is in our boat.

“Why are you terrified, you of little faith?”

PRAY: “Lord, save us!”

PRACTICE: Live in “great calm.”