Monday, September 26, 2011

The Deeper Yes

Sun. 26th Week Year A
Mt. 21, 28-32
In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus gives us a glimpse into the complexities of our spiritual lives. God asks one person to do something for Him and that one says no, but then thinks better of his response and goes and does what was asked. What is happening here? I would like to propose that deep within our hearts we have an ardent desire to say yes to God, for to do His will is the fulfillment of our being, the satisfaction of our every longing. But on the surface of our selves we are deceived by other desires and enticed by other ephemeral goods. We rebel, do our own will, receive some fleeting pleasure and then are left holding an empty bag. But our Heavenly Father is merciful and patient. He waits for us to give the yes that will make us truly happy. The sooner we do it the better! Better for us, better for those around us, better for the world! Here is a little poem that expresses this same thought:
The First Son
When you ask I say no
But then I go.
Why am I slow?
I do not know.
Ignoring my no,
Your trust you bestow,
Seeing below
My shameful show
That I want to go.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Jealousy

Sun. 25th Week Year A
Mt 20, 1-16
Today Jesus tells us the parable of the landowner who hired laborers to work in his vineyard at all times of the day yet gave each one the same amount of pay. Those who worked longest very naturally were jealous of the ones who worked least, and so they complained. Yet, as the employer pointed out, he had a right to do what he pleased with his money as long as he gave the agreed pay to those who had bargained for it.
Jealousy is an emotion we all experience, though few of us are comfortable with it. In and of itself, like all emotions, jealousy is a moral neutral we share with the animals. Ask any dog owner of more than one dog! St. Thomas defines jealousy as a sadness we feel when someone has a good we think we should have. And so, jealousy is appropriate when the good we see is exclusively ours. I am jealous of my arm, my good name, my spouse, for they are truly mine and no one should take them from me. But if I am jealous of attention, honor, praise, or good fortune, there is a problem since other people have a right to these things as well as myself. It is part of the maturing process that we learn to recognize the difference and to act accordingly.
In the Old Testament, God is frequently depicted as the jealous lover of an unfaithful bride. And He is no less jealous of our love. He made us for Himself alone, and so He will tolerate no rival. Absolutely anything that comes between us and Him incurs His fiery wrath. His anger is not directed towards us as much as toward our turning from Him. But when the lazer beam strikes and we are suddenly cut off from the object of our affections, we feel it as punishment, as a painful wounding. If we could only understand that this fire is a cauterizing flame. It heals even as it burns.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Feast of the Triumph of the Cross


Feast of the Triumph of the Cross
Phil 2,6-11

This beautiful feast is precious to all Franciscans whose special joy is to contemplate Jesus Crucified.  St. Clare exhorted her friend, St. Agnes of Prague, to meditate always on the mysteries of Christ’s holy Passion.  It was here that Jesus completed the self- emptying that He began in His Incarnation when, although He was God, He took the form of a servant.  In His Passion, He became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  St. Paul tells us that Jesus “emptied Himself”.  Only He, in the strength of His Divine Person, could completely empty Himself.  For the rest of us, we do our best by asceticism, prayer, penance, and faithfulness to our duty to become an empty vessel for God to fill with His love.  But no matter how hard we try, by our own efforts we can only go so far.  Even our efforts aided by grace are not enough.  At the end of the day, we always find at least a bit of ego left at the bottom of our hearts that infects with selfishness even our best actions.  But in His gracious Providence, the Father takes pity on our weakness and sends us the Cross.  Some trying circumstance, some unforeseen sorrow, some incredible pain is suddenly thrust upon us, pierces our hearts, and we find our life draining away.  We have the choice to let it go in faith or to try to stop up the hole with resentment and compensation.  Here is fulfilled the scripture which says, “If you save your life you will lose it, but if you lose it for My sake, you will find it”.  Being truly emptied of self by God’s action, makes us ready to receive our new life in His love.  So, let us, like Jesus, endure the Cross, heedless of its shame, for the sake of the joy that lies before us.  The Cross will always be painful, but it is at least possible to bear it and to be crucified on it when we have this hope of glory to sustain us.  We do not have to wait for heaven to receive this glory, for it is already ours when we submit ourselves to the loving will of God.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Jesu Tibi Vivo


Sun.24th Week Year A
Rm 14, 7-11

“Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” The Poor Clares have a little song they sing which takes its inspiration from this passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.  The song, in Latin with its translation, goes like this:
            Jesu tibi vivo,                         Jesus, I live for You,
            Jesu tibi morior,                     Jesus, I die for You,
            Jesu sive vivo,                        Jesus, whether I live,
            sive morior,                            or whether I die,
            tuus suum.                              I am yours.

Now translating this song into our ordinary lives, it means that whatever happens, whether it seems positive or negative, whether it feels like it gives us more life or takes away our life, whether it is joyful or painful, whether it increases us or diminishes us, none of it really matters in the end because we belong to Jesus.  He is the great positive, the life, the joy, the fullness we desire.  He is ours and we are His.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Good Tree


Sat. 23rd Week Year 1
Lk 6, 43-49

Jesus says that a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit.  None of us are thoroughly good trees, for only God is completely good.  And none of us (thank God!) are thoroughly bad trees.  Each of us is somewhere in between, in process of becoming good or bad.  And sometimes that process can be reversed several times in a single day!  To be a human being this side of the grave is to be a being that is in flux.  Unfortunately, it takes little effort to become bad; all we have to do is follow the line of least resistance.  For the way that leads to perdition is broad and many choose to go that route.  In contrast, the way to blessedness is narrow and few find it.  But we have a Savior!  He, Himself, is that good Tree who alone can bear the truly good fruit and it is only in our being united with Him that we too are good.  Without Him we can do nothing, but with Him everything is possible.  He is the Rock upon which we must build our lives so that when the rains come we will not be swept away.

The Sisters will have their community elections on Tuesday, September 13.  Their Religious Assistant to their Poor Clare Federation, Father Robert McCreary, will be presiding.  He arrives tomorrow to help them prepare.  The time immediately preceding an election are intense, so if I do not post during the next few days, you will know why!

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Freedom of Excellence


Sat. 22nd Week Year 1
Gospel Lk 6,1-5

The disciples of Jesus are in trouble again.  Don’t they know that the law forbids the faithful from harvesting wheat on the Sabbath?  Surely the upstart rabbi from Nazareth knows, doesn’t he?  Yes, He knows the law and He can also see the difference between reaping a field of grain on the Sabbath and taking a few ears of grain to satisfy an immediate need.  Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, not only because He is the God who is the author of the Law, but because as Man He had the wisdom and love to know when to bend the prescriptions of the law in favor of the law of charity.  As He would say at another time, we feed our animals on the Sabbath, can we not do good to a human being?  And were His opponents so really concerned about the honor of God or about using God’s law to their own advantage?  “Love and do what you please.” Says St. Augustine.  But he was not talking about that self-serving urge for satisfaction that our culture calls “love”.  Rather, he was speaking about the love that lives for the good of the other, that sacrifices self interest in order to give to the beloved.  When one’s whole being is oriented in this way, then one has that “freedom of excellence” that gives wisdom to make the best decisions in relationships.  Those who are busy straining out the gnats will not understand.  And in their anger they will continue to miss the camel.

Feast of the Birth of Mary

Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Mt 1, 18-23

Whenever we celebrate someone’s birthday we are actually celebrating the person.  We rejoice that God thought to create this wonderful human being.  Only the one who looks with love can truly be happy over the existence of another, for only love looks beneath the surface to see the goodness of God’s creation.  The Gospel today presents us with a man whose love was profoundly tested.  Joseph was betrothed to Mary who had been found to be with child and that child was not his own.  Had she betrayed him?  That was what everyone was saying.  But when he looked into her eyes, he saw, not guilt, but that pure innocence which had enamored him from the beginning.  Was God working a mystery in her?  And was he worthy to be part of that mystery?  Or was it a mystery of iniquity?  And was it right for him to receive her as his own? Already in the dawn of the new covenant, his heart was moved to mercy and he did not want to hand her over to the  death penalty.  If she had betrayed him, he still did not want to betray her. Yet, if he accepted her, he was also taking on her mystery and her scandal.  Agonizing over this heartrending dilemma, he reluctantly came to a decision which could only seem like a compromise, but he did not know what else to do; he would attempt to divorce her quietly.  Then, having exhausted all his human resources, he fell asleep.  We know what happened; an angel came to his rescue, assuring him that it was the will of God he should receive Mary as his wife and take responsibility for her Divine Child.  And when he awoke he wasted no time, but did as the angel had directed him.  Once his way was clear, his love gave him wings.  He dedicated his life to Jesus and Mary despite the hardships and the ridicule that he knew would follow his decision.  We give gifts on birthdays.  Joseph gave the gift that makes all other gifts meaningful.  He gave himself.

Planks and Specks


Fri. 23rd Week Year 1
Lk 6, 39-42

A number of years ago when I was novice mistress, I was peacefully writing at my desk one day when a novice burst into my office exclaiming, “I can’t stand it!  I can’t STAND it!  I CAN’T STAND IT!”  “What’s the matter?”  I then listened in open-mouthed wonder to a long diatribe against a fellow novice which accurately described in remarkable detail the outstanding faults of the very novice who stood before me.  Why is it that we get so upset over the faults of other people?  Sometimes because they are a wonderful distraction from our own.  We especially like to denounce our own faults that we find in our fellow human beings.  It is so painful to admit our shortcomings and so difficult to dislodge them.  What a relief it is to be able to abhor them in someone else and to generously offer assistance in correcting them.  Yet, we have no power to correct anyone’s faults but our own.  And we have no qualification for trying to give anyone advice that we have not tested on our own selves!   As our Lord put it, let us remove the plank from our eye first and then we can see clearly to help our brothers or sisters remove the specks from their eyes.  But an interesting thing happens in the process.  When we work hard to correct ourselves and we discover how hard it is, we become more patient and forbearing with the faults of our neighbors.  We are all sinners together.  And we begin to suspect that perhaps some of the things we get so upset about really are not all that important after all.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Already and the Not Yet

Wed. 23rd Week Year 1
Col 3, 1-11
Lk 6, 20-26

We have died with Christ in Baptism and so now we are raised with Him.  The spiritual writers say that we live now in a condition of “the already and the not yet”.  By faith we know that we already share the risen life of Jesus, that in fact we are ascended with Him in heaven!  But not yet do we feel the full effects of this exalted condition as we fumble through our existence in time.  Our true life is “hidden with Christ in God”.  It is part of our maturing process that more and more we orient ourselves toward heaven.  As the life of the spirit becomes more real and more important to us, our desire for the heavenly realities becomes stronger while the urgency of earthly concerns becomes correspondingly less.  Some of us reach that blessed state where we are truly poor, having no interest making material things our idols because we possess a heavenly kingdom; where the yearning for the consummation of our union with Christ is better than any worldly pleasure.  Of course, such people are free and dangerous in this world for they cannot be controlled and manipulated since they have no handles by which the powers of evil can coerce them.  And so, they are feared, hated, persecuted, ostracized and insulted because of Christ.  Let us pray for all such who suffer in this way, that they may not lose sight of their blessedness, nor the great reward that awaits them.  And let us also pray for those who enjoy their ill-gotten riches, who feed off the pain of others and who laugh at the afflictions they cause the just.  May grace soften their hardened hearts before they face the day of the Lord.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Fullness of God

Tues. 23rd Week Year 1
Col 2, 6-15

St. Paul exhorts us to live in Christ; walk with Him, be rooted in Him, built upon Him.  How many more ways could he say that Christ Jesus is our all?  In Him is the fullness of God and we ourselves enjoy this very fullness if we are one with Jesus, drawing our life from Him, having our every movement inspired by Him.  So why are we not always abounding in gratitude?  Why are we so often agitated and anxious?  Because we still seek to fill our God given empty space with something other than God.  Nothing and no one in this world can satisfy us since our hearts were made to hold the divinity.  But since the fall, we are radically turned from Him and seek to fill ourselves with the lovely things He has made that are meant to be simply signs of His love and foretastes of His joy.  When we do not find the perfect satisfaction we crave we complain or we franticly look for more.  Consecrated religious renounce this vicious cycle by their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  These vows proclaim that neither possessions, people nor power can fulfill them but only God.  Once they have the fullness of God in Jesus, these happy souls overflow with gratitude and then can turn to love nature, humanity and even themselves with a generous and free love.  They have the peace which the world cannot give and no one can take away.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day


Labor Day
Gospel Mt 6, 31-34

Jesus tells us that we should not be worried or anxious about our life.  How can He possibly say that to a father of a family who has been out of work for 2 years and faces foreclosure on his house and personal bankruptcy?  In the Latin text of the Scriptures, the word we translate as “worry” or “anxious” is sollicito which means “violently moved or shaken”.  In other words, an earthquake!  Now having just experienced an earthquake for the first time in my life, this word speaks to me.  I remember last week when the house was shaking and sounding like a moving train, I myself was shaken into a kind of paralysis.  I was so focused on the event that my mind could not make a rational decision nor was my will able to act.  If we allow the troubles of our life to shake us so deeply that we cannot work to address them, then there is not much hope for us.  We are obliged to be concerned for our welfare and the good of those in our care.  This is part of “seeking the kingdom of God and its justice”.  Yet we must do so with an attitude of faith in God’s help.  Jesus says in another place, “Fear is useless, what is needed is trust”.  This trust does not inspire us to sit back and let God or the welfare agency to take care of everything for us.  But it frees us from that paralysis which prevents our minds from being open to creativity and inhibits our wills from acting courageously to solve our problems and achieve our goals. “Sufficient for the day is its own evil” So let us get to work on today’s evil.  Don’t worry, there will be more tomorrow.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Gathered in the Name of Jesus


Sun. 23rd Week Year A
Gospel Mt 18, 15-20

Jesus says that wherever two or three are gathered in His Name, there He is in the midst of them.  Moreover, He says that if we all pray together we will receive what we ask for.  But gathering together in the Name of Jesus means more than simply being in the same room or church and saying the same prayers.  We must be, like the Church in the Acts of the Apostles, of “one heart and one mind”, so that in the Holy Spirit of love we may truly be with Jesus and feel together (con-sensus) with Him.  Our hearts must be like His, moved with pity for the needs of all.  And we must have the mind of Him who, “emptied Himself, even to death on the Cross. Yes, when such people gather to pray, then Jesus prays in them and with them. The Father cannot but hear and answer such a prayer!
Today the Poor Clare Sisters begin their novena of prayer to the Holy Spirit in preparation for their community elections.  Next week they will gather together in the Name of Jesus as they do every three years, to elect their Mother Abbess and her Council.  Please join them in prayer that they may truly feel together the will of God.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Freedom of Excellence


Sat. 22nd Week Year 1
Gospel Lk 6,1-5

The disciples of Jesus are in trouble again.  Don’t they know that the law forbids the faithful from harvesting wheat on the Sabbath?  Surely the upstart rabbi from Nazareth knows, doesn’t he?  Yes, He knows the law and He can also see the difference between reaping a field of grain on the Sabbath and taking a few ears of grain to satisfy an immediate need.  Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, not only because He is the God who is the author of the Law, but because as Man He had the wisdom and love to know when to bend the prescriptions of the law in favor of the law of charity.  As He would say at another time, we feed our animals on the Sabbath, can we not do good to a human being?  And were His opponents so really concerned about the honor of God or about using God’s law to their own advantage?  “Love and do what you please.” Says St. Augustine.  But he was not talking about that self-serving urge for satisfaction that our culture calls “love”.  Rather, he was speaking about the love that lives for the good of the other, that sacrifices self interest in order to give to the beloved.  When one’s whole being is oriented in this way, then one has that “freedom of excellence” that gives wisdom to make the best decisions in relationships.  Those who are busy straining out the gnats will not understand.  And in their anger they will continue to miss the camel.

Friday, September 2, 2011

New Wine


Fri. 22nd Week Year 1
Col 1, 15-20
Lk 5, 33-39

St. Paul tells that in Jesus is the fullness of all that is.  In Him is found all good for He is the source of all good.  He is that new wine of which the Gospel for today speaks.  He is alive and dynamic.  For our hearts to receive Him they have to be made new.  Old, stony hard hearts can not stretch to contain Him for they cannot move with His life.  How are our hearts made new?  By suffering the trials that He permits.  The Psalms tell us that by anguish we are expanded.  When the Divine Bridegroom is taken away we fast.  The Poor Clares who observe the Lenten fast all year will tell you that fasting is the best appetizer!  When Jesus returns to us the feast is better for having fasted.  He is our new wine, our bread of life and it is from Him we receive our vitality.  Since all things work to the good for all who love Him, we trust that the sufferings we must endure will prepare us, expand our hearts and make them able to stretch to receive all the joy and love He wants to give us. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Expect the Unexpected


Thurs. 22nd Week Year 1
Gospel (Lk 5, 1-11)

Expect the Unexpected

Life with Jesus is full of surprises.  He rarely fulfills preconceived expectations and always asks and delivers the unexpected!  Peter and his companions have had a hard night fishing without any results.  They just get finished cleaning their nets when Jesus, the non-fisherman itinerant preacher asks them to go out into the deep for a catch.  It was the wrong time.  It was the wrong way.  He had the wrong men.  Or so they thought.  But they go out anyway and we know what happened:  they caught so many fish that the boats were sinking.  Then He tells them they will be catching men from now on, so they leave all the fish (I guess the crowds on the shore had a good dinner!) and follow Him.  I must confess that is about all I have by way of inspiration.  My nets cast into the sea of the Gospel came up with just these few, small fish today.  Maybe the fact that we are on day 5 of our power and phone outage and all that means by way of improvisiation; a Sister has strep throat and needs a stronger anti-biotic; a workman is here finishing up work in the kitchen and looking at possible damage from the earthquake that caused the roof over the sanctuary to leak; the chaplain’s generator is not working; an applicant had to reschedule her visit because of the hurricane; another girl confirmed that she is coming tomorrow; and having to prepare a class for our Indian and Vietnamese Sisters, has something to do with the reason my nets are a bit tangled today.  But I have been around long enough to know that there are seasons of the soul just as there are seasons of the year.  The winter prepares for the spring.  And the dark night of fruitless fishing makes the large morning catch all the more dramatic and joyful.  So maybe there will be better fishing tomorrow, or the next day.  I will just go with the flow, for I go with Jesus.  He will decide.