29 October 2016

ALLOWING GOD TO FIND ME

XXXI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR 
wisdom 11:22-12:2; 2 thessalonians 1:11-2:2; luke 19:1-10

john powell, renowned author and professor at chicago’s loyola university, writes about tommy—a student in his theology of faith class. tommy, powell writes, was the «atheist in residence». at the end of the course, he asked: «do you think i’ll ever find GOD?»  powell said: «no!» and then added:  «tommy! i don’t think you’ll ever find him, but i am absolutely certain that he will find you!»  tommy left powell’s class and life.
years later, tommy was diagnosed with terminal cancer. he returned to powell to tell him that GOD had found him: «one day i turned around and GOD was there. he didn’t come to me when i pleaded with him… apparently GOD does things in his own way and at his own hour. but he was there. he found me. he found me even after i stopped looking for him.» 
tommy found GOD when he opened his heart to love his own father and the people to whom he was close. he discovered «that the surest way to find GOD is not to make him a private possession, a problem solver, or an instant consolation in time of need, but rather by opening to love.» 


the story of zaccheus is similar to tommy’s. zaccheus went in search of jesus the wonder worker… and GOD found him. rather, he allowed GOD to find him when he opened his heart to love the poor: «half of my possessions, LORD, i shall give to the poor» and to more than make restitution to those he had defrauded: «if i have extorted anything from anyone i shall repay it four times over.» 

two questions!
why does GOD wait till we allow ourselves to be found? we have a response in the first reading: «you have mercy on all… and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent. for you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made…»
why do we take so long to allow GOD to find us? perhaps because GOD challenges us to change. luke probably intends the story of zaccheus as a contrast to the story of the rich young man (18:18-23). both are rich and look for jesus. the young man has kept the commandments from his youth; zaccheus is a tax collector. the young man is saddened by jesus’ challenge to sell his possessions and follow him; zaccheus responds with joy and repentance to jesus’ invitation to stay at his house.

will i allow GOD to find me? will i change my life and open my heart to love? 
may you and i do this… so that the LORD can say: «today salvation has come to this house»!

22 October 2016

HOLINESS IS NOT ABOUT WHAT I DO

XXX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR 
sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; 2 timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; luke 18:9-14

a man boasted to a spiritual master that he had achieved a high degree of holiness:  «i rise early in the morning; i fast from food and drink; i work tirelessly and i even discipline myself with a whip.» the spiritual master walked with him through a field and pointed to a mule.  he said: «that mule rose early in the morning. it hasn’t been fed or given a drink. it has worked tirelessly, and has been whipped.»  he asked the supposedly holy man: «what makes you any different from that ass?»

we could pride ourselves on our efforts and assume that we make ourselves «good christians» primarily through them: good deeds, sacrifices and penance, and prayer and the sacraments.
today’s gospel tells us that there’s more to being a good christian or a spiritual person! 


the pharisee in the parable did all the good practices he listed. and these practices have their merit. then where’s the problem? 
the problem is his «holier-than-thou» attitude: «i thank you father that i am not like other people!» the problem is his «prayer» is actually an advertisement for himself, where the subject is himself and not GOD. the problem is that he thought he did not need GOD’s grace/mercy and love, and his actions would justify him! 
the tax collector knew that he was a poor sinner and that he needed GOD’s grace/mercy and love to help him.

jesus speaks «this parable to those who were fully convinced of their righteousness»! holiness or righteousness is not about what we do and achieve. it is about recognizing our need for GOD. it is what happens when we bring our emptiness before GOD and let him pour his love into us. it’s only then we—like the tax collector—are justified, that is, set right with GOD.

do we tell GOD what we have done for him? do we compare ourselves with others? or do i stand humbly before GOD, with full awareness of my nothingness, and acknowledge his goodness, love and mercy to me?

15 October 2016

PRAY ALWAYS

XXIX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
exodus 17:8-13; 2 timothy 3:14–4:2; luke 18:1-8

perseverance is a trait that is admired in society, and finds examples in scripture—from jacob (who wrestled with an angel until he received a blessing) to paul (who experienced persecution, imprisonment and shipwreck, and yet persisted in preaching).

at first glance, the gospel seems to be an example of the link between perseverance and blessing. the lesson in the parable of the persistent widow seems clear: persevere and you will be blessed.

there are two problems with this lesson! 
first, we believe in a GOD who freely gives his people what they need. how can we assert that if we pray hard enough or pester GOD he will give us what we want? 
second, it could create guilt in some (and pride in others). when we don’t get that for which we prayed, does it mean we haven’t prayed enough? how can we tell a person who is terminally ill or who has lost a child, those in haiti and parts of the usa affected by hurricane matthew, those suffering persecution in the middle-east… that they haven’t prayed enough?
persevere and be blessed is not «good news»!

what is today’s good news? jesus tells his disciples this «parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.»
jesus contrasts GOD and the judge: if a corrupt judge renders justice because the plaintiff is persistent, how much more will our loving and caring GOD answer us? jesus challenges us to pray always… refusing to give in to appearances, and trusting that GOD will act in his way and in his time to bring the justice we seek and the blessing we need. 
in the first reading, we have the example of moses who prayed always (despite becoming weary) while the israelites battled the amalekites.


today, we have the example of mother teresa who «prayed always» despite enduring spiritual doubt, despair and loneliness for nearly fifty years; and of pope john paul ii who «prayed always» though he suffered greatly because of parkinson’s disease.

in moments of trial and tribulation, do i still trust GOD? do i pray always without losing heart? or do i abandon GOD and prayer when things don’t happen as i think they should?
we pray not because we have to beat a path to GOD’s door before he will open it, but because until we beat the path, maybe there’s no way of getting to our door (cf. frederick buechner). 

08 October 2016

BE GRATEFUL… IT PAYS!

XXVIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
2 kings 5:14-17; 2 timothy 2:8-13; luke 17:11-19

recently, i came across two studies on the effects of gratitude.
one study examined the effects of writing letters of gratitude on happiness, life-satisfaction, and depression. the results indicated that writing letters of gratitude increased participants’ happiness and life satisfaction, and decreased depressive symptoms [cf. journal of happiness studies, «letters of gratitude: further evidence for author benefits»].
in the second study, participants were assigned to one of three experimental conditions: hassles, gratitude listing, and neutral life events. they kept daily/weekly records of their moods, coping behaviours, health, physical symptoms, and overall life appraisals. the gratitude-outlook group exhibited heightened well-being across several outcome measures [cf. personality and social psychology journal, «counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life»].
the bottom-line: being grateful has emotional benefits; gratitude pays!

this evidence from experimental psychology confirms similar evidence from scripture! the first reading and the gospel are stories of the healing and gratitude of two lepers.
acting on the word of elisha, naaman, the syrian afflicted with leprosy, is cured. he returns to give elisha thanks and a gift. when elisha refuses the gift, naaman takes back some earth to build a shrine to the LORD. he recognises not only the healing but also the healer. 
acting on the word of jesus, ten lepers are cured. only one, a samaritan, returns «glorifying GOD in a loud voice» to thank jesus. 
the gratitude of both «foreigners» is more than a simple act of politeness; it is an authentic profession of faith in the saving power of GOD. 


this time, the anecdote at the end! 
a man, seeking refuge from a storm, stumbled upon a barn. he discovered that this was the devil’s storehouse of seeds. he was curious! he lit a match and began exploring. the majority of the bins were labelled «seeds of discouragement.»
just then one of the devil’s helpers arrived to pick up a load of seeds. the man asked him the reason for the abundance of discouragement seeds. the helper laughed and replied: «they are very effective and they take root quickly.» the man asked: «do they grow everywhere?» the devil’s helper said in sullen disgust: «no! they never grow in the heart of a grateful person.»
this may be just a legend but it points to a pay-off: grateful people are seldom discouraged.

am i grateful to GOD (and to his instruments/mediators) for his numerous blessings and graces? how do i manifest gratitude to GOD and others? for what am i grateful today?

01 October 2016

FAITH IS A GIFT AND A TASK… NOT MAGIC!

XXVII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-42; timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; luke 17:5-10

a family i know is going through difficult times. some members of the family have major illnesses; some face professional/career uncertainty… it is rather overwhelming.
and the «good christians» around them have been questioning the strength of their faith: «if their faith were stronger, they wouldn’t have all these troubles»!! 

what is faith? a mantra to recite or a magic wand to wave… and whoosh… problems solved?! i wish it were, but i think not!

this sunday’s readings help us to understand what faith is.
habakkuk (first reading), writing in a time of turmoil, dares to question GOD about his apparent silence. GOD persuades habakkuk to wait patiently for deliverance for «it will surely come». 
st paul reminds timothy (second reading) that GOD has gifted us «a spirit of… power and love and self-control» and invites him to bear hardships «with the strength that comes from GOD.»
jesus instructs his disciples that it is the quality* (and not quantity) of their faith that matters. he urges them to do their duty, that is, to serve GOD unconditionally without counting the cost. 

faith, then, is a gift of the spirit - that moves us to wait patiently and humbly - while steadfastly doing our tasks - in the knowledge and hope that GOD’s will and word will be fulfilled. 
the catechism of the catholic church affirms: «to obey in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard… abraham is the model of such obedience… the virgin mary is its most perfect embodiment» (144). didn’t they have problems and difficulties?! through all their ordeals, their faith never wavered. 

what kind of faith do i have? 
may the LORD increase my faith: steadfast fidelity through (and despite) difficulties.

* the size of faith doesn’t matter because GOD is the one doing the moving!  
if my faith moved the mountain, then the bigger the mountain the more faith i would need to move it; the bigger the obstacle the more strength i’d need to climb it; the more serious the illness a faith even greater would be required to overcome it… such thinking may make sense, but that’s not how faith works. GOD does the work through faith (cf. vince gerhardy, «faith the size of a mustard seed»).