Be Attentive

What does a more intentional heeding of God’s voice require of us? As T. S. Eliot writes in Ash Wednesday, we must first ask that God “teach us to sit still.” There have been times in life when being and sitting still have seemed much easier to me. If, as we read yesterday from 2 Corinthians, that “now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6: 2), then my current restlessness, my difficulties in being and sitting still are the truth to be confronted this lent. It is one thing to heed God’s voice when[read more]

Return To Me

On this Ash Wednesday, we are at first summoned by the words of Joel to “return to me with your whole heart.” When I was a boy, my mother would on every Ash Wednesday repeat the words of one of her colleagues at work. “Oh, this is the day that all the Catholics come to work with dirty faces.” Unless the word “return” strikes us to the core of our being, all today is is the one on which we walk around with dirty faces.[read more]

Giving and Joy

For us it is very possible to read the words of Sirach today and to think that they are enjoining us to make sure to smile when we are making a contribution and to willfully make ourselves learn to enjoy giving away our possessions. It seems like a recognition of the experience that by nature we give begrudgingly, and so we must develop the habit of being joyful as we do so. Jesus, on the other hand, seems to say that when we are really giving away all we have and are, we experience the true joy of receiving so[read more]

Sadness and Grace

What makes us, human beings, so restless and anxious? Albert Camus says that we are constantly seeing refuge “in love, and work, and communal life.” From what are we seeking that refuge? The basic philosophical and psychological answer to this question is that we are evading the awareness of our deaths. The gospel answer, while not at all contradicting this, adds that in doing so we are also avoiding our own lives. Remember the young man asks Jesus “Good master, what may I do in order that I may inherit the life of the Age?” And Jesus responds, after telling[read more]

Friendship and Fear of the Lord

In today’s reading from Sirach we hear both inducements toward and warnings about relationships. We are told that we all have many acquaintances in life, but very few confidants. We are also told to test our friendships. At first glance, this may seem a bit harsh and even somewhat cynical to us. Yet, the truth is that in every relationship that has the possibility of deepening, we are always consciously or unconsciously testing the other. Sirach tells us not to be too ready to trust another because what is deepest in us is so vulnerable. Thus, we tend, in a[read more]

Wisdom and the Common Project

It is somewhat striking that in our time we speak so little, and even think so little, of an aspiration to become wise. For much of humanity’s history, cultures and societies would so desire to identify the wise persons among them and to seek their guidance. These would become revered by their society because of a sense that they knew something about the true significance and purpose of human life and, perhaps, could communicate this wisdom to others. Our society, on the other hand, reveres the wealthy and the powerful. If we look at who is given recognition and memorialization[read more]

Becoming the Last of All

The disciples have just been arguing among themselves about who is the greatest. As Mark relates the narrative this occurs just after Jesus has told them that he must be handed over to his enemies, suffer, die, and in three days be raised up. We are told that the disciples do not understand what Jesus is saying, and yet they do not dare to question him about it. If we think about it, this is really not so difficult to understand. The absence of questioning suggests that there is a certain willfulness in the disciples’ not understanding. They do not[read more]

Wisdom and Prayer

In today’s gospel Jesus, along with Peter, James, and John have just come down from the mountain where the transcendence and glory of God had been made manifest in Jesus. According to Mark the disciples “had become extremely afraid” at this wisdom of God made manifest. It is all far too much for them. It perhaps is not accidental, then, that as they, with Jesus, come down from that experience of what lies beneath “the common, ordinary, unspectacular flow of everyday life,” they encounter an intractable problem. A father has brought to the disciples his son who is possessed by[read more]

Darkness Will Be Our Light

Today is the feast of The Chair of St. Peter. As we celebrate the feast this year, there is taking place at the Vatican an unprecedented meeting to deal with the ongoing scandal of the sexual abuse of minors and other sexual misconduct of priests and religious. Today’s reading from Matthew, given the Roman Catholic interpretation of the text in which we have been formed, seemingly confronts us, who live continually with this scandalous abuse of power, with a grave contradiction. Is the promise of Jesus, at least as it has been interpreted to us in our tradition, false? What[read more]

Redemptive Suffering

Unless one lives in total illusion, it will cross one’s mind and heart more often than seldom that life is difficult. Of course, it is also blessed and joyful, but in the course of life each of us will find ourselves confronting the painful reality that human life is fragile and, in some foundational way, broken. We experience this in sickness, in natural and human made disasters, and especially in the way we live out our relationships and commitments to each other. In today’s gospel, then, the disciples hear from Jesus a very painful, although truthful, teaching. “It is necessary[read more]