Connections DAILY

The WEEKDAY homiletic resource from the editors of Connections

Connections DAILY is the ONLINE newsletter of ideas and images designed to help homilists develop their own brief reflections on the daily Gospel readings.

For each weekday Gospel pericope, Connections DAILY provides an image or idea for a brief, one-to-two minute homily, concluding with a brief prayer that summarizes the point.  The reflection/prayer usually centers on the day's Gospel, but occasionally is inspired by the first reading or the day’s feast or saint whose memorial is being observed.  Because time is a factor at most weekday Masses, each Connections DAILY reflection focuses on a single point or idea, applicable to the common and everyday world of the parish community.

Connections DAILY is available ONLINE ONLY: each week’s reflections are e-mailed to subscribers the previous week (sorry, Connections DAILY is NOT available in a hard-copy, “paper” version).  Connections DAILY is sent in an easy-to-save-and-edit format, enabling you to “cut and paste” material as you need.

Subscriptions to Connections DAILY are $60 per year.

Take a look at Connections DAILY— a sampling of reflections is included below.  If you preach — or have thought about preaching — a brief, meaningful reflection every day, Connections DAILY is the resource you’re looking for.

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A sampling of reflections from Connections DAILY . . .

Week 27 in Ordinary Time

MONDAY 27

“But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.”
Luke 10: 25-37

A critical detail in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is that word Samaritan.

The Samaritans and Jews despised each another.  Their hatred dated back to the eighth century B.C., when Assyria conquered the land on Samaria in northern Israel.  Those northerners who survived the disaster intermarried with foreigners resettled by the Assyrians.  The Jews of Jerusalem considered such accommodation with their hated enemy treason and, worse, a betrayal of the covenant.  Jerusalem banned the Samaritans from their temple and synagogues, refused their religious contributions and denied their legal status in court proceedings.  Some Samaritans retaliated by attacking pilgrims passing through their land on their way to Jerusalem. 

Jesus’ hearers would expect a Samaritan to be the villain of the story, not the hero.  In the parable, while the two clerics do not help the man for fear of violating the Torah by being defiled by the dead, the compassionate Samaritan – a man presumably with little concern for Jewish belief or morality – is so moved by the plight of the poor man that he thinks nothing of stopping to help, regardless of the cost of time or money. 

To recognize our neighbors begins by tearing down the walls, the labels, and the stereotypes that divide us from one another.  Religion, race, gender and nationality that separate, that isolate, that denigrate are contrary to God’s vision of his creation.  We are, first and foremost, Jesus says, children of God the Father and brothers and sisters – and neighbors – to one another.

Open our eyes and hearts, O God, to see you in everyone we encounter on our journey through this life.  Give us the wisdom and courage to remove the obstacles that prevent us from recognizing all as our “neighbors.”  In doing good to them, may we give complete and joyful thanks to you, the Father of us all and Giver of all that is good.

TUESDAY 27

“Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
Luke 10: 38-42

We live busy lives.  Our lives are ruled by our calendars and “to-do” lists.  We are constantly juggling projects.  With laser-like focus, we storm through life building our careers and portfolios.  We’re too busy to come up for air.

But we all reach that point when we ask, Is there something better?  Is my life meant to be more than this?  Am I to be defined by my resume alone?

Mary and Martha personify that critical moment.  We are all like Martha in our own anxiety over details; we worry about the peripherals at the expense of the important and lasting.  “The better part” embraced by Mary transcends the pragmatic and practical concerns of the everyday (that have overwhelmed poor Martha) and sees the hand of God in all things and realizes the gratitude all of creation owes to its loving Creator for the gift of life.

With so many agendas demanding our time and attention, Jesus calls us to consciously choose and seek out “the better part”: to make a place in our lives for the joy and love of family and friends that is the presence of God.

Guide us, O Lord, in seeking the “better part”: to stop and recognize the presence of your love, your peace, and your forgiveness in the midst, transforming our overwhelmingly stressful and anxious days into experiences of joy and fulfillment.

WEDNESDAY 27

“Lord, teach us to pray . . .”
Luke 11: 1-4

Elie Wiesel, whose writings chronicle the nightmare of the Holocaust, offered this reflection on prayer:

“Why should God need our prayer?  Why should God need our flattery?  How come he is not repulsed by all that . . . ?  God does not need our prayers.  We need them.  We need to be able to pray in sincerity and beauty.  And prayer should not be against somebody but always for somebody.  That is true prayer, when it is for someone else, not for yourself.”
[Literature and Belief, vol. 26, no. 1]

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us much more than the words to a prayer: he teaches us the true spirit of prayer.  Authentic prayer is centered in gratitude and the realization of our need to express that gratitude to the God who loved us into being.  And, as Elie Wiesel wisely notes, prayer is not about us and our needs, but the needs of all our brothers and sisters, all children of God.  It’s not about me, it’s always about us.  It seeks God’s blessing and good for others – even those we struggle to love.  It’s offered out of our need for joy and hope in this sometimes brutal life we live.

So today, offer a prayer, a real prayer, that is worthy of God – and good for your soul.

O Lord, teach us to pray faithfully.  May our prayers be part of an ongoing conversation with you, in which we listen as well as ask, in which we seek not just what we want but what you want for us, in which we look not just for solutions but transformation.  Let our prayer open our eyes and hearts to see your hand at work in all things, to behold your presence in every moment and molecule of life.

Week 28 in Ordinary Time

MONDAY 28

“For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation.”
Luke 11: 29-32

One evening, as the community gathered for Sabbath prayers, a member of the congregation demanded, “Tell me, Rabbi, just what is God?”

The rabbi quietly replied, “Tell me, just what is NOT?”

We tend to look for God in the “huge” events of the cosmos, in the “earthquakes” that shake our world, in the “big” events of our lives.  God is in all of those things, but the gift of faith enables us to perceive God in the much smaller, hidden and simple experiences of our everyday lives.  Jesus calls us to watch for the unmistakable signs of God’s love in our midst, to listen for the cries of the broken and shattered, to move beyond our safe, comfortable isolation for the sake of what is right and just, to put aside the cold rationalizations and conventions we hide behind in order to bring reconciliation to our broken world.

Jesus asks us to see the world with the vision of the rabbi: to keep our eyes and ears, our hearts and spirits, open to the unmistakable signs of God’s presence in our lives: in the love of family and friends; in the kindness we are able to extend to others and they to us; in every experience of forgiveness and reconciliation; in even the smallest victory of compassion over brokenness, of justice over selfishness, of hope over despair.

Open our eyes and humble our spirits, Lord God, to recognize the signs of your love, justice and forgiveness in our midst.  May we, in turn, become effective signs of your compassionate presence in our world, of your call to reconciliation, of your spirit of justice and mercy in the Ninevehs of our homes and schools, our workplaces and playgrounds.
  
WEDNESDAY 28

“Woe to you Pharisees!  You love the seat of honor in synagogues and greetings in marketplaces.”
Luke 11: 42-46

Let’s not kid ourselves:  We are very concerned with how we look to others.  We want others to think well of us.  We want to be perceived as in the know, as key players, as well-connected and respected.

So we are not much different from the Pharisees.  Too often we work harder at creating the perception of being devoted than the quiet, more demanding work of living our faith.  We have mastered the ready laugh and being the life of the party but are hesitate to offer kindness and support at life’s more difficult, challenging moments.  We want to be seen as players without making any kind of impact that might jeopardize our acceptance or popularity.

Today, find the “lower place” where you might help someone in need of recognition or affirmation; seek the honor of listening rather than of speaking, of lifting up another rather than being the center of attention; be a source of joy and forgiveness and not an “unseen grave” of propriety and judgment.

O God, make us a means for others to realize your love in our midst.  May we embrace your spirit of humility and generosity so that we may we find fulfillment in bringing life to others, that may we find hope in our struggle to make good come from evil, that may we find joy in our weak attempts to heal and make whole the broken and hurting in our midst.

FRIDAY 28

“Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins?  Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God.”
Luke 12: 1-7

Does the good that we do matter?  Does my offer of help to someone, the dollar bill that I press into the hand of a homeless person, the time I spend listening to someone vent their frustrations amount to anything?

Jesus assures us that it does.  Nothing good, Jesus says in today’s Gospel, escapes “the notice of God.” 

“The notice of God . . . ”

Every good thing we do – no matter how small, how simple, how seemingly insignificant – mirrors the very love of God in our midst.  The forgiveness we extend, the compassion we offer, the justice we fight for are all stones in the foundation of God’s kingdom.

Our smallest, sparrow-size effort at doing what is right and just is “leaven” that becomes bread that feeds and nourishes; it is light that breaks through the darkness of fear and despair; it is the word of God that makes itself heard above the din and noise of the world.

And God notices – whatever is right and just, reconciling and healing, matters.  And every good thing, no matter how small, is a song of praise to the God who is the Giver of all that is good, who is the Author of love and compassion.

May we find confidence and inspiration, O God, in the reality that all of us live within your “notice.”  May we always remember that you walk with us, that you shoulder our crosses with us, that you constantly hold us in your loving embrace.  Be our constant assurance that every good thing you inspire us to do, every offering of compassion you enable us to extend, every hurt you show us how mend, matters in the building of your kingdom in our midst.

Week 29 in Ordinary Time

MONDAY 29

“The rich man asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’  And he said, ‘This is what I shall do:  I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones . . . ’”
Luke 12: 13-21

One of the big selling features of any house is closet space.  We’re all looking for more storage space – garages, basements, attics.  A walk-in closet in the bedroom is considered a necessity.  A good-size deck and kitchen island are all nice, but a three-car garage is heaven.

What on earth are we storing?  How much time, money and energy are we exerting for our things – and for storing them?  Being a family means having a lot of stuff, to be sure – but the parable of the rich man’s storage bins challenges us to consider if all the things we have amassed are getting in the way of our relationships with God and with one another.  Could at least some of our “stuff” be better used in service to the poor, the grieving, the forgotten?

Today, take a look at some of your “stuff” or “new stuff” you may be thinking about adding to your “barn.”  Is there something better you can do with it?

O God, we thank you for all the good things you have given us.  Help us to give thanks to you by giving to others; to attach ourselves to you by detaching ourselves from things; to obtain more of the lasting things of life by generously giving the impermanent things we possess to those who have little or nothing.

FRIDAY 29

“Why do you not judge for yourself what is right?”
Luke 12: 54-59

We make a mistake and we know we are at fault and that we are responsible for making things right.  But we look for a loophole to avoid making amends or a “legal” way to shift responsibility to someone else.

We have an opportunity to make a score if we put our ethics on hold for a moment.  That’s just business, we say.

We hear someone make a cutting or unfair remark that is untrue or prejudiced or racist.  We laugh it off and say nothing.

In all of these situations, we know what we should do.  We hear the voice of God within us calling us to respond in his Spirit of humility and justice.  We have embraced in Baptism the life of that Spirit as articulated in the Gospel of Jesus.  Discipleship, Jesus says in today’s Gospel, is to take responsibility for ourselves to do what is right because it is right; to see the goodness of God in the midst of pain, evil and exploitation; to realize that we possess the abilities to re-create our world in the compassion and peace of God.

Help us, O Lord, to see the signs of your justice and mercy in our homes, in our work, in our studies, in all of our relationships.  Open our eyes to recognize your compassion and peace in our midst.  Move our hearts to create your kingdom of peace and reconciliation in our own time and place.

SATURDAY 29

The parable of the fig tree:  “[The gardener] said to [the owner]:  ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future.’”
Luke 13: 1-9

There are “fig trees” in all our lives: individuals we have done all we can for, who have exhausted our time and energy, who we just can’t help anymore.  We’ve done all we can for him or her – but their despair is just too deep, they can’t get beyond their problems.  You start to wonder if they want things to get better.  To get any more involved with them can begin to destroy our own lives.   Fair enough.  Boundaries and limits are important.

But Jesus asks us to make some space in our lives – and hearts – for the “unproductive fruit trees”: to keep cultivating the ground around that “fig tree” with understanding, kindness, support – and with the honesty that alone can break the rocky soil around it, the patience to let its shaky stem grow in the light.  Jesus calls us to embrace the determined hope of the gardener, to remember that God’s endless grace enables us to experience the promise of resurrection in every “death” and Good Friday we experience.  

Today, see if you can be the faithful gardener for someone who is, in some way, struggling.  In your kindness and concern, be for them the hope and mercy of God who keeps giving all of us “second chances” to rebuild and reclaim our lives from brokenness to wholeness.     

O God, open our eyes and spirits to realize your presence in our lives when we feel hopelessly detached and isolated from you.  May we always find hope in the promise of the fig tree and our ability to start over again and again – and may we be that promise for those struggling to find reason to hope and carry on despite the disappointments and failures that exhaust them.

Week 30 in Ordinary Time

MONDAY 30

. . . a woman was there who for eighteen years had been crippled by a spirit; she was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect.  When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said, “Woman, you are set free of your infirmity.”
Luke 13: 10-17

Most of us have known someone who had to deal with a serious illness but absolutely refused to give an inch to their infirmity.  They inspired us by their courage and determination not to let cancer or Parkinson’s or disability define them or rule their lives; they refused to stop living their lives to the full, their illness or limitations would not deter them from being fully engaged in the lives of their families and communities.

They refused to let illness imprison them.

In healing the crippled woman in today’s Gospel, Jesus says to her “You are set free of your infirmity.”  Free, Jesus puts it.  The sick and infirm understand exactly what Jesus is saying. Too often we let our infirmities and insecurities – physical, emotional, economic – shackle us to our disappointments, failures, and broken dreams.  In embracing God’s Spirit of selflessness and humility, we can move beyond our disappointments and hurts, our doubts and fears, our physical and emotional limits, to live lives of fulfillment and purpose.

Free us, O Lord, from our fears of failure and criticism, of our resentment and hurts that prevent us from living life to the full.  Help our broken hearts and souls “stand erect” and give glory to you by embracing your spirit of joyful gratitude and selfless generosity.

WEDNESDAY 30

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate . . . ”
Luke 13: 22-30

An elderly widow could not get over her husband’s death.  She wept and grieved and refused to be comforted.  Her therapist could not understand why this woman was finding it so difficult to move beyond her grief. 

Then one day she was mugged and her purse with three hundred dollars in it was stolen.  To the utter surprise of the psychiatrist, that horrible incident helped the woman come to terms with the loss of her husband.  The woman — and her doctor — came to understand that she had led a relatively charmed life for most of her years: healthy, happily married, and financially secure.  That was why her husband’s death was so “unacceptable” to her.  Things like that only happened to other, more ordinary people.  The mugging finally robbed her not only of her cash but of her illusion that she was immune to misfortune and that bad things happen only to others, to those who somehow “deserve” it.  It forced her to realize that she was more like everyone than she wanted to believe.

[Dr. Irvin Yalom, cited in Overcoming Life’s Disappointments by Harold S. Kushner.]

This widow finally, reluctantly, made her way through the “narrow door” of the Gospel.  Life is a series of difficult passages, “narrow doors” we struggle through — and there is no easy way to pass through them.  The “narrow door” is the honest confrontation of who we are, the realization of our littleness before God, the understanding that we are nothing more or less than brothers and sisters to every other human being. 

The “narrow door” to God is difficult to enter: it is the way of limitless love, unconditional forgiveness, sacrificial selflessness; it can only be entered by letting go of our control, our pride, our self-absorption, our cynicism.  But Jesus promises that anyone willing to struggle through the “narrow door” will be welcomed into the eternal dwelling place of his Father. 

Guide us, O Lord, through the narrow door.  May we see the way before us clearly and soberly; may we recognize the dangers and pitfalls and understand what we must do in order to make our way safely through; may we possess the generosity of heart and humility of spirit to enter that door and so create and possess your kingdom of wisdom and light.

SATURDAY 30

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke 14: 1, 7-11

In an ancient fable, a proud olive tree taunted a humble fig tree, “You lose your leaves every autumn and are bare till spring; whereas I, as you can see, remain green and flourishing all the year round.”  But soon there was a heavy snowfall.  The snow settled and froze on the leaves of the olive tree; the olive tree bent and broke under the weight of the snow.  But the flakes fell harmlessly through the bare branches of the fig tree, enabling the fig tree to survive the harsh winter and bare another bountiful crop the next year.

Humility is more than just knowing our limits and deficiencies.  Humility is the willingness to be what we are and to do what we can.  Humble folks do not merely recognize what they are but they accept what they are and ratify what they can do.

May we embrace the humility of the fig tree in the old parable: to learn the lessons of our limits in order to understand our abilities and to use those gifts for the building of God’s kingdom.

Instill in us your spirit of humility, O Lord, so that we may discern who we are and what we possess, rather than allowing ourselves to be limited by our failures and inabilities.  By your grace, may we realize the harvest of good things and blessings our branches are capable of producing and humbly give of our bounty to our brothers and sisters who share this vineyard with us.

Week 31 in Ordinary Time

MONDAY 31

“When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.”
Luke 14: 12-14

Christmas gift-giving and sending out Christmas cards have become logistical nightmares for most of us:  We’re on their list so we have to put them on ours . . . They have us at their summer house every year so we have to send them something . . . Is this enough of a gift for them, considering what they usually give us?  What’s the right gift for my boss?

Sure, there are social customs to be observed and business realities we dare not ignore.  But Jesus reminds us that our hospitality and charity should be an opportunity for us to express our gratitude to God for being able to extend such hospitality in the first place.  The fare we are able to set on our tables, however simple, is a blessing given to us by God to share; to be able to help the poor and care for those in need is a privilege we should happily and gratefully take on.

So, as you start to think about your Christmas shopping in the weeks ahead, include someone who will not be able to return your gift – and let that gift be your offering of thanks to the God of all good things.

Make our tables places of welcome and service for all our brothers and sisters, O God.  May we know the humbling satisfaction and joy of knowing that in welcoming the poor, the needy and the lost to our tables, we welcome you into our midst.

TUESDAY 31

“When the time for the dinner came, he dispatched his servant to say to those invited, ‘Come, everything is now ready.’  But one by one, they all began to excuse themselves.”
Luke 14: 15-24

It is one of those rare times when you and your spouse can enjoy some quiet time together – a walk along a quiet beach, dinner together in a nice restaurant.  We have to do this more often, one of you says.  Why don’t we?  You agree . . . but it will be a while before you enjoy time like this again.

You read about a new film or exhibit at a nearby museum or art gallery.  I’d really like to see that, you think.  But you won’t.

The parish asks for help on a certain project.  It’s right up you alley – you’d be great at this.  You tuck the bulletin notice in your pocket intending to call the parish office to offer your help.  But you’ll never make the call.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus chides us for our inability to actually do as we would like to do, to commit our time and energy for what we know is good and right and of God.  There are so many expectations and projects that we just have to get done that God’s invitation to a life of meaning and joy is put off again and again.

So no more excuses.  No more putting off our families and friends and parish and those who need us.  God has invited us to his banquet.  Plan to be there tonight – with those you love.

Lord God, help us in this life of ours to make ready for your banquet in heaven.  May we come to your table bearing the offering of our lives, having transformed them into gifts of forgiveness, generosity, justice and peace, given to others in gratitude to you, the Giver of all good things.

THURSDAY 31

“ . . . there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need for repentance.”
Luke 15: 1-10

We have stayed up late waiting for a son or daughter to come home; once they were home safely, we then have dealt with the consequences of their irresponsibility.

We have worried that we might not be able to repair a broken relationship – and have bent over backwards to make things work.

We have cried many tears trying to save a loved one from self-destruction.

We all know the heartache, the anxiety, the frustration – and, yes, the anger and resentment – of going to find the lost, of re-connecting with those from whom we are estranged, of catching and lifting up the falling. 

But, as Jesus makes clear in today’s parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, such work is at the heart of the Gospel.  The Spirit of God enables us to wait, to mend the broken relationship, to keep reaching out when we have no more to give.  Christ promises us that the understanding, the reconciliation, the conversion we work so hard to bring about is to experience the joy of heaven.

O God, help us to persevere when we are at our end in dealing with the irresponsible, the unaware, the self-centered; do not let us become embittered in bailing out those constantly demanding our help; keep our hearts focused on the joy we can realize in humbly and faithfully struggling to be your agents of reconciliation and forgiveness.

Week 32 in Ordinary Time

WEDNESDAY 32

“Ten [lepers] were cleansed, were they not?  Where are the other nine?”
Luke 17: 11-19

Years ago, a man and woman made a sizable contribution to their church to honor the memory of their son who was killed in the war.

When the pastor announced the generous donation, a woman whispered to her husband, “Let’s give the same amount for our boy!”

“What are you talking about?” her husband asked.  “Our son wasn't killed.”

“That's exactly why we should make the gift,” his wise spouse responded.

For men and women of faith, gratitude is an awareness that should be reflected in every moment of our lives.  Like the Samaritan leper in today's Gospel, we come to realize that we have been “cured” despite the challenges we face, that our blessings far outweigh our struggles, that we have reason to rejoice and hope despite the sadness and anxieties we must cope with. 

For the disciple of Jesus, gratitude is a constant, a perspective and attitude that give joy to every moment and experience of our lives. 

Make us a people of thanksgiving, O God.  May we always be aware of your many blessings to us, especially in times of difficulty and despair, in experiences of loss and pain.  May we embrace a perspective of humble gratitude, enabling us to give thanks for your many gifts to us by sharing those gifts with all our brothers and sisters in need.

THURSDAY 32

“For behold the kingdom of God is among you.”
Luke 17: 20-25

At the end of a busy day, a mom who has not stopped since six that morning, puts her little boy to bed, snuggling up with him before he falls asleep, listening to his prayers, and reading his favorite story to him.  The kingdom of God is among you.

After a full week of classes, projects and part-time jobs, a group of college students spend their Saturday mornings at the community center serving as tutors, coaches and mentors to kids at risk.  The kingdom of God is among you.

Officially “retired,” he spends the better part of his days running errands for the housebound, making Meals-on-Wheels deliveries, and taking care of any number of things for his children and grandchildren.  The kingdom of God is among you.

Jesus’ words to the Pharisees are addressed to us and every generation of disciples:  The kingdom of God is not only to be found in eternity but in our own time and place, in every act of compassion, in every moment of forgiveness, in every attempt to imitate the mercy and justice of God.  Watch and listen today – the kingdom of God is among us.
 
Open our eyes and hearts to behold your kingdom in our midst, O God of all goodness – and may your Spirit animate us, as well, that we, too, may set about the work of building your kingdom of joy, charity and peace.

FRIDAY 32

“Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it.”
Luke 17: 26-37

Anne Lamott, in her wonderful book Plan B: Further Thought on Faith, reflects on finding God in the noise and busyness of our lives:

“It’s magic to see Spirit, because it’s so rare.  Mostly you see the masks and holograms that the culture presents as real.  You see how you’re doing in the world’s eyes, or your family’s, or – worst of all – yours, or in the eyes of people who are doing better than you – much better than you – or worse.  But you are not your bank account, or your ambition.  You’re not the cold clay lump you leave behind when you die.  You’re not your collection of walking personality disorders.  You are Spirit, you are love, and even though it is hard to believe sometimes, you are free.  You’re to love, and be loved, freely.  If you find out next week that you are terminally ill – and we’re all terminally ill on this bus – what will matter are memories of beauty, that people love you, and that you loved them.”

It’s so easy – especially at this time of the year – to get caught up in the busyness of life that we lose sight of exactly why we are alive in the first place.  As Anne Lamott says so beautifully, we are driven not by the things of the world but by the Spirit of God – the Spirit we encounter in the many everyday epiphanies of God’s love and peace in our families and community and parish.

So today close the accounting ledgers a little early; carve out a little “free time” in your calendar. 

And the let the Spirit drive.

Fill our empty spirits, O God, with a sense of gratitude for the wonders of your love around us.  Help us to let go of our baseless fears and unimportant wants in order that our hearts may be embraced and, in turn, embrace others in your compassion and peace.

Week 33 in Ordinary Time

TUESDAY 33

“Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
Luke 19: 1-10

If we found ourselves standing before the Lord as Zacchaeus does in today’s Gospel, what could we say to justify ourselves?  If we think about honestly and objectively, there’s probably a great deal each one of us could say: 

Lord, I’m raising two children and trying to teach them to live lives of generosity and integrity . . . Lord, I’m caring for a sick husband and, despite the hardship, he’s the most important thing in the world to me . . . Lord, I have made a mess out of my life but, with the help of family and friends, I’m working hard to put things back together . . . Lord, the joy of my life is the time I give to Big Brothers or the Alzheimer’s Association or the breast cancer awareness organization.

In our generosity, in our own efforts at reconciliation, in our stubborn insistence to find some reason to hope, “salvation comes to this house” of ours, that God has made a place for himself at our table.

We are all Zacchaeuses, struggling to live lives of purpose and meaning.  And just our willingness to struggle to do what is right is blessed by God.

Come and stay at our houses, O Lord.  May your salvation come to our homes and hearts, enabling us, in our simplest and everyday acts of compassion and justice, our hidden and common efforts to imitate your Gospel, to bring your reign into our time and place.

WEDNESDAY 33

“Sir, here is your gold coin; I kept it stored away in a handkerchief, for I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding man.”
Luke 19: 11-28

Have you had wanted to do something good for someone – but backed off?  An individual or family you know is going through a hard time and you think of something you can do to be of help – but you start to think that your idea is silly or that it might be misinterpreted or make little or no difference.  So you keep your distance.

We’ve all had that experience – we understand the plight of the servant who keeps the coin entrusted to him by his demanding master wrapped safely in a handkerchief: to risk the coin was unthinkable! 

No, Jesus says – take a chance!  God has given us any number of resources and talents that can accomplish many good and positive things in our world; every day offers new possibilities to bring transforming hope to others.  Risk it, Jesus says, risk it all – and you will realize even more than you thought.  Mistakes and failures happen – but God calls us, first, to faithfulness.

O God, you have entrusted us with your “coin” of reconciliation and justice not for to be hoarded for ourselves but to be invested in building of your kingdom.  Help us to risk what you have given us in order to create your kingdom within our lives and hearts.

SATURDAY 33

“ . . . they are the children of God because they will are the ones who will rise.”
Luke 20: 27-40

We are now at the end of gray November.  The branches of the trees are bare, the last leaves have been gathered up, the garden beds have been covered.  Daylight is more precious; the sky has taken on the dark cast of winter.  Our focus is on winter.

But the gardeners among us are always looking ahead to the spring planting season.  They may be starting seedlings indoors; a few weeks ago they buried the bulbs that will be the first flowers of spring.  In gray November, the earth begins its winter rest -- but will rise again in the spring.  Gardeners know.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is speaking to a group of Sadducees mired in November grayness.  The outrageous hypothetical situation they conjure up for Jesus comes out of their own cynicism and hopelessness regarding Jewish belief in the resurrection of the just – a belief that Jesus has spoken of regarding his own fate.  They are so caught in a cynical winter frame-of-mind that they cannot embrace the hope and promise of springtime resurrection. 

Let’s not allow ourselves to get trapped in the same gray November mindset, but to always remember Jesus’ promise that spring will come when we can rise from our tombs of grief, hurt and cynicism.

O Risen Christ, may we embrace the promise of your resurrection in every moment of our lives.  Re-create the grayness of our souls into an awareness of your constant presence in our midst; transform our cynical exhaustion that grips our winter spirits so that we may realize the potential we have to bring your kingdom into this place and time of ours.

Week 34 in Ordinary Time

MONDAY 34

“ . . . this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”
Luke 21: 1-4

We underestimate the power of the widow’s pennies:  They are the kind words that lift us up; they are the time a friend gives to listen as we vent our frustrations; they are the help we receive with our homework. 

Each one of us, as well, has our own supply of the widow’s pennies to give.  The power of the widow’s pennies comes from the fact that they are not extra.  We’ve worked hard for them and we need every one of them – but by God’s grace we give them not because we can spare them but precisely because we can’t spare them.  The widow’s penny is the time we don’t have but give anyway, the few dollars we need to get through our day, the kindness and help we are in no mood to give.

The real value of the widow’s mite is in the love we possess that enables us to give them away – and the faith that our few pennies can do great things in the reign of God.

May we possess the generosity of heart and the spirit of faith of the widow, O God.  May we be always ready to give, to heal, to comfort, to lift up; may we give readily from our own poverty, despite our own needs, grateful that the few pennies we are able to give can make a difference in the life of another.

TUESDAY 34

“All that you see here – the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
Luke 21: 5-11

Remember the things you cherished when you were a kid?  It might have been your collections of comic books or baseball cards, a favorite doll, games, photos.  They were the most important things in the world at the time – your world, at that time in your life.

But over time, the things that are most important things to us change as our world changes – and we change: doll houses give way to real houses, baseball cards are replaced by mortgages, story books become text books, the favorite toys of our childhood are put aside to take up the tools of our adult professions.  As our lives go on, things are replaced by much more valuable intangibles: love of family and friends, the satisfaction of doing what is right and just, the joy of bringing joy to others.

Jesus’ sobering words in today’s Gospel remind us of that reality.  Our happiness, our sense of completeness, our life’s fulfillment are not found in amassing things but in embracing the values of the heart – the things of God.

O God, Giver of all good things, help us to become rich in the things of the heart: compassion, mercy, forgiveness and peace.  May your voice lead us to the things of heaven; may your Spirit illuminate our journey to your dwelling place.

FRIDAY 34

“Consider the fig tree and all the other trees . . . ”
Luke 21: 29-33

Between now and the first day of winter, select a tree – a maple or oak near your house that you know will bud and blossom in the spring.

Let this tree be an “icon” for you, a place where you can go to pray in the winter ahead.

As Jesus suggests in today’s Gospel, trees are signs of God’s constant presence in our midst.  In the spring and summer, they give their all to produce their harvest of fruit and wood for our use; in the fall, their magnificent color seems a blessing from God for the produce they have provided; and in the winter, they quietly regenerate and take in water and nutrients in their roots in the deep earth. 

So select a “prayer tree” for yourself.  And when the winter becomes a little too cold, when the gray skies becomes too overwhelming, let your prayer tree help you through it, reminding you that the love of God is in your midst, that God’s promise of spring will be realized.

Help us, O Lord, to embrace the hope of the Gospel fig tree.  May we find always find reason to hope, to persevere, to move ahead even in the darkest winter days.  Let the trees of the wood inspire us to selfless and humble generosity and remind us of your promise that spring will come to every heart and spirit.