Several years ago, I was approached by a man who asked me to be his spiritual director. He was in his mid-40s and almost everything about him radiated a certain health. As we sat down to talk, I mentioned that he seemed to be in a very good space. He smiled and replied that, yes, this was so, but it hadn’t always been so. His happiness had its own history ... and its own pre-history. Here’s how he told his story:

God’s Spirit is at work in giving another chance

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Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year B) May 6 (Acts 9:26-31; Psalm 22; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8)

It was no wonder that Saul frightened the Christian community in Jerusalem. He had done nothing to inspire trust or openness; in fact, he had been their tormentor-in-chief for a number of years. He was responsible for the blood and the misfortune of many. His arrival in Jerusalem and his claim to be a follower of Jesus only aroused suspicion and anxiety.

Facing the 10 major faith struggles of our day

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Sometimes the simple act of naming something can be immensely helpful. Before we can put a name on something we stand more helpless before its effects, not really knowing what’s happening to us.  

Many of us, for example, are familiar with the book The Future Church: How Ten Trends are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church, by John Allen. The things he names in this book, even when they don’t affect us directly, still help shape us for the better. As a journalist who travels the world as the Vatican analyst for both CNN and the National Catholic Reporter, Allen is able to provide us with a wider, global perspective on Church issues than is generally afforded to those of us whose vision is more emotionally mired in our own local and national issues. Heartaches at home can make us blind to the wider concerns of the planet, just as seeing the concerns and pains of others first-hand can put our own concerns and pain into a healthier perspective. Allen’s global frame of reference, as outlined in the mega-trends he names in his book, helps us keep our own ecclesial concerns in a healthier perspective.

Jesus took on for us a sacred responsibility and sacrifice

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Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B) April 29 (Acts 4:7-12; Psalm 118; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18)

Without proof the proclamation of the Resurrection would have seemed to be nothing more than a wild tale or what we would call an urban myth. The apostles were quick to provide that proof — a crippled man was restored to health right before the eyes of the astonished crowd. The temple authorities did not deny that something marvelous had taken place. Since there are many spirits and powers in the world, they demanded to know the power and name by which the apostles had performed the healing.

A stone’s throw away from everybody

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Truth finds us in different ways. Sometimes we learn what something means not in a classroom but in a hospital.

Several years ago I was visiting a man dying of cancer in a hospital room. He was dying well, though nobody dies easy. He felt a deep loneliness, even as he was surrounded by people who loved him deeply. Here’s how he described it: “I have a wonderful wife and children, and lots of family and friends. Someone is holding my hand almost every minute, but ... I’m a stone’s throw away from everyone. I’m dying and they’re not. I’m inside of something into which they can’t reach. It’s awfully lonely, dying.”

True witness means experiencing both repentance and forgiveness

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Third Sunday of Easter (Year B) April 22 (Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48)

Terrible things are often done not by evil people but quite ordinary ones who believe that they are doing the right thing. Peter confronted the crowd with the knowledge that they had rejected and killed God’s Holy and Righteous One — the very Author of life. These were very religious folks bent on preserving their traditions and the purity of their religion. The trouble is, zeal and fanaticism are no guarantee of clear understanding or moral and spiritual correctness. They are often a smokescreen for fear and uncertainty. We can point to countless examples in Christian history, and for that matter in the history of practically every religion.

‘Do not be afraid!’ Jesus came to rid us of fear

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Not all fear is created equal, at least not religiously. There’s a fear that’s healthy and good, a sign of maturity and love. There’s also a fear that’s bad, that blocks maturity and love. But this needs explanation.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about fear inside of religious circles, especially around the scriptural passage that says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Too often texts like these, as well as religion in general, have been used to instill an unhealthy fear inside of people in the name of God.

We need to live in “holy fear” but that is a very particular kind of fear which should not be confused with fear as we normally understand it.

Of bones, toothbrushes and dazzled eyes

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In response to the question “How do I forgive?” I was given this answer: “By going against every bone in your body.” Forgiveness contradicts many basic inclinations, if we’re honest. It’s more natural to strike back, seek revenge, build stone walls. Forgive the one who inflicted harm? We might ask not only “how” but “why”? 

Yet, astonishingly, forgiveness happens, in small ways and large. More than once, I’ve heard someone say, “I knew I had to forgive or I was going to die, so I forgave.”

Somehow, despite all the pain and struggle, forgiveness breaks through, the real thing, like those first tulips breaking up through the winter soil.

We will find a little of Thomas’ doubt in all of us

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Second Sunday of Easter (Year B) April 15 (Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 118; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31)

There are many passages of the Scriptures that should have a more forceful impact on us but unfortunately do not. Perhaps we have heard them too many times or the countless compromises that we have made collectively with the demands of the Gospel have deadened our spiritual and moral awareness.

Live in love, forgiveness and conscience

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Theologians sometimes try to simplify the meaning of the Resurrection by packaging its essence into one sentence: In the Resurrection, God vindicated Jesus, His life, His message and His fidelity. What does that mean?

Jesus entered our world preaching faith, love and forgiveness, but the world didn’t accept that. Instead it crucified Him and, in that crucifixion, seemingly shamed His message. We see this most clearly on the cross when Jesus is taunted, mocked and challenged: If you are the son of God, come down from there! If your message is true, let God verify that right now! If your fidelity is more than plain stubbornness and human ignorance then why are you dying in shame?

Christ died on the cross for all of us

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Easter Sunday (Year B) April 8 (Acts 10:34, 37-43; Psalm 118; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18)

The first Easter proclamation was rather simple. It spoke of a spirit-filled man who travelled throughout Judea and Galilee ‘doing good’ — healing, encouraging, challenging and inspiring all who were troubled or suffering. There was little reference to the content of his teaching or to complex theological issues. Shock and grief at his untimely end on the cross was evident but also wonder, joy and awe at the fact that God raised him from the dead.