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Sunday, February 26, 2017

The importance of discipline

Jesus offers advice in this weekend's readings that is meant to encourage us as we continue along the journey of faith.  At times we can become distracted, but all we need to do is stop, change directions and remain faithful to the discipline of finding time to chat with him every day.  What a wonderful reminder, just days before we begin the discipline of Lent.


Consider the birds

I may have told some of you about a cousin of mine who is a Franciscan nun.  For as long as I can remember, she worked with children on the north coast of Jamaica.  I had a chance to visit with her a few years ago, not long before she retired.  I was on holiday and we decided that I should come for an overnight visit, so I arrived in the late afternoon.  As we shared a meal with the rest of the community, I rejoiced at the fact that these women, who lived in very simple surroundings, were so very happy.  It seemed that we were not at a merely simple meal; rather this was somehow a time of great celebration … and the celebration did not end until the dishes were done.  After supper, we sat for a little while in the living room, sharing stories about our family and about the adventures we’ve encountered as we serve God’s people, until – at about 8:00pm – she suddenly got up and said: Well, I’m off to bed!  Imagine my surprise!  I had come all this way to visit and she was leaving far too soon, but there was a twinkle in her eyes as she explained: the children will be arriving for school around 6:00am, and I will need some time to talk to Jesus, so he wakes me up around 4:00am.  That’s why I need to go to bed at 8:00.

She had her priorities straight: that’s for sure.  In fact, if we all were able to take time to chat with God at some time during our day, perhaps it wouldn’t seem sometimes as though we were trying to serve more than one master (cf Mt 6:24).  How many times I have found myself with what seems to be an overwhelming number of tasks, all of which need to be accomplished and for which there never seems to be enough time.  Yet, when I’m intentional about making time for prayer at the beginning of each day, all the things I need to do that day seem to get done, and I’m usually a lot happier too.

It’s interesting that just a few days before we begin the liturgical season of Lent, the scriptures remind us today that God is the one who comes looking for us, even before we are aware that we need him in our lives.  It happens from time to time that we think that the Lord has forsaken us or forgotten about us (cf Is 49:14), but the truth is that he will never forget us (cf Is 49:15).  He is always thinking about us, searching for us, waiting for us to come to him.

When we do, when we take even a little bit of time every day to be present to him and to listen for his guidance, he shows us all kinds of ways in which he is already close to all his beloved creatures.  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap, nor do they gather into barns, and yet our heavenly Father feeds them (Mt 6:26).  Someone who is unfamiliar with the practice of prayer will think these words to be rather strange indeed, but someone who is used to spending time in the presence of God will be able to appreciate these words as truth that is spoken from a place that is not human in its origin.

As we prepare for the celebration of Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of the Lenten season, let us remember the words of today’s gospel: Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet … even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these (Mt 6:28-29).  If we make a conscious effort to make time to be present to God at some point during our daily routine, he will always be willing to spend time with us, to reassure us that there is no need to be worried, but that all things will be well.

If anyone asks us to explain the reason why we insist on spending time in prayer each day, let us simply echo the words with which Saint Paul explained it to the community at Corinth: Think of it in this way: as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries, it is required of us that we be found trustworthy (1 Cor 4:1), and the way that we establish our reputation with God is through faithfulness to encountering him, to entering into conversation with him, to learning from him and to allowing him to instruct us in his ways.
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