Thursday, February 04, 2016

Herod, John and Jesus

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Herod was the one who had John arrested and bound in prison…  John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”  Herodias (Herod’s wife) harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so.  Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody.  When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him.  (Pleased with his daughter’s dance at his birthday party, Herod said he would grant her any wish.  Her mother told her to demand John the Baptist’s head on a platter.)  The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her.  So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head.   (Mark 6:17a, 18-20, 26-27)

O Lord, I want to follow in your footsteps.  Call me back when I wander.  Pick me up when I fall.  Let me ever be aware of your loving and merciful presence beside me.

I cannot read a word of New Testament Greek (or any other type, for that matter), but something I read in a commentary on this passage jumped out at me.  When Mark writes about Herod’s reaction to his daughter’s request for John’s head, he says “the king was deeply distressed.”  The Greek word perilupos, translated here as “deeply distressed,” is the same word that Mark uses later during Jesus’ agony in the garden when Jesus says to Peter, James and John, “My soul ‘is sorrowful’ even to death.” (Mk 14:34) Jesus’ overwhelming sorrow I can understand, but using the same word with reference to King Herod made me do a double take.  Maybe I should look again at this man who is usually vilified. 

Somehow I doubt Herod was a stranger to executions, so there must have been something very compelling about John the Baptist for such upset.  Perhaps Herod had the sense that this strange prophet he locked up actually knew what he was talking about.  Maybe Herod wanted to hear more about the One John said was coming.  Maybe John was one of the few who dared to speak openly and honestly to the King and Herod found that refreshing.  Or maybe in the wake of all these conversations, in that moment after he ordered the beheading, Herod saw himself for what he truly was – a weak man who indulged his wife even when he knew she was wrong, someone who partied too hard and got carried away, a sinner who had just signed the death warrant for the only person willing to tell him like it was, someone who had just destroyed his only chance for a better life.

Speaking truth to power is often dangerous.  The powerful don’t easily let go.  They don’t like feeling threatened.  John’s story is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ story.  Proclaim the Word, whether it’s the promise that someone greater is coming, or that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and someone feels threatened.
When Jesus invites us to come and follow him, sometimes I wonder if we have any clearer idea what we’re signing on for than did the first disciples.  Our culture encourages us to feel entitled, to believe that life should be fair or that if we “play by the rules,” we’ll be rewarded with earthly riches.  That’s the American “way.”  So, when adversity strikes, we get bent out of shape.  

Something’s wrong!  Maybe what’s wrong is our expectation.  Jesus is beckoning us to an adventure that transcends anything our culture offers.  Jesus is inviting us to follow in his footsteps, to take the way of the Cross.  There is no other route to Easter and the Resurrection.  He promises to be with us every inch of the way, but he doesn’t promise us an easier route than the one he walked.   

Lent is less than a week away.  It is worth taking the time now to prepare for how we will observe this season.  Lent is a time for examining how we are making the journey.  Are we following in Jesus’ footsteps or do we find ourselves taking detours, searching for an “easier” way?  As we make our way day by day, are we following Jesus’ example and touching those we meet with love, compassion and mercy?

There are many resources out there to aid us in our reflecting.  A dozen or more in the Ignatian tradition can be found at 

Take Nothing for the Journey but My Word

By Beth DeCristofaro

God's Garden blog at

When the time of David’s death drew near, he gave these instructions to his son Solomon: “I am going the way of all flesh. Take courage and be a man. Keep the mandate of the LORD, your God, following his ways and observing his statutes, commands, ordinances, and decrees as they are written in the law of Moses, that you may succeed in whatever you do, wherever you turn, and the LORD may fulfill the promise he made on my behalf  (1 Kings 2: 1-3)

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick … So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. (Mark 6:7, 12-13)

As You send me out every day of my life, Lord, renew my faith in your Word so that I, created in Your image, will be enough to bring Your light and healing to the world.  And on the day I go the way of all flesh, may I dwell in Your house forever.

St. Teresa was most likely not thinking of King David when she prayed “May you be blessed, Lord, who put up with me for so long.”  There were many contemporary leaders and her own sisters in community who God put up with in spite of their very active ways of doing it “my way.”  Knowing herself so well and the struggles she endured in her own journey of the spirit she undoubtedly spoke of herself as well.

David’s words and the actions of the Twelve inspire me to reach deeper into myself, into the well of faith given me by Christ.  David was a strong leader but a leader who was often and repeatedly driven by his own desires to the detriment of his subjects.  He continually strayed yet repented in true humility and recommitted to his God time and again.  Then at the time of his death he fully believed God’s promise.  He knew God’s word was everlasting.  In the Gospel, Jesus sent the Twelve out with nothing but the Word.  Their faith and their actions in His name were able to bring God’s promise to people in very direct and life-giving ways. 

As I struggle and hope to be a better wife, daughter, chaplain, Christian, Cursillista, citizen, may I remember God’s promise to me in the Everlasting love of Christ Jesus.  And may I renew my commitment to Him every day and on the day of my death.   

Picture yourself, staff in hand, walking with Jesus at your side.  He trusts you to be his healing, directing hands in the world.  What do you say to Him?  In what way do you recommit to Him?

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

You Yourself a Sword Will Pierce

By Melanie Rigney

Benvenuto Tisi (public domain),
via Wikimedia Commons.
Thus says the Lord God: Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; and suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord who you seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears? (Malachi 3:1-2)

Who is this king of glory? It is the Lord! (Psalm 24:8)

Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. (Hebrews 2:18)

… and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary (the child’s) mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)

Blessed Mother, may I learn from your example and focus on the graces provided by the Father today and always, confident He will care for me in the tough spots.

Put yourself in Mary’s shoes. You have just been through a most bewildering year or so: An angel appeared to you. You became pregnant without having been with a man. Your aging relative has given birth and said some pretty amazing things. You have married. You have given birth. And now, at the temple, a place that should provide peace and calm, a man sees your family, says he’s now ready to die because he’s seen salvation, blesses your family, and then makes a strange statement—that you too will be pierced by a sword.

What to make of it? What does Mary make of it? Did Mary think about Simeon’s prophecy daily, as Jesus learned to talk and walk and pray and play and work? We don’t know. After Jesus is twelve and the Holy Family goes to Jerusalem for Passover, the curtain in essence is draw over their lives until he begins his public ministry. For many of us, it would have been something always out on the horizon, something to contemplate and worry over from time to time, if not daily. What would this prophecy bring to a life already turned upside down?

While we don’t know for certain, I suspect this was one of the many things Mary pondered in her heart from time to time, but she didn’t let it keep her from loving and trusting in the Lord. She didn’t let it keep her from loving and caring for her family. She didn’t let it keep her from making friends and enjoying life. Why do I think this? The evidence is in Jesus. May we learn from her example, and get on with the Lord’s business even as we ponder the way He is working in our lives.

Is there a worry or past hurt that is taking up room in your soul? Have a chat with Momma Mary about it.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Look Upon My Affliction

“Perhaps the LORD will look upon my affliction and make it up to me with benefits for the curses he is uttering this day.” 2 Samuel 16:12

Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran up and prostrated himself before him, crying out in a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!” Mark 5:6-7

“Where there is no love, put love -- and you will find love.” St. Therese of the Little Flower (Some sources also attribute this to St. John of the Cross)

Mark’s Gospel is filled with stories of demons who recognize Jesus as the Son of God while those closest to Jesus fail to fully understand his nature. The Lord definitely looked upon their affliction and cured them of the possession (as David prayed for himself).

Sources explain that the man in Mark’s Gospel was an outcast from society, dominated by unclean spirits, living among the tombs. The prostration before Jesus indicates Jesus’ power – this time over evil spirits like in Mark 1:27:  “He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”

Ironically, as Jesus chased away the evil spirits, his fame spread.  When the people closest to Jesus realized what he was doing, his fame spread but not in a good way.  His fame would spread and lead to his trial, conviction and execution.

In fact, foreshadowing that, in today’s story, when the people realized what Jesus had done, they asked him to leave.  Jesus agreed but as he was departing, the man who had been cured asked to stay with Jesus.  Unlike the disciples who were called AWAY from their lives, this man was volunteering to join the ranks.  However, Jesus did not call him to stay in the company of the disciples.  Instead, Jesus asked him to stay among his own people and preach the Good News. The man obeyed.

“Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.” Mark 5:19

Jesus does not ask everyone to drop their current life to follow him.  For many, they can stay right where they are to evangelize their environment.  What is your environment?  How can you evangelize there? 

In his sermon Sunday at the Church of the Nativity in Burke, Fr. Bob Celinski quoted St. Therese of the Little Flower in this way:  “Where there is no love, put love -- and you will find love.”

Whatever your environment, if there is not love there, it is our job to plant those seeds. Just like Jesus put love in the tombs where the man was possessed by demons and David put love where he was being cursed, we are asked to put love out there so we and others will find it. If we do that for the Lord, then “perhaps the LORD will look upon our affliction and make it up to us with benefits.”

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Still More Excellent Way

By Beth DeCristofaro

The word of the LORD came to me, saying: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you … They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.  (Jeremiah 1:4, 19)

Brothers and sisters: Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. But I shall show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. (1 Corinthians 12:31, 13:1)

(Jesus said) Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away. (Luke 4:27-30)

Grant us, Lord our God that we may honor you with all our mind, and love everyone in truth of heart.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ, you Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. (Collect of the Mass of the Day)

Jesus’ fellow citizens did not appreciate his message but the Word is stronger than human perception, prejudice or shortsightedness.  Mohandas Gandhi, a Hindu, appreciated the message.  He said “Living Christ means a living Cross; without it life is a living death.” His life demonstrated the message of living love, emulating Jesus’ redemptive suffering.  As an activist against oppressive British rule in India, “he approached each campaign (of nonviolent resistance) as an ‘experiment in truth,’ an effort to realize God’s will on earth” In Gandhi God worked through a Gentile to model Christ’s “still more excellent” way.[i]

We live in such a violent culture.  Do we not hear as Jesus’ neighbors did not hear?  Are we prone to go with the crowd rather than persist and search the still more excellent way of love?  Read Church positions on violence in order to preach with action Jesus’ way of love, Jesus’ “still more excellent way” in your community.

[i] Give Us this Day: Daily Prayer for Today’s Catholic, Liturgical Press, January 2016, p. 308.

Saturday, January 30, 2016


David grew very angry with that man and said to him: “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this merits death! He shall restore the ewe lamb fourfold because he has done this and has had no pity.” 2 Samuel 5-6

Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified?”  Mark 4:38-40


Be still.
Be still and know.
Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)

Actions have consequences.  David learns the hard way when Nathan presents a test case. In the test, a powerful man takes advantage of his poor, helpless neighbor. Hearing the story, David is outraged and denounces the rich man—thus unwittingly pronouncing judgment on himself. “You are the [rich] man,” Nathan reveals.  Perhaps David should have learned from the wind and the stormy seas in today’s Good News.  Perhaps he should have been more humble and not passed judgement on his neighbor.  But he did and he fell right into Nathan’s rhetorical trap.

Just like David sentences the hypothetical rich man to pay restitution four times over for what he has done (“He shall restore the ewe lamb fourfold”), David will pay for his wanton adultery with the deaths of four of his sons.  The notes in the New American Bible teach us (remind us) what happens:  David’s judgment foreshadows the deaths of four of his own sons: the child born of his adulterous union with Bathsheba; Amnon (13:2829); Absalom (18:1519:1); and Adonijah (1 Kgs 2:2425).[i]

The disciples also learn that actions have consequences.  When they fear for their lives in the storm, Jesus commands the wind and the waves to be quiet.  Jesus not only rebukes nature, but he also rebukes his companions for expressing their lack of faith. Yet who among the loyal readers of Your Daily Tripod would not be afraid if we were in that boat, too?    

Jesus also sees how his actions have consequences.  The combination of silencing the demons in Mark 1 and calming the seas and storms here, are signs of Jesus’ power and presence.  It begins to reveal the Epiphany to his followers:  Who is this itinerant preacher?  For even though Jesus commands the people he heals to tell no one about his actions, they cannot keep from singing Jesus all the way to Good Friday. Yet it was the path he was on from the Annunciation. Indeed from when Adam took a bite at the apple.

If the winds and the seas and the demons obey Jesus, who are we to disobey?  Obedience and humility are the preferred actions and dispositions.

The Benedictine Sisters of Erie website presents a reflection by Sr. Joan Chittister on today’s second step of humility passage from the Rule of St. Benedict: 
The question, of course, is how do we recognize the Will of God? How do we tell the will of God from our own? How do we know when to resist the tide and confront the opposition and when to embrace the pain and accept the bitterness because "God wills it for us." The answer lies in the fact that the Jesus who said "I have come not to do my own will but the will of the One who sent me" is also the Jesus who prayed in Gethsemane, "Let this chalice pass from me:" The will of God for us is what remains of a situation after we try without stint and pray without ceasing to change it.[ii]

How do we know when to resist the tide of human opinion and act according to the will of God?  How do we know when to have faith that will get us through any storm?  How do we know God?  Maybe we have to get in the boat with him when the storms approach.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Don’t Live in a Glass House

By Colleen O’Sullivan

From the roof he saw a woman bathing, who was very beautiful.  David had inquiries made about the woman and was told, “She is Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, and wife of Joab’s armor bearer Uriah the Hittite.”  Then David sent messengers and took her.  When she came to him, he had relations with her… (Later she) sent the information to David, “I am with child.”  (David made two unsuccessful attempts to get Uriah to have relations with his wife and then directed Joab):  “Place Uriah up front where the fighting is fierce.  Then pull back and leave him to be struck down dead.”   (2 Samuel 11:2b-4b, 5b, 15b)

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me. (Psalm 51:3-4)

O Lord, when we sin, grace us with the humility to turn to you, to ask for forgiveness and, to the extent possible, to right what we have done wrong.

Breaking News Alert!!  Wealthy, admired world leader caught with his pants down!  Oh, I can just see how a story such as this one would play out on today’s news.  King forces himself upon wife of respected military man.  Out of wedlock pregnancy results.  Husband refuses to cooperate in cover-up.  King orders “accidental” death of wronged man. 

Adultery.  A child on the way.  Attempted entrapment.  Murder.   People would be eating it up, hungry for all the sordid details.  Earthquakes, wars, terrorist attacks, homeless refugees, starving millions – all would take a back seat, so intrigued are we with sordid stories such as King David’s.

But there are huge problems with our insatiable interest in the public downfall of the rich and famous.  In this instance, we totally ignore King David’s foil, Uriah the Hittite.  For sure, Nancy Grace would never do a show featuring Uriah, but he’s the one we ought to be showcasing.  He’s the “good guy.”  Like millions of other people we never hear about, he’s living a life of faith, loyalty, and integrity.  He knows that as long as his comrades are on the battlefield, he can’t allow himself the comforts of his own bed and his wife.  That’s just not done.  The viewing public might never tune in to hear his story, but Uriah’s the person trying to live the way God wants each of us to live, true to our faith, beliefs and values.

Second, we’re like people who live in glass houses.  We’re avidly following each episode of David’s downfall, inwardly agreeing that he should lose his crown, his honorary degrees and be stripped of any awards received.  It’s almost as though we’re enjoying saying, “Crucify him, crucify him!” But stop and think for a moment.  Is that how you and I want to be treated?  Of course, King David had access to power and the trappings of wealth that none of us will ever have.  But stripped to the basics, how different are his actions from ours?  We know what is right, but we find ourselves giving in to temptation time and again.  (Remember Paul lamenting doing the evil he had no intention of participating in?)  Many of us then try to cover up the situation with lies and more wrongdoing.  It’s what we humans have been doing since we were created, sinning, trying to fix it ourselves, making a worse mess of things, all without turning to the only one who can forgive us – our God.

The only remedy for those who have sinned and those of us cold-heartedly enjoying the sinners’ discomfort is to pray the words of the psalmist, “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness.”  I have sinned.  Have compassion on me, and make me clean again, O Loving God.

If there is anything in your life that needs God’s forgiveness, just turn to the Lord.  As Pope Francis reminds us every day, our God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in mercy.”  (Psalm 145:8)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Who Am I? I am Your Child

By Beth DeCristofaro

After Nathan had spoken to King David, the king went in and sat before the LORD and said, “Who am I, Lord GOD, and who are the members of my house that you have brought me to this point? Yet even this you see as too little, Lord GOD; you have also spoken of the house of your servant for a long time to come:  this too you have shown to man, Lord GOD!  (2 Samuel: 18-19)

The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you. To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. (Mark 4:24-25)

A lamp to my feet is your word, a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)

King David’s humble prayer after he is told by Nathan not to build a temple because God intends to build a temple of David’s lineage reminds me of the beautiful words in Psalm 8:

What is man that you are mindful of him, and a son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than a god, crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him rule over the works of your hands, put all things at his feet (Psalm 8:5-7)

God’s love is so boundless that we can’t really grasp it.  “Me, Lord?”  “Yes, you, my Child” God says.  Jesus’ declaration reverberates in our souls.  However Jesus’ words make me wonder just what I give away or fail to see.  Absolutely I have been given much in “measurement” and gifts.  God doesn’t tease by removing them from me.  But without humility, confidence and expectation in God’s generosity I can’t grasp God’s grace freely offered that allows me to accept and make use of them.  I can’t be the light on the lampstand without allowing God to light my wick as He sees fit and to burn brightly according to His will.  Pretty awesome promise God makes to me as he made to David.

It’s been a really long time since I’ve read anything at all by St. Thomas Aquinas.  A very long time!  Consider spending some time with this light to our path (as he said in the intro to the Summa Theologica: “we purpose in this book to treat of whatever belongs to the Christian religion, in such a way as may tend to the instruction of beginners.” (Thomistic Philosophy Page.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

On Rich Soil

I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you: when your days have been completed and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, sprung from your loins, and I will establish his kingdom. He it is who shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. 2 Samuel 7:11B-14A

And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit. It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” He added, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.” Mark 4:8-9

But I will not take my mercy from him, nor will I betray my bond of faithfulness.  I will not violate my covenant; the promise of my lips I will not alter.

What has the Lord done for David?  What message is being delivered today? 

According to the notes in the New American Bible: 
The message Nathan delivers to David, called the Dynastic Oracle, is prompted by David’s intention to build a house (i.e., a temple) for the Lord, like David’s own house (i.e., palace) of cedar. David is told, in effect, not to bother building a house for the Lord; rather, the Lord will make a house for him—a dynasty, the House of David. Not only will he have descendants who will sit upon the throne of Israel, their rule will last forever; and even if they transgress the Lord’s commands, the line of David will never be removed from kingship as Saul was. The oracle establishes the Davidic king as standing in relationship to the Lord as a son to a father.[i]

David went from the pasture where he was watching over the sheep to become ruler of all the people of Israel.    Not only had the Lord raised up his station in life, but also that Moreover, the LORD “declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you” not the other way around. 

Previously, the idea was that the promise of the throne would be dependent upon faithfulness:  “If your sons observe my covenant, and my decrees I shall teach them, their sons, in turn, shall sit forever on your throne.”  (Psalm 132:12)  However, the Lord provides an unconditional promise to provide for David no matter what.  This unconditional love is reflected in Psalm 88: 34-35: But I will not take my mercy from him, nor will I betray my bond of faithfulness.  I will not violate my covenant; the promise of my lips I will not alter.

Down through European history, the Divine Right of the King was contingent upon having a blessing from God.  However, this concept gave way to the consent of the governed, the basis for modern governments like ours, which derive power from the people.  Such a blessing is not reserved for the King alone.  Jesus brought about a church founded upon the notion that every one of us are baptized priest, prophet and king in the line David.  As siblings of Christ, we are the inheritors of this unconditional promise of love. 

The sower sows the word.
These are the ones on the path where the word is sown.
As soon as they hear, Satan comes at once
and takes away the word sown in them.
And these are the ones sown on rocky ground who,
when they hear the word, receive it at once with joy.
But they have no roots; they last only for a time.
Then when tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
they quickly fall away.
Those sown among thorns are another sort.
They are the people who hear the word,
but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches,
and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word,
and it bears no fruit.
(Mark 4:14-19)

The image has shifted from the shepherd in the Hebrew Bible to the farmer in the Good News.  Neither are particularly royal.  What elevates the simple people to royalty is hearing and acting upon the gift of the Word.  “But those sown on rich soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:20)

Blessed so abundantly, what are we to do?  How will we react?

What are you doing with the abundant, unconditional blessing you get from the Lord?  That blessing may appear as the children in the neighborhood who help shovel your snow or as riches of time and talents and treasure that we are given that we pay to charities to share with those who really need help. If we get love unconditional, we must give love unconditional.  That, I think, is one of the lessons Pope Francis is trying to drive home in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. The mystery is revealed to us through the parables and through the gift of faith.

The seed is the Word of God.  Christ is the sower.  The fruit of our lives is the action that grows up from our hearing the Word.  Will we react as see that falls on rich soil?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Whoever Does the Will of God

By William Hole [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons 

By Melanie Rigney

I yearn to see you again, recalling your tears, so that I may be filled with joy, as I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and that I am confident lives also in you. (2 Timothy 1:4-5)

Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations. (Psalm 96:3)

A crowd seated around (Jesus) told him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:32-35)

Lord, I thank You for my brothers and sisters, every single one of them.

Ah, family.

How blessed Timothy was to have the faith-filled examples of his grandmother and mother, examples that also inspired Paul.

How blessed we all are for Mary’s fiat, her yes when called upon to offer up her body as the dwelling place for the Lord’s only Son.

Today’s Gospel reading from Mark 3 sounds a bit cold at first read. Jesus seems to deny Mary and his own extended family. But on further reflection, this may be among the most comforting readings in the New Testament. It doesn’t matter where you come from, Jesus in essence says, whether your parents were saints or sinners, faithful followers of the Lord or atheists, pillars of the community or scum. What matters is your obedience and love.

It helps immensely to be guided and bolstered by the support and example of faith-filled family and community. But truly, even those of us from the smallest, vilest, least impressive beginnings have a place at the banquet table. The invitation is offered to all. It’s up to us to have the courage and faith to accept it.

Are you judging someone based on his or her family background, education, national origin, faith background, or socioeconomic status? Pray for that person tonight with the same love and intensity that you do for the dearest members of your family.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

What Shall I Do, Sir?

“I asked, ‘What shall I do, sir?’ The Lord answered me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told about everything appointed for you to do.’”  Acts 22:10

Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages.  Mark 16:15-17

Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gift which we are about to receive from your bounty to our table through Christ, our Lord (and Chef Laval).

Our faith is contingent upon two equal forces: listening and acting.  The readings this week drive home that point.  Just yesterday, Jesus in the Synagogue told his neighbors that the scripture was fulfilled in their hearing.  Once we hear, we are sent out of the synagogue to begin the work and deliver the Good News.

Go. Proclaim.  Believe.  Baptize. Drive.  Save.  Speak.

Delivery of the “glad tiding to the poor,” is not something we can do in words alone. It takes “work” combined with “words” to fulfill the promise of the Kingdom.  Just like Jesus was present to the disciples and to the poor, we have to be present as well.

Today, I got an e-mail message from Fr. John Adams at SOME.  During the Jonas Blizzard of 2016, the weather forecast was not glad tidings for the poor.  The cold and snow invaded their open-air bedrooms.  The poor sought shelter inside at places like the SOME dining room.  While the power brokers in the city closed down the government to make way for the snow and the plows, the workers and volunteers who fuel the work of SOME and Matha’s Table and the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House and other programs could not sleep in. The doors had to be opened.  The meals had to be prepared.  The breakfast and lunch had to be served. 

I will let Fr. John’s Epistle to the Virginians pick up the story…

Before 5 am, SOME’s Dining Room Chef, Laval, opened his front door and was greeted with a wall of snow. 

After a few stumbles and some digging, he was in a borrowed 4WD vehicle on his way to open the Dining Room. 

In other parts of the city, fellow staff members and volunteers were braving the storm, on foot and in trucks, to make it in to SOME. 

Chef Laval and his team started whipping up eggs, sausage, grits, hot chocolate and coffee.

To serve to hungry guests waiting in the Dining Room and making their way down O Street outside.

Thanks to Laval, Mike, Ray, Kristi, Lynette, Terrance, Yvette, Carthell and the other SOME staff members and volunteers whose dedication embodies our mission.

After all, their spirit embodies and inspires our mission as well, no? 

What Shall I Do, Sir?  Get up and go into Fairfax, and Arlington and Alexandria and Washington, and Manassas and Falls Church. Drive out the demon of hunger or homelessness or loneliness.  This is not just Jesus’ mission and Laval’s mission. It is everyone’s mission.  This is your mission. To whom will you appear today?  Who will you be feeding today?

(If you are snowed in, you can always support SOME with a gift made via their website).

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Fulfilled in Your Hearing

“Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep”— for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. He said further: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our LORD. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!” Nehemiah 8:9B-10

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.  1 Corinthians 12:27

He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”  Luke 4:16C-21

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”  (Teresa of Ávila)

All this prophesying but not a word about the future.  Each reading today is in the present tense. 

Nehemiah is the central figure of the Book of Nehemiah, which describes his work in rebuilding Jerusalem during the Second Temple period. He was governor of Persian Judea under Artaxerxes I of Persia.  That places his life in the five hundred years before Christ was born. Yet he is not preaching about a heaven in some far off distant time and space.  He is preaching in the present moment to his congregation.  “Today is holy to the LORD your God.”  Sharing with the poor is central to celebrating the strength that they get from the Lord.

Jesus, too, was not taking a futuristic approach to the Kingdom.  Although he reached back to the prophet Isaiah, seven centuries earlier.  Yet, in conclusion, Jesus preaches fulfillment in the here and now when people hear the words now. “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” 

However, the people did not accept the words Jesus preached.  In fact, this very preaching in his hometown directly led to his rejection.  This is the last we see of Jesus in Nazareth.  Yet the manifesto he delivered perfectly outlined his mission and public ministry.  However, that ministry would be marked by a relationship with the poor to whom he preached Good News. 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  Tidings is an old-fashioned word for good news. If someone says "I bring you good tidings!" it means they have information to share that you'll probably like. Glad tidings is “good news to the poor.”  The relationship Jesus had with the rich and powerful was, for the most part, bad news.  Just ask Divas, the rich man who ignored Lazarus at the gate and was left begging for water for eternity.

This first sermon in the temple gives people the assurance that they would be healed, that their sins would be forgiven, that their debts would be cancelled in a Jubilee Year.  Jesus offers a new beginning, a new life, to those who would listen and act upon his word. Yet most preferred to act upon their own words, not the words of the Lord.

The people in the temple who heard this Nazareth Manifesto certainly acted – just not upon it.  They acted against it.  They rejected it outright and attempted to through Jesus off a cliff.  They tried to fulfill the Buddhist maxim, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” They cannot because the spirit of the Lord is upon Jesus.  It is only when Jesus commands his spirit to return to the Father that his life ends – of his own choice.  As long as the spirit of the Lord is upon him, no one can kill him.

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)

What leads to the rejection?  A comparison of Luke 4 to Isaiah 61 gives us a hint.  In Isaiah 61 2B, we can clearly see that Jesus left out a line.  He skipped the part about revenge: “a day of vindication by our God.”  The people in the temple were waiting for a powerful King who would rise up and expel the belligerent Romans from their land.  But that is not the new Jesus delivered.  He delivered everything else they expected from Isaiah – except Jesus drew the line at vindication.  With that, he changed everything.

If we are part of Christ’s body, perhaps the two most important parts are…our ears.  Because unless and until we actually hear the word here, we cannot be Christian.  That is not to minimize our hearts and minds, nor our arms and legs.  We can use all of those for the wrong reason.  We can all answer the “What am I to do?” question differently.  However, Jesus gets pretty specific. 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon YOU because the Lord has anointed YOU to bring the good news to the poor. The Lord sends YOU to free those captives of sin and to open the eyes of people who are blind to the plight of the poor around them.  The Lord commands you to help those who are addicted to any sin and open their eyes to a life free from what controls and oppresses them, reach out to the downtrodden, the oppressed and afflicted, the forgotten and the neglected and to proclaim a Jubilee year of mercy and forgiveness acceptable to the Lord.

While our ears are the most important part for the first step on the journey, our hands and hearts and minds quickly overtake the ears – once the ears do their job. Because the rest of your body has to take over.  You are all that is left to bring that good news to the world.