Friday, September 04, 2015

Faith Firmly Grounded


God has now reconciled you in the fleshly Body of Christ through his death, to present you holy, without blemish, and irreproachable before him, provided that you persevere in the faith, firmly grounded, stable, and not shifting from the hope of the Gospel that you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, am a minister.  Colossians 1:22-23
 
Jesus said to them in reply, “Have you not read what David did when he and those who were with him were hungry? How he went into the house of God, took the bread of offering, which only the priests could lawfully eat, ate of it, and shared it with his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”  Luke 6:3-5

Piety
I danced in the morning when the world was young 
I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun
I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth

Dance, dance, wherever you may be
I am the lord of the dance, said he
And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance, said he

I danced for the scribes and the Pharisees
They wouldn't dance, they wouldn't follow me
I danced for the fishermen James and John
They came with me so the dance went on 
(“Lord of the Dance” by Sydney Carter)

Study
St. Luke retells many of the same stories that we hear in the other two synoptic Gospels.  However, rather than ending stories with symbolic
parables left open to interpretation, Jesus ends these stories with definitive declarations.  After reading the Nazareth Manifesto from Isaiah in the temple, Jesus proclaimed, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”  Today, we hear another Great Proclamation:  “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

The apparent meaning overrules much of ancient Mosaic Law.  Jesus argues that satisfying human needs such as hunger and performing works of mercy take precedence even over the rules dictating how to commemorate the sacred sabbath rest.  The law was NEVER meant to keep hungry people hungry.  This also goes beyond the literal interpretation and the way of thinking at the time.  Jesus cannot profane the Sabbath.  Jesus is the Sabbath!

Jesus sees the Sabbath as a gift from God to humanity – something to be of service to us.[i]  The idea of the Sabbath to me is that’s when we are supposed to set aside everything that gets in the way and surrender our egos to God’s presence.  Jesus is that gift of God’s presence.

Why does this matter?  The Sabbath was everything to the Jewish people.  Life and worship revolved around preparing for the sundown and behavior that was reserved for the sabbath or forbidden during the Sabbath.  Now we learn that this peripatetic preacher equates himself with the sabbath.  A whole new life and world will emerge when this Proclamation sinks in. The Pharisees and scribes no longer call the shots.  Love calls the shots.  What Jesus said in the temple, on the plain, on the side of the mountain and on the banks of the river, brings new meaning and new life to his people. Without blemish.  Nothing comes in the way of this Word.  It is…Irreproachable.  Firmly Grounded.  Not shifting from hope.

Jesus is the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Him.  Not through the Pharisees.  Not through the Romans.  Not through the temple.  Not through the family.  Only through faith, firmly grounded in Jesus.

Action
Is the Sabbath everything to us? The role of Great Proclaimer did not end on the Cross.  We are now the Sabbath-keepers (and lighthouse keepers).  St. Paul urges our obedience to Christ in faith and begins to point to his own role as minister, sufferer, and proclaim-er of this gospel.  Those roles now come to us.  As one writer put it:

In today’s society the Sabbath is hard to keep, because there are so many demands on our time, so many expectations on the part of others that we be available for them 24/7.  And the consequences of breaking the Sabbath appear to be small.  But they’re not.  As CS Lewis once said, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”  Sabbath-keeping is how we prepare for that.

Who is leading you in the Dance?  How do you measure up…like a Pharisee or like James and John and Peter?  Christ is counting on you.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Called to the New


By Colleen O’Sullivan

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God.  (Colossians 1:15a)

And (Jesus) also told them a parable.  “No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one.  Otherwise, he will tear the new and the piece from it will not match the old cloak.  Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins.  Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined.  Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins.  And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”  (Luke 5:36-39)

Piety
Open my heart, Lord
Help me to love like You
Open my heart Lord
Help me to love.
(from Open My Eyes, Lord, Jesse Manibusan)

Study
You’d think the Pharisees would get tired of trying to entrap Jesus, but they’re like Energizer Bunnies on that score.  They’re back again, this time asking Jesus why his disciples don’t fast like they do.  Why don’t they follow the law like we do?  Jesus talks about the bridegroom being with the disciples and asks who would fast while a celebration was underway.  There will be plenty of time for that later.  I doubt the Pharisees had the slightest inkling what Jesus was talking about.

Basically, Jesus is doing something new.  And, by way of two parables, he makes the point that the old and the new don’t go together very well.  Take a brand new piece of cloth and use it as a patch on an old garment and see what happens.  First of all, it’s not going to be pleasing to the eye.  Second, if you’ve ever sewn anything from scratch, you know that you have to preshrink some materials and straighten them before you do anything else.  Leave those steps out and whatever you’re creating will shrink and not hang straight.  So, your new patch may shrink and, as it does, pull on the old cloth till it tears.  In a similar fashion, Jesus outlines why new wine and old goatskins don’t go together.  The old skins are dry.  As the wine ages and ferments, it expands, but the skins don’t, and you end up losing both a goatskin and some wine.
Jesus finishes his story about wine by saying that most people prefer the old to the new.

And that takes us right back to the Pharisees.  It’s a whole lot easier to continue the old way of checking off all the prescribed rituals than to open one’s heart to all that Jesus says and does.  But maybe Jesus is speaking to you and me as well, because sometimes we practice our faith as though ticking off items like going to Mass, taking the kids to CCD, etc., on a checklist is all we need to do.  The truth is Jesus wants every bit of us, especially our hearts.  He hopes we will be open to new things, will be willing to have our hearts stretched, and will be gradually conformed to his image. 

We were created in God’s image, and Paul says that “Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God.”  Growing into that image is what our faith journey is all about, the lifelong process of becoming friends with Jesus; acknowledging that God is Lord of all, no matter how often we may act to the contrary; living for others; being generous, kind, merciful and forgiving; being willing to step out of our comfort zones to help the poor and any other of the modern-day “lepers” who exist on the fringes of society.

Action
Where in your life do you feel this gradual conforming to the image of Christ taking place?  Do you sense God seeking to stretch you in any way, maybe calling you to try something new?  Do you find yourself wanting to cling to the old sometimes?   Talk it all over with Jesus in prayer.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Freedom of Spirit


By Beth DeCristofaro

Brothers and sisters: … we do not cease praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, so as to be fully pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10)

When Simon Peter saw (the boats filled with fish), he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” … Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:8-10)

Piety
Lord grant me the grace to have freedom of the spirit.
Cleanse my heart and soul so I may live joyously in Your love. (www.sacredspace.ie)

Study
In this passage, Peter began his interaction with Jesus clarifying that “we’ve already done that” when Jesus asked him to put his nets out again in deep water. However he then agreed and was rewarded so richly that he fell to his knees in humility, awe and acceptance. I wonder if he later remembered this scene at a time when he could not speak to his Lord and admit his doubt and pride. When Peter denied Jesus he crept away, weeping bitterly over the betrayal.

On both occasions, however, Jesus’ action is not to chastise Peter but to call him into deeper relationship and offer even more challenging service. I wonder if Jesus saw in Peter’s willingness to admit his sinfulness and face Jesus in regret and friendship that Peter would be open to seeing and forgiving the same attributes in men and women for which Peter, the Rock, would later fish? Peter’s weakness caused him to know he must – he could only - rely on Jesus. Did he know that was the same for our spiritual growth?

Sometimes we confuse forgiveness with forgetting. Jesus forgave but did not forget. He allowed Peter to be forged by acceptance, confession and reconciliation of his sins. Perhaps we can also see that when we are wronged, our forgiveness can stem from the knowledge of our own sinfulness and desire for forgiveness. Forgiveness frees our spirit and allows us to seek justice, right wrongs, admonish and model with a free spirit, living joyously in Jesus’ love. We need to start on our own knees in front of the Lord and then, at his merciful invitation, get up, leave our sins behind and follow him.

Action
Pope Francis reminds us, with such elation in his message, what Peter discovered: the immense mercy of God. Pope Francis tells us that the embarrassment, the shame, we feel as we enter the confessional “is a grace which prepares us for the embrace of the Father who always forgives and always forgives everything.” And as an enthusiastic child said as he experienced the Sacrament: “It feels like having really, really clean teeth!” Take time soon for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and be newly freed in Spirit. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2Ks2APOg60

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Love in the Spirit


Of this you have already heard through the word of truth, the Gospel, that has come to you. Just as in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing, so also among you, from the day you heard it and came to know the grace of God in truth, as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow slave, who is a trustworthy minister of Christ on your behalf and who also told us of your love in the Spirit. Colossians 1:5B-8

After Jesus left the synagogue, he entered the house of Simon. Simon’s mother-in-law was afflicted with a severe fever, and they interceded with him about her. He stood over her, rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up immediately and waited on them.  Luke 4:38-39

Piety
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant me in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in my heart through faith; that I, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that I may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all, I ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.  (Ephesians 3:14-21 modified into Augustinian prayer)

Study
From the seminary to the sanctuary…from the sanctuary to the streets.  Jesus shows us that the Word of God is meant to be brought into the world.  Just as he was physically reborn in the world, we have to be reborn in the spirit of God.

Simon’s mother-in-law was reborn when she was cured of her fever.  Then the people flocked to Jesus for a cure.  Yet after this active ministry, Jesus needed to recharge his battery and retreated to a deserted place. 

That got me wondering…after having been to a few Myers-Briggs Type workshops, what was Jesus’ type?  First, introverts can function in the world but they need some down-time to decompress.  So, although we often see Jesus preaching to the crowds, he gets a lot of time alone in prayer.  I think this indicates that Jesus is an INTROVERT.  Others might make the case that Jesus was an extrovert.  Jesus also had a very small, selective group of friends – not just the twelve disciples but also Mary, Martha, Lazarus and a few others. 

According to one website:
“Jesus based his life on idealism in the world based on his set of morals that were seem as a step ahead of his time. He wanted to teach these morals to others, and he was regarded as compassionate, concerned with the people…He was also a strong judging type, having a strong set of principles he encouraged everyone to follow and seeing justice as important- but doing so in a way that isn’t too cold hearted.”[i]

Jesus also can be described as “highly focused and serious in his goals. He is a visionary type that is seeking to fulfill these goals with little time for other external activities that does not help him spread the word of the God.”

Thus one writer-blogger concludes that Jesus is an INFJ.  Another says that Jesus balances all types.  “As a fully mature person, was both extrovert and introvert, both sensing and intuitive, both thinking and feeling, both judging and perceiving, depending upon the situation.  The more mature and Christ-like we become, the more balanced we become in the use of all four attitudes and all four functions.” [ii]

What do you think? 

Action
What is your MBTI type and how does that drive your spirituality and prayer life? 

According to the book Prayer and Temperament, Benedictine prayer (Lectio Divina) is appropriate across all types.  In my case (INFP), in addition, the authors point out that my personality type also gravitates toward Augustinian prayer.

Named in honor of St. Augustine -- who developed rules of spirituality for the monks and convents in North Africa. The key word in this style is “projection,” or using creative imagination to transpose scripture to today's situation.  They say this is especially used by NF's who are usually creative, optimistic, verbal, persuasive, outspoken, writers and speakers; good listeners, counselors, conflict resolvers and peacemakers. Handling negative criticism is difficult for NFs, but they blossom under affirmation. For us, prayer is a discourse with God, not just an interior castle or a passive receptacle.[iii]  This type also is connected with St. Luke.  The NF type is person-oriented, showing Jesus’ great compassion for sinners, women, and outcasts.

For a little insight into your own personality and type, look for Prayer and Temperament: Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types by Chester P. Michael and Marie C. Norrisey in a library near you.


Monday, August 31, 2015

Build One Another Up


By Melanie Rigney

For God did not destine us for wrath, but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live together with him. Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do. (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11)

I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living. (Psalm 27:13)

In the synagogue there was a man with the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out in a loud voice, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down in front of them and came out of him without doing him any harm. (Luke 4:33-35)

Piety
Dante Gabriel Rossetti [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Lord, thank You for the souls you place in my path that remind me of Your goodness here on earth.

Study
I needed to make a change. The situation had provided joy and support off and on for years, but the time had come to change. And, as you know, change, even for the right reasons, is difficult. I prayed on it. I discussed it in vague terms with a close friend. But I dallied, looking for a sign, halfway hoping it wouldn’t come.

Then in the early spring, a cousin whom I hadn’t heard from for years other than Christmas cards started a daily email exchange with me. We wrote about family memories, illnesses, rock and roll… and faith. It didn’t take long for her notes to be a big part of my daily formation.

About six weeks later, I was leaving a retreat when a fellow retreatant, who knew nothing of all this, said the Lord had a message for me: He desired that I move to a higher slope. I thought a lot about that on the long ride home. I made the change, hard as it was, starting the next day. That was nearly four months ago, and with God’s grace, I’m still on track, bolstered by time with my confessor.

Since that time, I’ve emailed just twice with the fellow retreatant. As for my cousin—she died in July.

I tell you all this not to get a bunch of “atta-girl” responses or to hold myself up as some poster child of virtue. I tell you this because, as Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, encouraging and building each other up is a big part of living with and seeing Christ in this world and preparing for the next. Often, our most important ministries are to those we love and see every day. But every once in a while, that love and support and building up comes from complete strangers or from people we seldom see. May we recognize His goodness in all of them—and reflect it where we’re called to.

Action
As you go about your day, make a list of the people who encourage you. Pray for them this evening.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Upon Me


For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

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.  Luke 4:16C-20

Piety
Rule of St. Benedict Chapter 73: On the Fact That the Full Observance of Justice Is Not Established in This Rule
Now we have written this Rule in order that by its observance in monasteries we may show that we have attained some degree of virtue and the rudiments of the religious life…Whoever you are, therefore, who are hastening to the heavenly homeland, fulfill with the help of Christ this minimum Rule which we have written for beginners; and then at length under God's protection you will attain to the loftier heights of doctrine and virtue which we have mentioned above.

Study
Last week, I was standing in Arlington National Cemetery for the internment of Master Chief Petty Officer James L. Gates, Sr.  His son was my college roommate.  The Navy Centennial Guard Band played "Come Holy Spirit" as the ashes of the deceased were transferred to the caisson.  (Attempting to) Listen to the readings (above the sound of jets taking off from National Airport, watching the family on this beautiful summer day, hearing the bugle and the 21 rounds fired off, witnessing the sailor kneel before Mrs. Gates to quietly and somberly present her with the three-sided, folded flag.  Who could not be moved? 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”  Luke 4:18A (Isaiah 61:1) 

The whole passage is rich with piety, study and action.  The complete citation of what some call “the Nazareth Manifesto” outlines a plan of action rooted in faith in the Spirit and based upon study of the Hebrew Bible/Isaiah.  To me, it also is important what the Lord leaves out of this reading in the temple.  The scroll he unrolled also would have included the line: “and a day of vindication by our God.”  Our peace-seeking, peace-loving Brother Jesus would have turned his back on any mark of vengeance.  And that omission might have been what started the locals to rise up against him.

The focus then is not on what’s in it for me (vengeance against the belligerent, occupying Roman army) but rather what service-action-love is in this for the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed.  Luke/Jesus also focus on what is in it for the Lord – that our fasting, almsgiving and prayer are acceptable.

Today also draws to a close the thrice annual cycle of readings from the Rule of St. Benedict.  In monasteries around the world, tomorrow, the page will turn back to the prologue.  The focus of this closing is that wherever we are headed, we go there with the help of Christ.  The spirit of the Lord is upon our journey. 

Action
As we move into September, we will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.  Through our Cursillo example of piety, study and action, the tender mercy of our God is upon us.  He comes down from on high to shine on those who sit in darkness in order to provide the words, wisdom and rules to guide our feet into the path of peace.

When His spirit is upon us, the responsibility also is upon us to guide others to where we are led.

God’s Garden: The Heart


By Colleen O’Sullivan

(Moses said:) “Observe (the commandments of the Lord, your God) carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’  For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?”  (Deuteronomy 4:6-7)

Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.  Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this:  to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  (James 1:21b-22, 27)

(Jesus said to the Pharisees:)  “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.  You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” (Mark 7:6-8)

Piety
I will plant my law within them, and write it upon their hearts.  (Jeremiah 31:33b)

Study
In our first Scripture reading, Moses tells the Israelites that the law is such a wonderful gift from God that other nations will envy them for having a God who is so close to them. 

As we move along to the time of the prophet Jeremiah, we hear God’s promise to inscribe the law upon our very hearts. 

In the second reading today, James reminds us that everything good comes from God, including the word that has been planted in our hearts.  He admonishes us not merely to listen to the word within us but to be doers of that word.  A pure expression of that word is to care for the most helpless among us (the widows and orphans in his day) and to refrain from allowing the world to color our lives.

Mark, in his Gospel, relates another confrontation with the Pharisees, this time over the disciples’ not performing the ritual washing of their hands before eating.  By Jesus’ day there was a ritual for purifying almost anything you could think of.  In response, Jesus quotes Isaiah and tells the Pharisees that while they pay lip service to God, their hearts are distant.  Much of what they call the law comes from human beings rather than God, yet the Pharisees accord it all the same importance.

As I pondered these Scripture readings, I kept thinking about how everything spiritually important happens in our hearts.  It’s almost as if our hearts are God’s garden.  The law is inscribed there.  The word of the Lord has been planted and seeks to bloom and grow.  Because of original sin, there are also always seeds of sin waiting to sprout – the evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance and folly Jesus mentions to the Pharisees at the close of today’s Gospel verses.

Our job is to tend the garden within us, to make sure that the Word flourishes, flowers and fills the space within our hearts with Truth, beauty, goodness, compassion, and generosity.  We have to constantly water it, nourish it, and keep it weeded.  When our gardens are then overflowing with blossoms, we are asked to share that abundance with those living at the margins of society in our world. 

In order to cultivate this sort of garden, we need to be close to the Master Gardener.  We can read and study God’s word in the Scriptures.  We can become close friends with God through prayer.  Studying Scripture and becoming familiar with the Word made flesh help the good things in our garden to grow.  If we don’t do this, there are always all those other seeds just waiting to germinate, sprout and take over like kudzu.

Action
Take a few minutes today to visualize the garden that is your heart.  Do you picture what God has placed within your heart as flowers, shrubs, fruit trees, or something else?  How do you think your garden looks?  Is it filled to overflowing with good things or have some of those other seeds taken hold?  However it looks, what do you need to do to take good care of it?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

What Shall I Ask For?


On the subject of fraternal charity you have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another. Indeed, you do this for all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Nevertheless we urge you, brothers and sisters, to progress even more, and to aspire to live a tranquil life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your own hands, as we instructed you.  1 Thessalonians 4:9-11

The king said to the girl, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.” He even swore many things to her, “I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”  Mark 6:22B-24A

Piety
Chapter 71: That the Brethren Be Obedient to One Another
Not only is the boon of obedience to be shown by all to the Abbot, but the brethren are also to obey one another, knowing that by this road of obedience they are going to God. 

Study
“Ask and you shall receive.”  We have been exposed to that popular maxim from the Bible throughout our lives.  So when Herod promises the birthday girl anything she wants, what goes wrong?

Lots…but if we put the bottom line up front, the answer is later in Mark’s writing:  (Mark 24) “Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours.

Clearly, the young girl did not ask in prayer.  If so, she would have asked in humility for world peace, a cure for cancer, or for everybody to just get along with each other.  The request was not even hers but it was her mother’s request to get the nuisance of a prophet out of the way so she could marry the King.  The request also was everything that prayer should not be.  It was selfish.  It was vengeful.  It was violent.  It was not authentic. It was not offered in the spirit of charity and obedience that is the hallmark of the Rule of St. Benedict which I have been foisting upon you almost daily since the cycle began in May.

Action
As a counter balance to the selfishness of Herod’s wife and daughter, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians gives us a bite on the apple of action:  Love one another but progress even more, and to aspire to live a tranquil life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your own hands. 

This might have been a simple message two thousand years ago.  Today, too often, the work of our hands is in typing and commerce and driving.  What else can your hands do today for someone else?  Hardworking hands deserve support. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Waiting Like Christians


By Colleen O’Sullivan

This is the will of God, your holiness: that you refrain from immorality.  (I Thessalonians 4:3)

“At midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him!’  Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.  The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you.  Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’  While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.  Then the door was locked.  Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’  Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  (Matthew 25:6-13)

Piety
Rabbi Eliezer said: Repent one day before your death.  His students asked him, ‘Does a person know when his day of death will occur?’  He answered them, ‘Then he should repent today, perhaps he will die tomorrow!  Thus, all his days will be full of repentance!
(from the Talmud as quoted in Torah With Morrie #4: Live Like You're Dying)

Study
Endings come when we least expect them.  Sometimes they are all too abrupt.  I doubt a single person who lost his or her life on September 11, 2001, whether in the air, at the Pentagon or in one of the World Trade Center buildings, got out of bed that morning feeling like this is it, this will be my last day on earth.   Other times endings are so delayed that we forget we’re waiting for something.  The Christians in Matthew’s day believed that Jesus would come back for them at any moment.  The more time went by with no sign of Jesus’ return, the more lax they became about living Christ-like lives. 

There’s no getting around it; waiting can be difficult.  However, in the grand scheme of things, we are not running the show.  God is.  We have waited for centuries for his Son to return.  Maybe he’ll come back tomorrow.  On the other hand, maybe people millennia from now will still be waiting.  It’s not for us to know.

Our Scripture readings today are about how to live our lives while we wait.  Paul and Matthew assume that we’re waiting with the genuine expectation that Christ will return at the end of time.  The apostle Paul reminds the Thessalonians to live holy lives as they wait.  In today’s verses from his first letter to them, he specifically talks about living moral lives with regard to sexuality.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the bridesmaids.  Five of them came prepared with lamps and extra oil so that when the bridegroom arrived for the wedding, they could light his way.  Five of them forgot the extra oil.  The bridegroom took so long to show up that they all fell asleep.  When he finally got there, the girls who’d thought ahead refused to share their oil with the others.  So, the five unprepared girls went out in search of lamp oil and spent so much time doing that that they found themselves locked out of the festivities upon their return.   The message is clear that we should always be prepared, but this parable leaves me with a few questions:  Where was the bride?  Where would a teenage girl buy oil at midnight?  Were the foolish bridesmaids foolish simply because they didn’t prepare beforehand and/or because they left the festivities?  What would have happened if they had stuck around and their lamps went out?  Would they have been thrown out?  Why didn’t Jesus chide the other five for not sharing?  After all, his famous story about the sheep and the goats comes at the end of this same chapter, and there Jesus makes very clear that only those of us who give of ourselves and our possessions to the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, etc., will be with him for all eternity.  I hope all this made better sense to the original audience for Jesus’ storytelling.

Action
A few questions we could ask ourselves:

Do I believe what we say when we recite the Nicene Creed - He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end?  Do I believe what we say at the acclamation of the mystery of our faith – Christ will come again?

Am I living as though I have that expectation?  While I am waiting, am I striving to live a holy life or am I putting that off till some later date?  Am I living in such a way that it wouldn’t matter if Jesus returned tomorrow, because I live in a state of preparedness?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Stay Awake, Increase and Abound in Love


By Beth DeCristofaro

Jesus said to his disciples: “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. (Matthew 24:42)

Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart. (Psalm 90:12)

Piety
Now may God himself, our Father, and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. [Amen.] (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13)

Study
Stay Awake!  How easy it is to drift off or find ourselves mentally absent.  St. Monica is revered for her persistence in praying for the conversion of her entire family, especially the recalcitrant and dissolute Augustine. 

Today another beautiful woman, Chaplain Mary, is being remembered for her dedicated, skilled and faith-filled service.  Rev. Mary directed pastoral care at a large, urban hospital where she was well suited to as skilled administrator and passionate advocate for her department but also gently and pastorally present to fearful, hurting, confused patients and families.  Although she had health issues, her death was unexpected.  I didn’t know Mary well enough to know if asked the week before her death about mortality whether she would say “I still have so much to do” or “I’ve run a good course and had a good life.”  But I do know that she was Awake.  She touched many with holiness and welcome.  She abounded in love and persistence.

Action

St. Monica lived to see her prayers answered.  Not all of us necessarily do.  Jesus asks us to stay awake in faithful knowledge and constant hope that the Bridegroom will arrive for us.  Are our lights burning?  Are we awake?  Do we feel that each day, rooted in Christ, we increase and abound in love?  Were we to meet Jesus face to face like Mary has, what is needed in our own spiritual house to show the Master that we have been faithful and prudent servants?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Walk in a Manner Worthy of the God Who Calls You


You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers. As you know, we treated each one of you as a father treats his children, exhorting and encouraging you and insisting that you walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his Kingdom and glory.  1 Thessalonians Chapter 2: 10-12

Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.  Matthew Chapter 23:27-28

Piety
The Rule of Benedict Chapter 68: If a Sister Is Commanded to Do Impossible Things
If it happens that difficult or impossible tasks are laid on a sister, let her nevertheless receive the order of the one in authority with all meekness and obedience. But if she sees that the weight of the burden altogether exceeds the limit of her strength, let her submit the reasons for her inability to the one who is over her in a quiet way and at an opportune time, without pride, resistance, or contradiction. And if after these representations the Superior still persists in her decision and command, let the subject know that this is for her good, and let her obey out of love, trusting in the help of God.

Study
Probably two of the most difficult tasks we face as Christians are to listen to the Word and to consistently and congruently act upon what we hear. Jesus calls to task the scribes and Pharisees for their lack of interior and exterior consistency.  They look outwardly like they are devout.  However, they make demands on others that they are not willing to take upon themselves.  There is no congruency between what they do and what they say for others to do.

Benedict recognizes that we are asked to do impossible things.  We cannot always escape the need to tackle the impossible unless we trust in the help of God.  For when the spirit of the Lord is upon us, we cannot fail.  

Action
Today’s readings ask us to we treated each one of you as a father treats his children.  If we are to walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls us into his Kingdom, we must endeavor to be more consistent and congruent. 

They Daily Examen might be one ticket to assess how we are doing on the journey.  The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us.  The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience. (See more at: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen#sthash.EnCLacMS.dpuf) It consists of five steps:

1.   Place yourself in God's presence. Give thanks for God's great love for you. 
2.   Pray for the grace to understand how God is acting in your life. 
3.   Review your day — recall specific moments and your feelings at the time. 
4.   Reflect on what you did, said, or thought in those instances. Were you drawing closer to God, or further away? 
5.   Look toward tomorrow — think of how you might collaborate more effectively with God's plan. Be specific, and conclude with the "Our Father."

The Examen, as Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ, says, “brings my nitty-gritty to God and God to my nitty-gritty.” St. Ignatius advised praying the Examen every day, no matter what else was happening. The daily prayer invites us to look back on the day to see where God was clearly present or where things didn’t go so well and to ask God for help in the future.[i]

Consider ideas on how to incorporate the Daily Examen into the course of your day.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Inside of the Cup


By Melanie Rigney

“But as we were judged worthy by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, that is how we speak, not as trying to please men, but rather God, who judges our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

You have searched me and you know me, Lord. (Psalm 139:1)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.” (Matthew 23:25-26)
i - Amad. Gabrieli [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Piety
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you, and I detest  all my sins, because of Your just punishments, but most of all because they offend You, my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. (Act of Contrition)

Study
Warning:  Call to go to confession ahead.

Yeah, I know. It can be scary to tell all your deepest, darkest sins to a priest who also happens to be a friend. What if he lets something slip to someone else? Or, conversely, what if you confess to a priest who doesn’t know you from Adam, who won’t understand that you’ve made so much progress already? What if he yells at you? What if he refuses to absolve you? What if he gives you a penance that you just aren’t willing to do?

Then there’s the whole venue thing. What if you’re in the box, and he can’t hear you and asks you to speak up? What if someone who’s waiting can hear what you say? Or, what if you’re face to face and the priest’s eyebrows go up or he grimaces as you talk?

So, all too often, we decide to skip the whole sacrament… and just keep going to Communion at Mass anyway, but feel a little guiltier every time. Or we figure we’re basically good people who tithe and love our families and friends and total strangers and do service without complaint, most of the time anyway, so we just don’t need to go.

In short, we forget, as Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading, that the only way the outside of the cup can be truly clean is for the inside to be shiny and bright as well.

Please God. Clean your soul. Go to confession. You’ll feel so much lighter and better armed to do battle with the evil we all face daily.

Action
If you have trouble with the wonderful sacrament of penance and reconciliation, consider approaching it in a different way. If you’ve always used the confessional, try face to face or vice versa. If you’ve always gone to a priest you don’t know, try going to one you do, or vice versa. If you regularly partake in the sacrament, add a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for giving us this beautiful opportunity to state our sins and intentions to overcome them with His help… and, with His grace, to watch those sins evaporate.