Saturday, October 10, 2015

A Spring Will Rise

On that day the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills flow with milk, all the streams of Judah will flow with water. A spring will rise from the house of the LORD, watering the Valley of Shittim.  Joel 4:18

While Jesus was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” He replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”  Luke 11:27-28

Father, our families are torn by violence. Our communities are destroyed by violence. Our faith is tested by violence. We have an obligation to respond. Violence -- in our homes, our schools and streets, our nation and world -- is destroying the lives, dignity and hopes of millions of our sisters and brothers. Fear of violence is paralyzing and polarizing our communities. 

Brother Jesus, help us to confront this growing culture of violence with a commitment to life, a vision of hope and a call to action. If a spring of peace will rise, it will only do so by our actions rooted in your example and teaching, the biblical values of respect for life, peace, justice, and community and our teaching on human life and human dignity, on right and wrong, on family and work, on justice and peace, and on rights and responsibilities.

While much is being done, more is required.  Holy Spirit, guide us as we work to cut through divisive rhetoric and false claims which suggest that more prisons are the only answer, more brutality the cure, or more violence the solution.  That path will not succeed. We can be better than we are when we want peace and work for justice with a new urgency on the words of Jesus: "Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called children of God." (Based upon Confronting a Culture of Violence: A Catholic Framework for Action)

Where you sit determines where you stand.  From the perspective of the woman sitting in the crowd, she was observing Jesus and giving him praise for where he came from.  From the perspective of Jesus standing at the front preaching, he did not want to dwell on the past but to focus the people more on the present moment (hear the word of God) and the future (observe it). 

Jesus envisioned the reality of a world filled with future possibilities made manifest by His ultimate sacrifice.  As we learn from the prophet Joel, the Lord is present in our present moment of economic prosperity and political autonomy.  Images of promised abundance illustrate the harmony and order that Joel expects the Lord to establish in the future as well…the Promised Land.  They look forward in anticipation.  Despite the fact that our “crimes are abundant,” the Lord forgives us and looks ahead.  

Jesus never envisioned the reality of a world filled with the kind of violence we see every day.  Our crimes remain abundant.  Our present moment is marked by images of bloodshed from Chattanooga to Charleston, from elementary schools to colleges, from Central Asia to Central Oregon.  How will we ever get to the Promised Land?
Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich
(Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune)

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has consistently called for "reasonable regulation and controls for guns, especially handguns." It also wants to ban "assault weapons." After the 2012 murders of 20 first-graders and six staff members at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, the USCCB sent testimony to Congress the following year. "This is the moment," said the USCCB spokesperson who testified before Congress, "to push for better gun controls. We want to build a culture of life and confront the culture of violence." That moment came and went without meaningful action.

Let's be honest. The Second Amendment was passed in an era when organized police forces were few and citizen militias were useful in maintaining the peace. Its original authors could not have anticipated a time when the weapons we have a right to bear now include military-grade assault weapons that have turned our streets into battlefields. The Second Amendment's original intent has been perverted by those who, as Pope Francis recently commented, have profited mightily. Surely there is a middle ground between the original intent of the amendment and the carnage we see today.

Archbishop Cupich also points out the irony that just last month, Members of Congress stood side-by-side to applaud Pope Francis' call for an end to the weapons industry that is motivated by "money that is drenched in blood," and to endorse his call "to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade." Did they think the papal call was limited to arms trade outside of the United States? He concludes with this call to action:

It is no longer enough for those of us involved in civic leadership and pastoral care to comfort the bereaved and bewildered families of victims of gun violence. It is time to heed the words of Pope Francis and take meaningful and swift action to address violence in our society. We must band together to call for gun-control legislation. We must act in ways that promote the dignity and value of human life. And we must do it now.[i]

If you need help getting in touch with your Congressional delegation, then People magazine has provided a service to all: they published an easy-to-use list of Members of Congress so you can let them know you want them to take action consistent with Church teachings to promote a culture of life. As People editorial director Jess Cagle writes: “Let's make sure they know that from now on, "routine" responses just won't cut it.” 

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Deliver Us from Evil

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Gird yourselves and weep, O priests! Wail, O ministers of the altar!  Come, spend the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God!  The house of your God is deprived of offering and libation.  (Joel 1:13)

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.  (Luke 11:23)

Lord, fill our hearts with your presence.  Deliver us from evil, we pray.

Our Scripture readings today are about the very real presence of evil in our world.  The prophet Joel speaks of disorder in the house of God.  The people aren’t worshiping as they ought.  He says they should clothe themselves in sackcloth and repent, for the Day of the Lord is near.

Jesus doesn’t just talk about evil; he’s busy fighting it.  In the verse before today’s reading, he’s driven a demon from a man who couldn’t speak.  The crowd accuses him of doing so by the power of Satan, which makes no sense.  Why would Satan want to drive out his own cohort?   Jesus goes on to say that he casts out evil by the finger of God, and that means that the reign of God is right there in the crowd’s midst, if only they would open their eyes to the truth.

Once evil has been cleaned out, Jesus says we’d better fill ourselves with the things of God, lest the emptiness be filled with an even greater evil.  Satan wants nothing more than to come between us and God.  He wages a constant battle to gain control of our souls.  Jesus knows that if we’re not 100% with him, Satan will wiggle his way in through the tiniest crack in our relationship.  The days we don’t pray because we’re too tired or we’re too busy doing other things, the Sundays we take a “vacation” from worship, the times we don’t defend our faith when we’re hanging out with people who ridicule believers, the missed opportunities to help the poor, the sick, or those vulnerable in any way – these are Satan’s delight.  They are his way into our hearts.

Maybe you don’t think in terms of the “devil” or the “evil one,” but something or someone keeps pulling me away from being the person in Christ I long to be.  I can readily identify with the Apostle Paul’s words: “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.” (Romans 7:19)  What can I do about it?

In an October 2014 homily on this Gospel reading, Pope Francis gives us a suggestion:

“We know – Jesus says clearly – that the devil always returns. Even at the end of life, He, Jesus, gives us an example of this. And to guard, to watch, so that the demons don’t enter in, we must be able to gather ourselves, that is, to stand in silence before ourselves and before God, and at the end of the day ask ourselves: ‘What happened today in my heart? Did anyone I don’t know enter? Is the key in its place?’ And this will help us to defend ourselves from so much wickedness, even from that which we could do if these demons, who are very clever and at the end would cheat all of us, even if they enter.”

Try praying the Daily Examen that Pope Francis suggests.  When you’ve done it for a while, you begin to see the areas where you are particularly vulnerable to being pulled away from the Lord.  You come to know better where to pray for the Lord’s protection from evil.

My Friend, My Jesus

By Beth DeCristofaro

Then they who fear the LORD spoke with one another, and the LORD listened attentively; And a record book was written before him of those who fear the LORD and trust in his name. And they shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts (Malachi 16-17)

Jesus said to his disciples: “Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread,… I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. (Luke 11:5, 8)

Open our hearts, O Lord, to listen to the words of your Son. (Mass of the Day)

“What a Friend you Have in Jesus” is an old song but is also something that I keep having to relearn each and every day.  Being pretty thickheaded, it is usually in retrospect that I recognize that my Friend has always given me loaves when I have asked for bread. 

When I was a young girl the starving children of Biafra made me distressed, fearful and confused.  I asked that something be done.  My Friend gave me the gift of empathy so that I feel unity with those who suffer and understand compassion. 

Living on my own far from home I asked that my loneliness be taken away. My Friend gave me new friends on which to lean and other friends who needed to lean upon me.

As a young adult I asked for real meaning because life seemed superficial.  My Friend gave me a family who supports me with love and calls me out of my self-centeredness.  

My father grew very ill and I asked that he be cured.  My friend gave me the gift of hope even in the face of death that life is eternal and all would be well.

I asked to know Him better and my Friend sent me mentors and asked me to impart what I learned to others.

I asked for the gift of faith and my Friend gave me Himself in the Eucharist.   

I asked for a renewed spirit.  My Friend introduced me to Cursillo.

I asked to be of service and my Friend asked that I serve the dying as He prepares their eternal homes.

Burdens, Struggles, Weaknesses and Hurts abound.  What are we doing for the friends of our Friend?

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

In Clemency

He prayed, “I beseech you, LORD, is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? This is why I fled at first to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, rich in clemency, loathe to punish. And now, LORD, please take my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.”  Jonah 4:2-3

“When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.”  Luke 11:2b-4

What is the right way to address the Lord in prayer?  We have a good example from Jesus through Luke and a bad example from Jonah. 

First the bad…Jonah’s prayer is done out of selfishness and imperfection.  Because of his innate meanness (jealousy and judgementalism), Jonah did not want the Lord to forgive the Ninevites.  However, the Lord does not dole out mercy in the same way an employer doles out a year-end bonus.  Grace is heaped upon us in greater measures than we ever deserve.  However, Jonah did not yet understand this. Selfish Jonah bemoans his own loss. 

The Lord teaches that it is much better to start out addressing him on the right terms.  Jesus teaches how to do that with the prayer that is aptly named for himself.

When Beth and I were teaching Confirmation class years ago, one explanation of the Lord’s Prayer has always stuck with me.  It boiled down the verses of the prayer into seven parts:  the three Christian theological virtues start out the prayer and then it concludes with verses that recall the four cardinal virtues: temperance, justice, prudence, fortitude.   Unfortunately, I have long since forgotten the author of these ideas except to confess it is not mine.

Faith:  Our Father, who is in heaven, holy is your name
Hope:  Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Charity: Give us this day our daily bread
Justice: Forgive us our trespasses
Prudence:  As we forgive those who trespass against us
Temperance:  Lead us not into temptation
Fortitude:  Deliver us from evil.

These seven verses considered in this fashion then also evoke the seven sacraments and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Furthermore, considered this way, frees us from reciting the prayer from memory and allows us to get to know the Lord and ourselves by considering how our prayer life and our life reflects the three theological virtues and four human/cardinal virtues.

“The number seven is one of the most significant numbers of the Bible because it is the number of spiritual perfection. It is the number which is stamped on every work of God. We can observe the importance of this number in nature too. Be it physics, chemistry or music we can see they are all based on this number of God’s work. All music that is created is based on seven basic notes of music, the eight note is just a higher or lower octave. If light is passed through a prism then it splits into seven parts.[i]

This number and thus this prayer holds a very important and sacred place in the Word of God as inspired by the Holy Spirit as it is symbolic of spiritual perfection.

Last week, the states of Georgia and Virginia both executed persons on death row.  The Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole denied clemency for Kelly Gissendaner. She was executed on September 30, just after midnight.  Virginia killed Alfredo Prieto on October 1 while an appeal was pending.  This week, Texas executed Juan Garcia. He is the 11th person executed by Texas and the 23rd in the U.S. in 2015.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us even when the state says we can kill the killers.  Lead us not into the temptation to take an eye for an eye.  Deliver us from the evil done by killers and deliver the families of the victims from their pain and loss.

Tell Her to Help Me

By Melanie Rigney

When God saw by their actions how (the Ninevites) turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out. (Jonah 3:10)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication.  (Psalm 130:1-2)

Martha, burdened with much service, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:40)

Jesus, may I focus on You in our precious times together.

She was busy, burdened in fact, perhaps even overburdened. Luke 10:40 tells
Matthijs Musson [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
us that. And yet, Martha doesn’t ask her sister directly, in humility and love, for assistance. No, she engages Jesus, the guest in their home, who quite rightly rebukes her. The hospitality I desire is your company and conversation, which Mary has provided; the food and the place settings are of little interest, he in essence tells her.

Jesus loves to hear our confidences, our little victories and our challenges. But how much more beautiful our time with the Lord can be when we focus on Him instead of asking Him to heal ruptures with our sisters and brothers, whether it’s because they cut us off in traffic, lie and gossip about us, grievously injure others in the Body of Christ, or simply can’t read our minds and help us get a meal on the table, ruptures of the sort where we can take the first step in healing. How much more beautiful our time in the world can be when we ask others for the help we need… and proffer the gift of forgiveness when they don’t.

That person whose heart and actions you’ve been praying for God to change? Consider praying for the strength to engage with him or her directly.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Moved with Compassion

But the LORD sent a large fish, that swallowed Jonah; and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From the belly of the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD, his God. Then the LORD commanded the fish to spew Jonah upon the shore.  Jonah 2:1, 11

“But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.”  Luke 10:33

Jesus, help get us out of the belly of the whale of selfishness. Help us get out of the ditch of sin. Help us to trust others – no matter who they are – to render aid to us when we are in need.  Help us to trust you so that we will not hesitate help others as well. Amen.

Sorting out which roles are parallel in the two readings today is head-spinning. 

The men on the boat who tossed Jonah into the sea could be likened to the robbers who beat up the traveler.  They were all looking out for themselves.  The men on the boat wanted to save themselves so they tossed Jonah overboard to calm the seas.  The robbers needed money so they took it from the man travelling to Jericho. They epitomize the attitude of “what is yours is mine and I am going to take it.”

Jonah is like the man who travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho.  Jonah was just out on a voyage trying to mind he own business (and avoid the mission that the Lord commanded) and he ended up in the belly of the whale.

As similar as those parts of the story might be, that is not the lesson for us.  The stranger – the Samaritan – probably seen by some as an illegal immigrant is the person who stopped and rendered aid to the victim just like the Lord sent aid to Jonah.  People listening might want to equate themselves with the priest or the Levite.  But they did not stop to render aid.  They epitomize the attitude of “what’s mine is mine and I’m going to keep it.” 

However, if the Lord does indeed desire mercy, not sacrifice, the merciful Samaritan is the model. The Samaritan represents the attitude “what’s mine is yours and I’m going to share it.”

For Jesus to use a Samaritan as a prime example in this parable would be like using a divorced woman as an example (which Jesus did with the woman at the well).  For Jesus to use a Samaritan as a prime example in this parable would be like using a tax collector as a role model (which Jesus did with Matthew).  For Jesus to use a Samaritan as a prime example in this parable would be like using a leper and outcast in his preaching.  For Jesus to use a Samaritan as a prime example in this parable would be like using a positive image of a belligerent Roman centurion occupying the Holy Land as a model of faith and piety.   

But I guess the Lord did all that.

We are asked to go to the most unlikely places in order to fulfill the mission that the Lord has for us.  We are asked to do the most unlikely tasks in order to fulfill our mission. 

Jonah did not choose to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh any more than John the Baptist did.  However, Jonah actually tried to flee.  John accepted his mission.  The Samaritan did not expect to come across a Jew needing aid.  However, when he did, he rendered assistance.

The priest and the Levite represent people caught up in life-less, soul-less religion. They play at church, but it does not affect the way that they live.  Religious, ethnic and social standing are no guarantee of right standing before God or before people.

Hatred between Jews and Samaritans was fierce and long-standing.[i]  There are countless modern parallels to the Jewish-Samaritan enmity—indeed, wherever peoples are divided by racial and ethnic barriers.  The former “Iron Curtain” that divided Europe.  The apartheid of South Africa.  How the European settlers in the “new world” treated the native peoples.  The divides that still exist between Palestine and Israel.

Imagine the hatred between Serbs and Muslims in modern Bosnia, the enmity between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland or the feuding between street gangs in Los Angeles or New York.[ii]

However, even our enemies are our neighbors.  Perhaps that’s why the Jesus provides so many instances of Samaritans coming into contact with his message. It is not the person from the radically different culture on the other side of the world that is hardest to love, but the nearby neighbor whose skin color, language, rituals, values, ancestry, history, and customs are different from one’s own.[iii]

Jesus came to instill in us a new attitude about who is our neighbor and what are our responsibilities. How are you being called to examine your attitudes?  We cannot love God if we do not love all His people.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Then He Embraced Them

By Melanie Rigney

The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man. (Genesis 2:20)

May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.  (Psalm 128:5)

He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them “brothers.” (Hebrews 2:11)

“Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them. (Mark 10:15-16)

Remember, Lord, your Church, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity, together with Francis our Pope and our Bishop and all the clergy. (Eucharistic Prayer II)

Oh, that Francis. How we love him; how we are challenged by him. For some,
Jesus Blessing the Children
Bernhard Plockhorst [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
the meeting with Kim Davis was validation and confirmation of the Church’s view of same-gender marriage; for others, it was a slap in the face. For some, the meeting with prisoners was a comforting sign of mercy and the potential for redemption; for others, it was way too much turning of the other cheek, given the inmates’ crimes. For some, the meeting with survivors of clerical abuse was a sign of healing; for others, it was too little too late, or too much too long. In each case, those on all sides in a way wanted to keep the pope in a little box, all to themselves and their agendas and views. I suspect for Francis, it’s all about love and the conversion of hearts and souls and bringing them to the Kingdom.

Oh, that Jesus. How we love him; how we are challenged by him. In today’s Gospel, people are bringing children to him. The disciples don’t much like it; in a way, they wanted to keep Jesus all to themselves. Jesus rebuked the disciples and blessed the children, calling on all to accept him in childlike simplicity.
As we are told in today’s first reading, we need each other. Animals and birds are wonderful creatures, but they don’t fulfill our most basic of needs for human connection. May we strive to find ways to establish that connection in particular with those who don’t think or look like us, who may not understand initially the profundity and holiness of that connection. May we embrace them and bless them.

Do a kind, unnoticed deed with humility for someone you find difficult to love.

Bring You Back Enduring Joy

“Fear not, my children; call out to God! He who brought this upon you will remember you. As your hearts have been disposed to stray from God, turn now ten times the more to seek him; For he who has brought disaster upon you will, in saving you, bring you back enduring joy.”  Baruch 4:27-29

“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”  Luke 10:23-24

The privileges of discipleship sounds like an oxymoron to me.  For the small price of picking up your cross daily and walking to the execution site, God will remember you and bless you.  Is there any wonder why Faust sold his soul? 

Using Mephistopheles as a messenger, Faustus strikes a deal with Lucifer: he is to be allotted twenty-four years of life on Earth, during which time he will have Mephistopheles as his personal servant. At the end he will give his soul over to Lucifer as payment and spend the rest of time as one damned to Hell.  The bargain with Lucifer is much more attractive sounding than the alleged list of the privileges of discipleship. 

Today, Lucifer takes many forms.  That new bright red Mazda.  The rose gold iPhone 6s.  The fancy new executive job.  These bright, shiny objects blind us to the promises of Christ. 

There is a famous story told of St.  Therese of Avila.  As she founded and visited convents, Teresa often traveled the rugged roads of Spain. One time her saddle slipped, and she found herself head down under the belly of a donkey as she crossed a stream. Complaining to the Lord of her treatment, she heard him reply, “Teresa, whom the Lord loves, he chastises. This is how I treat all my friends.” She replied tartly, “No wonder you have so few!”[i]

The Lord might have more fair-weather friends if he wooed them with sugar and honey instead of bitter lemon juice.  We might not fully appreciate the privileges of discipleship if they were earned the easy way. 

How do we make the turn back to the Lord?  Not alone. While Jesus is not making house calls like he did with the Roman centurion or Peter’s mother-in-law, just like turning away requires us to give in to forces pulling us away from right relationships, it helps to have…help.  Family.  Parish.  Community.  Group. Co-workers. Teachers. Coaches. Mentors.

The Holy Spirit sends these and more into our lives to bring us back because as Baruch reminds us, God remembers us.  No matter what ways we are chastised.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Exile: A Time for Reflection

By Colleen O’Sullivan

“From the time the Lord led our ancestors out of the land of Egypt until the present day, we have been disobedient to the Lord, our God, and only too ready to disregard his voice…  For we did not heed the voice of the Lord, our God, in all the words of the prophets whom he sent us, but each one of us went off after the devices of his own wicked heart, served other gods, and did evil in the sight of the Lord, our God.”  (Baruch 1:19, 21-22)

“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.  And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.” “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”  (Matthew 18:3-5, 10)

Remember not against us the iniquities of the past; may your compassion quickly come to us, for we are brought very low. (Psalm 79:8)

Our first Scripture reading today is taken from the section of the Book of Baruch known as “The Prayer of the Exiles.”  In the introduction to the book, we are told that the book was written by the prophet Jeremiah’s scribe at some point after the people had been sent into exile in Babylon.  What a time of despair and adversity that must have been.

Yet, at the same time, the exile seems to have served as a mega “time-out” or retreat.  First there was shock and anguish, then grief so deep God’s people could no longer sing the songs of Zion (Psalm 137:2-3).  Maybe that was followed by anger.  But eventually, they began to look within and to reflect on their part in how they came to find themselves so far from home. 

I often think how right St. Ignatius of Loyola was in maintaining that ingratitude is the root of most sin.  Here, the people look back over their history.  Their God, through much maneuvering, freed them from slavery in Egypt.  But were they grateful?   Far from it.  Upon occasion, they were known to have wished they were back under Pharaoh or that they had died in Egypt.  God led them through the desert on their journey to the Promised Land.  By day they had a cloud to follow and by night a pillar of fire.  Were they grateful for these signs of the Lord’s presence?  Not very.   When they were hungry and thirsty, God supplied them with water to drink and manna to eat.  They complained about this, too.  They even used the gold of their jewelry to fashion an idol to worship.  Later, they refused to listen to the prophets.  As they said in their prayer, each one of them followed his or her own heart’s desires, which is what sin is all about - putting ourselves at the center of the universe and following our own dictates.

Yet paradoxically, God often is nearest when we are at our lowest.  The years of the exile became a time for reflection, for remorse, for seeking God’s forgiveness, for placing God back at the center of everything, for hope in God’s mercy and compassion.

In the Gospel reading, the disciples are wondering who will be the greatest in God’s Kingdom.  Jesus knows they’re way off track.  If we want to be great in God’s eyes, we’ve got to have God at the center, not ourselves.  Jesus tells them to be humble like the little child he pulls into the conversation.  The way to greatness lies in serving those who, like this child, are powerless in the world. 

Jesus talks about the little children’s angels in heaven.  No matter what age we are, we all have angels watching over us.  Angels are messengers from God.  Perhaps it was the whispering of the angels that convinced those exiled in Babylon to search their own hearts for the sin at the root of their separation from the Lord.

In spite of the multitude of artistic renderings of angels throughout the ages, I confess to having absolutely no idea what my guardian angel might look like, but I am sure that his or her quiet promptings have led me away from danger or sin and to the shelter of the Lord on more than one occasion.

When have you felt the presence of an angel in your life?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord for Strength

By Beth DeCristofaro

Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read. … 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 8:8, 10)

He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. (Luke 10:2-6)

Jesus, my Brother, draw me to you as your favorite.  Help me to accept the joys and the sorrows in my life content that my labors are for the divine harvest and that the abundance of that harvest will be mine by your gracious generosity.  I thank you every day for the wonder of your presence by my side, oh My Best of Friends. 

St. Therese’ life helps us understand today’s readings which appear quite contradictory on their face.  In Nehemiah, the Israelites were dealing with a tumultuous and fragile transition from exile to a mostly destroyed land where foreign peoples have taken their former homes.  In Luke, Jesus tells 72 disciples that they must go forth carrying nothing in order to perform dangerous work.  The Israelites are encouraged to rejoice in the Lord while Jesus exhorts his disciples to identify and establish peace in God’s Word.

As a girl, St. Therese underwent a spiritual event causing her to turn her normal, me-centered life into a life centered on God’s love.  She convinced her family and the church to allow her to enter a life of prayer as a Carmelite nun and was “gifted with great intimacy with God.”[i]  Therese’ insight was that her happiness, her strength lay in God not in herself or her life.  Her life was filled with struggle, just as Jesus’ disciples’ lives and the lives of the Israelites.  But in her profound relationship with Jesus, Therese never lost her childlike wonder and joy

One of my favorite stories from Therese is that when cleaning the convent, Therese would gently pick up and deposit outside, alive, any spiders she came across. Shivers!  What shocking – completely “not me” action - might I do today to break through boredom, complacency, fear, overconfidence or other self-centeredness which keeps me from being Jesus’ Best Friend and rejoicing in God’s Will?

Follow Me

“How could I not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been eaten out by fire?” The king asked me, “What is it, then, that you wish?” I prayed to the God of heaven and then answered the king: “If it please the king, and if your servant is deserving of your favor, send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, to rebuild it.” NEHEMIAH 2:3-5

And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.”  LUKE 9:59-60

Father, only with Your help can we Rebuild Your Church.  Amen.

In the Good News from Luke, Jesus speaks of the severity and the unconditional nature of Christian discipleship. Even family ties and filial obligations, such as burying one’s parents, cannot distract one no matter how briefly from proclaiming the kingdom of God. 

Building the Kingdom of God has its parallels in the physical rebuilding of the Jewish community both in the Hebrew Bible (after the exile in Egypt and more) as well as in the New Testament when the community was enduring the Roman occupation. 

St. Francis of Assisi also was a great re-builder of the church both physically and
spiritually. For several years Francis searched the Scriptures, talked with friends and spiritual advisors, and prayed long hours in churches, woods and caves listening to God’s call and purpose for his life. Then one day in the church of San Damiano, a chapel right outside of Assisi, he heard the invitation of Jesus: “Francis, go rebuild my Church, which you see is falling into ruins.”[i] Francis did; he set out, gathered stones and rebuilt St Damian's, St Mary of the Angels and other damaged shrines. It was only as his life developed that he understood that what he was to rebuild - on the foundations of the Gospel - was the Universal Church, not just a physical building. 

Saint Jerome, the priest, monk and Doctor of the Church renowned for his extraordinary depth of learning and translations of the Bible into Latin in the Vulgate, is celebrated by the Church with his memorial today.  Ultimately, Jerome went to Bethlehem, established a monastery, and lived the rest of his years in study, prayer, and ascetcism.[ii]

We might think that such conditions were set aside for people who entered the monastery or the convent, but Jesus does not give a pass to the lay community. 

Christians have been doing establishing separate communities since the Acts of the Apostles.  Call it the Bruderhof, the Puritans, the Catholic Workers, the Amish, or the Pilgrims, the radical call for discipleship may be a call to these special break-away communities.  However, Cursillo attempts to establish such a community-within-community without breaking away from the environment but precisely by evangelizing our environment through our example of piety, study and action.

Many say that Pope Francis is changing the teachings of the Church. This notion is false. Pope Francis is not changing the teachings of the Church. He is, rather, changing the way that we understand the Church by living out her teaching of compassion. He is showing the evangelical and missionary nature of the Church through his actions as Pope, just as he did before being elected to the Papacy in March 2013.[iii] 

Pope Francis, through his simplicity and humility in his lifestyle is showing the humility of the Church, as well as a glimpse of who his successor was, not a king, but a poor fisherman from Galilee. He is also living out Christ’s (and the Church’s) teaching of compassion for others by embracing social outcasts, the sick, the young, the elderly and the poor.

Recently at work, there was a speaker from a local charity who came in to talk to my co-workers about his organization’s mission.  While we were talking privately before the meeting, we realized that we were both members of the Cursillo community in our home towns.  He asked me if I was still living my Fourth Day.  That is probably a good question to ponder whether or not you are in a weekly group reunion. 

Are you – and how are you – still living your Fourth Day whether your weekend experience was last month, last year or decades ago?