Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Love Without Strings


By Colleen O’Sullivan

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.  And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.  (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3)

Piety
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.  (1 John 4:8)

Study   
In the verses preceding those in our first reading, St. Paul has been writing to the Christians at Corinth about spiritual gifts.  He seems to think they may have missed the forest for the trees.  They appear to have valued and desired certain spiritual gifts over others.

The apostle continues today by saying that we should all desire and pray for spiritual gifts, and we should also keep in mind that when our lives in this world come to an end, all these gifts fade away.  More important than any of these gifts, says Paul, is love.  It’s the only thing that lasts forever.  And if the gifts you’ve been given aren’t rooted in love, they’re useless anyway.

Paul is talking about a specific type of love, agape.  Agape is unconditional love.  It’s love that expects nothing in return.  It’s the desire for the well-being of others.  It’s extended to others independent of how “loveable” they are. Agape is the sort of love God has for all of creation and for you and me, in particular.  In fact, in 1 John 4:16, we are told that God is love, God is agape.

This summer I had the privilege of spending almost five weeks at a Jesuit retreat house making the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Since I’ve been home, many people have wanted to know about the retreat.  It was such a rich, deep, multi-layered experience that I find myself at a loss to adequately describe it.  However, as I was reading St. Paul’s words to his friends in Corinth, it occurred to me that the long retreat could be summarized as a means to recall or discover, depending on where you are in your faith journey, how God is agape in your personal experience.  It is overwhelming to spend days seeing how, in spite of my sins, my weaknesses and failings, God has never stopped loving me!  The long retreat is also a chance to ask yourself what sort of response you should make to this unfailing stream of love. 

St. Paul suggests that one response is to be firmly rooted in love and to show this same type of love to others.  He describes love as patient and kind, neither jealous nor self-seeking.  It sounds like he’s describing the work of a lifetime.

Action
It is very difficult at times to truly believe that God loves us unconditionally, because we know ourselves so well.  Yet God loves each and every one of us just as we are this very moment.  What is your response to this loving, merciful, gracious God?

We Are Baptized Into One Body


By Beth DeCristofaro

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. … Now the body is not a single part, but many. Now you are Christ’s Body, and individually parts of it.  (1 Corinthians 12, 13-14, 27)

Jesus journeyed to a city called Nain … a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. … When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her … and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. (Luke 7: 11, 12, 13, 14)

Piety
Wind of Inspiration, Creative Spirit of God, teach me not to forget that you come always as gift.
Remind me always to be ready to receive and romance and dance with joy wherever and whenever you visit, or risk that you may move one without me.
May I ever be sensitive to your gentle breezes and willing to soar with your wild winds.
(From “A Psalm to the Wind of Heaven” Fr. Edward Hayes)

Study
When I was very young, after hearing the stories of the saints from family and teachers at St. Anthony’s elementary school, part of me longed to be a martyr.  Or, at least, my quixotic idea of what a martyr was:  a person able to look the bad guys right in the eye and say “I will never give up God!”  All the parts about knives, fire, teeth, and crosses were not part of the fantasy.  As I got older and (a very little bit wiser) I thought that perhaps the gifts which Paul speaks of were what I should aspire to.  Especially those at the “front” of the list such as prophet or mighty deeds. 

Today in reading Paul and the Gospel I see something much different.  I see that I and my brothers and sisters in humanity are of Christ’s Body.  It is a transcendent vision of wholeness and multiplicity.  In the Gospel we meet a bereaved parent and her child.  We don’t know anything about either of them.  Was she a shrewish nag or a nurturing mother?  Did he care for and respect her or was he a careless prankster?  We don’t know.  What we know is that their gifts were being family to each other and that Jesus was moved with pity for their heartbreak.  Today’s reflection in “Sisterhood of Saints”[i] focuses on Ludmila whose deep love and Christian influence over her grandson caused her martyrdom.  The boy went on to reign in a manner which benefitted his people in Bohemia and he too, became a saint.  

Action
It is the work of God which quickens our gifts and God invites to open ourselves to the creative movement within us.  Give thanks for the gifts which God quickens, look closely for the gifts which others exhibit.  Rejoice for them rather than emphasizing your own.  



[i] Melanie Rigney, Franciscan Media, 2013

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Sword Will Pierce


Therefore, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.  1 Corinthians 11:33

“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

Piety
"At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.
Through her heart, his sorrow sharing,
All his bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword has passed."
(Stabat Mater)

Study
Mary was physically untouched during the trial and execution of Jesus.  However, from the circumstances of his Immaculate Conception and birth to his death on the cross where she watched her son’s execution, emotionally and spiritually, Mary was in pain.  Many early Church writers interpret the sword as Mary's sorrows, especially as she saw Jesus die on the cross.

She was, is and will forever be, the example of humility and obedience for us. Close to Jesus to the last. While others fled, she remained behind with her son.

Jesus was a conundrum to all but Mary.  Isaiah 8:14 prophesied:  “He shall be a snare, a stone for injury, A rock for stumbling to both the houses of Israel, A trap and a snare to those who dwell in Jerusalem.”  Many have stumbled while trying to follow Jesus.  Many but not all.  Not Mary. 

Why not? Because the many did it not by faith, but as if it could be done by works.  They stumbled over the stone that causes stumbling. (Romans 9:32).  Mary, however, did it by faith.  However, in so doing, faith did not shield her from sorrow any more than faith shielded Jesus from pain and death. 

What causes others to stumble has become central to our faith.  “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

Coming the day after the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, is it any wonder how such faith could turn a symbol of pain and death into a symbol of joy and life?

Action
What causes you to stumble?  How can faith help you resolve that stone in your path?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Be Lifted Up


By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

So Moses prayed for the people, and the LORD said to Moses, “Make a seraph and mount it on a pole, and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.” Numbers 21:8

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.  Philippians 2:6-8

“No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.  And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”  John 3:13-14

Piety
Piety is our imitation of Christ.  He emptied himself out of being God to truly become human.  He always would have two natures even as he was one person.  Piety is our hearts acceptance of the challenge to be just like Christ in the ways we give our freedom back to God.  God loves us so much that he makes us free to be ourselves.  He gives us forgiveness for all the times we are selfish.  He forgives us when we are trapped within ourselves and he is a prisoner of our hearts.  In Baptism he came to us; our piety is how we let Christ out of the prison of our heart’s selfishness.  Our piety is seen in all the ways we are unselfish in accepting the challenge of Christ to empty ourselves of many of the things we have a right to that we might be more like Christ.  Our piety is our expression of oneness with Christ in how we live our lives for the sake of each other.  Wherever there is love God is there.  Our love for God shows itself in our piety.  Our piety is the sharing of what we have with the needy of our lives.  What we do for the least one in our lives Christ considers as done for him.

Study
Philippians 2:6-11 begins with the Challenge of Paul that we have within us the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Jesus did not hold onto the Godness of his personhood in his willingness to be human and one of us.  God did not send Jesus to condemn us.  He sent him that we might be saved by his holy cross.  The cross was portrayed in the Old Testament by the serpent that was raised up on a staff to be looked at by those bitten by the serpent.  Even as those in the Old Testament were cured of their poisonous bites by looking at the serpent on the staff, the poisonous bites of our sins are cured as we look with the eyes of our soul at Christ dying for us with the wounds of our sins.  It is how we accept his forgiveness that is the completion of his work in us.

Action
We honor the feast of the Holy Cross by our willingness to join our sufferings to Christ’s sufferings by offering up our sufferings for the sake of the sinfulness of our world.  The difficulties and the problems of our life take on a special efficacy when we offer them for others.  We prevent our suffering from being constipated when we offer them up for others. It is almost as if our sufferings do not exist when we offer their value for those we love and serve by our lives.  The cross is so much more than a symbol.  It will be our claim to fame in heaven when we have made the divine connection by joining our sufferings with Christ’s. It is then the cross of Christ is truly exalted in our lives.

Known By Its Own Fruit


The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the Blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ?  Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one Body, for we all partake of the one loaf.  1 COR 10:16-17

For every tree is known by its own fruit.  For people do not pick figs from thorn bushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles.  A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.  Luke 6:44-45

Piety
We are one in the Spirit.
We are one in the Lord.
We are one in the Spirit.
We are one in the Lord.
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
Yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love.
How congruent are our actions with what we listen to coming from the mouth of Jesus and the prophets?  In the Gospel, Luke tells us once again how Jesus challenges the hypocrisy of the people.  “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?” he cries out in frustration. 

There emerges two essential duties of Christians:  listening and acting.  If we listen and do not incorporate the lessons into our lives, then we might as well be deaf.  This is opposed to the criticism Jesus levels at the Pharisees who say one thing and do another.  This goes to the heart and minds of his followers.

Comparing us to fruit trees and thorn bushes is an interesting choice.  Fruit trees can do nothing except produce fruit.  You can read to the trees Nobel Prize speeches or the Gospel of St. Luke and they will still produce fruit.  They cannot do otherwise.  When properly tended (pruned, watered, harvested), the fruit will be good.  If not properly tended, the fruit could be rotten by the time we try to harvest it.  Even if we act accordingly, there are outside forces (weather, bugs, birds or animals) which could get to the fruit first and destroy it – or at least spoil it before we can consume it.

Conversely, thorn bushes can do nothing but produce thorns.  You cannot get the bush to decide to produce apples or grapes or figs or even flowers.  If the weather, bugs, or animals attack a thorn bush, who cares?  It is not like it would amount to anything.  Almost like a prophet in his home country…

Action
Children of God have a choice.  We can produce good fruit or rotten fruit.  Unlike the plant and animal kingdoms, we can change our very nature by what we listen to and how we act.

To what are you listening?  How does it affect your actions?

Making time and room in your life for the daily practice of piety, study and action will not let the demons of idolatry (the forces of the weather, bugs or animals) attack your faith. It crowds out these temptations before they can take hold and attack your fruits.  If we give in to the attacking forces (idolatry), then we put at risk our very communion with the friendship we have with Jesus.

Will they know we are Christians by our love? 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

I Offer the Gospel Free of Charge

Friday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

By Melanie Rigney

If I preach the Gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it! If I do so willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my recompense? That, when I preach, I offer the Gospel free of charge so as not to make full use of my right in the Gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:16-18)

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God! (Psalms 84:2)

“Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:39-40)

Piety
Lord, it is a challenge indeed, attempting to offer the Gospel in all I do and say. Please provide Your gentle correction in the times that I fall short.

Study
“I can do what I wanna do, be who I wanna be … I don’t have to be me ‘til Monday,” the old country song by Steve Azar says. Ah! We all know that glorious sense when the weekend comes or the kids go off to camp or something else happens that allows us a few precious hours to do and be whatever we want.

Do you ever long for a “break” in your spiritual life, for a few hours or moments of not having to be a model of the Gospel to your family, friends, and coworkers, when you can just be angry or mean or gossipy, when you can just be who you wanna be?

We all have those moments, and sometimes we give in to them. It feels great for a few fleeting seconds. Then the guilt and the sadness set in. We realize that while living the Gospel message of love and redemption is difficult and nigh onto impossible to do 24/7, the alternative to trying to do this hurts the Lord, those we have wronged, and ourselves. We realize the price of not preaching the Gospel by our words and actions and thoughts is too great to bear… and we start anew. And while it can be costly to us to do this, we know in our hearts and souls that the alternative may mean the loss of our salvation.

Action
Make amends with someone you have quarreled with—if possible, make it a situation where you are quite sure your position was correct. Listen. Preach the Gospel in your example of forgiveness.

The 13th Anniversary: September 11, 2014


By Rev. Paul Berghout*

“To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.  Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Luke 6:27-31

Piety
Weep not for what you have lost, fight for what you have.
Weep not for what is dead, fight for what was born in you.
Weep not for the one who abandoned you, fight for who is with you.
Weep not for those who hate you, fight for those who want you.
Weep not for your past, fight for your present struggle.
Weep not for your suffering, fight for your happiness.
With things that are happening to us, we begin to learn that nothing is impossible to solve, just move forward.

Study
As we remember the 13th anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 that took place in New York, the Pentagon and in Shanksville, PA, we reverently recall those who died, were injured or lost loved ones and are mourning today and maybe participating in a Memorial and Remembrance Service or an Annual Interfaith Memorial Service.

Some 9-11 thoughts I read addresses those who were injured and those who mourn, and what prayer can do.  For example, in James 5:16 we learn, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

Experiences that overwhelm our coping ability can be described as potentially traumatic. Some people may even develop Posttraumatic Stress disorder.
There is a book on stress that sold about 100,000 copies in print now in a third edition (Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers). However, many of the reviewers of the book commented that after reading through all the chapters on how stress can wreak havoc to our body, you don't actually get a lot of materials on how you can counter them. For example, where is the “Stress Reduction Kit?”  Bang Head Here. No.  Rather realize that Angels walk with those who grieve.

Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. What is being mourned is ‘the loss’ and one’s own vulnerability.

Let us mourn for those who have perished and grieve with their loved ones who mourn their loss. Let us acknowledge the evil which has wounded our nation.
In our mourning, Our Lord, who is the great comforter, is truly present to us. But we do not grieve like those who have no hope. We grieve with the knowledge that neither death nor life can separate us from the love of God. His abundant love is our consolation. The grounds for this hope do not lie in the facts of harsh reality but rather in our faith—the meaning we ascribe to reality. 

Look at Mary:
The Blessed Virgin Mary is “origo mundi melioris”—the beginning of a better world. She was present at the trauma event of all time, and forgave like Christ and she wanted to even feel the pain to alleviate the pain of her Son. Forgiveness is a process that can’t be rushed but healing can’t happen without it.

Action
What can we do?

Group work is best—helping other victims. But one does so at risk of starting the uninvited intrusive thoughts to return and the tyranny of imagination. Developing awareness of specific and individual needs—welcome and unwelcome—is critical to empowering oneself. One needs to elicit loving memories and manage the stress of intrusive reminders.

Pray and help the dead.

For example, from the current Knights of Columbus magazine, “…the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec (St. André Bessette’s parish) recently got a massive bronze door commissioned for the 350th anniversary of the historic parish. Since Holy Doors are open only during a holy year or a jubilee, passing through one is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many people. Authorized by the Vatican, there are only seven Holy Doors in the world. The others are at the four major basilicas in Rome; in Ars, France; and at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Pilgrims who pass through the Holy Door during a jubilee year may receive a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions, including confession, reception of Communion and detachment from sin.

In Quebec, in addition to visiting and gaining the indulgence for themselves, many pilgrims have carried others spiritually with them, helping souls in purgatory find their way to heaven. One prominent example occurred earlier this year after a devastating fire ravaged Résidence du Havre, an elderly housing complex in L’Isle Verte, on Jan. 23, claiming the lives of 32 senior citizens. In March, a group of pilgrims each held one of the victims in his or her heart while passing through the Holy Door — a moving tribute to those lost in the tragedy.

We can do the same for someone who died in the events of 9-11.

What’s a plenary indulgence? Look them up on the internet.
Plenary Indulgence: Devout meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary while piously reciting prayers at a Presidium meeting of the Legion of Mary (an association of the faithful). Or, pray a rosary in family, or any time the members of the faith gather to pray a rosary (Grant 17,1.1) 

*An earlier version of this was posted to Facebook by Fr. Paul. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jesus’ State of the Union Address


By Colleen O’Sullivan

“Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours.  Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.  Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.  Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man…  But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.  But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.  Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.”  
(Luke 6:20-22, 24-26)

Piety
“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…”
(Luke 4:18)

Study   
Jesus has been up on the mountain selecting the Twelve, whom he designates Apostles.  He comes down to the plain and begins to address the crowd.  We’re told that Jews and non-Jews alike make up the throng of people.  They’re from Judea, Jerusalem, Tyre, and Sidon.  This is truly a sermon for all the world to hear.

Jesus gives a sort of “state of the Union” address, the Union being the Kingdom of God.  Now that God, through his Son, has taken matters in hand, here’s what the Kingdom looks like, Jesus says.  If you’re poor or hungry, weeping or reviled because of your faith, take heart.  You are the blessed of God’s Kingdom.  That must be music to the ears of all the young, would-be immigrants on our southern border, the Christians in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and countless other countries whose lives are threatened because they are believers, to the hungry here in the U.S. and the starving throughout the world.
 
Here we begin to see why the Nazareth folk didn’t exactly take to Jesus’ preaching.  It turns our most cherished notions upside down.  It makes us uncomfortable.  This is hardly the worldview we grow up with.  From kindergarten on we work to get into good colleges, so we can major in something that pays well, in order to then fill ourselves with all the good things we see in advertisements and mall windows.  And what’s wrong with having a good time, we ask?  Aren’t our self-esteems stroked from the moment we begin to toddle around so that we will feel good about ourselves, enjoy life, and have a good laugh now and then?  Who doesn’t want to have people think highly of us?  Much of what we do is driven by our desire to be popular and have friends.  Compared to many people in the rest of the world listening to Jesus’ words, we have so much.  Yet, we’re seldom satisfied.  We aren’t grateful for what’s been given to us.  We never feel like we have enough.  We’re always looking for more.  Our blindness to all that we have, our lack of compassion for those who are in need, and our overall ingratitude put us on the outs with relation to the Kingdom of God.

Jesus doesn’t mince words.  He is uncompromising in his assertion that this is the way it is in God’s Kingdom.  Everything is turned upside down.

Action
Spend some time today thanking God for the many gifts you have received.  Gratitude leads to compassion, which leads to sharing with others. Here are two opportunities for giving:  If you would like to aid in alleviating the human suffering in Iraq, Catholic Relief Services has joined with Caritas Iraq in offering humanitarian aid. Click on  http://crs.org/ to find out how you can help.  Here at home, SOME (So Others Might Eat) is an organization that feeds the hungry in Washington, DC.  See http://some.org/  to find out how you can help.  

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

He Heals Us All


By Beth DeCristofaro

Now indeed then it is, in any case, a failure on your part that you have lawsuits against one another.  Why not rather put up with injustice?  Why not rather let yourselves be cheated?  Instead, you inflict injustice and cheat, and this to brothers.  Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the Kingdom of God? (1 Corinthians 6:7-9)

A great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people … came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured. Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all.  (Luke 6: 17-19)

Piety
Help me Lord Jesus, who loved those who sought your healing, to speak your Word each and every day with my hands, my eyes, my feet, my heart, my thoughts and my words.  Let me chose to build the Kingdom at every opportunity here and now.

Study
This Gospel passage from Luke opens the “Sermon on the Plains” which includes the Beatitudes like Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.  Luke makes known to his non-Jewish audience that not only does Jesus open himself to healing many people but that He includes people not from the area, from outside the region and even those who are Gentiles.   Jesus embraced and welcomed strangers to become part of his community, touching them with his hands as well as his words.

Peter Claver served the most outcast of the castoffs – Africans arriving on slave ships to be sold in the Americas.  His approach to ministry is in the words attributed to him:  "We must speak to them with our hands before we try to speak to them with our lips."[i]  Clearly he had listened deeply to and embodied Christ’s words.  He saw evangelization as love in action which required “concrete service like the distributing of medicine, food or brandy to his black brothers and sisters.” 

Injustice and cheating even within the Christian community allowed the slave trade to flourish for centuries.  Paul’s message resonates even today as Christians seek to make the culture work for them rather than their faith rework the culture and grow the kingdom.  If I deserve a doctor’s care when I am ill then how can I refuse healthcare to others?  If food is my right should it be a right for anyone to not go hungry at night?  If I depend on my government to keep me safe and provide me rights such as libraries, parks and education, then why should my taxes not be used for others who are my neighbors?

Action
In what ways do I embody the healing, touching, welcoming power of Christ to others?   Perhaps this is the time, for example, to support our Muslim brothers and sisters who are fearful, frustrated and sad that their beliefs have been hijacked by an angry, violent minority.  What do I know of those beliefs and values?  The USCCB website has information on interfaith dialogues.  We can inform ourselves, get to know our neighbors and pray for them as well as all who are threatened by religious extremists.  http://usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/ecumenical-and-interreligious/interreligious/islam/dialogue-with-muslims-committee-statement.cfm

Monday, September 08, 2014

Behold the Virgin


We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.  For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  Romans 8:28-29

She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”  Matthew 1:21-23

Piety
Father, through the mysteries of the birth and life of your servant Mary, may we imitate what her birth and life reveal and obtain what her life and coronation promise through closer friendship with your Son.

Study
The traditional date of the feast, September 8, falls exactly nine months after the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Some sources speculate that because of its close proximity on the calendar to the feast of the Assumption of Mary, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is not celebrated today with the same solemnity as the Immaculate Conception. It is, nonetheless, a very important feast, because it prepares the way for the birth of Christ. 

Without a willing, humble and obedient vessel, the Nativity of our Lord would not have been possible.  The Gospel today refers to the human lineage of Jesus – a sprout from the tree of Jesse, the father of David the king.  Such ancestry is connected on both the paternal side as well as the maternal side.  So although Matthew goes into great detail of the generations of ancestors for Joseph the carpenter, Mary’s blood lines were more important because they made possible the birth of the virgin who would give birth to the savior-carpenter-king.  

Without the virgin, the prophecy would not have been fulfilled. Christ needed a mother, and Mary's conception and birth, therefore, are events without which Christ's own birth would have been impossible.

Interestingly, we normally celebrate the day on which saints died, because that is when they entered into eternal life.  However, there are three major exceptions. We celebrate the births of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and Saint John the Baptist, because all three were born without Original Sin. 

Action
In Mary, we revere qualities which would be ideal to imitate such as humility and obedience.  By being more Mary-like, we can become more Christ-like and get closer to Jesus in our daily life. As the reading from Romans reminds us, God wants us to be conformed to the image of his Son.  We can take a step in that direction by starting with the example of Mary and her joys, her sorrows and her mission.

“Conform” is an interesting choice of words for St. Paul (and his translators).  It means to act in accordance or harmony.  If we are to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, we need people to mentor us and set an example for the prevailing attitude and standards.  Rather than look elsewhere, Mary is our first guiding light into the way we can conform ourselves and our lives to Christ. As with all things on this journey, it also requires change from what we are doing now and movement away from any behavior which is not in harmony with the life of Christ. 

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Granted

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time A

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me.  If I tell the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.  Ezekiel 33:7-8

“Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.  For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  Matthew 18:19-20
 
Piety
Piety reflects the truth of our relationship to Christ.  When two or three of us are united in the name of Christ, he is in the middle of us.  When one of the brothers sins, in the name of our union with Christ we have the responsibility to say something.  If we are not listened to by the sinner we are told to call one or two others to say what is wrong so that the matter might have the confirmation of two or three witnesses.  All of us together are the body of Christ and what the community decides is bound in heaven.  We are strengthened by the goodness of each other.  We are all hurt by the sinfulness of the other.  If one does not listen to the community, such a one should be considered a gentile or a publican.  The Father in heaven gives us what we ask for together in the name of Christ.
Study
Fraternal correction is a form of the examen.  We study our behavior in the light of the gospel of Christ and we learn better ways of doing what is right from each other.  The unexamined life is not worth living.  The challenge of our spiritual journey is the question of what is the best to do.  The challenge of the Ignatian ‘magis’ (more) is in our struggle to do what gives greater glory to God. Study allows us to find the better way to serve God.
Action
We all owe to one another love. Love of the neighbor completes the law.  The command of the law is to love our neighbor as ourselves.  It completes all the other commandments.  Whatever we do, we should do out of love.  Love makes our world go round. How can we say we love the God we do not see if we do not love the neighbor we do see?  Wherever there is love God is there.  If we try to correct a bad person and he changes we are credited with his change.  If we do not try to change the one who sins we are guilty of his crime because he might have listened to us.  We must do our part to make a better world.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Hungry

Saturday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

We are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute.  To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless. 1 Corinthians 4:10-11
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
From “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” speech by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Barratt Junior High School speech in Philadelphia October 26, 1967:

And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. Don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. But be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.

Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.

Study
As we conclude this week that began with Labor Day, Jesus gives the wise Pharisees a lesson in labor and the idea of a higher calling. 

The Pharisees think that all labor is prohibited on the Sabbath.  That may have been the view in sacred history up to this point.  But much of sacred history is changed when Jesus comes onto the scene.  Jesus re-interprets the old ways with a new view.  According to the notes in the New American Bible, in his defense of his disciples’ conduct and his own charitable deed, Jesus argues that satisfying human needs such as hunger and performing works of mercy take precedence even over the sacred Sabbath rest.

Jesus connects this with the Old Testament story about David – which was not about a violation of the Sabbath rest.  The incident is an example of a violation of the law being permissible because David’s men had no food.   Blessed are those who hunger and thirst. 

According to the notes in the parallel account in Matthew’s gospel, if certain kinds of work have a higher purpose that outweigh the Sabbath law, “how much more does the presence of Jesus, with his proclamation of the kingdom (something greater than the temple), justify the conduct of his disciples?”

Action
We are always busy but are we busy with the right items. 
Growing up in places like New Jersey and Massachusetts, there were blue laws that forbid certain businesses from opening on Sunday.  Back in 1979, working as a salesperson at a car dealership, my boss required us to show up on Sunday (without pay).  Even though Massachusetts laws forbid the business from opening Sunday, the owner wanted us to work. His rationale was that customers who wanted to shop for a new car without being bothered by salespeople would visit the lots of new cars on Sunday.  If they found something they liked, they could come back during the week to buy.  But, they may go somewhere else to buy.  The owner did not want to take the chance that these people would buy from someone else.  He wanted his workers to violate the letter and spirit of the law and troll the lot for customers who thought they would be shopping in peace.
Within weeks, pretty much all the sales force quit because of the behavior of the management which dictated that a sale was more important everything or anything else -- even more important than following local laws.  He did not see his workers as having a life outside the dealership.  While you could argue with the basis for blue laws (which have been overturned in most places in the U.S.) and maybe even work to have them changed, willfully violating them thumbed your nose at authority.  He mistakenly thought that selling stuff was more important. It cost him a lot.  All he invested in training a sales force had to be spent again as the sales force kept quitting.
Clearly there are higher callings than selling cars or banning the harvest on Sunday.
The word "call" comes from vocare. We get the word vocation (a "call" or "summons") from it. Biblically it is used primarily for our being "called" to live in Christ, in relationship with God through Jesus. We belong to Christ, and our work is to believe, to glorify and enjoy God. It is our "high calling," our highest calling. Our daily work, whatever that is, is also a high calling. It is to be directed toward fulfilling God's purposes. (From “Why Work Is Holy,” by Dave Williamson)
What is your higher calling?