Thursday, January 29, 2015

In the Sufferings


You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you had a better and lasting possession.  Therefore, do not throw away your confidence; it will have great recompense.  You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised.  Hebrews 10:34-36

“This is how it is with the Kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.  Mark 4:26-27

Piety
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.  (Hebrews 10:16)

Study
Despite our suffering – be it voluntarily accepted or involuntarily imposed – we can still confidently approach the Lord to ask for His grace and intervention in our lives.  St. Paul acknowledges that we need endurance to do the will of God because it will entail suffering.  This is hardly the “stuff” used for recruiting posters in a day when messages abound about how things will make our life easier.

There is a famous story about St. Theresa of Avila which comes to mind whenever I see readings that promise suffering.  One day – so the story goes -- Theresa had trouble crossing a stream; the donkey she was with was being a jackass and would not cooperate. Theresa got soaked with mud and who knows what else and instead of getting mad at a poor defenseless animal, she got mad at God. Theresa screamed, yelling to God: "Well, if this is the way you treat your friends it is no wonder you don't have any!"

She knew that suffering would yield the fruit of a closer relationship with God.  She knew that God doesn't promise us a rose garden.  Life with the Lord will not be easy.  However, He promises that it will be worth all the suffering.  Like the sower in the Good News according to St. Mark, the sower plants and the plants grow but “he knows not how.” 

Action
We will never know why we suffer and how it will bring us closer to God.  However, Pope Francis had to deal with the question of suffering when he faced a question from a young girl on his recent trip to the Philippines.

According to a recent story in the National Catholic Reporter
Tearfully recounting a young life as yet spent forced to forage for food from garbage and to sleep outside on cardboard mats, 12-year-old Glyzelle Palomar had a simple but profound question for Pope Francis.
"Why did God let this happen to us?" the young Filipino asked, covering her face with her hands as she sobbed.

The Pope put aside his prepared text and addressed the root of her question.  "Certain realities in life we only see through eyes that are cleansed through our tears," Francis said.

Addressing the thousands of youth in the crowd, he continued: "I invite each one of you to ask yourselves: 'Have I learned how to weep, how to cry when I see a hungry child, a child on the street who uses drugs, a homeless child, an abandoned child, an abused child, a child that society uses as a slave?'"

Have I learned to weep, how to cry, when I see a hungry child?  Have I joined in their suffering?

   

Light Up!


By Beth DeCristofaro

Brothers and sisters:…Since through the Blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary…let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust,…Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope … (Hebrews 10:19, 22, 23)

Jesus said to his disciples, “Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?  For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light.  (Mark 4:21-22)

Piety
Lord, (we are) the people that longs to see your face.  (from Psalm 24:6)

Study
At different times in prayer groups or retreats I’ve pondered, laughed about, prayed on, and recognized how this image is realized in my life.  Looking for well-lit lamps yields so many wonderful examples and models.  The March for Life last week shines a light for life and justice.  Pope Francis embraces a man with an unpleasant illness and an outcast.  A friend cares for her very elderly, ill grandparent while providing childcare for a niece’s baby.  A home health aide buys ties out of his own salary so that man with dementia may feel dignified.  A teenager brings me a hand written thank you note because I welcomed him into my home when his house was locked up tight on a sub-zero afternoon.  He lights up my afternoon!  Nine brave young men sat with non-violent resistance at a whites-only lunch counter and they began to change a culture.

I hope and trust that Jesus is who fuels the wick of my faith and action.  But a lamp alone is just a lamp.  Jesus’s Church surrounds me, aiding with the care and maintenance of my lamp so I don’t end up like one of the foolish virgins who let their lamps run dry.  We are the people who long to see (His) face and one of the ways I recognize Him is in the faces around me.  God’s presence is in each and every person, hidden only to be made visible for those who see and those who hear. 

Action
St. Theresa of Avila said “The soul of the just person is nothing else but a paradise where the Lord says He finds His delight.”  How can we not have absolute trust when we are afforded such an individual attention from our God?  We are light in the darkness because our souls are illumined with God’s presence.  Look deeply at someone today.  See her/his Christ lamp burning however brightly or feebly.  Pray for her/him.

Look deeply into your own eyes in the mirror.  See Christ’s illumination within.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Some Seed Fell on Rich Soil


Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins.  But this one offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God; now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool.  Hebrews 10:11-13

Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it and it produced no grain.  And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit.  It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”  He added, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”  Mark 4:7-9

Piety
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own. 
(From “Archbishop Oscar Romero Prayer: A Step Along The Way by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw) 

Study
What is “effective?”  To what degree is something successful in producing a desired result?  How successful is an endeavor? 
Today our readings give us a time to reflect upon contrasting examples of “effectiveness.”
For thousands of years, the priests in the Hebrew Bible and ancient life offered daily sacrifices that were ineffectual in remitting sin.  Then, along comes Jesus of Nazareth, who offered a single sacrifice to redeem all sins throughout history.  That one single act won him a permanent place at God’s right hand.
The comparison of the sowers and the seeds also leads me to contemplate effectiveness.  A single sower plants many seeds but will not know which seeds will become fruit.  Like Jesus awaiting the final outcome of his work, the sower also awaits the growing season and final outcome of his work.

Action
At a talk some years back, a speaker made the point that God does not call us to be efficient and effective.  God calls us to love.  Unceasingly.  However, if we put authentic love into action in God’s name, then we trust that will result in the desired effect.  Sometimes, we might know the outcome directly.  Other times, it might be years in the making…if we ever see any results.
Like the sower, we might know the conditions in which to plant seeds that have a better chance at thriving.  Avoid rocky soil.  Avoid deserts where there is not enough water.  Avoid places that do not get enough sun.  We can maximize our chances of success if we find the right conditions for our actions.
One of the Cursillo mantras comes to mind when I think of how we can be more effective at spreading the Good News.  Deacon Jack Ligon has a handy little guide to the Cursillo weekend meditations and talks.  In looking at the Sunday talk on “Study and Evangelization of Environment,” he uses the memory anchor that “we have to talk to God about people before we talk to people about God.”  That single prayer-filled step – taken before any action at changing the environment – is the ticket to setting off on a mission that might be more effective at sowing seeds of change.

“We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.”

Monday, January 26, 2015

Here Are My Mother and My Brothers

Tuesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

By Melanie Rigney

Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of them, it can never make perfect those who come to worship by the same sacrifices that they offer continually each year.  (Hebrews 10:1)

Here I am Lord; I come to do your will. (Psalms 40:8a, 9a)

The mother of Jesus and his brothers arrived at the house. Standing outside, they sent word to Jesus and called him.  A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

Piety
Lord, thank You for inviting me into Your family.

Study
If you grew up in a loving family, today’s Gospel reading is likely difficult for you the first time through. Why does Jesus seem to be denying his family? It seems like a pretty cold way to talk about his mother and other relatives, that they are nothing more to him than those seated near him.
For those of us who grew up in families that were less than loving, the reading is comforting the first time through. God loves us, even if our parents and siblings and other relatives don’t. Even if we are estranged from them for reasons of personal safety and sanity, we still have a family in the Lord.
For all of us, however, the reading becomes challenging on a deeper dive. For if anyone who does the will of God is part of Jesus’s family, those folks are also part of our family. We may find joy in the fact that Jesus considers us part of the clan, and accept that that person who monopolizes the conversation at prayer group also is loved by the Lord. But for us to love that person in the same way we love our parents or brother or sister or an uncle or a cousin?
Jesus isn’t denying Mary or his other relatives. Rather, he’s urging us to broaden our view of family—and to welcome into our hearts and souls all those with whom we share a spiritual kinship. That’s a lot of people. That’s a lot of love.

Action
By your words or actions today, invite someone into the family. Give special consideration to those who have backed away from the table.

Bear Your Share

Memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus, Bishops

Piety
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.  So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.  2 Timothy 1:7-8

And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him.  But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man.  Mark 3:26-27

Study
Through “love and self-control,” we can tie up the strong man (Satan) and thus defeat temptation and how he tries to “possess” us and our lives. 
An interesting message, but those around Jesus do not know what to make of it.  It never occurred to them that the almighty would elect to live among us.  Jesus declared at the outset of his public ministry that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  He came down from heaven to claim us and the world as His own, not to cede that to Satan.   Binding the “strong man” is the way to replace our self-interest and temptation with what God wills for our lives.  
God also does not ask of us anything that Jesus was not already willing to do and to be.  Jesus controlled his human desires when tempted in the desert.  Jesus controlled his human desires when he prayed in the Garden for the cup to pass him by if it was God’s will.  Just as Jesus lived and loved those who were rejected by society, he asks us to do the same – not for our own purposes but for God’s.  

Action
What share of hardship are you enduring for the Gospel?  Did you ever hear the story of a man whose grandson was born with a severe handicap?  The man prayed that God would give him the pain that this boy would suffer.  In a short time, the man developed a chronic and painful condition that followed him for almost 20 years. 
Whose pain are you willing to endure?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Come After Me


By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

When God saw by their actions how they 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

I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out…For the world in its present form is passing away.  1 Corinthians 7:29A, 31B

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen.  Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Mark 1:16-17

Piety
The big picture of piety shows our response to the purpose of life.  It is not simply that we are created to the image and likeness of Christ.  The Sacramental life of the Church makes us children of God. Christ in his humanness is in heaven.  The Sacramental life of the Church makes us the humanness of Christ here on earth.  The world in its present form is passing away.  The Sacramental life of the Church makes us intimately related to Christ and each other as children of his Father.  The Sacraments make us into the reality of Christ on earth.  Our piety is how we respond to the call of Christ.  He shows us his life as the perfect response to the Father’s love for us.  Our piety makes us over into the mind and heart of Christ.  We bring a shared redemption to our world when we offer our sufferings in the name of Christ to fill up what is wanting to the sufferings of Christ.

Study
The arresting of John, brought a change in the style of the ministry of Jesus.  The Good News is that God loved the world.  Jesus is the good news of salvation.  God loved the world so much that he was willing to be one of us so that we would know how much and how great is the love of God for us.  The arresting of John brought Jesus to the need of a replacement for John.  He called the fisherman and their very call is the beginning of our call.  If he would call fishermen, we have lost any possible excuse for not hearing our own call.  Who could not be called by the Lord?

Action
Jonah goes through the big city of Nineveh telling the people that God will destroy them if they do not change.  He actually thought they would not listen to him.  He is even mad at God that they did listen.  Do we actually believe we can make a difference in this world of ours that has gone so crazy that innocent people are being blown up for the sake of keeping our easy lives safe?  We cannot use the excuse that we cannot do any good because God is the one that changes lives if we do our job.  Is anyone too low down in the scale of worthwhile that God would not be willing to use us to call one back to the purpose of their life? 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cleanse Our Consciences


For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the Blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.  Hebrews 9:13-14

Jesus came with his disciples into the house.  Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat.  When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”  Mark 3:20-21

Piety
Be at Peace
Do not look forward in fear to the changes of life; rather look to them with full hope as they arise.  God, whose very own you are, will deliver you from out of them.  He has kept you hitherto, and He will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand it, God will bury you in his arms.   

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and everyday.  He will either shield you from suffering, or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.  Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.
St. Francis de Sales 1567-1622

Study
Possessed.

Until the book and movie “The Exorcist” became wildly popular back in the 1970s, I had no idea what “possession” really meant in a religious sense.  Every moviegoer today is so used to demonic possession movies that it doesn't faze them anymore. “Possession” movies (it seems) come out to the theater, TV or Netflix every week – although lately they have been eclipsed by zombie movies and vampire diaries (but these could just be sub-classifications of the possession genre).

However, back when “The Exorcist” came out as a book in 1971 and then as a movie, it was a true scare all the way down the Georgetown steps.   I am told that people fainted in the theater watching this movie…I am told because my parents would not let me go to see it.  Now, you can watch The Exorcist on YouTube. 

We have become numbed by over-exposure to this genre.  We all have the "we've-seen-one-we've-seen-them-all" syndrome.  But the real thing – being possessed by God was so new and different that Jesus’ family could not tell the difference between being normal and paranormal.  In ancient cultures, the unexplainable was usually explained by fear.  Anyone like Jesus who attracted such crowds of strangers waiting for the next miracle, the next great sermon, the next healing could not be normal. 

Jesus, however, used his spotlight to the benefit of others who were “possessed.”  He cured people with physical and mental health issues that were beyond the scope of doctors from his days.  He was so right in using his position for the good of others that were shunned by the village.  He was so right that people thought he was wrong.

Action
We might not be “possessed” in a Linda Blair head-spinning, bed-off-the-floor moment but we might not always be of the right mind and right relationship with the things around us. 

Are your possessed by “self-will” and a desire for things other than God?  It helps to consider how St. Francis de Sales viewed our relationship to God and free will.  The less self-willed we are, the easier it will be to us to follow God’s will, he said. 

…Whosoever is not entirely resigned, but keeps on turning this way and that, never will find peace. When a person has a fever, he finds no place comfortable; he has not remained in one bed a quarter of an hour, before he wishes to be in another. It is not the bed which is in fault, but the fever, which torments him everywhere. And so a person who has not the fever of self-will, is contented everywhere and in all things, provided God be glorified. 


Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Sprig of Hope


By Colleen O’Sullivan

But this is the covenant I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord:  I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them upon their hearts.  I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  (Hebrews 8:10)

Show us, O Lord, your mercy,
and grant us our salvation. 
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.
Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.
(Psalm 85:8, 10-12)

Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him.  He appointed Twelve, whom he also named Apostles, that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.  (Mark 3: 13-15)

Piety
Lord, in the dark of winter, come to us, we pray.  Remind us that the barren landscape of these months always gives way to the colorful beauty of spring and new life both around and within us. 

Study        
Already this winter seems overly long and dark.  A few days of bright sunshine here and there, to be sure, but not enough to dispel the gloom.  It’s the winter of continuing ISIS threats and attacks.  It’s the season of heartlessly mocking the religious beliefs of a world faith in the name of free speech, 12 people dying as a result in a bloody reprisal.  It’s the time of year when the homeless particularly suffer. 

For me, this winter will also forever be marked by endings.  One of my dear friends is losing his wife, who’s given her illness of more than a decade a good fight.  Closer to home, these cold months mark the end of the days when my dad can live alone and needs to leave his sanctuary of 58 years, albeit not willingly.

Today’s Scripture readings remind us, however, that winter doesn’t last forever.  The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, in writing about the old and new covenants, refers back to the words of the prophet Jeremiah.  Jeremiah lived through very dark times in Jerusalem, through three waves of deportations to Babylon and finally the destruction of the Temple.  He spoke a word of hope, however, to his beaten-down, exiled people.  God, he said, will make a new covenant, not like the old one that we, God’s people, violated, but a new one written in our hearts.  A promise that becomes a sprig of hope blooming in the dead of winter.

In today’s psalm, we hear God’s people begging for mercy and salvation from some frozen tundra of despair.  And we feel the warm breath of spring here, too, as the psalmist declares God’s salvation near, that “kindness and truth shall meet” and “justice and peace shall kiss.”  There is hope that the season will change.

In today’s Gospel verses, we see the fulfillment of all these longings for new life in the person of Jesus.  He is the spring we pray for from the depths of icy winter.  He is God in our midst, the Savior for whom we longed throughout all of Advent.  And already we find him appointing Apostles, who will sow the seed of new life in the Lord.

Action
As you pray today, offer to God all that troubles you, all that has you feeling as though you’re living through an endless season of cold and clouds.  Winter is never the last word.  Sit, quiet and still, listening for God to remind you that God is the author of new life and that spring will come to your heart.

Divine Intercessor


By Beth DeCristofaro

Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 3:25)

Jesus withdrew toward the sea with his disciples. A large number of people followed from Galilee and from Judea. … He had cured many and, as a result, those who had diseases were pressing upon him to touch him. (Mark 3:7, 10)

Piety
Father and maker of all,
you adorn all creation
with splendor and beauty,
and fashion human lives
in your image and likeness.
Awaken in every heart
reverence for the work of your hands,
and renew among your people
a readiness to nurture and sustain
your precious gift of life.
Grant this through our Lord
Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in
the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God forever and ever.   Amen

Study
Years ago on a frigid, wet January day, I marched with thousands of others in one of the first March for Life marches held in D.C.  Frankly, I was disgusted and appalled.  There were counter demonstrations which included shouting, angry protesters and people dressed in “bloody” robes yelling at the “ignorance” of us marchers.  That was pretty awful.  But more distressing to me were the offensive and hateful shouts at them by many Catholic marchers around me.  Then, the first speakers at the rally used vile, ugly language, threatening the protesters and politicians who were pro-choice.  I had to wonder where respect for life was during that “Respect for Life” assembly.

I believe Jesus would love the words from today’s prayer just as I do:  “Awaken in every heart reverence for the work of your hands”.  St. Paul reminds us he lives forever to make intercession for them.  Jesus was the Word and the Truth and he respected the dignity of human life, offering intercession for thieves, adulterers and publicans.  He asks no less of us.  In our zeal for even the most principled and precious of values we are tasked not to hate and disrespect.  We are asked to meet sin with faith-steeped strength in God and pacifism powered by the stillness of God within.  Our zeal, if rooted in love, will not lead us to disrespect others who are also created in His image.  But our zeal, if rooted in love, can create not destroy and can move mountains.

Action
In what way can I support the cause of right to life for the Unborn but also the poor, trafficked, refugee, seriously ill, disabled, underinsured, marginalized, forgotten, single parent, mentally ill, collateral damaged, incarcerated, unemployed, oppressed, anyone who longs for intercession and healing touch? 

Take a few minutes to read about the philosophy of “the seamless garment” spoken about by activist Eileen Egan and Joseph Cardinal Bernadin.  Rejoice in the work of God’s hands you will see around you today.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

But They Remained Silent


Piety
“Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”  But they remained silent.  Mark 3:4

Study
Jesus challenges the Pharisees (and all of us) to do something about evil in the world.  This challenge also is rooted in the Hebrew Bible. 
You, son of man—I have appointed you as a sentinel for the house of Israel; when you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them for me.  When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood.  If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life.  Ezekiel 33:7-9

Also, in the book of the prophet Jeremiah (1:17), we are challenged to speak up:  “But you, prepare yourself; stand up and tell them all that I command you.  Do not be terrified on account of them, or I will terrify you before them.”
The Pharisees are hiding behind the law in order to avoid the challenge of doing something to help those in need.

Action
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  This quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., also reminds us all to refrain from keeping silent – to speak up when we encounter injustice.  Dr. King reminded us not to sit on the sidelines of life and watch injustice; rather we need to speak out and consciously push back against it. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Sabbath Was Made for Man

Tuesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

By Melanie Rigney

God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones. We earnestly desire each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of hope until the end, so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who, through faith and patience, are inheriting the promises. (Hebrews 6:10-12)
The Lord will remember his covenant for ever. (Psalms 111:5)
(After Jesus replied to the Pharisees’ rebuke about the disciples picking heads of grain on the Sabbath, he said:) “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)

Piety
Lord, help me to take time to slow down, rest, reflect, and praise You in the silent moments.

Study
Sabbath.

Even reading or saying the word makes you smile and sigh a bit. The sibilant ess, the hard pair of b’s, and that closing th that almost begs to be followed by a deep breath and an “ah.” It gives you momentary peace.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus reminds the Pharisees what Sabbath is…and what it is not. It is a time of rest, not a time so chockfull of rules and admonitions that there can be no rest. In some ways, the Sabbath conditions placed on the children of Israel might be considered analogous to our own, personal “rules” about Sabbath: I’ll sit quietly after Mass… just as soon as my emails are all answered. I’ll say a rosary… just as soon as the groceries are bought and put away and the errands are run. I’ll reflect on the day’s readings… just as soon as I finish the laundry and the rest of my to-do list. Our priorities are out of whack. We forget that time with God and our replenishment so that we may share the Good News rank anything else on our lists.

The Catholic Catechism puts it this way: “If God ‘rested and was refreshed’ on the seventh day, man too ought to ‘rest’ and should let others, especially the poor, ‘be refreshed.’ The sabbath brings everyday work to a halt and provides a respite. It is a day of protest against the servitude of work and the worship of money.

As someone who struggles to keep the Sabbath, on Sunday or any other day, I was moved recently when a dear friend, Letitia Suk, gave me a copy of Wayne Muller’s Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives. I had shared with Tish that I knew I was copping out to the concept of Sabbath by saying that I spend the time in activity honoring the Lord and so it’s all good. I read Sabbath slowly at two different retreat centers in a two-month period; too many distractions arose when I tried to read it at home. The book is rich with stories and advice from people, famous and otherwise, from a number of faith traditions. But the words that most resonated with me come early in the book:

Sabbath is more than the absence of work; it is not just a day off, when we catch up on television or errands. It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true. … Sabbath does not require us to leave home, change jobs, go on retreat, or leave the world of ordinary life. We do not have to change clothes or purchase any expensive spiritual equipment. We only need to remember.

As for me, finding Sabbath in a familiar setting is still difficult. Maybe it is for you as well. May we remember what Jesus tells us in Mark 2—he’s in charge of Sabbath, and he desires us to find peace and joy in it—and Him.

Action

Stop what you’re doing right now, and spend fifteen minutes in Sabbath, no matter where you are or what day of the week it is. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

New Wine is Poured


Piety
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.  Hebrew 5:10

“Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins.  Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined.  Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”  Mark 2:22

Study
What is the biggest difference between the readings from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament? 

IMHO, the change is that God is with us in the New Testament.  He parties at Cana.  He eats fish on the mountainside.  He walks around Galilee.  He drinks water at the well with the Samaritan woman.  God – in the personhood of Jesus – does everything we do including suffering.  The New Testament is the story of Jesus achieving perfection through that suffering.  The New Testament is a book of the present tense while the Old Testament is a book of waiting and preparation. 

With the arrival of the new, the rules changed.  Fasting is appropriate when you are waiting for the bridegroom to arrive for the big feast.  However, when he arrives, it is a time to celebrate and dance. 

When the Pharisees tried to apply the old rules to the behavior of Jesus and his disciples, they ran up against a new interpretation of the rules.  Fasting is reduced to an unnecessary practice during Jesus’ public ministry.

As the notes in the NAB explain, “The bridal metaphor expresses a new relationship of love between God and his people in the person and mission of Jesus to his disciples. It is the inauguration of the new and joyful messianic time of fulfillment and the passing of the old. Any attempt at assimilating the Pharisaic practice of fasting, or of extending the preparatory discipline of John’s disciples beyond the arrival of the bridegroom, would be as futile as sewing a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak or pouring new wine into old wineskins with the resulting destruction of both cloth and wine.” 

Action
Growing up, Easter (more than Christmas) was a holiday for new clothes.  At Christmas, we would get new clothes wrapped up under the tree.  Maybe we would wear something new (and red) to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  But that was a last-minute decision. 

However, Easter required preparation.  My parents would take us to Sears-Roebuck or Clayton-Magee or Robert Hall to get a new suit, shirt and tie.  We would trek down to Kinney Shoes for some new loafers or wing-tips.  When we showed up at church on Easter Sunday, we were wearing our finest.  Our newly redeemed selves could not be poured into the old wineskins hanging in our closets.  The new wine we would consume had to go into our bodies that were adorned with “new wineskins” of the finest cotton-polyester blend. 

How are you exercising your newly redeemed self with your commitment to piety, study and action?  Remember that Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.”  Your greatness is in your action.   

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Found


By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

The LORD came and stood there, calling out as before: Samuel, Samuel! Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”  1 Samuel 3:10

Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus.  He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah” — which is translated Christ.  Then he brought him to Jesus.  John 1:40-41

Piety
Piety is the response of our lives to the word of the Lord that calls us to find ourselves in him.  We area created to the image and the likeness of God in Christ. Christ is the blueprint of our piety.  It is not simply that we put on the mind and the heart of Christ.  We also have the application of the senses, as part of our prayer where our living and our breathing become the richness of our prayer.  Our first breath is the first prayer of our lives.  Our last breath is the last prayer of our lives.  Our living for the Lord makes us into contemplatives in Action.  Each breath is the living of prayer.  We are calling to the Lord to speak to us and the answer to what the Lord asks of us is our piety.  How we give our lives to the Lord is how we hear the Lord calling us and respond the best we can.  Our piety says to the Lord; “Here I am Lord. I come to do your will.”

Study
Our study teaches us what we need to know to find the Lord in the moment now of our lives.  Like John of our gospel story, we need to be able to point out the Lord.  We hear John calling Christ the Lamb.  The glorious lamb offers himself for the people.  Jesus is the servant called Lamb.  The four suffering Servants psalms of Isaiah describe the destiny of the suffering Servant.  What Christ is meant to be is learnt as the Lamb of God.  He will offer himself up for us.  We study how to follow in his footsteps that we may be like Lambs of God.

Action
Our most important work is not simply to live to the call of the Lord.  We need to bring others to share what we hear from the Lord.  John pointed out Christ to two of his disciples and they followed Jesus.  Jesus asked them what they wanted and they were told to come and to see.  Our study allows us to see what Christ is doing in our lives and allows us to hear the call to follow him.  We follow the Lord in how we share his love with the needy of our world.  When we allow our needs to be met by our friends, we too become Christ to those who help us.  Christ identifies with our needs, too.  It is a win-win situation because it is Christ we care for in our charity and we in Christ’s identifying with our needs become Christ to those who care for us.  Andrew is our exemplar.  Having found Christ, he brings Christ to his brother.  The ripple of our sharing Christ with family goes to our whole world. 

Tested in Every Way


Piety
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.  So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.  Hebrews 4:15-16

“Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Jesus heard this and said to them, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.  I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”  Mark 2:16B-17

Study
Some religions make their supreme being inaccessible – a name which cannot even be uttered.  Not so our faith.  Our confident access to God is made possible by the priestly work of Jesus right here as an earthy human being.  From the cold nativity of his birth to the lonely cross of his execution, Jesus was the bridge between heaven and earth to make possible our ability to “approach the throne of grace.”
Our “high priest” is head and shoulders above everyone who calls themselves a high priest.  However, his work is not accomplished by mingling with his priestly peers.  Jesus accomplishes his work – as we see in today’s Gospel – only by eating with the tax collectors and sinners. 

Action
The lesson for us is to do the same – our work should not be focused on those who are already saved.  A national Cursillo leader once remarked, “We have to fish outside the bowl.” 
Pope Francis provides another vivid example for us to stand with the poor in his trip to the Philippines.  Rather than spending his time with the rich and powerful, here is an account of an episode in this trip detailed by the National Catholic Reporter:
“Braving pouring rain and 60-mile an hour winds to stand with those most affected by a typhoon that left thousands dead and millions homeless, Pope Francis said Saturday he did not know what he could say to address their pain.
"I don't know what to say to you," said the pontiff in a strikingly heartfelt and personal homily at a Mass in Tacloban, an area some 500 miles southeast of the Philippines capital that was struck hardest by 2013's Typhoon Haiyan.
"Many of you lost part of your families," the pope continued, setting aside his prepared English text for the occasion to speak in his native Spanish. "All I can do is keep silence. And I walk with you all with my silent heart."
The Pope is walking with people who have been “tested in every way.”  They survived the typhoon and this trip is marked by another massive storm.  However, he reminds them to turn to Jesus on the cross for hope. 
Evincing the pain of those who suffered so much from the event, Francis he had come to Tacloban "to tell you that Jesus is Lord" and that he "never lets us down."
"Father, you might say to me, 'I was let down because I've lost so many things, my house, my livelihood; I have illness,'" said Francis.
"It's true if you would say that," he continued. "And I respect those sentiments. But Jesus is there nailed to the cross and from there he does not let us down."
"For this we have a Lord who is capable of crying with us, who is capable of walking with us in the most difficult moments of life," said Francis.

How can you walk with the poor this weekend in how you eat, live, shop, play and work?