Saturday, February 18, 2017

Agape Love


By Mary Beth Harney

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD."
Leviticus 19:18

"You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.

But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."
(Matthew 5:43-48)

Piety
A CONFEDERATE SOLDIER'S PRAYER
Author Unknown,
(Attributed to a battle-weary C.S.A soldier near the end of the war)

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed

Study
In today’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t mince words. He challenges his disciples to love not only those who love them, but to also love their enemies. He challenges them to turn the other cheek and to go the extra mile. He challenges them to love the just and the unjust, and to love and even pray for their persecutors.  

What Jesus is teaching is radical or “agape” love. Agape love is committed to the highest good of the one loved. It is unconditional and voluntary love, with no preconditions. In his podcast homily for today (available on iTunes), Bishop Robert Barron speaks of loving with a divine indifference, that is, choosing to love and accept the other person as they are rather than measuring out our love based on merit or emotion. This is agape love.

Of course, this is easier said than done. And Jesus reminds us that holiness attained through such agape love is hard; it takes work. Jesus challenges us to love and show kindness to our family friends, to our trusted colleagues, and to our favorite neighbor or teacher. But Jesus also challenges us to show agape love towards the difficult persons in our life: the obnoxious co-worker, the bully, or the rude patron on the Metro.  

Lent is right around the corner. Now is the perfect time for us to ponder how we may show agape love to those around us. Are we willing to forgive those who mistreat us? Do we patiently lend an ear and listen to those in need? Are we willing to leave our comfort zone to help someone in need?

Action
Pray for the courage to practice agape love towards someone who has hurt you in the past.  

What is Hoped For


Brothers and sisters: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Because of it the ancients were well attested. By faith, we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God so that what is visible came into being through the invisible.  Hebrews 11:1-2

And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Mark 9:2B-6

Piety
The heavens were opened and the voice of the Father thundered:
This is my beloved Son. Listen to him. Mark 9:6

Study
Tucked into the middle of the mild winter of our discontented ordinary time, is the Bible’s most extraordinary (IMHO) definitions of faith – one verbal in the Epistle and the other experiential in the Good News.  St. Paul explains to the Hebrews that we “must believe not only that God exists but that he is concerned about human conduct; the Old Testament defines folly as the denial of this truth.”  When that behavior does not seem to lead in the right direction, God will take extraordinary steps to get up back on track.  He sent his Son.  When that did not seem to work, he delivered the message directly.

Why does the Magisterium pair this passage from Hebrews with the Transfiguration?  The Transfiguration – as the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the Rosary – is the evidence. The Transfiguration is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen (by anyone else). Because of it, Peter, James, and John were well attested.

Well-attested indeed!  Peter, James, and John were incredulous. They were filled with shock and awe. They did not know what to do or say or feel.  First, Peter reacted to the situation by thinking, well, this is good that we are here. He wanted to do something – yet building tents, when they were enveloped by the cloud of the unknowing, was most unnecessary.  Yet, standing before Moses and Elijah, they probably also thought that this was the hour of their death.  Thus, the emotion of the moment shifted almost immediately to astonishment.    

Over the past few weeks, we have seen a particularly busy but at many times, frustrated Jesus.  Despite performing sign after sign (healing, feeding thousands, and even raising a little girl from the dead), the Pharisees have been badgering him for more evidence.  The frustration on Earth may even be mirrored in Heaven.  So, as a stimulus to direct the growth of the Apostle’s faith, the Lord God and Jesus have devised a plan for their inner circle. 

“Let’s give them a taste of the Kingdom.”  So, up the mountain they go, and their eyes and ears and hearts are opened.  The secret plan is to deliver the secret of the universe to them. And the secret is as simple as eight simple words: 

This.
Is.
My.
Beloved.
Son.
Listen.
To.
Him!

Action
We do not need to build tents.  Or sacrifice little lambs.  Or run off to a monastery in the desert. We just need to pay attention to what was and is revealed. We just need to Listen to Jesus.

As quickly as the revelation was revealed, Peter, James and John opened their eyes and the physical world back to “normal.” However, their minds and hearts and spirits were changed forever.  Not until the Resurrection when Mary Magdalene and others encounter the Risen Christ – an image foreshadowed by the Transfigured Jesus in clothes of sizzling white: “On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. (Mark 16:5). 

Gone, now is the shock and terror. In its place are amazement and love! Make Mark 9:6 part of your meditation.  Close your eyes as you run this through your mind.  When you open your eyes, what do you see? If we listen to him, we will be transfigured, too!  That is what God is hoping for in all of salvation history.

Jesus and You.  Perfectly Transfigured Together!

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Blueprint

Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
By Colleen O’Sullivan
The whole world spoke the same language, using the same words.  While the people were migrating in the east, they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there.  They said to one another, “Come, let us mold bricks and harden them with fire.”  They used bricks for stone, and bitumen for mortar.  Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.”   (Genesis 11:1-4)

The Lord brings to nought the plans of nations; he foils the designs of peoples. But the plan of the Lord stands forever; the design of his heart, through all generations.  (Psalm 33:10-11)

Jesus summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it.  (Mark 8:34-35)
Piety
Lord, may your plan for me be the blueprint for how I spend my days on earth.
Study
Lodewijk Toeput - The Construction of the Tower of Babel,
c. 1583-1587
Today’s readings from the Book of Genesis and Mark’s Gospel stand in stark contrast to one another.  In the former, the phrase that stands out is “make a name for ourselves.”  In the Gospel passage, that is counterbalanced by the notion of denying oneself, taking up a cross, and losing one’s life for the sake of the Lord.

The story of the Tower of Babel is a fairly secular one.  God doesn’t figure in at all from the point of view of the builders of this tower and the surrounding city.  They’ve learned to make bricks for building in the absence of much stone in ancient Babylonia.  So here’s a group building an urban center, the focal point of which is this tower that will reach up to the heavens.  Their architectural accomplishment is based on the ziggurats of Babylon, pyramid-like structures designed to “serve as staircases from earth to heaven.”1   The ziggurats generally had shrines at the very top.  But here there is no mention of building this tower as a means to worship.  All the talk is about how great and wonderful the accomplishments of the builders.

The story has its humorous side, though.  For all its skyscraper construction, it strikes me funny that God actually couldn’t see the tower from heaven and had to “come down” to get a glimpse of what was going on!  So much for all the arrogant pride and puffed up egos in the city.

Jesus, on the other hand, is all about God and how a person should live on earth in order to spend eternity with the Father.  It has nothing to do with self-importance or boastfulness about one’s accomplishments.  Jesus says that if we want to follow him, the journey is all about denying ourselves, walking the way of the cross, and being willing to lay down our lives for him and for others.  No merit badges to display or ostentatious ribbon cuttings to celebrate our accomplishments.
Action
In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola asks retreatants to meditate on what he calls the Two Standards.  He suggests imagining the armies of Jesus Christ and Satan on a field, preparing for battle (don’t forget that he was a military man in his earlier years).  Each army has a standard or flag, which identifies their position.
The meditation serves to help us decide which side we’re going to be on.  It’s not as cut and dried a decision as it sounds, because Satan wears a myriad of disguises and has the ability to make the values of the world sound like virtues.  The evil spirit would have been right there next to the builders of the Tower of Babylon, telling them they deserved the accolades and praise of others for such a great accomplishment.  And sometimes that’s music to our ears.
Spend a few minutes imagining the scene and thinking about which side you’re on.  For some additional thoughts, you might want to read How the Two Standards Meditation Can Help Outside of a Retreat by John Monroe, a lay retreat director and spiritual director at the Ignatius Retreat House in Atlanta.
Never forget the words of the psalmist, “the plan of the Lord stands forever.”
1 Living Space, Commentary on Genesis 11:1-9, for Friday of week 6 of Ordinary Time




Thursday, February 16, 2017

Be Fertile In Grace and Holiness

Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

By Beth DeCristofaro
God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them: "Be fertile and multiply and fill the earth. … If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; For in the image of God has man been made. (Genesis 9:1, 6)
He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." (Mark 8:31-33)
Piety
O God, who teach us that you abide in hearts that are just and true, grant that we may be so fashioned by your grace as to become a dwelling pleasing to you.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ, you Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  (Collect from the Mass for the Day)
Study
Life changing episodes recently featured on public radios “StoryCorps” included Mary Johnson whose son was murdered.  She met Oshea Israel, her son’s murderer, after he was released from prison.  "’I wanted to know if you were in the same mindset of what I remembered from court, where I wanted to go over and hurt you,’ Johnson tells Israel. ‘But you were not that 16-year-old. You were a grown man. I shared with you about my son.’  ‘And he (your son) became human to me,’ Israel says.  … (Mary adds) ‘And I instantly knew that all that anger and the animosity, all the stuff I had in my heart for 12 years for you — I knew it was over, that I had totally forgiven you.’ Johnson founded From Death To Life: Two Mothers Coming Together for Heal­ing, a support group for mothers who have lost their children to violence.  ‘Sometimes I still don't know how to take it,’ (Israel) says, ‘because I haven't totally forgiven myself yet. It's something that I'm learning from you. I won't say that I have learned yet, because it's still a process that I'm going through’."[i] 
In another StoryCorps conversation Bill and Claudia reminisce about the beginning of their romance which led to a 30+ year marriage.  Bill is partially paralyzed and admits that he was not very nice before the accident which disabled him.  "I was a hard ass," Bill says. "I was not the type of person that I think you would have wanted to meet. But you get a chance to lay in bed for six months and re-evaluate who you are. It was ... an opportunity to change the way I was." [ii]
Today’s readings are moments of profound change.  God promises to sustain the descendants of Noah and never to send such a devastating flood upon humans again.  Peter’s witness to Jesus that he recognizes the Son of Man shows his movement to conversion.  He follows but not in complete understanding. Jesus then begins to teach that his followers will have to share in his sufferings.  God’s thinking is not human thinking but God’s actions can and do infuse human thinking and action with grace and holiness.  He offers it to us. 
Action
Today, look at everyone with whom you come into contact as being offered the same chance at change toward God that Noah, Peter, Mary, Oshea, Claudia and Bill were offered.  How can we nourish that growth toward God in them and ourselves?
 
 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

He Saw Clearly


Noah built an altar to the LORD, and choosing from every clean animal and every clean bird, he offered burnt offerings on the altar. When the LORD smelled the sweet odor, he said to himself: "Never again will I doom the earth because of man since the desires of man's heart are evil from the start; nor will I ever again strike down all living beings, as I have done. As long as the earth lasts, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, Summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease."  Genesis 8:20-22

Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on the man and asked, "Do you see anything?" Looking up the man replied, "I see people looking like trees and walking." Then he laid hands on the man's eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly. Then he sent him home and said, "Do not even go into the village." Mark 8:23B-26

Piety
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

Study
Exasperated Jesus cannot stay angry with his children for long.   The Pharisees had just come to him for a sign.  Jesus reminded them that he fed four thousand people with seven loaves of bread and had seven baskets filled with left-overs. They still did not “get it.” 


Yet, upon arriving in Bethesda, the people brought Jesus a blind beggar who needed to be cured.  And Jesus could not resist fulfilling their prayer.  “Ask and you shall receive.”  According to the notes in the New American Bible, “Jesus’ actions and the gradual cure of the blind man probably have the same purpose as in the case of the deaf man (Mk 7:31–37). Some commentators regard the cure as an intended symbol of the gradual enlightenment of the disciples concerning Jesus’ messiahship.”

The Lord God dried up the flood waters which covered the land – he could not stay angry with Noah and his children for long then either. Likewise, Jesus acts accordingly.  Jesus knows that the light is slowly illuminating the minds and hearts of his disciples.  He persisted in mercy.

Action
Jesus cannot hold a grudge for long.  We should be so kind.  Resolving conflicts peacefully is not a natural skill for any of us.  We hold grudges much longer than Jesus.

This Saturday, you can learn more about how to sharpen your skills at conflict resolution when the Arlington Peace and Justice Commission presents “Conflict Resolution: An Alternative to Violence.”  The presentation will be Saturday night, February 18 at the Church of the Nativity in Burke, VA. 

After Mass at 5 p.m. and a pasta dinner, there will be a keynote presentation by Fr. Clement Mweyang Aapengnuo, Ph. D., who is the President of Conflict Transformation and Peace Studies in Ghana.  A panel of local experts and activists will then respond to Fr. Clem’s Keynote address.

If you plan to attend, please RSVP by sending a note to peace@arlingtondiocese.org.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Are Your Hearts Hardened?


By Melanie Rigney

When the Lord saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how no desire that his heart conceived was ever anything but evil, he regretted that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was grieved. (Genesis 6:5-6)

The Lord will bless his people with peace. (Psalm 29:11b)

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. Jesus enjoined them, "Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." They concluded among themselves that it was because they had no bread. When he became aware of this he said to them, "Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?" (Mark 8:14-18)

Piety
Lord, help me to stay on the narrow road, eyes focused on You.

Study
The Pharisees and Herod and his followers didn’t have a lot in common. The Pharisees were all about the ritual and the law of religion; those who followed Herod, on the other hand, were devoted to a decadent, corrupt lifestyle. They agreed, however, on the danger this Jesus and his teachings about God presented to them. They challenged Jesus and attempted to set traps for him, so as to have a reason to do away with him.

Jesus’s way can be difficult. Challenging. Especially that part about having to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and follow daily. By contrast, the excesses of the Pharisees and Herod required less discernment. The Pharisees’ way was exacting, setting forth the right way to do virtually everything. There was little room for error… and a whole lot of room for judging others who didn’t follow the rules quite as well as you did. Herod’s followers?  They liked to be entertained, and woe to you if you didn’t find them fun and engaging… or vice versa.

The lesson in today’s Gospel reading isn’t about a lack of physical nourishment. It’s about the danger that even a tiny bit of the wrong sort of spiritual food can do to our souls. A little gossiping or a little judging doesn’t seem dangerous. But it can be. A little excessive vacationing or a little excessive personal pampering doesn’t seem dangerous. But it can be. It’s like the struggles some of us have with an opened bag of potato chips or Girl Scouts’ Thin Mint cookies. The first is the easiest to refuse.

Action
Pray for the Lord’s help in saying no today to the temptation to participate in small practices of judgment or excess. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Hold Up Your Head


The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not. Cain greatly resented this and was crestfallen. So the LORD said to Cain: "Why are you so resentful and crestfallen. If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master." Genesis 4:4B-7

He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, "Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation." Then he left them, got into the boat again, and went off to the other shore. Mark 8:12-13

Piety
God of Compassion,
Hear the cries of the people of Syria,
Bring healing to those suffering from violence,
Bring comfort to those mourning the dead,
Strengthen Syria’s neighbors in their care and welcome for refugees,
Convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms,
And protect those committed to peace.

God of Hope,
Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence and to seek reconciliation with enemies,
Inspire the Church around the world with compassion for the people of Syria,
And give us hope for a future of peace built on justice for all. 

We ask this through Jesus Christ,
Prince of Peace and Light of the World. Amen.

Study
Today, we witness an emotionally exasperated Jesus who has lost all patience with the smartest men in the temple.  We have seen wild swings in Jesus’ emotional state throughout Mark’s Gospel.  He can be compassionate in one instant and angry the next.  People want – and have come to expect to witness – the great feats of healing.  However, they are not very interested in the deeper message to preach the Good News of love in action.

Jesus has already cured the man with the skin disease, calmed the seas, banished the demon from Legion, cured the woman whose daughter was bleeding.  He raised Jarius’ daughter, cured the woman who touched his robe and cured the deaf man. Yet, the Pharisees demand a sign.

To top it off, Jesus just served a banquet to five thousand people from seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. After all that, you can almost imagine seeing Jesus raise up his hands in exasperation and get into the boat, refusing to suffer the fools around him. Jesus cannot and will not stay angry for a long time.  However, today, that’s all she wrote…or he wrote in the case of St. Mark.

Yet, by verse 22, he will once again be giving sight to a blind man. Because the same way Jesus throws up his arms in exasperation mirrors the way he throws up his arms in praise.


Action
The story of Cain and Abel and the demanding Pharisees show how sin is always lurking at our door – the sin of testing the Lord. The Lord urges Cain to be the master of his temptations.  Yet, Cain yields to his baser instincts and kills his brother.

Every day, we have choices.  Do we give in to our baser instinct to be the keeper of ourselves or to be the keeper of our sisters and brothers? How do we spend our time, talent and treasure? One of the challenging issues of the day continues to be immigration. 

The chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration welcomed a federal appeals court ruling that upheld a temporary restraining order against the travel ban on refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries that also temporarily suspended the country's refugee resettlement program.

"We respect the rule of law and the American judicial process. We remain steadfast in our commitment to resettling refugees and all those fleeing persecution," Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, said in a statement Feb. 10.  "At this time we remain particularly dedicated to ensuring that affected refugee and immigrant families are not separated and that they continue to be welcomed in our country," the statement said.  

However, it is only words if we do not turn those words into action. You can use the resources provided to make your voice heard by our political leaders on the refugee issue here: https://secure.crs.org/site/Advocacy?pagename=homepage&page=UserAction&id=974&AddInterest=3581&_ga=1.126417353.535223407.1486933775

Saturday, February 11, 2017

To Fulfill


by Diane Bayne

“If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.” (Sirach 15:15)

“Yet among the mature, we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age, who are doomed to pass away.  But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God which God decreed before the ages for our glorification.” (1 Corinthians 2: 6-8)

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. . . (Matthew 5:17)

“For I tell you unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5: 20)

Piety
This Sunday’s readings tell us that God never asks more of us than that of which we are capable and that it is possible to keep God’s commandments.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us that the wisdom of the present age is passing away and that the Gospel of Jesus imparts the secret and hidden wisdom of God.  Then, in the Gospel, Jesus imparts this wisdom:  that outward observance of the law, which the Scribes and Pharisees preach, is not enough.  Jesus’ Gospel transcends the law.  It is not enough that we do not murder, commit adultery, divorce or lie.  The law of the new covenant is a law that God has written on our hearts and with Jesus calls on us to honor that law by paying attention to what is going on in our hearts and in mastering our passions and emotions.

Study
Our study this week is demanding, for it requires that we look beyond the outward veneer of our beliefs into their very deepest meaning.  It means that we must not only understand this meaning but that our conduct must honor it.  And so, as the website of the Irish Association of Catholic Priests makes clear, Jesus demands that we not only respect people’s right to life but also their right to dignity and self-respect. 

When speaking about sexual purity, Jesus refers not only to physical purity but about the purity of intention in general.  When speaking about truth telling, Jesus makes clear that what is of value is not swearing as such but an atmosphere of openness, truth telling, and mutual confidence, which makes swearing unnecessary.

Action
As the Irish priests observe, one’s mere legal observance is utterly insignificant to Jesus.  What is of supreme importance is not one’s strict adherence to religious beliefs and duties but one’s fidelity to the very heart of the Gospel.  This fidelity makes keeping the commandments even more demanding than the literal commandment-keeping advocated by the Scribes and Pharisees.   As the priests’ observe, “One approach to today’s Scriptures would be to take them as pointers and ideals for Christian morality.”  To approach this ideal requires constant prayer and practice and to agree–both in theory and practice--with the great Benedictine admonition:  “Each day we begin again.”  

My Heart is Moved


To the man, he said: "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat, "Cursed be the ground because of you! In toil shall you eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, as you eat of the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat, Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return." Genesis 3:17-19

In those days when there again was a great crowd without anything to eat, Jesus summoned the disciples and said, "My heart is moved with pity for the crowd because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will collapse on the way, and some of them have come a great distance." Mark 8:1-3

Piety
One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. Matthew 4:4B

Study
Where are you?  Who told you?  Why did you do such a thing?

The Lord God is incredulous.  He has given Adam and Eve eve-rything.  There were not Ten Commandments at this juncture…just one.  The Lord said, “Everything is yours but do not eat from this one tree.” 

However, the Lord God knows something is up.  He seeks to gather the facts.  Those who compiled the Book of Genesis must have realized that God knew all things even before finding Adam and Eve cowering naked in the Garden.  The serpent.  The temptation.  The free will.  The eaten fruit.  The Lord also knew that when they violated the One Commandment (I am the Lord your God. Listen to Me.) that they would be banished. The punishment affects their relationship to everything.  To life, they are now mortal and will be dust.  To food, they must work the ground for their bread.  To God, they will no longer be in a relationship. They were dominated by the force of ego and looked to use their plentiful resources for themselves.

Jesus was motivated by the opposite force: empathy for the other.  If Jesus was motivated by selfishness, he might have just picked up his tent and gone home, leaving everyone to fend for themselves. Empathy and pity spurred Jesus and those around him to take care of the needs of others, not of themselves.  

Action
Where are you?  Who told you?  Why did you do such a thing?

My first boss after coming out of graduate school was a Fordham graduate named Gerry.  He was running a small-town charity in the Mid-West.  These two sons of New York, 700 miles away from their birthplaces, found common ground.

On his office wall, Gerry posted the Rotary International Four-Way Test.  Rotary is not a religious organization so this test is more ethical than sectarian.  It asks, "Of the things that we think, say or do: 

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?"
Gerry lived this philosophy as an employer, a father, husband, and neighbor.  As the members of that local Rotary Club were the town’s business leaders, you could feel business conducted differently than in say New York or Las Vegas.  They ran their businesses, the community, and their families upon these four pillars.  The business leaders went to different churches on Sunday but these four rocks connected their faiths and their honor to each other.

Too bad that the Rotary Four-Way Test was not nailed to the trunk of the Tree of Life.  Maybe before Eve took a bite, it would have reminded her of the consequences of her actions upon others. 

What guides you to a life of service in your personal, business and community activity? 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Naked Before God


By Colleen O’Sullivan

The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.  So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.  When they heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.   (Genesis 3:6-8)

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
my guilt I covered not.
I said, “I confess my faults to the Lord,”
and you took away the guilt of my sin.  (Psalm 32:5)

He took (the deaf man with the speech impediment) off by himself away from the crowd.  He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”)  And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.  (Mark 7:33-35)

Piety
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
(Amazing Grace, John Newton, 1779)

Study
The story of the Eden Garden. The temptation of Adam & Eve 
by the devil. Pedestal of the statue of Madonna with Child, 
western portal (of the Virgin), of Notre-Dame de Paris, France, 
Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

A lush paradise.  Everything we could ever need.  A God who walks and converses with us in the cool of the evening.  A talking snake.  Fig leaf attire.   All just a myth, people say, as though that somehow diminishes the truth of the story.

But it feels awfully real.  I never get up in the morning intending to sin.  I don’t know anyone who does.  But sometimes during the course of a day, we hear the evil spirit whispering in our ears.  The words don’t sound evil.  But as St. Ignatius of Loyola pointed out, the evil spirit is quite clever at disguising himself as an angel of light. To that first woman, his words sound enticing and good:  You’re kidding me!  God couldn’t really mean you shouldn’t ever eat from that one tree.  Just try the fruit.  You’ll be like a god yourself, knowing all about good and evil.  Well, look what happens.  All of a sudden that first man and woman begin to feel fear and shame, emotions they have never experienced before.  Maybe all that acquired “wisdom” isn’t everything it was made out to be.  They don’t want God to see them in this state.  The only thing to hide behind is a hastily thrown together fig leaf covering.

Forget the fig leaves; they don’t work.  Neither does blaming our actions on anyone else work.  Putting on a pleasant face and pretending nothing has happened is useless.  Trying to hide from God is a waste of energy.  God is everywhere.  God sees us stripped bare, no matter how we try to cover our sins.

Paradoxically, what makes forgiveness and healing possible is taking our broken, naked selves to God, showing God precisely what we don’t want anyone to see – the things we’ve done that have hurt others as well as ourselves, or the good we could have done but failed to do.  In that moment of truth-telling, Jesus reaches out and touches us as he touched the deaf and mute man in the Gospel reading and restores us to wholeness.

Action

Spend a few minutes of your prayer time considering whether there is anything you are attempting to hide from God (or maybe even yourself).  Take the words of the psalmist to heart and confess your sins to God.  God will receive you with open arms, shower you with grace, and clothe you with forgiveness.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Naked and Unashamed Before God


By Beth DeCristofaro

The LORD God said: "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him." … The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame. (Genesis 2:18, 25)

The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged (Jesus) to drive the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, "Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." She replied and said to him, "Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children's scraps." Then he said to her, "For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter." (Mark 7:26-30)

Piety
Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. (Jas 1:21, from the Mass for the Day)

Study
Still almost-newlyweds, my husband and I moved into a neighborhood with similar young couples, first-time homeowners beginning their families.  When he arrived home from work one hot, summer afternoon he was greeted with a loud “Hey, Tony, Hey Tony!”  as he got out of his car in our driveway.  Two doors down one of the first little girls to be born on our street was standing in her driveway, buck naked, waving proudly at her big friend.  “Tony!” she yelled with pride, “I don’t have any clothes on!”  My husband replied kindly to the 3-yr old, “I see, Janie, I see you don’t have clothes on.” And laughed about the incident for years.  Janie today is married with her own infant son.

It doesn’t take us long, however, to begin to feel shame instead of the exuberance of running naked – children of God - under the sun.  Adam and Eve felt shame when they realized themselves and their own sinfulness.  God did not even have to confront them.  This Greek woman most likely felt shame at the illness of her daughter and at speaking to a Jewish man which was strictly forbidden.  But it did not stop her from asking, in blind trust, for help.  She received God’s mercy and her daughter received healing.

In our culture not only is nudity shameful (even exhibitionist nudity) but so is asking for help, perceived weakness, being wrong, poverty and even flight from danger or hardship.  In the Genesis story, God realized that Adam needed a partner and beautifully created not only a soulmate but originated relationship and community which are vital to human life.  God did not angst about getting something wrong! God strengthened an already awesome creation which we are able to do within our own limitations by trusting God.  

Action
Many of the values of a graced life which Jesus outlined in the Beatitudes are somehow shameful in much of modern, Western culture.  How easy it is to pretend that we are not naked, that is wholly known by God.  Yet at the same time we think we know others’ naked sins.  Today do not question another’s motives or how deserving they are.  Treat her/him as if an honored guest at your table.  In fact, you are guests together at God’s table already.   

The Breath of Life


The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being. Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and he placed there the man whom he had formed.  Genesis 2:7-8

"But what comes out of the man, that is what defiles him. From within the man, from his heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile." Mark 7:20-23

Piety
If you take away their breath, they perish and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth. Psalm 104:30

Study
In making the distinction between what is internal and external, Jesus explains that whatever God has made cannot defile a person.  Only sins (which are man-made) can spoil the person. If God has made something, it is good, just like it was declared in Genesis.

Jesus overturns thousands of years of Mosaic Law about food.  More attention had been paid to what went into the body through the mouth rather than what emerged from the heart and the mind.  Jesus, in one parable, reveals that in the Kingdom of God, foods do not matter.  Only thoughts can plant the seeds of sin. Imagine that!

Jesus said this in the privacy of their home.  If the Pharisees were upset that the disciples did not wash their hands, imagine how they would have rebelled upon hearing this!  Just think of the passions which would have erupted if Jesus had not delivered this line in privacy?

Action
People need food and there are many ways to help make the miracle of food (that does not defile) a reality.  Visit www.freerice.com and play the vocabulary game.  For each answer you get right, they will donate ten grains of rice.  Play the game for a few minutes and you can generate a tsunami of food to meet the tsunami of need faced by the U.N. World Food Programme.  The world is facing an unprecedented number of hunger emergencies. The World Food Programme (WFP) is responding, but we can’t do it alone. See other ways to act at this site.