Wednesday, September 19, 2018

“Forgiven and Saved” by Beth DeCristofaro

“Forgiven and Saved” by Beth DeCristofaro

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven loves little."  He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." The others at table said to themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" But he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." (Luke 7:47-50)

Gracious God of all times and places, please forgive me for the many instances I am intolerant of others whose practices and lives I do not understand nor value.  And in the forgiving, teach me to love greatly.  Give me the faith that will save me.

Years ago, living in Aix-en-Provence, France, I was astonished to learn that the
Cathedrale St. Sauveur was built on a first-century Roman ruin.  In fact, the Baptistry itself is said to be sited on a former pagan temple to Apollo.  There remain ancient Roman columns in the Baptistry and certainly, there is a deep, sacred feeling to the cathedral; it was a mini-retreat to attend Mass or just visit and walk in the silent cloister. This was one of many places in which I sense the holiness imbued in places where ages of people sought for God who has and continues revealing Godself to humanity. 

Recently I talked with a woman about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across northern Spain.  I told her that I hoped someday to visit it and other ancient sacred sites and she said that she, too, hoped to walk the Camino in the near future.  We both agreed that it would be an easier pilgrimage than the Hindu pilgrimage she made with her family several years ago.  They walked and circled Mount Kailash in Tibet.  She explained that it is a long walk at altitude (almost 19,000 feet at some points) and she was amazed to see very elderly pilgrims, some with canes, slowly making their way to the holy site.

As difficult as it was for her, my friend was struck by the call of faith propelling so many pilgrims to make such a journey.  We both have witnessed people of great faith in all religions and agreed that it is wonderful to know that longing for divinity can be found – and shared - between peoples of different religious traditions.

The martyrs whom we remember today sought God and held fast to their faith in ways which many of us will never be called to do.  We, for the most part, are affected by and struggle against societal customs, national fears or false gods such as get-ahead, get revenge, get-what-is-mine, get-beautiful none of which uphold the teachings of Jesus that today’s martyrs died for.  

In today’s Gospel, Jesus challenged the Pharisee that his hospitality was not in accord with the teachings of the law. In the Nicene Creed, we profess “I believe in the Holy Spirit…who has spoken through the prophets.”  During Eucharistic Prayer 1, we hear, ”Be pleased to look upon these offerings…and to accept them as once you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek…” 

Is the faith of my Mothers and Fathers, faith born in my Brother, Jesus, alive and living within me or static as magnificent ancient ruins?

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

"The Greatest of These is Love" by Colleen O’Sullivan

"The Greatest of These is Love" by Colleen O’Sullivan

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.  So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.   (1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:1-8, 13)

Lord, help us to love our brothers and sisters as you love us.

I am writing this on Monday, so I have no idea who will end up the winner of this season’s America’s Got Talent competition.   All the finalists are winners in my book simply because they are each so good at what they do.  One person in particular, however, literally brings tears to my eyes and touches my heart deeply when he sings.  Michael Ketterer works as a pediatric mental health nurse.  He and his wife have six children, five of whom they adopted from the foster care system.  These kids came to their new family with many special needs.  Both father and mother toil long hours every day to keep their family going.  This dad said he’s on the show because he wants his children to see that dreams can come true.  He explained that when you’re in the foster care system, it’s difficult to have any dreams.  When Michael Ketterer talks about his family, I feel the intensity of the love he has for them, love like that which the apostle Paul describes in our first reading today, love that is entirely self-giving and other-directed. 

Most of us have heard at a wedding or two some of what Paul writes about love.  Oddly enough, however, the apostle wasn’t thinking about brides and grooms or flower girls or soft candlelight at all when he penned these words.  He needed to make a stark impression on the Christians in Corinth.  Paul found himself writing to a church much like ours today, divided and quarrelsome.  The first century Corinthians were fighting over their belief that some gifts of the Spirit were more prestigious than others, creating ugly jockeying for position among themselves.

Paul tells them to chill out; there’s something far more important than all of these gifts put together.  In fact, if you don’t possess this, he says, it doesn’t matter how gifted you may be or in what area your gifts lie; you are nothing.  The greatest gift that God gives us is the gift of love.  Not love that depends on feelings but agape love, love that consists wholly of giving of yourself to and for another.  In other words, you may have the gift of tongues, but if you don’t have self-giving love, your voice just adds to the noisy chaos of the world.  If you have the gifts of prophecy or faith but do not possess the gift of selfless love, you have nothing to say to the Church.  Even if you are willing to give away all your material goods, your gift is in vain if it isn’t paired with selfless love.

Paul’s words are an invitation to take a good hard look at ourselves, as individuals and as the Church as a whole.  What are our motivations for what we do?  If you’re in a choir, as I am, why do we sing?   Are we performing, or are we conscious of our role in musically guiding the congregation deeper into prayer?  If you chair a committee in your parish, are you doing it out of love for those people whose lives are affected by whatever your committee does or do you just enjoy the power of your job as chairperson of something?  Sometimes being in charge in and of itself gives us a rush. 

Look at the big picture of what’s playing out in our Church today.  If we as a whole were full of self-giving love toward our brothers and sisters, would we be where we are now?  Or would we really and truly have effected changes that say to the victims of clerical sexual abuse, “We in Christ’s Church on earth are full of sorrow and remorse for what you have suffered.  We have taken measures to ensure that no one who inflicts such hurt on another human being can be given another appointment and that knowingly appointing such an individual to another position within the Church will never again be tolerated.”

When you pray today, keep in mind Paul’s words.  No matter what our gifts as individuals or as the Church, without self-giving love in our hearts, it’s all for naught.  That’s a sobering thought and that’s exactly what Paul meant it to be.  The greatest thing we can do is love one another as Christ has loved each of us.

Image credit: Insert/Online Pictures Creative Commons license)

Monday, September 17, 2018

“The Greatest Spiritual Gifts” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

“The Greatest Spiritual Gifts” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

Are all Apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work mighty deeds? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:29-31)

We are his people; the sheep of his flock. (Psalm 100:3)

He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, 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 7:14-15)

Lord, may I never shrink my part in bringing souls to Your Kingdom.

“I am the most inept of creatures, but the Lord sometimes uses very weak instruments for His works; so let it be His will.”

I recently ran across this quote from Blessed Maria Vincenza Poloni, a nineteenth-century Italian sister. She was a co-founder of a Veronese community of women religious who continue to do good works today in Latin America and Africa. It’s just so… human, isn’t it, that someone with that sort of drive and charism could still see herself as “the most inept of creatures”?

It’s a human-ness with which many of us struggle. We know we’re not the best singer in the choir and lose sight of the fact that we’re doing His work when we listen to a friend’s heartbreak. We feel guilty about not doing more to help those living on society’s margins and forget that our commitment helps keep the parish adoration chapel open. We beat ourselves up over gossiping and ignore the life-giving and sometimes saving assistance we provide at a home for abused women.

We all have our roles, and they all are God-sent. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sing in the choir unless our voice is professional quality. It does mean that a humble focus on doing more of what we do well rather than despairing over what we do not is part of embracing the greatest spiritual gifts.

Ask a friend to provide an opinion on your greatest spiritual gift. It might surprise you.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

I Am Not Worthy

I Am Not Worthy

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

And Jesus went with them, but when he was only a short distance from the house, the centurion sent friends to tell him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof. Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you; but say the word and let my servant be healed. Luke 7:6-7

“Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve him completely and sincerely. Cast out the gods your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. If it is displeasing to you to serve the LORD, choose today whom you will serve, the gods your ancestors served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:14-15

The Magisterium had almost unlimited choices for prayers in the Mass.  Imagine the debate when considering what prayer the congregation as a whole would offer before walking up to share in the Eucharist.

They had the words of Mary to the angel (Luke 1:38) “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

They had the Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:78-79) “Because of the tender mercy of our Gods by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

They had the words of Simeon in the temple (Luke 2:29-32): “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”

They had the words of John the Baptist (3:8): “Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance.”

They even had the words of Jesus in the temple including such choices as the Nazareth Manifesto (Luke 4:18-19): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Yet, of all the characters to quote in the Mass before we have our moment closest to Jesus when he does indeed come under our roof, the Magisterium chose the words of a humble Roman centurion.  He was awed by the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth; the centurion would not personally go to be in the presence of the Lord.  Then, when he realized that Jesus was coming to his house, the centurion felt so unworthy, that he sent friends to tell Jesus not to come and why.   

This story about the faith of the centurion demonstrates that God shows no partiality – Jew or Gentile, progressive or traditional, Roman or Greek, leper or soldier.  Whoever fears him and acts righteously toward others is acceptable to God.

“He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. To him, all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:42-43)

These days our Church leaders seem as divided as our national leaders.  Whom are we to follow? 

Think about that humble centurion the next time you get ready to walk up the Communion line or when you decide whom you want to stand behind in the recent controversies. 

“Get Behind Me, Satan” by Rev. Paul Berghout

“Get Behind Me, Satan” by Rev. Paul Berghout

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." He 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 8:31-35)

Lord, I offer my life, full of its imperfections, to You. Fill me with Your grace.

Talk about anti-climactic: Peter’s inspired answer that Jesus is “The One,” (the Messiah), through whom God will accomplish all that he promised is followed by the rebuke of, “Get behind me, Satan.”

Consider this story:  A married lady went out shopping one day and when she returned home she brought with her a beautiful dress. She showed it to her husband who almost had a stroke when he heard how much it cost. She agreed with him that it was very expensive, but she said she tried it on and she looked so beautiful in it she couldn’t resist the temptation to buy it. Her husband told her you should have said, “Get behind me, Satan.” She said that’s exactly what I said, and Satan said, “you look fabulous from back here too!”

Peter has momentarily become a “Satan” because he opposed the revealed will of God.  Jesus says that the Son of Man MUST suffer greatly because it’s the will of the Father; the plan foretold in the Scriptures.  The Easter story is not a tragic mishap or a wrench in the works; it’s exactly what was intended in the beginning.

So, let’s ask two questions:  First, what is a better way to respond when we oppose God’s plan for us? His permissive will for us?

The book, The Obstacle is the Way, puts it this way:

Not: I’m OK with this.

Not: I think I feel good about this.

But: I feel great about it.

I am meant to make the best of it.

There is always some good—even if only barely perceptible at first, contained within the bad.  This leads to hope – hope to cultivate a deeper trust in God's control of future events, with a solid understanding that the adversities that arise will be utilized for Christians' benefit.

As Colombiere asserted, God's wisdom, which extends into the future by considering future actions and consequences, is perfect, as is God's love for humankind; because of this, surrendering to God's will, which is "to wish nothing except what He wishes," leads to happiness that is "constant, unchangeable, and endless."

Several studies show that surrender is negatively associated with worry.

Secondly, Jesus says that denying ourselves is another way around obstacles.  Indeed, self-denial is the key to the conquering of sin, you simply cannot rely on yourself… you have to DENY yourself!

Recognize that stress of chaos versus the blessings of order. The more we try to make our life better by pursuing our own desires, the more our desires will spin out of control, creating stressful and frustrating chaos in our life.

Types of self-denial include: Linguistic Self-Denial, which is refraining from speaking or responding out of the motives of charity or prudence;
Mental Self-Denial in the area of imagination or voluntary memory; Self-denial in terms of individualism when it blocks Commitment to community or family or one’s vocation; and self-denial from any sinful inclination, of course.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said, “When the devil is stripped of all his trappings, the ultimate goal of the demonic is to avoid the Cross, mortification, self-discipline and self-denial.”

Up until now, Peter’s sacrifices had been a good investment. He watched Jesus cast out demons, healed the sick, raised the dead, fed the multitudes, and more.
Now, Jesus’ response, “Get behind me Satan”, threw Peter into a crisis of faith, shattering his conceptions and expectations of God. He wanted a God who shields us from our own vulnerability.

The message is that if we stop before Calvary, we misunderstand Jesus. Will mistake him as a miracle worker, or an exorcist, or a wise teacher.

Jesus’ true identity can only be known at the Cross. There, even the unenlightened Roman soldier will recognize him: “Truly this was the Son of God.”

Why follow a crucified Christ? Because only a crucified Messiah reveals God as a suffering, venerable God. Only those who stand beneath the cross and watch him suffer and die will be convinced that at the heart of reality is One who enters into suffering. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, “Only the suffering of God can help.” And Alfred North Whitehead calls God the “fellow sufferer who understands.”

The message is profound. God has moved into our vulnerability, our guilt, our alienation, our suffering, our death. God has claimed our weakness as a resource for Divine Power.

God has claimed our wounds as a potential means of healing.

We no longer have to hide behind a mask of stoic control nor wear a protective armor of invulnerability.

We can confront our weaknesses, and even affirm that with St. Paul, “when I am weak then I am strong.” 2 COR. 12:10

We can take up our Cross with the full assurance that Christ has gone before us and now shares its weight and pain.

Because we follow a crucified Christ we enter into solidarity with the world’s suffering masses. We experienced the power and love of God through the vulnerable and suffering. We enter the presence of Crucified Love.

We live on the other side of the Cross from Peter: Resurrection.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

“Follow Me” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

“Follow Me” by Melanie Rigney

The Lord GOD opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. (Isaiah 50:5)

I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.  (Psalm 116:9)

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  (James 2:14)

He 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)

Lord, I offer my life, full of its imperfections, to You. Fill me with Your grace.

Our rich history is full of martyrs who gave their earthly lives for the Lord. Already this month, we’ve celebrated the deaths of 190 martyrs of the French Revolution; Emilias and Jeremiah of Cordoba; Felix and Regula of Zurich; and more.

Denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following, however, does not have to involve physical death here on earth. The examples of this quiet surrender and obedience are everywhere:
  • A woman who is coping with a rare, life-threatening illness shares her progress in hopes of helping others rather than retreating from friends.
  • A woman who cared for an ailing spouse for years without a complaint, never leaving him overnight.
  • A priest, often regarded as less than pastoral, who made sure an unemployed parishioner’s rent was paid for several months.
  • A man who is an off-the-charts introvert but continues to say yes when asked to step up to public roles at work and as a volunteer. 
The parts of us that need to be denied are not always mortal sins. More often, they’re the little things that are hard for us to leave behind as we struggle to follow. But they are noticed. The best evangelization tools are not flowery speeches or grand gestures. They’re the small things that we struggle to do on a daily basis. They’re the small things that the Lord turns into big things, sometimes without us even knowing it.

Remember what Mary said at Cana: do whatever He asks of you today. Let a small sin of pride, anger, or one of the others go, and pick up your cross. You will find it to be surprisingly lighter.

Image credit is: By Superhero Scramble, LLC [CC BY-SA 3.0  (], from Wikimedia Commons

Friday, September 14, 2018

“Standing by the Cross” by Peter Sonski (@29sonski)

“Standing by the Cross” by Peter Sonski (@29sonski)

Let me share with you his pain,
Who for all our sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.
-          Stabat Mater

“How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good he has done for me?” (Psalm 116:12)

“Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25)

Today’s liturgical memorial originates from an ancient Christian devotion commemorating the seven dolors (Latin: pain, grief), or sorrows, or Mary: The prophecy of Simeon at Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple; the flight into Egypt; the loss of Jesus in the Temple; Mary’s meeting of Jesus on his way to Calvary; Mary’s standing at the foot of Jesus’ during the crucifixion; her holding of Jesus’ body when he was removed from the cross; and Jesus’ burial.

The feast dates from the 11th or 12th century and was one placed officially in the Roman Missal as the memorial of Our Lady of Compassion (compassion, from its Latin roots, means to suffer with). In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read, “the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross. There she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, joining herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart” (964).

Each of Mary’s sorrows were experienced with the person of Jesus. She united her torments and grief with his suffering, trusting in God. Reflect on the two lines above from today’s readings. How can we follow Mary’s example today in our distress? How may we be spiritually united with her, standing by the cross?

Thursday, September 13, 2018



Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

With their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses, "Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!" Numbers 21:4B-5

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

Jesus said to Nicodemus: "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 3:13-15

“Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth, for I am God; there is no other! (Isaiah 45:22)."

Even the name of today’s Liturgy would shock the residents of ancient Palestine.  The Exaltation of the…cross?  The cross?  Why would anyone exalt the instrument of execution? As the emblem of a slave’s death and a murderer’s punishment, the cross was naturally looked upon with the most profound horror.[i]

However, these kinds of cultural contradictions abound in Christianity.  Take the Magnificat. The song does not heap praise on the few, the proud, and the rich.  Instead, Christ is ushered into the world with his mother singing about how God exalts the lowly, the hungry and the poor.

He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He has put down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.

We are exalting opposites.  Now consider the first reading from Numbers.  When Moses asked, God could have answered his prayer differently. God could have saved the people from the serpents by removing them directly.

Instead of taking away the serpents in answer to their prayer, God provided a remedy in the form of a serpent.  Just as God did not take away the penalty of sin [death] when Adam sinned, God provided a remedy in Jesus Christ who died in our place to pay for our sins on the cross.  A Serpent was the reminder and emblem of the curse.  It was through the Serpent [Satan] that Adam and Eve were seduced, and brought under the curse of God.  On the cross, Jesus Christ was made a curse for us.  Galatians 3:13 says, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us."[ii]

To look on the serpent on the pole is the same as trusting Christ's death on the cross for our salvation and mercy.  

"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)."  Notice, too, the invitation to receive salvation that the Lord gives in Isaiah.  See the passage quoted above.  “Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth, for I am God; there is no other!” (Isaiah 45:22)

Christ is ushered out of this world totally spent.  Empty. Not an ounce of blood is left.  Not a drop of sweat remains. Christ embodies the opposite.  Unlike Adam who tried to emulate God, Christ came down from heaven to emulate mankind. It is through the meditation on his body nailed to the cross for us that we receive mercy.

We have been seduced by opposites…but the wrong opposites. We have been seduced by the power of careers, the power of wealth, the power of beauty, the power of strength. We have even taken the simple wooden executioner’s cross and made it into ornaments of gold and silver. 
Instead, put yourself on Golgotha’s Hill.  Mediate on the sight of blood and flesh, on the smell of death, on the tender touch of Mary holding her son one last time, on the sounds of Christ’s last words, and on the bitter taste of the wine-soaked-sponge. Exalt the cross that killed a king. But, our faith does not end at the cross.  It BEGINS there. What are we to do next? What shall we do in thanksgiving for that gift of mercy? God offers it unconditionally.  Do we take it unconditionally or shall we do something about it?

Behold. Your Mother. Tune in tomorrow for the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows.   

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

“Love Much as you are Much Loved” by Beth DeCristofaro

“Love Much as you are Much Loved” by Beth DeCristofaro

Brothers and sisters: Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up. If anyone supposes he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if one loves God, one is known by him. (1 Corinthians 8:1b-3)

(Jesus said) But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:


Jesus heals unwashed, contagious lepers. Jesus feeds the 5,000 people who were silly enough to leave home without a packed lunch. Jesus makes disciples out of outcasts like the Samaritan woman. He forgives and requires his disciples to forgive seventy times seven. He is kind to the ungrateful and to the wicked as is his father, the Most High. Today we read that Jesus wants us to love – actively and specifically – love those who hurt and wrong us. Sometimes it is a wonder that His Holy Church grew as large and deep as it has over the centuries.

Of course, Jesus’ teachings come from and harken back to His relationship with God which he wants to share with us. As Rumi poetically says: “your lamp was lit by another lamp”. We are lit because we have the light of God given to us and the Light of the World to show us the way. In our gratitude for this gift of holy life, we must be mindful always that we constantly receive mercy, forgiveness, and love from the Almighty as does everyone – even those in whom we see little redeeming value.

And yes, love – giving it without hope of recompense or recognition can “hurt” - because we really want both. But the reward! There is a story of an old retreat master who on the first day of the retreat told the retreatants “God Loves you. Now go away and think about that.” On the second morning, he told them “You can Love God. Go think about that.” On the final day, he said: 'Today I have just one thing to say to you. "You are to love one another." Now go away and live this truth as a community.' The pearl of great price, living together in love."[i]

God knows the heart of the other even better than I know my own heart. I am too capable of being inflated by pride and blind to anything other than my own knowledge of the world. Is this how God knows me? Or does God know me in my love for others?

Illustration: Carmelites’ Gods Garden,

[i]  A New Harmony The Spirit, The Earth, and The Human Soul, John Philip Newell

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

“Blessed are You” by Colleen O’Sullivan

“Blessed are You” by Colleen O’Sullivan

Raising his eyes toward his disciples Jesus said: "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. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.  For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way. 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 6:20-26)

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
My memory, my understanding and my entire will
-  all that I have and call my own.
You have given it all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours, do with it as you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me.

In today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel, we have the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, similar to Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, yet noticeably different at the same time. Matthew records eight Beatitudes, while Luke only has four.  In Matthew’s narrative, Jesus addresses the crowd. Here, in Luke’s Gospel, he speaks directly to the people he has chosen to form his inner circle. Luke doesn’t talk about the spirit of the Kingdom (e.g., the poor in spirit). He talks about people who are literally poor, who have little or nothing to call their own. Jesus calls the poor, the hungry, the grief-stricken and the despised of the world blessed in Luke’s version of the sermon.

When we reflect on the Beatitudes, we want to be among those whom Jesus calls blessed. It’s easier to achieve that with Matthew’s version. We could strive for being poor in spirit, for example. But being plain, downright poor is in no way pleasant and not a state many would aspire to.

The poor referred to in Luke’s Beatitudes are from the lowest echelons of society.1 They are like the untouchables of their time. They are the people no one notices. They don’t have family who can help them. Some are disabled. Many survive by begging. Some turn to prostitution to get by. Others turn to a life of crime. I don’t believe Jesus is extolling the virtues of this kind of grinding poverty when he says the poor are blessed. I don’t think Jesus wants that for any of us. But what he is saying is that if we find ourselves living that kind of existence, take heart, because we are precious and much loved in God’s eyes. Don’t ever think God has forgotten about us.

We will all at some point find ourselves in circumstances not of our choosing and not particularly to our liking. Someone we love dies, and suddenly we find ourselves in the company of a host of weeping souls. We suffer a job loss and find the specter of homelessness and hunger looming over us. We might have family, friends or co-workers who ridicule us for our faith. In other parts of the world, we might be killed for being a Christian. Do not despair; God holds us close to God’s heart.

The woes really don’t need to frighten us unless being wealthy, living the “good life,” or having power, popularity and prestige in this world are ends in and of themselves.  If that’s all we care about, then it’s true that we’ve had our reward in this life. Better to share from our abundance with those who are barely surviving and know that God is smiling at us and calling us blessed for our generosity.    

Praying with the Beatitudes is difficult because we come face-to-face with ourselves and what kind of people we are at heart. God already knows the disposition of our hearts, but it’s a chance for us to reflect on Jesus’ words and to redirect our lives if need be. Take a few minutes today to reread what Luke writes in his Gospel and reflect on how God sees us.

Wherever Hurricane Florence ends up coming ashore, there will be much devastation of property and great human suffering. Consider donating to Catholic Charities USA Disaster Relief.

1 "Who is Poor in the New Testament?", Jerome H. Neyrey, University of Notre Dame (retired)

Monday, September 10, 2018

“The Lord Takes Delight in His People” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

“The Lord Takes Delight in His People” by Melanie Rigney

Brothers and sisters: How can any one of you with a case against another dare to bring it to the unjust for judgment instead of to the holy ones? Do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world? (1 Corinthians 6:1-2)

The Lord takes delight in his people. (Psalm 149:4)

And he came down with them and stood on a stretch of level ground. A great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon 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)

Lord, help me to leave the judging to You… and to reflect Your love.

Our world is troubled. Whether it’s more troubled than it was seventeen years ago today, or 170 years ago, or 1,700 years ago depends on perspective. Seventeen ago, the United States was under attack. In 1848, revolutionary waves rolled across more than fifty European countries. In 318, controversy raged about the persons of the Holy Trinity.

And yet, the psalmist tells us the Lord takes delight in His people. How can that be, when it seems all we do is squabble, injure, and betray each other?

You could argue that people who behave in such unconscionable ways are not the Lord’s people. And I would argue back that if that were the case, the Lord would have no people whatsoever on this planet.

It comes down to this: we certainly are called to provide correction and guidance when we discern it’s needed. We are called to stand up and advocate for the downtrodden, those who are poor and needy in every sense of those words. But judge and condemn? That’s His job. To doubt that, to doubt His healing power, is to doubt everything.

Write a letter forgiving someone for something you found unforgivable. If appropriate, mail it.