Monday, July 25, 2016

Remember Your Covenant

Gustave Doré [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons 

By Melanie Rigney

For your name’s sake spurn us not, disgrace not the throne of your glory; remember your covenant with us, and break it not. (Jeremiah 14:21)

For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us. (Psalm 79:9)

“The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his Kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”  (Matthew 13:41)

Open my ears, Lord, to Your message of salvation. Close them to those who would tempt me. Close my lips when I am tempted to lead others to sin.


It means a promise, a contract, and agreement. We find it often in the New American Bible, Revised Edition’s Old Testament—more than 200 times. God makes covenants with Jeremiah, Adam and Eve, Moses, and more.

We see the word far few times in the New Testament—35, by a quick scan, and fewer than ten times, including notes, in the Gospels. Why is that? Perhaps because Jesus is the Living Covenant, the tangible fulfillment of all those Old Testament promises.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus reminds us of what will happen at the end for those of us who prefer to live a life that doesn’t honor our end of the covenant. It isn’t pretty; He talks of a fiery furnace and the “wailing and grinding of teeth.” For the righteous, all will be well, shining like the sun.


We know the Lord will honor his end of the deal. Whether we will is up to us.

Whoever has ears ought to hear, indeed.

Tonight, examine where you honored the covenant… and where you instead fostered or embraced sin or evil. Pray for forgiveness, and the courage to do better tomorrow.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Carrying About

We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. 2 Corinthians 4:7-10

“But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28

We hold a treasure
Not made of gold
In earthen vessels, wealth untold
One treasure only, the Lord, the Christ
In earthen vessels.

Light has shown in our darkness
God has shown in our hearts
With the light of the glory
Of Jesus the Lord.

He has chosen the lowly
Who are small in this world
In his weakness His Glory
In Jesus the Lord.

Somewhere in a box in my office is a shard from a clay pot that we used at the opening of a Just Faith/Engaging Spirituality retreat a few years back.  At the opening of the class, each of us decorated the pot with images and words. 

Around the outside of the clay pot, we inscribed it with the Bible verse:They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11: 9) Then, we added this quote from John 17: 11: May they be ONE as we are ONE.

During a quiet reflection, the instructor calmly wrapped the decorated pot in a newspaper just as you would sometimes use newsprint for wrapping paper.  She then picked up a hammer and smashed it to little pieces shocking those of us who meticulously decorated it.  We did not understand why she broke it.  We did not “get it” until we learned and experienced more.

The notes to the New American Bible for today’s Gospel reveal that James and John did not “get it.”  They did not understand why they could not sit at Jesus’ right or left hand. Their request – as well as the response that the other disciples have to the issue – shows that those closest to Jesus are still farthest from grasping the enormity of his commandments.

What marks a Christian for greatness is not political, economic or social power.  Rather, humble service is the ticket.  Foot washing.  Table service.  Cross carrying.  Dying.  Jesus’ ministry of service reaches its highest point when he gives his life for the deliverance of the human race from sin.[i]

The image that Paul uses in the first reading is that we are always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.”  The crucifix and our icons are the symbolic ways we carry around the shards of the broken and dead body of Christ.  The Eucharist is the metaphysical way we carry the actual Body of Christ from the sanctuary to the streets. 

These do not give us any some special position power like a King who wears a crown or a general who wears a uniform or a Tour de France winner who wears a yellow jersey.  The ways we carry Christ are the gentle reminders for us to bring a little bit of Christ into every broken and earthy place we go, to share a little piece of Christ with every person we meet, and serve Christ by serving face-to-face the most vulnerable person or persons we encounter each day.

What symbols of the body of the dying Jesus are you carrying about today? We carry those symbols, not as an end in and of themselves.  We carry them so we remember to “be Christ” to those we meet.   

We may not “get it” any better than James and John, denying Peter, doubting Thomas, or jealous Judas.  Our vessel is broken – maybe not in the exact same ways the apostles were broken.  We each bring our own unique broken-ness to the mission.  However, we can pray to St. James the Apostle for the lessons in humble service that he learned. With these lessons, our lowly and weak vessel can bring God’s glory to the world – one person at a time.  

God wants our pot and the pots belong to all others to be one.  But we are not.  We are as divided as were Christ’s clothes -- divided up among the Roman centurions who drew lots.  We are broken like Christ’s body was broken by the nails and the thorns and the whips and the sword. 

The Spirit of the Gospel propels us into the broken heart of this world.  When we accept to walk with Jesus, we are led into the lives of vulnerable and threatened people… hoping and holding out for good news.  (From Opening Retreat, Engaging Spirituality)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

To the One Who Knocks

By Melanie Rigney

(Abraham said to the Lord:) “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to make the innocent die with the guilty so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike! Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?” (Genesis 18:25)

Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me. (Psalm 138:3a)

… he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)

Lord, I am knocking, full of faith that the door will be opened.

A friend recently hosted a lovely event where we were asked to put on a poster board images and words of the things we really wanted. The idea was that if you name and picture your desires and goals, you’ll be more likely to realize them than if you flail about, flitting from one dream to the next.

It makes sense. If you really want a beach house, you need to take steps to get it—determine where it would be, how much it would cost, how much you would need to save, where you would trim your budget elsewhere, and so on. If you really want to lose forty pounds, you need to take steps to do it—eat less, exercise more, develop other ways to deal with stress, be more mindful of the types of food you eat, and so on. Just talking about having a beach house or losing forty pounds gets you nowhere.

It’s the same way with God. Just talking about wanting a stronger faith or richer prayer life or closer relationship with the Lord gets you nowhere. Ask for what you want, with humility and vulnerability, bringing yourself to Him in total honesty, and you will receive it. Seek God in the good and the bad in your life and in the people around you, and you will find Him. Have the courage to knock on His door, and it will be flung wide open, with Him on the other side, joyously welcoming you.

The question is: Is that what you really want?

Identify what it is you really want from the Lord… and we’re not talking about beach houses and weight loss. Ask. Seek. Knock. 

Reform Your Ways

Put not your trust in the deceitful words: “This is the temple of the LORD! The temple of the LORD! The temple of the LORD!” Only if you thoroughly reform your ways and your deeds; if each of you deals justly with his neighbor; if you no longer oppress the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow; if you no longer shed innocent blood in this place, or follow strange gods to your own harm, will I remain with you in this place, in the land I gave your fathers long ago and forever. Jeremiah 7:4-7

Let them grow together until the harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.  Matthew 13:30

Turn back, O man
Forswear thy foolish ways
Old now is earth
And none may count her days
Yet thou, her child
Whose head is crowned with flames
Still will not hear
Thine inner God proclaims

Cursillo was not first to connect piety, study, and action.  It extends back before Jeremiah.

The “harvest” is a common biblical metaphor for the time of God’s judgment.  Originally, the Biblical writers appropriated the image of harvesting from its farming reference point -- the process of gathering a ripe crop from the fields. 

No matter how much we might want to try to purge the weeds from our life, Jesus warns his followers to let the weeds grow until the Lord God can do the winnowing at the last judgement.

Matthew extends this metaphor later in chapter 25 as he talks about harvesting souls at the end time. 

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’”  (Matthew 25:31-36)

The connection of our Bible Study with social action that is explicit here in Matthew 25 harkens us back to Jeremiah where he wants us to assure that our deeds to serve the most vulnerable follow our words.  Such a life of action assures that the Lord will remain with us in our holy place. 

Of note is that the Temple Sermon in our first reading takes place…at the temple.  You would think Jeremiah was preaching to the choir.  However, even at the threshold to the holiest of holy places, Jeremiah encountered people who were not authentic – whose actions did not speak louder than their words. Attendance at the Temple of the Lord did not guarantee safety against enemy invasion or any other misfortune where someone would plant weeds among your crops.

Specifically, he warns to protect the most vulnerable – the alien, the widow, and the orphan. In Biblical times, rulers had a special responsibility to protect the most vulnerable of their citizens.  Preferential caring for these same groups and others who are poor remain at the heart of Catholic social teaching to this very day.

What actions and habits (weeds) can we banish to the fire to leave more time in our lives for helping the vulnerable? 

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Love that Changes Everything

By Colleen O’Sullivan

The watchmen came upon me, as they made their rounds of the city:  Have you seen him whom my heart loves?  I had hardly left them when I found him whom my heart loves.  (Song of Songs 3:3-4a)

And the (two angels sitting in the tomb) said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.”  When she said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus…  Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. (John 20:13-14, 16)

O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you, my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.
(Psalm 63:2)

As I pondered today’s Scripture readings, I thought about words attributed to Pedro Arrupe, SJWhat you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.  It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.

Certainly, that seems to be true for Mary Magdalene.  In Luke’s Gospel (ch. 8, vs. 2), we are told that Jesus healed many women as he made his way from village to village, including this Mary.  She had been beset by seven demons, but we are not told any more than that.  For a long time, it was believed she was the unnamed sinner in Luke 7:36-50, but more recent scholarship holds that that was an error, that St. Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute.  So, all we know is that her life was dragged down in some way, physical or emotional, by these demons.

And then Mary meets Jesus as he travels throughout the countryside.  He does what no one else has been able to do.  He rids her of those demons.  He heals her.  He lifts up her soul.  He restores her dignity.  He gives her another chance at a life filled with joy and purpose.

What you are in love with… will affect everything.  From the moment Mary encountered Jesus, she was filled with love for this itinerant preacher from Nazareth.  And it did affect everything in her life.  Even when her beloved Jesus hung dying on the Cross, she couldn’t stay away.  She was there, silently, prayerfully supporting him with her love in those difficult final hours.   That can’t be said of all of Jesus’ apostles.  Even in death, she stayed with him.  She got up while it was still dark so she could go to the tomb and sit with his body.  Again, that can’t be said of all Jesus’ followers.  Finding the tomb empty deepened her grief.  Even his body was gone.

But all that changed in a matter of moments.  When Jesus revealed himself to her, she didn’t recognize him, but the instant he said her name, she knew it was the Lord!  At Jesus’ bidding, she joyfully ran to tell the others that everything would be okay.  Their friend and teacher, Jesus, had overcome death!

St. Mary Magdalene shows us how deep love truly does dictate what a person does from morning till night and defines what you hold dear.  How does your love for Jesus shape your days and your life?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Listen, Look, Love and Grow Rich in God

By Beth DeCristofaro

This word of the LORD came to me: Go, cry out this message for Jerusalem to hear! I remember the devotion of your youth, how you loved me as a bride, … When I brought you into the garden land to eat its goodly fruits, You entered and defiled my land, you made my heritage loathsome. (Jerimiah 2:1-2, 7)

To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. … “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:7, 16-17)


Have you seen the news video of two police officers standing, talking beside their patrol car when a second car plows into it?  No one was hurt but the driver of the second car admitted that he was playing Pokemon Go while driving. 

On a recent flight, I noticed a passenger who had to be physically jolted so he would put away his electronic device on landing.  He was so intent on the movie he was plugged into that he did not hear several flight crew announcements.

While on an incredible whale watching excursion I commented to our young, enthusiastic naturalist how much I appreciated her extensive knowledge of whales.  She thanked me and mentioned how disappointed she is when people focus on their cell phones during cruises rather than on the wildlife around them.

We can get so distracted that we cannot hear, cannot see, cannot feel the incandescent presence of God who, in fact, is closer to us than our favorite pastimes, our personalities, our friends, our political obsessions, our fears and anxieties, our money our earbuds or anything else.  How sad to think I would have missed seeing Granny, the 104-year-old matriarch of her Orca pod and her adopted son Ruffles’s mighty, 6-ft tall dorsal fin sliding majestically through the water!   

We grow in the Spirit as we accept God’s abundance.  We lose ground in our spiritual life when we do not hear, see, act upon.  What graces of God are you missing?  What divine surprises might be right under the waters of our distracted days?  Today pause, even if only mentally and in spirit, to really look, closely listen, attend to your heart and absorb God’s presence in each moment. 

Ought to Hear

Then the LORD extended his hand and touched my mouth, saying, See, I place my words in your mouth! This day I set you over nations and over kingdoms, to root up and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant.  Jeremiah 1:9-10

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”  Matthew 13:3C-9

This is what we are about.
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) 

Jeremiah was destined to become a prophet before his birth.  However, he tried to resist God’s call. He was no different than Moses, Job, Peter, and countless other prophets and disciples.

Like Jeremiah, we all come up with excuses about why we do not want to be out in the fields of the Lord sowing his seeds.  We want to sleep in on Sunday morning. The homily will be hard to understand. Or maybe too long. The church will be too crowded.  Or not crowded enough.  The people I usually see on Sunday will not be there because of their vacation. 

Jesus will not suffer our excuses any more than he would allow Jeremiah to get away with his protest.  Jesus, however, recognizes that not all the seeds of wisdom that he plants will take root and bear fruit.  Thus, the Parable of the Sower is delivered in the Gospel. As the NAB notes explain:

Since in Palestine sowing often preceded plowing, much of the seed is scattered on ground that is unsuitable. Yet while much is wasted, the seed that falls on good ground bears fruit in an extraordinarily large measure. The point of the parable is that, in spite of some failure because of opposition and indifference, the message of Jesus about the coming of the kingdom will have enormous success.[i]

The predicted success will be hard to imagine when the Pharisees turn Jesus over to the Roman governor for execution.

What seeds of friendship are you planting today?  Keep planting no matter what kind of ground you encounter. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Here Are My Mother and My Brothers

Jesus and his Apostles,
from the Russian Siysky Gospel, 1340
By Melanie Rigney

Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance; Who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency, and will again have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt? (Micah 7:18-19)

Lord, show us your mercy and love. (Psalm 85:8a)

(Jesus said:) “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50)

Jesus my brother, show me the Father’s will.

It happens to all of us at some point in life, I suspect, in varying degrees. We’re a little embarrassed because our mother is older or younger, louder or quieter, smarter or not so smart as the mothers of our friends or of the cool kids. Or Dad doesn’t have the high-profile position or doesn’t sing as well or laughs way too long or is way too quiet compared with those other dads. And let’s not even get into the indignities that siblings bring.

At a glance, Jesus’s words in today’s Gospel reading are a bit off-putting. Come on! How can He ask who His mother is? We all know! It’s the long-suffering Mary, who gave birth to him, who heard the prophecy that a sword also would pierce her side, who couldn’t find him for three days.

But the words are comforting if you let them sink in. You are part of His family, no matter where you came from, no matter how much dysfunction you grew up in or thrived in. How awesome is that? Still, at times, Jesus can be a little uncomfortable to be around, just like our earthly families. He challenges us when we judge. He indicts us when we get a little too complacent. He can be a know-it-all at times. But just as with parents who enforced curfews and older siblings who warned us against running with a certain crowd, He loves us and wants the best for us. And if we listen and obey, we find ourselves in the best family ever… for eternity.

Spend some quality time today with your Brother. Listen to His advice.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Come Now, Let Us Set Things Right

With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow before God most high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriad streams of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my crime, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:6-8

At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here. At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here.” Matthew 12:41-42

Let nothing disturb thee
Let nothing dismay thee
All things are changing
God alone is changeless
Patience attains the goal
The one who has God lacks nothing
God alone is enough
By St. Teresa of Avila

Come now, let us set things right.  For thousands of years, people brought burnt offerings to the Lord to set things right.  Micah tells them that is NO LONGER what the Lord wants.  The Divine Order is changing.  All things are changing.  What the Lord now requires of you: “Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” 

Micah picks up the message that Isaiah began to preach and the John the Baptist and Jesus embraced.  “Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.”  Isaiah 1:16-17

Add three more assassinations to the roster.  Montrell Jackson.  Matthew Gerald.  Brad Garafola. 

Jesus died because all souls matter…especially sinners, particularly sinners.  All lives. The Pharisees. Peter’s mother-in-law. The Roman centurion. The leper. The man born with the crippled hand. The prostitute.  The woman at the well.  He did not walk around with a sign that said #JewishLivesMatter.  His mercy extended in ALL directions to the ends of the earth.  Jesus also left a little instruction booklet that can be boiled down into two rules: 

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”  Matthew 22:36-40

Jesus died for all of us because all lives matter.  He also wants us to love each of us and all of us the same way he loves us.  All.  Inclusive.  Do this and we will live.

Let’s consider the Cross the cornerstone and then the Greatest Commandment as the remaining part of the foundation.  The bricks that help us to build up the City of God are the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. 

You can read about all of these teachings here.  However, there is one specific brick that this summer’s debate should examine.  That brick is called the Preferential Option for the Poor and Vulnerable.  A basic moral test of our community is how the most vulnerable members of our society are faring. In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our Sacred Scriptures and traditions recall the story of the Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46).

Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’  Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’  And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least of mine, you did for me.’  (Matthew 25:34-40)

There you have it.  Christ and the Church instruct us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first. Who is vulnerable here?

If an unarmed person of ANY race is killed by a police officer, people should be upset no matter what the victim’s race.  We, however, cannot let the log in our eye blind us to the fact that we have a responsibility to exert a preferential option for those who are most at risk be that risk cancer, poverty, HIVB/AIDS or gun violence. 

Blessed be those who are killed by guns at a rate that is 2.5 to 5 times more than the rest of the population. If Isaiah or Micah or Jesus were here, they would likely say, Come Now, Let Us Set Things Right.”

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Hear Me, Open and Dine with Me

By Beth DeCristofaro

Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them; and bowing to the ground, he said: “Sir, if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant. Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest yourselves under the tree.  Now that you have come this close to your servant, let me bring you a little food, that you may refresh yourselves; and afterward, you may go on your way.”  The men replied, “Very well, do as you have said.” (Genesis 18:2-5)

Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?  Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:40-42)

It is when we are still
that we know.
It is when we listen
that we hear.
It is when we remember
that we see your light, O God.
From your Stillness
we come.
With your Sound
all life quivers with being.
From You
the light of this moment shines.
Grant us to remember you at the heart of each moment.
Grant us to remember.
  John Philip Newell, Praying With the Earth[i].

Abraham’s efforts on behalf of his guests speak not only to his people’s culture of hospitality but also to the generous efforts that he commits in the face of the divine.  Is his lavish welcome and bestowing of honor part of why God singled him out, granting that his descendants will number as the stars?  Why is his effort different than Martha’s who also rushed around to prepare food and comfort for Jesus and guests? 

No less generous is Martha.  Perhaps it is her attitude.  She scurries and hurries with the effort, frustrated to be hostess without helpers.  She complains to Jesus – a very good listener for any complaint – who answers her with an answer she most needs to hear.  “Slow down, Martha.  Make space for me, Martha.  Be my disciple rather than my maid, Martha.”  The Communion Antiphon for the Mass of the Day comes from Revelations: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock, says the Lord. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door to me, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.”  Perhaps Jesus wants her to open her door and look at him, allowing Him to look back at her rather than to scrub the door and the floor thus missing His loving gaze. 

Sit down in quiet.  Picture your Lord, Jesus, sitting under one of your trees or at your dining table with you.  Place yourself at his feet, the posture of a disciple. See his face gazing at you.  Stay with him.  Let him look at you in love and accept that you, not someone more honorable or of greater stature, is the one he wants to gaze upon.  Listen.

He Cured Them All

Woe to those who plan iniquity, and work out evil on their couches; In the morning light they accomplish it when it lies within their power. They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and they take them; They cheat an owner of his house, a man of his inheritance.  Micah 2:1-2

The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. When Jesus realized this, he withdrew from that place. Many people followed him, and he cured them all, but he warned them not to make him known.  Matthew 12:14-16

Jesus, cure us, too!  Peer into our hearts and mend the petty divisions and jealousies.  Then, when you are done removing the splinters, please pick out the logs of power, greed, lust, addiction and laziness.  Amen.

The rich and powerful are not setting a good example in either of today’s readings. 

In the reading from the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Micah spells out the crimes committed by the wealthy landowners and the Lord then comes in to announce the punishment that corresponds to the crime.  The wealthy landowners are guilty of coveting the fields and houses of others and taking them.  To covet the “house” and other property of the neighbor was a violation of the Ten Commandments. As you recall:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17)

The notes to the New American Bible explain that the Lord, as the owner of the earth, allotted the land by tribes and families to the people of Israel.  Losing one’s inheritance diminished one’s place in the community and threatened the family’s economic viability and existence. According to Micah, those who used their power to expand their estates at the expense of weaker Israelites took more than land from them: they were tampering with the divine order.[i]

The Pharisees were messing with the divine order in a much more serious fashion.  They were not just plotting against their neighbors.  They were plotting against Jesus himself.  Jesus knew it was not yet the appointed time so he withdrew and escaped the current plot.  Yet, the plot did nothing to deter Jesus from his work performing miracles on the Sabbath or any other day of the week.

Unlike Micah, who calls out the wealthy landowners, Jesus “does not contend.”  He does not challenge the Pharisees at this time but withdraws and continues to perform signs among the people.

In our Study today, we focused our Biblical microscope on both halves of the Great Commandment.  In the reading from Micah, we converged on loving our neighbor as our self.  Just as we would not cheat our own family, we should not cheat or steal from our neighbor.  In Matthew’s Gospel, we concentrated on loving the Lord with our whole heart, mind, and soul.  The Pharisees were compromised here.  They were trying to protect their power and comfort and would not let Jesus get in their way. 

Ironically, the divine order had to ultimately be upset before it could be set aright in both historical eras.

This is not just a Judeo-Christian commandment.  The religion of Islam also sees Christ as a Great Teacher, too. 

However, we have Nightclub attacks.  Truck rampage.  Police assassinations.  Airport bombings. The stories of terror have ceased coming from distant lands.  We brace ourselves for a Day of Rage or civil disobedience.   

In light of the Bastille Day attack, we have another round of words.  Religious leaders around the world condemned terrorism and expressed solidarity with France after more than 80 people were killed by a driver on a rampage who plowed through crowds celebrating Bastille Day. They included Christian figures such as Pope Francis and prominent Muslims including the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shawqi Allam.

How can we get beyond words to change the hearts of people who would resort to such acts? How can we fulfill both parts of the Great Commandment?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

God of the Unexpected

By Colleen O’Sullivan

When Hezekiah was mortally ill, the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, came and said to him: “Thus says the Lord: Put your house in order, for you are about to die; you shall not recover.”  Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord.  “O Lord, remember how faithfully and wholeheartedly I conducted myself in your presence, doing what was pleasing to you!” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.  Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah:“Go, tell Hezekiah:…I have heard your prayer and seen your tears.  I will heal you:…I will add fifteen years to your life.”  (Isaiah 38:1-5a,cde)

Jesus was going through a field of grain on the Sabbath.  His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them.  When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, our disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the Sabbath…” “If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned these innocent men.”  (Matthew 12:1-2, 7)

Lord, may I always be open to the unexpected gift of your grace.

So often God is the God of the unexpected.  In our Scripture readings for today, we see this.  Hezekiah, King of Judah, lies on his deathbed in the first reading, The prophet Isaiah visits him with a message from the Lord to put his house in order, for he will not recover from this illness.  Not what the king wanted to hear.  Such a dire prognosis, as it would be for many of us, becomes the occasion for bitter tears. 

As far as the Kings of Judah went, Hezekiah was one of the better ones.  Under his rule, sweeping religious reforms were enacted.  Only the God of the Hebrew people was to be worshipped.  No other gods were recognized.  Sacrifices to idols were strictly prohibited within the Temple.  

In the midst of his weeping, King Hezekiah cries out to God to remember his faithfulness.  And God responds in a most unexpected fashion; God promises his loyal servant healing and fifteen more years on this earth!

How often we experience deaths of many sorts in this life.  Your marriage falls apart.  You lose your job.  Your home is in foreclosure.  You admit to being addicted to alcohol or drugs.  Family members are deported.  You or someone you love dearly faces a health crisis or is told, like King Hezekiah, to get your affairs in order.   In times of trouble, you wonder how you’ll ever survive.  The pain goes so deep.  The fear that this is the end is all-pervasive. 

Yet, look back over your life.  How many times has God taken what felt like the absolute end, what seemed like more than you could bear and, with grace and compassion, coaxed new life from the ashes?  More times than I can count.

Turn to the Gospel reading and Imagine life would have been like as an ordinary person in Jesus’ day.  Life under the Pharisees must have been exceedingly difficult and frustrating.  By the first century, so many little rules and regulations had been added to the Law, with them a constant array of ways in which a person could fail.  And the Pharisees were quick to point out the shortcomings of others. 

But then along comes this itinerant preacher from Nazareth.  And, unexpectedly, God becomes one of us and injects hope into the human situation in the form of his Son, Jesus.  Jesus comes offering mercy and compassion as well as a willingness to shoulder our burdens and walk through life with us. Jesus offers healing and forgiveness of sin.  Ultimately, Jesus offers us the gift of eternal life.  None of this would we have expected from a carpenter’s son from a nowhere village, whose life began in utter poverty in a shelter more suitable for animals.  Our God is truly a God of the unexpected!

When in your life has God unexpectedly turned an ending into a new beginning or showered you with grace and mercy?  Take a few minutes today to thank God for these gifts and for envisioning possibilities for us beyond our wildest dreams.

My Soul Yearns for You

By Beth DeCristofaro

The way of the just is smooth; the path of the just you make level. Yes, for your way and your judgments, O LORD, we look to you; Your name and your title are the desire of our souls. My soul yearns for you in the night, yes, my spirit within me keeps vigil for you (Isaiah 26:7-9)

Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

Prayer in Mohawk Language

Anyone who knows the story of St. Kateri might wonder at her feast day celebrated with these readings.  Kateri was born in what is now upstate New York and orphaned at the age of 4.  She survived smallpox but with such scarring and impaired eyesight that she was named "Tekakwitha," which means "she who bumps into things."  She was raised by an anti-Christian uncle who wanted her to marry despite her desire to dedicate herself to God.  Although her family finally relented, allowing her to be baptized Catholic at 18 years old, she endured many years of ridicule and abuse by the community.  Finally, Kateri escaped, walking many miles to a Jesuit settlement where she lived out the rest of her young life in prayer, ascetic practice, and gentle kindness to all.

The way of the just is smooth?  The human condition does not guarantee a yellow brick road.  We regularly suffer, doubt, ache, rage unrelentingly, lose.  smooth?  Humans die.  Their life ends and often before it does it diminishes, becomes uncontrollable, becomes unrecognizable and perhaps appears to border on meaningless.  Smooth?  People are betrayed, terrorized, hunted, trafficked, abused, disrespected.  Smooth?

We need to read on beyond the promise of “smooth.”  We need to see that our soul desires not the smoothness of youth, success, long productive life or even satisfactory human roles.  We do not rest, we do not experience “smooth” until we rest in our truest home of homes, Jesus the Christ.  Kateri, young, burdened and alone knew and strived for this.  She died in the arms of her Lord, smoothly entering into the place prepared for her

As we encounter our next struggle or ponder present hurdles, are we able to know our Brother Jesus is at our side, smoothing the path by divine love, guidance, and fortitude?  If we cannot find Him can we hope He is there?  The yoke becomes much lighter with an assist from Him in whom all are truly themselves and all are at rest in His peace.