Thursday, October 08, 2015

My Friend, My Jesus

By Beth DeCristofaro

Then they who fear the LORD spoke with one another, and the LORD listened attentively; And a record book was written before him of those who fear the LORD and trust in his name. And they shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts (Malachi 16-17)

Jesus said to his disciples: “Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread,… I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. (Luke 11:5, 8)

Open our hearts, O Lord, to listen to the words of your Son. (Mass of the Day)

“What a Friend you Have in Jesus” is an old song but is also something that I keep having to relearn each and every day.  Being pretty thickheaded, it is usually in retrospect that I recognize that my Friend has always given me loaves when I have asked for bread. 

When I was a young girl the starving children of Biafra made me distressed, fearful and confused.  I asked that something be done.  My Friend gave me the gift of empathy so that I feel unity with those who suffer and understand compassion. 

Living on my own far from home I asked that my loneliness be taken away. My Friend gave me new friends on which to lean and other friends who needed to lean upon me.

As a young adult I asked for real meaning because life seemed superficial.  My Friend gave me a family who supports me with love and calls me out of my self-centeredness.  

My father grew very ill and I asked that he be cured.  My friend gave me the gift of hope even in the face of death that life is eternal and all would be well.

I asked to know Him better and my Friend sent me mentors and asked me to impart what I learned to others.

I asked for the gift of faith and my Friend gave me Himself in the Eucharist.   

I asked for a renewed spirit.  My Friend introduced me to Cursillo.

I asked to be of service and my Friend asked that I serve the dying as He prepares their eternal homes.

Burdens, Struggles, Weaknesses and Hurts abound.  What are we doing for the friends of our Friend?

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

In Clemency

He prayed, “I beseech you, LORD, is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? This is why I fled at first to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, rich in clemency, loathe to punish. And now, LORD, please take my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.”  Jonah 4:2-3

“When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.”  Luke 11:2b-4

What is the right way to address the Lord in prayer?  We have a good example from Jesus through Luke and a bad example from Jonah. 

First the bad…Jonah’s prayer is done out of selfishness and imperfection.  Because of his innate meanness (jealousy and judgementalism), Jonah did not want the Lord to forgive the Ninevites.  However, the Lord does not dole out mercy in the same way an employer doles out a year-end bonus.  Grace is heaped upon us in greater measures than we ever deserve.  However, Jonah did not yet understand this. Selfish Jonah bemoans his own loss. 

The Lord teaches that it is much better to start out addressing him on the right terms.  Jesus teaches how to do that with the prayer that is aptly named for himself.

When Beth and I were teaching Confirmation class years ago, one explanation of the Lord’s Prayer has always stuck with me.  It boiled down the verses of the prayer into seven parts:  the three Christian theological virtues start out the prayer and then it concludes with verses that recall the four cardinal virtues: temperance, justice, prudence, fortitude.   Unfortunately, I have long since forgotten the author of these ideas except to confess it is not mine.

Faith:  Our Father, who is in heaven, holy is your name
Hope:  Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Charity: Give us this day our daily bread
Justice: Forgive us our trespasses
Prudence:  As we forgive those who trespass against us
Temperance:  Lead us not into temptation
Fortitude:  Deliver us from evil.

These seven verses considered in this fashion then also evoke the seven sacraments and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Furthermore, considered this way, frees us from reciting the prayer from memory and allows us to get to know the Lord and ourselves by considering how our prayer life and our life reflects the three theological virtues and four human/cardinal virtues.

“The number seven is one of the most significant numbers of the Bible because it is the number of spiritual perfection. It is the number which is stamped on every work of God. We can observe the importance of this number in nature too. Be it physics, chemistry or music we can see they are all based on this number of God’s work. All music that is created is based on seven basic notes of music, the eight note is just a higher or lower octave. If light is passed through a prism then it splits into seven parts.[i]

This number and thus this prayer holds a very important and sacred place in the Word of God as inspired by the Holy Spirit as it is symbolic of spiritual perfection.

Last week, the states of Georgia and Virginia both executed persons on death row.  The Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole denied clemency for Kelly Gissendaner. She was executed on September 30, just after midnight.  Virginia killed Alfredo Prieto on October 1 while an appeal was pending.  This week, Texas executed Juan Garcia. He is the 11th person executed by Texas and the 23rd in the U.S. in 2015.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us even when the state says we can kill the killers.  Lead us not into the temptation to take an eye for an eye.  Deliver us from the evil done by killers and deliver the families of the victims from their pain and loss.

Tell Her to Help Me

By Melanie Rigney

When God saw by their actions how (the Ninevites) turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out. (Jonah 3:10)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication.  (Psalm 130:1-2)

Martha, burdened with much service, 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.” (Luke 10:40)

Jesus, may I focus on You in our precious times together.

She was busy, burdened in fact, perhaps even overburdened. Luke 10:40 tells
Matthijs Musson [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
us that. And yet, Martha doesn’t ask her sister directly, in humility and love, for assistance. No, she engages Jesus, the guest in their home, who quite rightly rebukes her. The hospitality I desire is your company and conversation, which Mary has provided; the food and the place settings are of little interest, he in essence tells her.

Jesus loves to hear our confidences, our little victories and our challenges. But how much more beautiful our time with the Lord can be when we focus on Him instead of asking Him to heal ruptures with our sisters and brothers, whether it’s because they cut us off in traffic, lie and gossip about us, grievously injure others in the Body of Christ, or simply can’t read our minds and help us get a meal on the table, ruptures of the sort where we can take the first step in healing. How much more beautiful our time in the world can be when we ask others for the help we need… and proffer the gift of forgiveness when they don’t.

That person whose heart and actions you’ve been praying for God to change? Consider praying for the strength to engage with him or her directly.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Moved with Compassion

But the LORD sent a large fish, that swallowed Jonah; and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From the belly of the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD, his God. Then the LORD commanded the fish to spew Jonah upon the shore.  Jonah 2:1, 11

“But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.”  Luke 10:33

Jesus, help get us out of the belly of the whale of selfishness. Help us get out of the ditch of sin. Help us to trust others – no matter who they are – to render aid to us when we are in need.  Help us to trust you so that we will not hesitate help others as well. Amen.

Sorting out which roles are parallel in the two readings today is head-spinning. 

The men on the boat who tossed Jonah into the sea could be likened to the robbers who beat up the traveler.  They were all looking out for themselves.  The men on the boat wanted to save themselves so they tossed Jonah overboard to calm the seas.  The robbers needed money so they took it from the man travelling to Jericho. They epitomize the attitude of “what is yours is mine and I am going to take it.”

Jonah is like the man who travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho.  Jonah was just out on a voyage trying to mind he own business (and avoid the mission that the Lord commanded) and he ended up in the belly of the whale.

As similar as those parts of the story might be, that is not the lesson for us.  The stranger – the Samaritan – probably seen by some as an illegal immigrant is the person who stopped and rendered aid to the victim just like the Lord sent aid to Jonah.  People listening might want to equate themselves with the priest or the Levite.  But they did not stop to render aid.  They epitomize the attitude of “what’s mine is mine and I’m going to keep it.” 

However, if the Lord does indeed desire mercy, not sacrifice, the merciful Samaritan is the model. The Samaritan represents the attitude “what’s mine is yours and I’m going to share it.”

For Jesus to use a Samaritan as a prime example in this parable would be like using a divorced woman as an example (which Jesus did with the woman at the well).  For Jesus to use a Samaritan as a prime example in this parable would be like using a tax collector as a role model (which Jesus did with Matthew).  For Jesus to use a Samaritan as a prime example in this parable would be like using a leper and outcast in his preaching.  For Jesus to use a Samaritan as a prime example in this parable would be like using a positive image of a belligerent Roman centurion occupying the Holy Land as a model of faith and piety.   

But I guess the Lord did all that.

We are asked to go to the most unlikely places in order to fulfill the mission that the Lord has for us.  We are asked to do the most unlikely tasks in order to fulfill our mission. 

Jonah did not choose to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh any more than John the Baptist did.  However, Jonah actually tried to flee.  John accepted his mission.  The Samaritan did not expect to come across a Jew needing aid.  However, when he did, he rendered assistance.

The priest and the Levite represent people caught up in life-less, soul-less religion. They play at church, but it does not affect the way that they live.  Religious, ethnic and social standing are no guarantee of right standing before God or before people.

Hatred between Jews and Samaritans was fierce and long-standing.[i]  There are countless modern parallels to the Jewish-Samaritan enmity—indeed, wherever peoples are divided by racial and ethnic barriers.  The former “Iron Curtain” that divided Europe.  The apartheid of South Africa.  How the European settlers in the “new world” treated the native peoples.  The divides that still exist between Palestine and Israel.

Imagine the hatred between Serbs and Muslims in modern Bosnia, the enmity between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland or the feuding between street gangs in Los Angeles or New York.[ii]

However, even our enemies are our neighbors.  Perhaps that’s why the Jesus provides so many instances of Samaritans coming into contact with his message. It is not the person from the radically different culture on the other side of the world that is hardest to love, but the nearby neighbor whose skin color, language, rituals, values, ancestry, history, and customs are different from one’s own.[iii]

Jesus came to instill in us a new attitude about who is our neighbor and what are our responsibilities. How are you being called to examine your attitudes?  We cannot love God if we do not love all His people.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Then He Embraced Them

By Melanie Rigney

The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man. (Genesis 2:20)

May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.  (Psalm 128:5)

He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them “brothers.” (Hebrews 2:11)

“Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them. (Mark 10:15-16)

Remember, Lord, your Church, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity, together with Francis our Pope and our Bishop and all the clergy. (Eucharistic Prayer II)

Oh, that Francis. How we love him; how we are challenged by him. For some,
Jesus Blessing the Children
Bernhard Plockhorst [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
the meeting with Kim Davis was validation and confirmation of the Church’s view of same-gender marriage; for others, it was a slap in the face. For some, the meeting with prisoners was a comforting sign of mercy and the potential for redemption; for others, it was way too much turning of the other cheek, given the inmates’ crimes. For some, the meeting with survivors of clerical abuse was a sign of healing; for others, it was too little too late, or too much too long. In each case, those on all sides in a way wanted to keep the pope in a little box, all to themselves and their agendas and views. I suspect for Francis, it’s all about love and the conversion of hearts and souls and bringing them to the Kingdom.

Oh, that Jesus. How we love him; how we are challenged by him. In today’s Gospel, people are bringing children to him. The disciples don’t much like it; in a way, they wanted to keep Jesus all to themselves. Jesus rebuked the disciples and blessed the children, calling on all to accept him in childlike simplicity.
As we are told in today’s first reading, we need each other. Animals and birds are wonderful creatures, but they don’t fulfill our most basic of needs for human connection. May we strive to find ways to establish that connection in particular with those who don’t think or look like us, who may not understand initially the profundity and holiness of that connection. May we embrace them and bless them.

Do a kind, unnoticed deed with humility for someone you find difficult to love.

Bring You Back Enduring Joy

“Fear not, my children; call out to God! He who brought this upon you will remember you. As your hearts have been disposed to stray from God, turn now ten times the more to seek him; For he who has brought disaster upon you will, in saving you, bring you back enduring joy.”  Baruch 4:27-29

“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”  Luke 10:23-24

The privileges of discipleship sounds like an oxymoron to me.  For the small price of picking up your cross daily and walking to the execution site, God will remember you and bless you.  Is there any wonder why Faust sold his soul? 

Using Mephistopheles as a messenger, Faustus strikes a deal with Lucifer: he is to be allotted twenty-four years of life on Earth, during which time he will have Mephistopheles as his personal servant. At the end he will give his soul over to Lucifer as payment and spend the rest of time as one damned to Hell.  The bargain with Lucifer is much more attractive sounding than the alleged list of the privileges of discipleship. 

Today, Lucifer takes many forms.  That new bright red Mazda.  The rose gold iPhone 6s.  The fancy new executive job.  These bright, shiny objects blind us to the promises of Christ. 

There is a famous story told of St.  Therese of Avila.  As she founded and visited convents, Teresa often traveled the rugged roads of Spain. One time her saddle slipped, and she found herself head down under the belly of a donkey as she crossed a stream. Complaining to the Lord of her treatment, she heard him reply, “Teresa, whom the Lord loves, he chastises. This is how I treat all my friends.” She replied tartly, “No wonder you have so few!”[i]

The Lord might have more fair-weather friends if he wooed them with sugar and honey instead of bitter lemon juice.  We might not fully appreciate the privileges of discipleship if they were earned the easy way. 

How do we make the turn back to the Lord?  Not alone. While Jesus is not making house calls like he did with the Roman centurion or Peter’s mother-in-law, just like turning away requires us to give in to forces pulling us away from right relationships, it helps to have…help.  Family.  Parish.  Community.  Group. Co-workers. Teachers. Coaches. Mentors.

The Holy Spirit sends these and more into our lives to bring us back because as Baruch reminds us, God remembers us.  No matter what ways we are chastised.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Exile: A Time for Reflection

By Colleen O’Sullivan

“From the time the Lord led our ancestors out of the land of Egypt until the present day, we have been disobedient to the Lord, our God, and only too ready to disregard his voice…  For we did not heed the voice of the Lord, our God, in all the words of the prophets whom he sent us, but each one of us went off after the devices of his own wicked heart, served other gods, and did evil in the sight of the Lord, our God.”  (Baruch 1:19, 21-22)

“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.  And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.” “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”  (Matthew 18:3-5, 10)

Remember not against us the iniquities of the past; may your compassion quickly come to us, for we are brought very low. (Psalm 79:8)

Our first Scripture reading today is taken from the section of the Book of Baruch known as “The Prayer of the Exiles.”  In the introduction to the book, we are told that the book was written by the prophet Jeremiah’s scribe at some point after the people had been sent into exile in Babylon.  What a time of despair and adversity that must have been.

Yet, at the same time, the exile seems to have served as a mega “time-out” or retreat.  First there was shock and anguish, then grief so deep God’s people could no longer sing the songs of Zion (Psalm 137:2-3).  Maybe that was followed by anger.  But eventually, they began to look within and to reflect on their part in how they came to find themselves so far from home. 

I often think how right St. Ignatius of Loyola was in maintaining that ingratitude is the root of most sin.  Here, the people look back over their history.  Their God, through much maneuvering, freed them from slavery in Egypt.  But were they grateful?   Far from it.  Upon occasion, they were known to have wished they were back under Pharaoh or that they had died in Egypt.  God led them through the desert on their journey to the Promised Land.  By day they had a cloud to follow and by night a pillar of fire.  Were they grateful for these signs of the Lord’s presence?  Not very.   When they were hungry and thirsty, God supplied them with water to drink and manna to eat.  They complained about this, too.  They even used the gold of their jewelry to fashion an idol to worship.  Later, they refused to listen to the prophets.  As they said in their prayer, each one of them followed his or her own heart’s desires, which is what sin is all about - putting ourselves at the center of the universe and following our own dictates.

Yet paradoxically, God often is nearest when we are at our lowest.  The years of the exile became a time for reflection, for remorse, for seeking God’s forgiveness, for placing God back at the center of everything, for hope in God’s mercy and compassion.

In the Gospel reading, the disciples are wondering who will be the greatest in God’s Kingdom.  Jesus knows they’re way off track.  If we want to be great in God’s eyes, we’ve got to have God at the center, not ourselves.  Jesus tells them to be humble like the little child he pulls into the conversation.  The way to greatness lies in serving those who, like this child, are powerless in the world. 

Jesus talks about the little children’s angels in heaven.  No matter what age we are, we all have angels watching over us.  Angels are messengers from God.  Perhaps it was the whispering of the angels that convinced those exiled in Babylon to search their own hearts for the sin at the root of their separation from the Lord.

In spite of the multitude of artistic renderings of angels throughout the ages, I confess to having absolutely no idea what my guardian angel might look like, but I am sure that his or her quiet promptings have led me away from danger or sin and to the shelter of the Lord on more than one occasion.

When have you felt the presence of an angel in your life?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord for Strength

By Beth DeCristofaro

Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read. … He said further: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our LORD. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:8, 10)

He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. (Luke 10:2-6)

Jesus, my Brother, draw me to you as your favorite.  Help me to accept the joys and the sorrows in my life content that my labors are for the divine harvest and that the abundance of that harvest will be mine by your gracious generosity.  I thank you every day for the wonder of your presence by my side, oh My Best of Friends. 

St. Therese’ life helps us understand today’s readings which appear quite contradictory on their face.  In Nehemiah, the Israelites were dealing with a tumultuous and fragile transition from exile to a mostly destroyed land where foreign peoples have taken their former homes.  In Luke, Jesus tells 72 disciples that they must go forth carrying nothing in order to perform dangerous work.  The Israelites are encouraged to rejoice in the Lord while Jesus exhorts his disciples to identify and establish peace in God’s Word.

As a girl, St. Therese underwent a spiritual event causing her to turn her normal, me-centered life into a life centered on God’s love.  She convinced her family and the church to allow her to enter a life of prayer as a Carmelite nun and was “gifted with great intimacy with God.”[i]  Therese’ insight was that her happiness, her strength lay in God not in herself or her life.  Her life was filled with struggle, just as Jesus’ disciples’ lives and the lives of the Israelites.  But in her profound relationship with Jesus, Therese never lost her childlike wonder and joy

One of my favorite stories from Therese is that when cleaning the convent, Therese would gently pick up and deposit outside, alive, any spiders she came across. Shivers!  What shocking – completely “not me” action - might I do today to break through boredom, complacency, fear, overconfidence or other self-centeredness which keeps me from being Jesus’ Best Friend and rejoicing in God’s Will?

Follow Me

“How could I not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been eaten out by fire?” The king asked me, “What is it, then, that you wish?” I prayed to the God of heaven and then answered the king: “If it please the king, and if your servant is deserving of your favor, send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, to rebuild it.” NEHEMIAH 2:3-5

And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.”  LUKE 9:59-60

Father, only with Your help can we Rebuild Your Church.  Amen.

In the Good News from Luke, Jesus speaks of the severity and the unconditional nature of Christian discipleship. Even family ties and filial obligations, such as burying one’s parents, cannot distract one no matter how briefly from proclaiming the kingdom of God. 

Building the Kingdom of God has its parallels in the physical rebuilding of the Jewish community both in the Hebrew Bible (after the exile in Egypt and more) as well as in the New Testament when the community was enduring the Roman occupation. 

St. Francis of Assisi also was a great re-builder of the church both physically and
spiritually. For several years Francis searched the Scriptures, talked with friends and spiritual advisors, and prayed long hours in churches, woods and caves listening to God’s call and purpose for his life. Then one day in the church of San Damiano, a chapel right outside of Assisi, he heard the invitation of Jesus: “Francis, go rebuild my Church, which you see is falling into ruins.”[i] Francis did; he set out, gathered stones and rebuilt St Damian's, St Mary of the Angels and other damaged shrines. It was only as his life developed that he understood that what he was to rebuild - on the foundations of the Gospel - was the Universal Church, not just a physical building. 

Saint Jerome, the priest, monk and Doctor of the Church renowned for his extraordinary depth of learning and translations of the Bible into Latin in the Vulgate, is celebrated by the Church with his memorial today.  Ultimately, Jerome went to Bethlehem, established a monastery, and lived the rest of his years in study, prayer, and ascetcism.[ii]

We might think that such conditions were set aside for people who entered the monastery or the convent, but Jesus does not give a pass to the lay community. 

Christians have been doing establishing separate communities since the Acts of the Apostles.  Call it the Bruderhof, the Puritans, the Catholic Workers, the Amish, or the Pilgrims, the radical call for discipleship may be a call to these special break-away communities.  However, Cursillo attempts to establish such a community-within-community without breaking away from the environment but precisely by evangelizing our environment through our example of piety, study and action.

Many say that Pope Francis is changing the teachings of the Church. This notion is false. Pope Francis is not changing the teachings of the Church. He is, rather, changing the way that we understand the Church by living out her teaching of compassion. He is showing the evangelical and missionary nature of the Church through his actions as Pope, just as he did before being elected to the Papacy in March 2013.[iii] 

Pope Francis, through his simplicity and humility in his lifestyle is showing the humility of the Church, as well as a glimpse of who his successor was, not a king, but a poor fisherman from Galilee. He is also living out Christ’s (and the Church’s) teaching of compassion for others by embracing social outcasts, the sick, the young, the elderly and the poor.

Recently at work, there was a speaker from a local charity who came in to talk to my co-workers about his organization’s mission.  While we were talking privately before the meeting, we realized that we were both members of the Cursillo community in our home towns.  He asked me if I was still living my Fourth Day.  That is probably a good question to ponder whether or not you are in a weekly group reunion. 

Are you – and how are you – still living your Fourth Day whether your weekend experience was last month, last year or decades ago?

Monday, September 28, 2015

You Will See Heaven Opened

By Melanie Rigney

War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it. (Revelation 12:7-9)

In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.  (Psalm 138:1)

(Jesus said to Nathanael:) “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51)

The Three Archangels,
Marco d'Oggiono [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen. (Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel)

And then, it was … done. Or was it?

Pope Francis boarded Shepherd One Sunday night and headed back to the Vatican with thousands of miles under his belt after his visits to Cuba and the United States. Thousands were blessed by small-group meetings with him at prisons, at shelters, and elsewhere. Millions attended large events or stood and cheered as the Popemobile drove by, with Francis smiling, always smiling, and waving and giving blessings. Millions more were touched virtually via TV, radio, newspaper, or social media. But today is Tuesday, and the pope is taking a day of rest at home.

And then it was … done. Or was it?

This trip will have been a complete failure if we all return to our daily lives, unchanged by Francis’s reminders about what Jesus desires from us:  Repairing rifts in our families and communities. Ministering to our brothers and sisters in need. Honoring and defending life at all stages, starting from the moment of conception. Protecting the environment in the largest sense of the word. Offering more mercy and joy to all we encounter, every day.

In attempting to live a more Christ-centric life, we will encounter evil every day, just as we always have. Evil encourages us to put up walls around our hearts and souls. Evil whispers, “Well done,” when we waste money, gasoline, or time on activities that benefit only ourselves, and perhaps not even ourselves in the long run. Evil tells us the status quo is just fine, that there’s no need to change.
Pope Francis reminds us in poignant, simple words and in his actions that the status quo won’t work if we wish to draw nearer to the Lord. In the moment, when we saw that smile, that hand, and heard that beautiful, reasoned voice, we likely made some private vows of change, of service, of harmony. Now it’s time to suit up and show evil we were serious about those vows. St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.

Write down one action you will take as a result of Francis’s words. Keep it in your billfold or other place where you will see it every day. Pray for progress. Pray for peace in the world and in your soul.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

With Faithfulness and Justice

Lo, I will rescue my people from the land of the rising sun, and from the land of the setting sun. I will bring them back to dwell within Jerusalem. They shall be my people, and I will be their God, with faithfulness and justice.  Zechariah 8:7-8

Jesus realized the intention of their hearts and took a child and placed it by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.”  Luke 9:47-48

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
― Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

A “rock star” departed from Philadelphia International Airport Sunday night en route to Rome.  When he lands Monday morning, he will be the lowly @Pontifex once again.  Although greeted by millions in his direct audiences and hundreds of millions in TV Land, the humility of the Holy Father shone through every day of his short trip to Cuba and the United States. 

His refrain was the same.  Pray always – especially for him.  Know Jesus.  Serve the Lord by serving the people with humility for the least.  He passed up a Capitol Hill luncheon to dine with the homeless in Washington.  He kissed the children who were afflicted and in wheelchairs.  He blessed the injured policeman.  He blessed the Speaker of the House, the President, the Mayor of New York and countless nuns, deacons, priests, bishops and lay people.
We do not need a reflection on this message written for today.  We had six days to reflect on this message as it was reflected in the piety, study and action lived by Pope Francis in Washington, New York and Philadelphia.  “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me.” 

The media was constantly trying to shoe-horn the papal message into boxes labelled “left” and “right.”  “Liberal” and “Conservative.”  “Democratic” and “Republican.”  Pope Francis would not fall for any of the short-term headline writers’ temptation.  He knows that rivalry between factions is not consistent with Christian discipleship.  Neither is intolerance.  That is why he consistently preached to welcome the stranger – because all of our families started out as immigrants.

Our challenge now is to live his Gospel message as disciples.  Or just go back to being fans of a rock star. 

“The spiritual life is first of all a life. It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived.” (Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude)

In His Name

By Beth DeCristofaro

Moses answered him, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!" (Numbers 11:29)

Jesus replied, "Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.   (Mark 9:39-41, 43)

By this we came to know the love of God: that Christ laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for one another.  (Communion Antiphon from the Mass for the Day)

Recently a character on a TV show told her teen-age son that even though he was doing all things right but still losing out that “You will continue doing the right thing because that’s what makes you a man.”  It struck me that Pope Francis would appreciate her advice.  He has gone farther and told us how to go about it:  choose love, choose mercy.  Pope Francis has modelled mercy and love with every action and word he shares.  He points out that there are many goods to choose from and that both choosing good but also how you go about that good are important. 

Moses realized and Jesus proclaimed that anyone who acts in the name of God belongs to God.  Of course Jesus also warned that our hearts must be routed and motivated from God not from our self-centered desires.  It seems to me that some of the division we see in the Church comes from competition for “good” issues.  The good I work for should not trump the one you are passionate about.  The cause I espouse does not prove I am a better Catholic Christian than you are.  There is so much hurt, isolation and despair in the world that all of our love and mercy are needed. 

Pope Francis spoke of four beloved, strong models of holiness in his address to Congress last week: Abraham Lincoln, Martin L. King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.  Read about one.  What do you learn from her/his passions, choices and actions that can help you deepen your desire to draw closer to Jesus and so act in His name?