Sunday, June 25, 2017

Remove the Wooden Beam

“You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”  Matthew 7:5

Father, in your spirit of mercy, take away all the judgments that divide us. Jesus, instill in us your spirit of obedience. Holy Spirit, command our hearts and our lives in a way that is worthy of the love, gifts, and mercy showered on us by the Father.

Jesus probably knows how futile it is to ask us to stop judging others. Instead, he warns us about the attitude we should have when we look at the actions of others. Don't stop reading the first verse of this chapter. Make sure you let that second verse resonate.

"As you judge, so will you be judged."

Then how should we judge? What attitude or disposition must we adopt to not face harsh judgment ourselves?

Those whom we remember best from the Bible are those who were either very good at being merciful and obedient to God (Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Abraham and on and on) or those who were very imperfect at mercy and obedience (Cain, Judas, etc.). 

The deeper meaning here, though, as Matthew’s account of Christ’s sermon makes clear, hypocrisy is not reserved solely for the others.  It takes action by two parties to resolve conflicts and to get along.  While many times, the biblical moniker “hypocrite” had been reserved for the scribes and the Pharisees, the notes to the New American Bible explain that it also applies to the Christian disciple who is concerned with the faults of another and ignores his own more serious offenses.

Our other lesson today is the lesson of obedience from Genesis. God told Abram to uproot his family and gather his belongings and leave the place that was closest to his heart and life. Abram did not question what he was being commanded nor where he was being asked to go. He just went as the Lord directed him.

Congruence is making sure what we say reflects what we do…and what we do reflects what we say. 

How hard we find mercy and obedience. Maybe today you can build a bridge back to someone you have lost touch with over the years. You might be surprised to find out how much you might still have in common after all these years.

We need a set of practices which puts us in a proper relationship with God and with our neighbors.  Our conduct toward others may very well correspond to God’s conduct toward us.  Thus, we have to guard against passing judgment in a spirit of arrogance that ignores awareness of our own foibles.  If not, that may just be how the Lord judges us if God were not perfectly merciful.

We cannot just make a point to be politically expedient.  The judgment we make must be consistent with getting the relationships right.  What behavior of ours may be expedient but incongruous?  How can we harmonize what we believe with what we do?  

But the Gift

But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.  Romans 5:15

So, do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. Matthew 10:31-32

Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey.  As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost, you are to give. (sort of from Matthew 10:6-8)  

Today is the first “green” Sunday since February 26.  We offered up five (purple and rose) weeks of Lent.  We suffered with Jesus through the blood-red Triduum.  We rejoiced with the disciples who found the joyful whiteness of the empty tomb for 50 days of Easter until we closed that season with the Ascension and Descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. 

We returned to ordinary time with two consecutive solemn feast days – celebrating the Trinity now manifest following Pentecost – and Corpus Christi Sunday where the gifts of the body and blood of Christ become our daily food.

Yesterday (Saturday), we read how something as simple as one of the most common boy’s names propelled “Little Zach” onto a path of prophecy. Now, in their latest assignment, the identity of the disciples changes as they follow Jesus’s little instructions. The ordered days that return to us are as green as the grass, leaves, gables, and vestments.  But that verdant field will be flowing with blood and the disciples face the persecutions ahead of Jesus’ travel orders. 

Ordinary time brings us back to the readings from the tax collector. Today’s Gospel is part of the commissioning Jesus gives to Levi and the other eleven before sending them out of their old careers and comfort zone and into their new identities as disciples as companions on the journey of their first mission.  The mission was new for all of them.  They were leaving behind the work of fishing, doctoring, tax collecting, and more to reach the lost sheep. 

Jesus warns them that such personal and public boundary-crossing work will not be easy nor will it come without new burdens. Just like the disciples are entering new careers, so, too, will the people who will hear their message and be healed.  These people will experience rebirth thanks to the disciples’ ministry.  Yet that very message and mission will upset the regular order of the ordinary days and the existing power structure.  In order to maintain the old ways, those in power will persecute the disciples. 

That is why, after these extensive instructions, Jesus reminds them that both he and his Father will be watching over them at all time.  So, do not be afraid, he orders.

We are in the midst of the “Fortnight for Freedom.”  Each year dioceses around the country arrange special events to highlight the importance of defending religious freedom. The Fortnight for Freedom is from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day.

We are called just like the Twelve in Matthew 10 to follow Christ as missionary disciples by seeking the truth of a consistent ethic of life while serving others, and living our faith in spite of our society’s efforts otherwise. Take a few moments each day from June 21 - July 4 to pray, reflect, and take action on how this important mission has also been handed down to us. 

We see the headlines about religious freedom and the cultural contradictions that percolate up to the Supreme Court.  Let’s not forget that this includes freedom to serve immigrants and refugees. I experienced how important that work was when helping to resettle Indo-Chinese refugees in North Carolina after the Vietnam War.

But for the gift, the gracious gift of Jesus, that overflows for the many – including those like Jesus who have no place to lay their head.  Let us pray for a consistent ethic of life in all our laws including that the Lord protect all migrants and refugees from all countries including his native Middle East region, and that all those who work with people on the move would be free to serve them no matter what their country of origin – travel bans aside.

The USCCB reminds us:
Christians are committed to caring for the vulnerable, and migrants and refugees are some of the most vulnerable. The Church has long sought to serve the unique needs of “people on the move,” from providing for basic needs to assisting with resettlement, to offering legal services to help newcomers navigate the system of their host country. In recent years, new laws and regulations have been proposed that have the effect of restricting the Church’s ability to serve. Under one state law, even giving an undocumented person a ride to Mass could have been deemed a criminal offense. Furthermore, the new federal Administration has sought to drastically reduce the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. and has suspended the resettlement of refugees from countries where many people face violent persecution. The Church is called to serve the vulnerable, and we must remain steadfast in our commitment to solidarity with migrants and refugees Freedom to serve migrants and refugees.

The USCCB’s Justice for Immigrants Campaign is an effort to unite and mobilize a growing network of Catholic entities and people of goodwill in support of immigration reform. Get news, resources, and action alerts from Justice for Immigrants at

Friday, June 23, 2017

He Will Be Called John

When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, "No. He will be called John." But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name." So, they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, "John is his name," and all were amazed. Luke 1:59-63

You, My child, shall be called The prophet of the Most High, For you will go before the Lord to prepare His way, To give his people knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins. In the tender compassion of our Lord, The dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness And the shadow of death, And to guide our feet into the way of peace. (From “The Canticle of Zechariah” Luke 1:76-79)

Why do we not have Biblical stories about Little Zach the Baptist?

In an essay on the “Power of Names,” Rabbi Benjamin Blech writing on notes: “Names represent our identity not simply because they are a convenient way to allow us to be distinguished one from another. It is because they define us. The names we are given at birth aren’t accidental. They are to some extent prophetic. They capture our essence. They are the keys to our soul.”[i]

It was and remains customary to name children after those whom we deeply admire or seek to memorialize. I am named after my maternal grandfather Anthony Rizzo. To link a newborn with someone from the past is to bring together two souls in an inseparable bond of life.  However, rather than using traditional naming conventions among the Jews, Zechariah and Elizabeth broke with tradition and obeyed the message of an angel who declared that their baby would be called John. 

Rabbi Beich, a Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University, further explains: “The Hebrew word for soul is neshamah. Central to that word, the middle two letters, shin and mem, make the word shem, Hebrew for ‘name.’ Thus, your name is the key to your soul.”[ii]  John’s name would be the key to his mission and vocation. 

The drama of the Good News today has to do with a family argument over the name.  When Gabriel informed Zacharias that he and his wife would have a child in their old age, the next message instructed the priest to name the boy John.  “…your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.”

However, everyone in the village expected the parents to name their son after his father or grandfather.  Why do we not have Biblical stories about Little Zach the Baptist?  His mother Elizabeth insisted that the baby’s name would be John.  The relatives assembled tried to go over her head.  They turned to the deaf and mute Zechariah to resolve the feud over the name.  Due to the obedience that Zechariah paid to the instructions of the angel -- just like Joseph would follow later when Jesus was born – the parents unanimously named the baby John.   

It was not what the name “John” meant but more the symbolism of the new and different name that is important to us.  If the baby was Little Zach, he would have followed in his father’s footsteps and likely become a priest. 

John would not follow in his father’s steps. He would not learn to do what his father did. He would not be a priest. This, of course, was precisely the case, and thus the reason for the name John. It isn’t the meaning of the name “John” which is so important, then, but the message implied by having any name other than Zacharias which is such an emotional issue. If many of those gathered at the circumcision ceremony were relatives, Elizabeth’s insistence that the boy be named John was to renounce the family, its work, and its perpetuation through the next generation. [iii]

In fact, John fulfilled the symbolism of his name and the poetic words of the Canticle of Zechariah:  He was a light shining “on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”  The path of peace is the literal and symbolic path that leads to Jesus.

What is your name – and are you living up to it?

“A Love-Filled Heart” by Colleen O’Sullivan

Moses said to the people: “… It was not because you are the largest of all nations that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, for you are really the smallest of all nations.  It was because the Lord loved you and because of his fidelity to the oath he had sworn your fathers, that he brought you out with his strong hand from the place of slavery, and ransomed you from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.  Understand, then, that the Lord, your God, is God indeed, the faithful God who keeps his merciful covenant down to the thousandth generation toward those who love him and keep his commandments.”  (Deuteronomy 7:7-9)

In this way the love of God was revealed to us:  God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.  (1 John 4:9)

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

Merciful and gracious is the Lord,
slow to anger and abounding in kindness,
Not according to our sins does he deal with us,
nor does he requite us according to our crimes.  (Psalm 103:8, 10)

Détail architectural, École de cirque de Québec
dans le quartier Vieux-Limoilou, Mcturcotte,
June 16, 2012, Creative Commons Attribution-Share
Alike 4.0 International license, via Wikimedia Commons

In ancient times, people believed that a person’s heart was the center of his or her body.  The heart was considered the source of wisdom, conscience, thought, emotions, and love.  In his 2016 homily for this day, Pope Francis defined the heart as “the deepest root and foundation of every person, the focus of our affective life and, in a word, his or her very core.” 

When I think of a person’s heart, I think of the very essence of his or her being.  I remember one of my friends making the comment that once he got to know someone, he couldn’t tell you if they were beautiful or handsome; all he could see was the basic disposition of his or her heart.

Today’s Solemnity invites us to gaze upon Jesus’ heart and to consider the very essence of his being.  Our Scripture readings for today are windows through which to glimpse something of the nature of Jesus.  In the Gospels, Jesus says that if we know him, we know the Father.  The reverse is true as well.  In our first reading today from the Book of Deuteronomy, God reveals himself as the source of love, as the one faithful to his people and the promises God makes to them.   God is our Savior, snatching us from Pharaoh’s oppressive hand.  God is merciful; in spite of our infidelities, God will always uphold his end of the covenant.

In our second reading, John invites us to reflect on God as love, as evidenced by God sending Love in the form of his Son into the world.

In the Gospel, we see the compassion in Jesus’ heart as he offers to help carry our burdens and offers himself as a place of rest.

From the Sacred Heart of Jesus flows the outpoured love of God for us.  When we let that love flow through us to our brothers and sisters, our hearts become more like the heart of Jesus.

Spend a few minutes gazing at this holy heart full of love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, reflecting on a few instances when you have been aware of Jesus’ heart touching yours.

How have you allowed this outpouring of love to flow through you to others?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

“Our Father’s Limitless Love” by Beth DeCristofaro

(Jesus said) Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  "This is how you are to pray.  Matthew 6:8B-9


'Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.'
"If you forgive others their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive others,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions."

Please give us our bread of life each day, bread for body and soul.  Forgive us.  And we will try our best to forgive each other and ourselves.  Deliver us!  May we not mislead others into sin or denigrate someone into anguish.  Jesus’ words are such richness and hope, the basic building blocks of a truly human life.  Jesus invites us to be part of his Divine Father’s life by showing us to grow our lives upon the mercy of the Divine.

Richard Rohr says “I think grace, arising from God's limitless love, is the central theme of the entire Bible. It is the divine Unmerited Generosity that is everywhere available, totally given, usually undetected as such, and often even undesired. … Grace cannot be understood by any ledger of merits and demerits. It cannot be held to patterns of buying, losing, earning, achieving, or manipulating, which is where, unfortunately, most of us live our lives. Grace is, quite literally, "for the taking." It is God eternally giving away God--for nothing--except the giving itself. I believe grace is the life energy that makes flowers bloom, animals lovingly raise their young, babies smile, and the planets remain in their orbits--for no good reason whatsoever--except love alone.”[i] 

“Thy Kingdom Come They will be done” and let it begin with me.  How might I be open to God’s grace allowing me to balance one more tiny brick of thy Kingdom here on earth today?  And be aware of the touch of God’s limitless love on me?

[i] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2007), 155-156

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Make Your Almsgiving Secret (June 21)

Brothers and sisters, consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  2 COR 9:6-7

“But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.  Matthew 6:1-4


Blessed the man who fears the LORD,

who greatly delights in his commands.

His descendants shall be mighty in the land,

a generation of the upright will be blessed.

Wealth and riches shall be in his house;

his righteousness* shall endure forever.

Light shines through the darkness for the upright;

gracious, compassionate, and righteous. (Psalm 112: 1BC-4


While Jesus might not have changed everything, there is no Old Testament commandment demanding hatred of one’s enemy nor demanding that we have to give everything away and live in sack cloth eating locusts and honey.  Hebrew and Mosaic Law required love of neighbor.  However, the “neighbor” of the love commandment was understood as one’s fellow countryman.  That is how and why so many people passed by the man who was mugged and thrown into a ditch until the Good Samaritan came around.  That is way the lepers were banished into isolation. Christian community does not grow in isolation.  It grows in love when in relationship with others.

Jesus comes along and builds upon Mosaic law by changing the behavioral expectation.  Our behavior and that of all people who follow Jesus has to live up to certain expectations.  First, it must be righteous in the eyes of the Nazorean. It cannot be done with a sense of regret or out of a sense of duty.

Second, it must surpass that of the community leaders – the scribes, Pharisees and the hypocrites in the streets. (“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” M5:20)

Finally, it has to be unusually, perfectly secret. Jesus calls us to perfection – a word when translated only appears twice in Matthew’s book and no other place. Not only does Jesus call us to be surpassingly unusual.  He calls us to perfection.  “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."  This word appears only in Matthew’s Gospel.  Luke uses merciful in the similar passage. Matthew uses it in only one other place: Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect,* go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (19:21)

For God loves a cheerful giver even as Jesus asks us to pick up our cross daily and follow him up Calvary (Golgotha). “Cheerful givers do not count the cost of what they give” (Julian of Norwich).


Wednesday morning, I am giving a talk about fund-raising to a group of charity professionals.  The presentation is taking place at the American Bible Society in Philadelphia. 

The first Bible that I ever owned – and still have and am brining it with me – is a copy of the Good News for Modern Man (Third edition, 1971).  To find that today’s reading is on “cheerful giving” and “almsgiving in secret” is a special Spirit-filled moment. 

Share a story about cheerful giving on your part and how you increased the spirits of the people who were helped through your gift.

Suscipe by St. Ignatius of Loyola

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

Monday, June 19, 2017

“The Gracious Act” By Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich so that by his poverty you might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Praise the Lord, my soul! (Psalm 146:1b)

“For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?” (Matthew 5:46-47)

Lord, help me to reflect You and Your love to Your people always and in all ways.

It’s not just children who learn from what they see.

Steve, the best boss I ever had, died about this time a year ago. He had replaced someone, now long dead, who thought the best way to run a newsroom was to pit people against each other so that we’d all always be on edge and competitive. Steve expected excellence too, but he fostered it in a different way. He said a hearty hello whether you came in early or late. He always asked how your vacation was, and how things went at your dental appointment the day before. He let out a big “BAM!” anytime someone scored a big interview or wrote a stellar headline. He was the first true example of servant leadership I ever saw. I wanted to be like Steve. I would have taken a bullet for him, and in some ways, I did on more than one occasion.

Years later, I worked only incidentally with a federal government executive. He lives 700 miles away and was my boss’s-boss’s-boss’s-boss. I doubt he remembers me or my name. But the handful of times I saw him, his face broke into a smile the second he encountered anyone in the hall or a meeting room, regardless of whether the person’s latest rating was outstanding or he or she was on a personal improvement plan. He’d rush over to shake your hand and ask how you were doing. And in those few seconds together, you felt valued by him… and the organization. Small wonder he’s continued to advance, though I think he’d be doing the same thing regardless of his position. I learned the value of a smile and of acknowledgment from him.

I don’t know anything about the interior faith life of either of these men. But I do know that if I interact in a Christlike way with people I find difficult to love, they are among the examples Jesus put in my life to learn from.

Write an email or card of thanks to someone who has helped you love the seemingly unlovable.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Now Is the Day of Salvation

Brothers and sisters: As your fellow workers, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says: In an acceptable time, I heard you and on the day of salvation I helped you. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.  1 Corinthians 6:1-3

” But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow."  Matthew 5:39-42

Some had lost their way in a barren desert;
found no path toward a city to live in.
They were hungry and thirsty;
their life was ebbing away.
In their distress, they cried to the LORD,
who rescued them in their peril,
Guided them by a direct path
so, they reached a city to live in. Psalm 107:4-7

Now. Is. The. Day. Of. Salvation.

June Nineteenth. When I lived in Houston in 1984, I learned about a holiday
Floyd Cooper reads from his book "Juneteenth
for Mazie." (From Urban Faith website)
which this white boy who grew up in New Jersey never encountered.

Today is the day of salvation in more ways than one.  Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day, is a holiday that commemorates the June 19, 1865, announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas, and more generally the emancipation of African-American slaves throughout the Confederate South. Celebrated on June 19, the word is a portmanteau of "June" and "nineteenth." Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in forty-five states.  New Jersey was not one of them when I lived there.  It is now. 

According to an internet posting by Jacqueline Holness on Urban Faith, while the official date of the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves was enacted on Jan. 1, 1863, it would take two years for slaves in Galveston, Texas to learn about their freedom.  That happened when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in the city and told them they were free. June 19 began to be celebrated across the country as Juneteenth and in 1980, the Texan legislature established Juneteenth as a state holiday. Still, the celebration of Juneteenth, which has been inconsistent throughout the course of history, has yet to achieve the recognition and popularity of other official American holidays.[i] [ii]

How appropriate that our passage from Matthew is tied to peaceful civil disobedience and peaceful resistance that Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. King made famous in the last century. Now is the day of salvation.

In this era of more than instantaneous communication by TV, radio, the internet, text, and social media, it is hard to fathom news taking two years to spread.

Ms. Holness reports that the Rev. Ronald V. Meyers Sr. is chairman of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation.  He has been working since 1994 when he helped organize the foundation that is working to have Juneteenth recognized as a national American holiday. “Forty-five states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or a special day of recognition or observance. We’re still missing North Dakota, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Montana, and Hawaii,” says Meyers.

Despite this progress, our prayers remain with the nine members of the Mother Emanuel community -- nine members of our American family -- whose God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were so cruelly snatched away two years ago.  Our hearts continue to go out to their families, their friends, and the entire city of Charleston. 

As President Obama noted in a statement in 2015: 

“We don't have to look far to see that racism and bigotry, hate and intolerance, are still all too alive in our world.  Just as the slaves of Galveston knew that emancipation is only the first step toward true freedom, just as those who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago knew their march was far from finished, our work remains undone.  For as long as people still hate each other for nothing more than the color of their skin - and so long as it remains far too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun - we cannot honestly say that our country is living up to its highest ideals.  But Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory or an acceptance of the way things are.  Instead, it's a celebration of progress.  It's an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, things do get better.  America can change. “

So, no matter our color or our creed, no matter where we come from or who we love, today is a day to find joy in the face of sorrow, to count our blessings and hold the ones we love a little closer.  And tomorrow is a day to keep marching. “

Please pray Psalm 107 for the intentions of:
  • Freedom for those still trapped in any kind of slavery.
  • Protection and intervention for those at-risk of becoming victims.
  • Salvation, repentance, and redemption for those who are oppressing and enslaving people who have been displaced by war, violence, and poverty.
  • Truth to be revealed and justice to happen for the refugees.
  • Those trapped in slavery to know the hope and love of Jesus.
  • Strength for those sharing the gospel in the refugee camps and in hostile countries where they could lose their lives.
Cry to the Lord to rescue them from their peril.

[ii] Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi and the District of Columbia also observe other dates for Emancipation Day based upon local events in the 1860s and how the news spread.  

Saturday, June 17, 2017

“Can I Get an Amen?” by “Sam” Miller

Remember how for these forty years the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the wilderness, so as to test you by affliction, to know what was in your heart: to keep his commandments, or not. Deuteronomy 8:2

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?  Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”  John 6:56-57

” What he did at supper seated,
Christ ordained to be repeated,
His memorial ne'er to cease:
And his rule for guidance taking,
Bread and wine we hallow, making
Thus our sacrifice of peace.
This the truth each Christian learns,
Bread into his flesh he turns,
To his precious blood the wine:
Sight has fail'd, nor thought conceives,
But a dauntless faith believes,
Resting on a pow'r divine.
Here beneath these signs are hidden
Priceless things to sense forbidden;
Signs, not things are all we see:
Blood is poured and flesh is broken,
Yet in either wondrous token
Christ entire we know to be.
(from Sequence – Lauda Sion)
Wow!!  Talk about a Holy, grand slam of Sundays!!!!

We celebrated the ASCENSION OF THE LORD on Sunday the 28th of May, where we, Jesus’ disciples, were told to go out and tell the whole world the Good News but to first wait ‘til receiving power “when the Holy Spirit comes upon you”.   AMEN!!!! 

The end of the Easter Season was Sunday the 4th of June, PENTECOST, when we were “blown away” by the promised reception of the power of the Holy Spirit and the Peace of Christ!!!!  We also heard … “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.”   AMEN!!!! 

Sunday, the 11th of June, was the celebration of the MOST HOLY TRINITY where we heard from our second reading in 2 Corinthians, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” SHAZAM! That’s Greeting “A” in the Order of the Mass following the blessing of ourselves “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!!!!  AMEN!!!!   

This Sunday brings us “home” as we celebrate the MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST!!!!  I believe: The Lord directs and guards my wanderings in this journey, knowing my heart!!;” Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”; “…Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”  AMEN!!!!   

When I receive the Body & Blood of Christ at Mass today and respond with the interjection, “AMEN,” I’ll be saying: “It is so!”  “So be it!”, expressing solemn ratification or agreement!!!!   AMEN!!!!

(Just so you know: This Pentecost was particularly special to Wayne & Sam because we were lectors for Mass and renewed our vows following Mass on our 50th Wedding Anniversary!!)


We Are Ambassadors for Christ

So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ as if God were appealing through us. 2 COR 5:17-20A

But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Matthew 5:34-35

Incline my heart, O God, to your decrees. (Psalm 119:36)

Oath-taking.  Swearing. For those of us who drive competitively (i.e. rush hour aka crawl-and-sprawl hour around Washington, DC), there is the near occasion to sin multiple times daily.  Even for public transit commuters, who has not sworn at Metro when the bus was late, the subway train broke down, or the sardine-can crowds unbearable?

You don’t have to be a commuter to find occasions to swear.  Some years ago, I was testifying in Federal court.  Once I sat in the witness chair, the experience started with “swearing me in.” The purpose of an oath like that was to guarantee truthfulness in a legal proceeding.  And of course, just like on TV, the phrase ended with “…so help me God.” [There was no Bible.] Also, on the first day of both my Federal jobs, I took the civilian oath of office.  On both October 22, 2012, and February 6, 2017, I raised my right hand to proclaim:

I, Anthony DeCristofaro, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God. (5 U.S.C. §3331)

According to a story broadcast on National Public Radio before the 2009 Presidential Inauguration, Mr. Paul Lacey of the American Friends Service Committee said, “The Quakers were among some of those groups that took very literally the injunction in Scripture in the Sermon on the Mount that you should swear not, just period. You swear not.”

The Quakers are not out on a limb.  They are following the letter of the moral code set down in Hebrew Law. Swearing by the name of God has been against the moral law since the Ten Commandments were etched in stone: “You shall not invoke the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. For the LORD will not leave unpunished anyone who invokes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)  

Why the fuss?  Mr. Lacey further explained: “The meaning behind that for Quakers was not only the sense that if the Sermon on the Mount gives you an ethical principle, you ought to take it very, very seriously, but also that if you swear, you are suggesting that maybe other times you don't tell the truth.”

Jesus reminds us to not use the divine name in making any oaths.  “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’: literally, “let your speech be ‘Yes, yes,’ ‘No, no.’”  Some take this passage to mean that this milder form of oath is permitted by Jesus. However, contrast this statement to Matthew 5:34, “Do not swear at all.” Period.  Drop the mike.

When I was in junior high school, I remember the howls of laughter from my friends as we would listen to George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” monologue.  And I can still see my father’s face when he heard us listening to that!  Ouch!

If we did not have a tendency to lie, then oath-taking would not be necessary.  Imagine the world if we could not lie.  (“Does this dress make me look…?”  No, dear!).   As new creations formed to be “ambassadors for Christ,” our advocacy must be based upon truth-filled witness.  Jesus asks us – or demands of us – a level of truthfulness that would make oaths needless and superfluous.

Swearing may be your best option when trying to open that #$@&%*! pickle jar.  However, when taking an oath to be truthful, avoid the near occasion to sin. And if you can not turn off the profanity in Grand Theft Auto V or Call of Duty video games, then maybe you should not use them at all.  

Thursday, June 15, 2017

“Earthen Vessels” by Colleen O’Sullivan

Brothers and sisters:  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.  For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)

Lord grant me the grace of humility.  Help me to be satisfied as an ordinary clay pot, my flawed nature a foil to your glory.

Layers of shards of amphoras settled at Testaccio hill in Rome,
October 3, 2015, Flazaza, Creative Commons Attribution-Share
Alike 4.0 International license, via Wikimedia Commons
In Paul’s day, the Romans imported vast amounts of olive oil from Spain.  Most of the time the oil was delivered in 18-gallon earthen vessels known as amphorae.  When they were empty, the Romans discarded the amphorae at a particular spot near the Tiber River in Rome.  Over time the pile of shards grew and grew and became known as Monte Testaccio.  Once their task of holding the olive oil was done, the vessels were of no more use.  They could be flung into the dump, joining millions of other shards of pottery.  It wasn’t the amphorae themselves that were so valuable but what they contained that was so precious.

So, when Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about treasure held in earthen vessels, people could well identify with what he was saying.  The clay pots weren’t nearly as important as what they held - the Gospel in its entirety, Jesus’ death, the very glory of God!  It isn’t by accident that such great treasure is contained in fragile clay pots, subject to chips, flaws, and cracks. 

We hold the glory of God within us.  In John’s Gospel Jesus’ final moments of torment on the Cross are his moment of glory.  It is precisely at that instant that the Roman centurion recognized and proclaimed Jesus the Son of God.
It’s okay if we’re a little worn or chipped, perhaps even cracked in some parts of our existence.  The reality is that we are flawed.  We fall ill.  Eventually, we will die.  It’s no use pretending otherwise. And after all, it’s not really about us; it’s about the glory of God contained within us.

Unfortunately, from the White House to our houses, humility is not much in vogue at the moment.  It doesn’t always suit us to be clay pots.  We waste time wishing God had made us beautiful vases instead.  We spend hours polishing those earthen vessels, more interested in what the world thinks about us than about the treasure God has placed within us and the need to share it with our brothers and sisters.  Sometimes we’re so focused on ourselves, I’m afraid we forget that we’re holding a treasure at all.

Spend some time savoring the treasure that you hold.  How have you shared it with others?  With whom could you share it today?