Friday, December 02, 2016

This is the Way

The Lord will give you the bread you need and the water for which you thirst. No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, while from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: “This is the way; walk in it,” when you would turn to the right or to the left. Isaiah 30:20-21

Jesus sent out these Twelve after instructing them thus, “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 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.” Matthew 10:5-8

The Lord will give us rain for the seeds of heaven that we sow in the ground, And the wheat that the soil produces will be rich and abundant. On that day, our flock will be given pasture and the lamb will graze in spacious meadows; The farmers and their hands and equipment that till the ground will eat food that gives them strength to grow our corn, pick our coffee, cure our beef, and clean our apples. 

Upon every high mountain and lofty hill, there will be streams of running water. We do not thirst as it pours forth from our kitchen taps and the bottles lining our shelves. No matter the troubles that the present and future hold, the light of the moon will be like that of the sun and the light of the sun will be seven times greater like the light of seven days. On that day, the LORD binds up our wounds.  The Lord will heal the bruises left by the slings of fortune.

In today’s readings, we have Jesus pushing and pulling us to do his work.  Isaiah gives us the image of a merciful and helping God who is there to direct our every step.  “This is the way; walk in it.” Once we get going, Jesus steps out of the way and lets us carry on without him. The shepherd sends us out to find his lost sheep.  For each lost sheep who is served, another brick is laid in the walls of the Kingdom of heaven. 

We have been reading these same passages year-after-liturgical year.  Some of us have been studying our whole adult life.  Thirty years.  Forty years.  Fifty years.  More?  Each cycle, the readings are the same.  Maybe you pick up a slightly different translation of the Bible.  New American?  Revised Standard?  New Jerusalem?  What differs? 

We are different.  Our experiences in 2016 are different from 2006…from 1996…from 1986…. from 1976... from 1966.  Think back.  How would the instructions issued today would be different in your life ten years ago? Imagine what they will mean to you ten years from now. In 2026? In 2036?

Ten years ago, our children were still in college.  We were wondering how the bills would be paid.  This is the way.  Our families were younger, healthier.  More were still with us. Walk in it.  Ten years from now, we will be older.  Retirement will be upon us with new challenges.  This is the way.  Our families will be older still.  Fewer will still be with us.  Walk in it.

Maybe we will be the lost sheep that someone is coming to cure, raise, cleanse or drive out.  Maybe we will be the instructed.  Dropping whatever pre-occupied us to fulfill the command, brick-by-heavy brick. The.  Kingdom. Of. Heaven. Is. At. Hand. Wait for it.  This is the way.  Walk in it.

How are you preparing for the coming of the Lord—both at Christmas and in the
NASA Apollo VIII - Earthrise
"Our Common Home" 
years ahead in your life? How can you prepare yourself to be a missionary disciple who helps others encounter Christ? Isaiah promises that the Lord will send a teacher.  Think about the image and presence of your favorite school teachers.  They were not hiding.  They stood before us and those green blackboards.  For me, that brings forth the memory of Mrs. Hicks – from second and fourth grade at the Harmony School in New Monmouth, New Jersey.  And Frank Mellaci, from Thorne Junior High School, the science teacher who opened my eyes to the need for greater stewardship of “OUR COMMON HOME.”  And Dr. George Herndl and Dr. Russ Fowler and Brother Paul Shanley at Belmont Abbey College, connecting works of literature and the inherent themes of conflict and characters to our everyday modern lives.

These teachers and so many other teachers of mine and yours were and are visible and tangible. Today, Isaiah promises that God will send us a teacher to do the same right before our eyes. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God taught through his prophets. But the promise of Advent is that we will have a way to more clearly and directly learn from God. 

What are you doing to be the teacher of today, the laborer of the presence? You and I are here to solve, to teach, to heal and to help the people of today. We are not called to wait for some distant far-off promise of the coming of Heaven, but instead, are called to aid the people in the Kingdom today who are calling out for our help in the here and now. Close in time.  Close in space. Help them find the way.  Help them walk in it. 

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Waiting in Joyful Hope

By Colleen O’Sullivan

On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book; And out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see.  The lowly will ever find joy in the Lord and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 29:18-19)

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? (Psalm 27:1a)

As Jesus passed by, two blind men followed him, crying out, “Son of David, have pity on us!”  When he entered the house, the blind men approached him and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I can do this?”  Yes, Lord,” they said to him.  Then he touched their eyes and said, “Let it be done for you according to your faith.”  And their eyes were opened.  (Matthew 9:27-30a)

Wait for the Lord, his day is near. 
Wait for the Lord: keep watch, take heart.

Prior to Advent 2011’s liturgical language changes, after the Our Father, the celebrant at Mass would pray this short prayer:  In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  That phrase, wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, sums up Advent for me.

We’re not always so good at waiting, however.  I confess to having my Christmas tree already set up and decorated.  I’m hosting the family Christmas dinner this year and my head is full of recipes and logistics.  A thousand siren songs beseech us to do anything but wait in joyful hope.  Get online and cyber-shop.  Run to the mall and come home laden with gifts for family and friends.  Load up your December calendar with Christmas parties, Christmas concerts and the like.  Wait?  We’ve mentally, emotionally and spiritually already skipped right over Advent.

Wait in joyful hope?  Maybe it’s just the darkness of the long winter nights, but I find many people discouraged.  Perhaps your Thanksgiving dinner tableau didn’t exactly resemble a Norman Rockwell painting, and there were tensions among those around your table.   Maybe you shudder at the recent reminders that racism is alive and well and that there are still plenty of people who measure a person’s worth by their skin color, ethnic origin, or religious persuasion.  I personally found utterly appalling a story in the Washington Post about a Moroccan TV show, “After the Beating,” where women are matter-of-factly shown how to apply cosmetics to cover up the bruises from physical abuse inflicted on them in their homes.  There are so many in our world who aren’t treated with respect or dignity.

Yet, I am waiting in joyful hope for the coming of the Lord!  The prophet Isaiah promises a day when the land will be renewed and all will be lush and fruitful, a time when we will see and hear the goodness of the Lord and understand the glory of what we are beholding.  The powerful who use their might to make others miserable will be no more.  And, last but not least, we will be so in awe of these works wrought by God’s hand, we will bow down and adore our God.

The psalmist adds that the Lord is our light and our salvation and, with God on our side, there is no reason to live in fear.

In the Gospel reading lies the clue to being able to wait in joyful hope.  The two blind men have faith.  They each believe with all their heart that Jesus can heal them.  And that is what enables the Lord to restore them to wholeness.  Jesus’ own family and hometown friends didn’t have faith and Jesus could do nothing for them for that reason.  

Carve out some quiet time each day to wait in joyful hope for the Lord’s coming.  Give thanks for the ways God has already taken up residence in your heart.  Where you feel disheartened by the state of your family, our country or the world, come up with one small thing you can do to make someone else’s life better and do it.  None of us can transform the entire world, but all the little gifts of love that we offer can and do make a difference.    

Pray with gratitude for God’s sending his Son into the world to be one of us and to offer us redemption.  The dark nights may be long at this time of year, but Jesus is truly the Light that nothing and no one can extinguish.

Finally, pray with joyful anticipation of that day when Christ shall return as King of Glory and redeem all of creation.   That is truly worth hoping and waiting for!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Jesus, My Rock

By Beth DeCristofaro

Trust in the LORD forever! For the LORD is an eternal Rock. (Isaiah 26:4)

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house.  But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. (Matthew 7:24)

“A strong city have we; he sets up walls and ramparts to protect us.  Open up the gates to let in a nation that is just, one that keeps faith. With firm purpose, you maintain peace; in peace, because of our trust in you.” (Isaiah 26: 1-3)

Sometimes even solid rock seems unsubstantial as mountains erupt or armies demolish massive stone statues.  We personally experience the world slip sideways when diagnosed with terminal ALS.  In a horrible tremor of morality, humans are kidnapped and forced into slavery around the world. Cautiously we build for permanence, physically, morally, and spiritually and God offers us a way to stand firm when solid life seems to dissolve.

New Chapel of Las Abejas, Acteal, Chiapas, Mexico. 
A community in SE Mexico devoted to non-violent Christian service had what they believed to be their rock solid, God-centered life devastated in 1997.  45 members of the Las Abejas were massacred by paramilitary troops as they prayed for peace in their modest wooden chapel.  Today those who survived and others who joined their movement practice forgiveness, even of their murderers, because that is what Jesus did.  Their way of life, their families, their homes were swept away as if built on sand but the rock at the core of their souls was firm and did not collapse. 

Sr. Barbara Read, OP, writes that Jesus’ merciful rule, begun in the Bethlehem stable, could not be extinguished by death on the cross. Jesus’ story to his friends shows us that our lives must be set solidly in his house and centered in his grace which protects us solidly and eternally.

The Mexican community calls itself “Las Abejas” which means “the bees” working for the Queen Bee, the reign of God.  In what way am I a worker bee preparing for the infant God?  Can I place the “sand” of my life – murder, oppression, illness, idolatry, addictions, anger, distrust, losses, hurts - in God’s hands and hold fast to the Rock of Jesus?

Say a prayer for Las Abejas, for people held hostage in Syrian cities, for trafficked children of the world. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Set Up as a Signal for the Nations

By Melanie Rigney

On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.  (Isaiah 11:10)

Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace forever. (Psalm 72:7)

Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.  (Luke 10:21)

Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

Signals. Generally, we obey them. The light turns green, we go. The fire alarm goes off, we look for the nearest exit. Our hearts flutter strangely during the night, we go to the doctor. The bell chimes at a concert, we return to our seats. Signals protect us from harm. They let us know something is changing.

Consider the ways in which the Lord is a signal in our lives. His light shines in our soul every time we struggle, showing us that He is with us when we feel alone. He’s behind the alarm we feel when we are tempted to sin in the way we interact with others. He’s in the fluttering of our hearts when we experience true joy, celebrating with us. He’s in the chime of the bells during Mass and in so many seasonal songs, telling us that something important is about to happen.

By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons
Childlike or not, we ignore signals at our own peril. We can live, sometimes live very well, in this world for a time if we run red lights, figure the fire alarm was a system test, write off the heart fluttering to insomnia, and wait until the lights go down in the concert hall to sit down. It’s a risky way to live, and it usually catches up to us, one way or another. The better and ultimately easier path is to be attentive to the Lord’s signals… and obey.

As you pray today, keep “but,” “I don’t think you understand,” and “why” out of your side of the conversation.

Monday, November 28, 2016

I Will Come and Cure Him

On that day, the branch of the LORD will be luster and glory, and the fruit of the earth will be honor and splendor for the survivors of Israel. He who remains in Zion and he who is left in Jerusalem will be called holy: every one inscribed for life in Jerusalem. Isiah 4:2-3

When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.” He said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” Matthew 8:5-8

“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you.  Only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Today, we find the seeds for several themes that will run throughout Advent. 

Purification:  Whether cleansing those who remain in Jerusalem or healing the centurion’s servant, closeness to the Lord will bring us redemption from the stain of sin.

Promises Kept: “I will come.” When we approach Jesus, he will answer.  As the season plays out, shepherds, kings, and more will come to Jesus just as Jesus comes into the world. 

Power and Glory: Jesus does not yield power in the same way as the Centurion.  However, his power comes into the world in a subtle way.  Jesus is not in need of barking orders to his followers.  He only needs to say the word and it will be done.

Humility: Despite his military and social power, the Centurion remains a humble man.  Despite his faith in Jesus, he publicly admits that he is not worthy for the Lord to visit his home.

Every time we attend Mass, we echo the words of the Centurion right before Communion. Yet as we leave, we get back into the rate race of proving our worthiness.  Carry the spirit of the centurion with you today as you interact with people. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Walk in the Light

First Sunday of Advent [i]

By the late Rev. Joe McCloskey, S.J.

In days to come, the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: “Come, let us climb the LORD'S mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, That he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” For from Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD! Isaiah 2:2-5

Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. Matthew 24:42-44

May this Advent be a special time of uniting our minds and hearts to Christ! May we all bring Christ back into Christmas by making it a holy time! May Christ be alive in all our minds and hearts because of how we share him!

The mountain of the Lord has its beginning in the crib of Bethlehem. We are called to the birth of Christ by the invitation to stay awake for his coming. Life brings us to the mountain of the Lord as the highest of the mountains of life. We begin to climb this mountain by going to the stable of Christ’s birth. We do it by our prayer. We do it by our willingness to find in the little things of life chances to love and chances to make the ordinary extraordinary by connecting the little and the ordinary to what is most special about life. Our walk in the path of the Lord begins with our realization that he is totally like us. No abortion can ever be acceptable when we realize our beginnings and his beginnings are one and the same mystery of God’s love entering the world.

Birthdays are wonderful celebrations for the specialness of all beginnings. Four weeks of preparation are hardly enough to say what is dawning for the human race in the Coming of Christ. Each year we celebrate his birth with different levels of expectation. We have great expectations when we do long preparation for a coming. The importance of an event is measured by the work we do to make an event memorable. There are few events in life that influence the lives of those we love more than birthdays that express gladness at the presence of another in our lives. We celebrate what is important to us. The name we give something shows its importance to us. All the places and the shops that have taken Christ out of Christmas, I intend to avoid. Christmas without the name of Christ is only a holiday. Instant gratification is the gospel of secularism. Christmas with the celebration of Christ’s birth is a Holy Day. Advent is all about the making holy the days of preparation for the coming of the Lord.

Piety takes many forms during the preparation for the coming of Christ.
The Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary keep the attention of our souls on what is going to happen. Christmas Cards keep those we love in the special place of our hearts. One wonderful practice for Christmas preparation is a prayer for each person we would send a card to as we think of how each person we send a card to, has a place in our hearts. Praying for people by name is hard to do in the world of too much business. Making the addressing and the signing of a card with the Christmas message a prayer gives special attention to the important people in our lives. May this Advent be a special time of uniting our minds and hearts to Christ! May we all bring Christ back into Christmas by making it a holy time! May Christ be alive in all our minds and hearts because of how we share him!

[i] We start this new liturgical year with a tribute to our former spiritual director, Fr. Joe. This classic column starts off the A Cycle in the 2016-2017 Liturgical year. Originally Published December 2, 2007.  Happy New Year. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Stand Before the Son of Man

The night will be no more, nor will they need light from a lamp or the sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever. And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, and the Lord, the God of prophetic spirits, sent his angel to show his servants what must happen soon.” “Behold, I am coming soon.” Blessed is the one who keeps the prophetic message of this book. Revelation 22:5-7

“Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:36

Ten Commandments for the Long Haul (1981) by the late Daniel Berrigan, S.J.:
  1. Call on Jesus when all else fails. Call on Him when all else succeeds (except that never happens).
  2. Don't be afraid to be afraid or appalled to be appalled. How do you think the trees feel these days, or the whales, or, for that matter, most humans?
  3. Keep your soul to yourself. The soul is a possession worth paying for, they're growing rarer. Learn from monks, they have secrets worth knowing.
  4. About practically everything in the world, there's nothing you can do. This is Socratic wisdom. However, about of few things you can do something. Do it, with a good heart.
  5. On a long drive, there's bound to be a dull stretch or two. Don't go anywhere with someone who expects you to be interesting all the time. And don't be hard on your fellow travelers. Try to smile after a coffee stop.
  6. Practically no one has the stomach to love you if you don't love yourself. They just endure. So do you.
  7. About healing: The gospels tell us that this was Jesus' specialty and he was heard to say: "Take up your couch and walk!"
  8. When traveling on an airplane, watch the movie, but don't use the earphones. Then you'll be able to see what's going on, but not understand what's happening, and so you'll feel right at home, little different then you do on the ground.
  9. Know that sometimes the only writing material you have is your own blood.
  10. Start with the impossible. Proceed calmly towards the improbable. No worry, there are at least five exits.

On this very last day of the liturgical year, the message comes full circle.  We come to expect the Second Advent when Christ comes again…soon.

There is no accident that the First Sunday of Advent for this year (November 29, 2015) used the exact same passage and a few additional verses before it for the Gospel to set the tone of the year (Luke 21:25-28,34-36).    

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

We were and are admonished to be vigilant to start the year and reminded again as we close the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  Throughout, the themes in Luke, overturning the expected order, fulfilling the manifesto to serve the poor and free those imprisoned by forces beyond their control and to perform duties acceptable to the Lord have been our constant companion.

This was a year we lost many giants in the Church and in the world.

The Most Reverend (Archbishop Emeritus) Peter Leo Gerety of Newark, NJ, who was 104 when he passed away in September. He was the oldest prelate in the Church and was a bishop for more than 50 years.

Global humanitarian Muhammed Ali. 

Paula Merrill, a nun with Kentucky-based Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, was a nurse practitioner to residents of one of Mississippi's poorest counties.  Margaret Held, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was living her dream of erasing racism and poverty in the deep South.  In late August, the two nuns were found dead in the Mississippi community they quietly served for decades, authorities said.

The brutal murder of 86-year-old French priest Rev. Jacques Hamel, at the hands of two men claiming to be Islamic State militants, represents a particular challenge to Pope Francis and other church leaders.
The apparently targeted killing in Normandy while Fr. Hamel was celebrating Mass.

Four Missionaries of Charity were murdered in Yemen and a priest was taken hostage and may have been killed as well.

Daniel Berrigan, the great peacemaker, poet, antiwar activist, and writer who died on April 30, 2016. 

However, compounding those headline losses were the anonymous deaths and injuries to thousands of refugees fleeing violence in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East and the unmitigated assaults on non-combatants.  These deaths and injuries prompted the archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, to comment on the world’s increasingly tough attitude toward refugees:  "Someone who lets people drown in the Mediterranean also drowns God — every day, thousands of times."

Wounded 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh sits alone in the back of the ambulance after he was injured during airstrikes targeting Aleppo, Syria, on Wednesday. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

If we are truly to pray to escape the tribulations that are imminent when Christ comes into our hearts and lives, then we must heed, not just the Good News preached on the first and last days of the liturgical year but the messages contained in the Gospel every day.  It is not vigilance that we are called to put into action.  It is love.

“Love is the test given to us by the Lord Himself,” the late Archbishop Gerety said, echoing Jesus’ words: “Love one another as I have loved you. … Where love is absent, He is too.”  

If we live that, we have nothing to fear when we stand before the Son of Man.


By Colleen O’Sullivan

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.  The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  (Rev. 21:1-2)

Jesus told his disciples a parable.  “Consider the fig tree and all the other trees.  When their buds burst open, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near; in the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near.  (Luke 21:29-31)

Lord, we long to see your face.  We long to be among those singing your praises in the new Jerusalem.

What we have in our first reading today is a powerful vision of the end time, a vision using all sorts of symbolism, a vision not to be taken literally.  I know many people who dislike these end-of-the-church-year readings.  They find them frightening.

But today’s reading brings a word of hope to all the faithful of every age.  In this world, suffering is part and parcel of living.  Some of our brothers and sisters have suffered for the Gospel.  Some, even this very year, have died for their faith in Christ.  But to all who have been faithful, living or dead, hope is the last word.  A far better future awaits us.

John describes it as the new Jerusalem, a place where the powers of evil are overcome, where God reigns for all eternity.  It’s where we all long to be, in that place where illness and suffering and death no longer exist, in that place where we join the chorus praising and adoring God.

Growing Figs (Public Domain)
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jesus points to the fig tree when telling the disciples how to tell when the Kingdom of God is near.  The fig tree is an ancient sign or hope.  Fig trees show up throughout the Scriptures from Genesis to the Gospels.  The fruit of the tree sometimes symbolizes blessing.

I think Jesus had hope in mind when he told this brief parable.  God, who knew each of us before all time, who named us and formed us in our mothers’ wombs isn’t out to get us or frighten us.  God desires our friendship in this life and wants nothing more than for us to spend all eternity together.  It is God’s hope that we will be with him in his Kingdom for all time.

As you gather with family around the table, sharing Thanksgiving leftovers and looking to the Advent season which begins on Sunday, give thanks for the signs that God’s Kingdom is near.  Jesus himself said earlier in this Gospel that if it is by the power of God that he drives out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon us (Lk 11:20).

The Kingdom is not yet fully realized, but there are signs all around of its in-breaking if we open our eyes to see.  I am grateful for the love I see in others, especially as displayed by one of my friends and her family, who have opened their hearts to a child from Colombia and will soon open their arms to welcome her and give her a forever family.  In a nation that has been deeply scarred and divided in recent months by the ugliest election campaign I ever remember, these are signs that God is in our midst, that good works are being done in God’s name and that there is reason to hope that we will one day find ourselves in the New Jerusalem with God.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Glorifying and Blessing

By Beth DeCristofaro

And now, bless the God of all, who has done wondrous things on earth (Sirach 50:22)

And one of (the lepers), realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. …  Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”  (Luke 17:15, 19)


What a day of thanksgiving!   Shall we put ourselves in the shoes (or imagine his bare feet) of the cured, thankful leper?  I have never faced quite such an exiling, painful, embarrassing, hopeless situation nor been extricated from it.  But tragedies have struck, been poor, found myself frighteningly lost and now I work with those who are ill and aging and those who have been given terminal diagnoses.  It’s hard to dance with gratitude when in dire straits or when ministering to someone who sees no way out of the prison of a crumbling body.

Jesus approaches the lepers, walking to Jerusalem.  He is walking, teaching, touching and healing even as he squarely faces his destruction.  He stops to help a human in pain crying out for help.  He lifts his face to his father in confident gratitude and love for the mission he accepted and for the life of this leper.  He stops, he cares, he cures.  His dance of grace continues to the cross and leaps out of the grave.  His dance of grace and kingship are danced today in the hearts of all who stop even in the face of pain, discouragement, hopelessness attempting to say, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”  Let us trust that His dance will sustain us even if our bodies fail and our state of affairs never improve.  Let us hear no matter what comes: “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”  

Today as I sit down to a full and delicious meal with my loved ones, may my spirit dance in gratitude and longing to walk ever closer with Jesus and more fully emulate his humble and embracing love which is farther reaching than any earthly comfort, remedy, request I can envision. As I continue walking to whatever Jerusalem is ahead in my life, may I walk in humility knowing that much of life is beyond my control but it is always prized by God.

The power of Christ the King, Pope Francis said, "is not power as defined by this world, but the love of God, a love capable of encountering and healing all things." … Following Christ the King also means accepting "the scandal of his humble love," which can be difficult because it "unsettles and disturbs us." Christ's love, the love Christians are called to imitate, is concrete and tangible and is not concerned with personal comfort, power, and superiority.[i]

The Year of Mercy has ended but we can keep those doors open in our own hearts.  To whom can we extend mercy today?  Am I experiencing “leprosy” in my life?  Where is Jesus in my pain and suffering?  Talk with Him, then listen in humble gratitude.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Powerless to Resist

Jesus said to the crowd: “They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.  Luke 21:12-15

Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen

In the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar,” there are many interesting lyrics but some that always stick in my mind are the stanzas from the title song: “If you'd come today, you could have reached the whole nation, Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.”

Further on, we hear this:

Tell me what you think
About your friends at the top
Now who d'you think besides yourself
Was the pick of the crop?
Buddha, was he where it's at?
Is he where you are?
Could Muhammad move a mountain
Or was that just PR?

The lyricist was totally wrong. If Jesus came today with the same message, despite the tools of mass communication and social media, he would have still been seen in popular culture as an abject failure.  He would probably be sitting in a lonely coffee shop or on a picket line lamenting that the sandcastles of today’s culture are built upon the immediate gratification-foundation of McMansions, McDonald's, and Marty McFly. There are more tickets bought to sit in the seats at the Ringling Brothers Circus every year than people who fill up the pews on any given Sunday.   

Today’s scripture is what Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton most likely had in mind when he wrote the profound and perfect line: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” 

Jesus had no sense of marketing the short-term customer benefits of his way of life when he spoke like he did in Luke 21 of being handed over to prisons and trials without so much as a public defender to represent you.  Jesus could not care less about marketing or mass communication.  He was solely pre-occupied with the eternal redemption of our souls from the wages of sin and Satan. That’s why he tried to deliver a strong wake-up call that continues to echo forward more than two thousand years ahead. 

This yolk is easy, this burden light compared with the seven last words that Jesus leaves with us before he hands over his human Spirit back to God.

Most people will not be any more interested in the plagues of the Old Testament or Revelation than they are of the modern HIV-Zika-Ebola-Bird Flue era.  It is not the plagues that we should fear.  Without a healthy fear (awe) of the Lord, we will never appreciate what He did for us.  We may not want to wade into the Great Tribulation but wade in we must.  Diving in like St. Peter is more likely our calling. 

What bad habits and laziness in your life do you have to guard against? Sometimes it seems we are powerless to resist the onslaught of temptation.  However, Jesus gives us the support we need -- strengthened by the gifts of the Holy Spirit -- to accept his offer. 

What Cardinal Virtues will help you conquer your greatest temptation?


Monday, November 21, 2016

The Great Wine Press of God’s Fury

By Melanie Rigney

Then another angel came from the altar, who was in charge of the fire, and cried out in a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and cut clusters from the earth’s vines, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and cut the earth’s vintage. He threw it into the great winepress of God’s fury.  (Revelation 14:17-19)

The Lord comes to judge the earth. (Psalm 96:13b)

Then they asked (Jesus), “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?” He answered, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and “The time has come.’ Do not follow them!” (Luke 21:7-8)

Lord, press my sins so that the wine inside may serve You.

Wine making was not for the weak at the time the Book of Revelation was being
written. The grapes would be placed in some sort of basin and stomped—and stomped and stomped. The liquid would be caught as runoff in containers. Then, the liquid would be fermented. The better the stomping, the more liquid. When the grapes were harvested would make a difference. How well they were pressed would make a difference. It was a backbreaking process, but the wine was worth it, whether it was used for religious, medicinal, or social purposes. Or at least, the people making the wine hoped it would be.

In the same way, our vanities and sins, large and small, are headed for the Lord’s great wine press. However, our wrongdoings don’t improve with age. Rather, waiting for  a sign that the time is right to seek God’s forgiveness or to start anew only results in bitterness and anxiety… and still more distance. As we approach Advent, may we be patient in our waiting—but never tarry in going to the Lord for correction, mercy, and love.

Don’t wait for signs of the end times. Go to confession today, or talk with a spiritual adviser about what God needs to stomp out of your soul.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Wherever He Goes

I heard a sound from heaven like the sound of rushing water or a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. They were singing what seemed to be a new hymn before the throne, before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn this hymn except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been ransomed from the earth. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. Revelation 14:2-3,4B

He said, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.” Luke 21:3-4

Almighty and ever-living God, today we honor the memory of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose hidden life brings light and warmth to the Church in every place. Her presentation in the temple at Jerusalem reveals her as a temple where God truly lives among us. May Mary's example give us the strength to radiate that light and warmth to the Church and help us to be dwelling places of God's joyful presence on earth. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen. (Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, CEO Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation)

Today the Church celebrates the memorial of the Presentation of Mary. The three feasts of the birthday of Our Lady, the holy Name of Mary and her Presentation in the Temple correspond in the Marian cycle with the first three feasts of the cycle of feasts of our Lord: namely, Christmas, the Holy Name of Jesus, and His Presentation in the Temple (February 2).[i]

As with Mary’s birth, we read of Mary’s presentation in the temple only in apocryphal literature. In what is recognized as an unhistorical account, the Protoevangelium of James tells us that Anna and Joachim offered Mary to God in the Temple when she was 3 years old. This was to carry out a promise made to God when Anna was still childless.[ii]

According to Franciscan Media: “Even though the feast has no basis in history, it stresses an important truth about Mary: From the beginning of her life, she was dedicated to God. She herself became a greater temple than any made by hands. God came to dwell in her in a marvelous manner and sanctified her for her unique role in God’s saving work. At the same time, the magnificence of Mary enriches her.”

Interesting that the Magisterium choose the Poor Widow’s Contribution for today’s Good News when we mark the Poor Virgin’s contribution.  In the cases of both women, we get inspired from the offer their entire livelihood to God.  They give their “ALL” to the church.  They truly are the “ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” The Lamb – or the Good Shephard in our case.

The purpose of last Sunday’s celebration to mark Christ the King of all the Universe.  The challenge of that Solemnity is to make Christ the King of our lives and life in the way Mary and the poor widow show.

What part of Mary can you bring to this day and this week?

  • Meditate on the mystery of Mary's temporary dwelling in the sanctuary of the Old Covenant as a preparation for the approaching season of Advent.

  • Locate the order of contemplative nuns closest to you and visit their monastery (you may want to request their prayers and you might consider supporting them financially).  In our case, one option is the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Washington, DC. (  They are the privileged souls who, by the grace of their vocation, are even here below dwellers in the house of the Lord.