Friday, July 21, 2017

“How Shall I Make a Return to the Lord?” by Colleen O’Sullivan

Although Moses and Aaron performed various wonders in Pharaoh’s presence, the Lord made Pharaoh obstinate, and he would not let the children of Israel leave his land. (God gives his people instructions for the preparation of the Passover lamb and the marking of their lintels with the blood.)  “This is how you are to eat it:  with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight.  It is the Passover of the Lord.”   (Exodus 11:10, 12:11)

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

How shall I make a return to the Lord
for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
and I will call upon the name of the Lord.  (Psalm 116:12-13)

Nine plagues have been visited upon Egypt in an effort to persuade Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people leave.  As awful as each one has been, none of them has persuaded the Egyptian ruler to release these slaves.  In today’s first reading, God is determined, however, that this final plague will mark the passing over of his people from slavery to freedom.

God works relentlessly every day to free us from what enslaves us, namely sin.  Consider how often we find ourselves confessing the same sins over and over.  Despite the best of intentions, we’ve argued with our spouse and said something hurtful again.  We’ve broken our promise once more to spend time with our children, putting in more hours at work instead.  We’ve indulged in another angry outburst against someone or tightened our grip on the grudge we’re holding toward another.  Face-to-face with a hungry, homeless person, we, who’ve been to Starbucks every day all week, think to ourselves, “Why doesn’t he/she get a job?” and turn away.  Enticed by the pleasures of our backyard grill and hammock, another weekend has gone by without us darkening the doors of our church or spending any time in prayer.

God seeks to free us from our sins and hopes we will respond.  Beyond that, as we see in today’s Gospel lesson, God is merciful and compassionate when it comes to human needs. 

So, what is our response to God’s love for us?  The Hebrew people in the first reading, freed from Egyptian captivity, chose to grumble and complain all the way from Egypt to the Promised Land.  What is our response to God’s saving love?  What return will we make to the Lord for all the good he has done for us?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

“Meekly, Humbly Embraced” by Beth DeCristofaro

Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Dear Lord, you have called me by my name.
You have carved me in the palm of your hand.
May I grow in trust and never give in to despair.
Your death on the cross has set me free.
I can live joyously and freely
without fear of death.
Your mercy knows no bounds.
I am surrounded by your loving presence, Lord,
But I am aware of my fragility and weakness.
Thank you that I can face my shortcomings
In your merciful embrace.

Me, I’m working on meek and humble of heart.  These seem to be key for me as I attempt to accept Jesus’ yoke.  He accepted humanness as a yoke with all its frailties, tribulations and dangers.  He carried the burden of my sin as he willingly stumbled under the cross.  Working in healthcare I meet many people who have yokes of disease that are not easy, burdens of incapacity that are far from light.  My dear friend who is a teacher frequently requests prayers for students whose burden of troubled families weigh so heavily that coping and academic skills are severely challenged.  The mothers of Aleppo, Mosul and other besieged cities bear yokes of fear and burdens of pain and abandonment.  Being human is often difficult and Jesus’ does not chastise us for bending under the strain.  Instead, meekly, humbly and with mercy, Jesus helps us bear i.

Humility opens me to declare God’s glory rather than my own.  Being humble implies succumbing to God’s will, God who wants so much more for me than I can ever imagine.    Jesus humbly told the disciples again and again that he came not to do his own will but the will of his father.

Meekness has to do with not being provoked easily.  It does not mean doormat.  A meek person knows how to channel anger into justice, reconciliation, healing and right.  Being meek is “what would Jesus do”.  Jesus meekly put the Word before the self-serving words of the temple leaders.

Without meekness or humility, we struggle unproductively and foist our anger, frustration, hurts onto those around us.  Others fall into helplessness and hopelessness without the reviving potency of Jesus’ meekness and the hope of Jesus’ humility.  What situations cause me to cling to false control or agenda?  What practices might help me build humility and meekness?  What might I forgo in order to yoke myself to Jesus? 

Monday, July 17, 2017

“Turn to the Lord in Your Need, and You Will Live” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

(Pharaoh’s daughter was moved with pity for the baby in the basket and said,) “It is one of the Hebrews' children." Then Moses’) sister asked Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and call one of the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?" "Yes, do so," she answered. So the maiden went and called the child’s own mother. (Exodus 2:6-8)

Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live. (Psalm 69:33)

(Jesus reproached Capernaum, saying:) “For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:23-24)

Lord, may I always turn to You. You are all the refuge I need.

Talk about mercy. The daughter of Pharaoh, the ruler who had ordered the death of all Hebrew male infants, was moved enough by the sight of Moses in the bulrushes that she risked her father’s wrath and saved the baby’s life. It makes us feel warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it, to think that a woman with so odious a father had such tender feelings for someone she was supposed to hate?

Jesus, however, is less than warm and fuzzy when he talks about the unrepentant towns, the very places where he had done so much of his work. It’ll be worse for you at the end than Sodom, he says, and we all know how despicable Sodom was with its ruthless raping and pillaging and lack of regard for the most basic of respect for other human beings.

The difference, perhaps, is in the awareness that something greater than the temple of ourselves is at work here. Pharaoh’s daughter recognized it in rescuing Moses. She recognized the value of a human life, regardless of her father’s edicts, regardless of the fact that the baby was not an Egyptian. The land of Sodom did not and, even worse, Capernaum did not recognize the Lord when He was in their midst.

Do we?

Pray with the Lord today about where you need to reflect His mercy—and live.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

“Cultivating One Hundred-Fold” by Beth DeCristofaro

Sower with Setting Sun, van Gogh

(Thus says the LORD)  … my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. … But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear. (Matthew 13:3, 8-9)

O Holy Spirit, you who first enkindled in our hearts the joy of the Gospel, renew that same joy…for (those who attended) the Convocation of Catholic Leaders. Enflame the hearts of our bishops and their diocesan delegations; leaders of national organizations and movements; clergy, religious and laity; all who made this event possible; and Catholic leaders across the United States.

Move us to welcome the word of life in the depths of our hearts and respond to the call of missionary discipleship.

O Holy Spirit, transform our hearts and enable us to enter into the perfect communion that you share with the Father and the Son.

Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, pray for us.  Amen.

In Jesus’ day, even the richest soil would not produce a harvest a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.  This is only one amazing among many incredible images in this parable.  The crowds must have wondered just what was this seed that provided such abundance.  Two thousand years later we see the ongoing and prolific harvest which God’s Word has produced in our world.  God’s mercy and goodness are seen and heard every day for those who have ears to hear.  In Cursillo, we practice hearing each other’s stories and sharing our own, of the presence and the influence of God’s word in our lives.  We can practice using our ears to hear the Word which is spoken through many modalities beyond words.   

And, of course, our Church is led and cultivated by many as those in Cursillo understand so well.  The recent Convocation of Catholic Leaders, “inspired by Evangelii Gaudium, this Convocation will form leaders who will be equipped and re-energized to share the Gospel as missionary disciples, while offering fresh insights informed by new research, communications strategies, and successful models.” (USCCB)

Take a few minutes and explore the USCCB website regarding the Convocation.  Watch for opportunities to take action and continue to cultivate the Word in the “rich soil” of our hearts, mind, and spirit.  As God cultivates a hundred-fold in the ready soil of our being, sow God’s Word.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Can I Take the Place of God?

"Have no fear. Can I take the place of God? Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve his present end, the survival of many people. Therefore, have no fear. I will provide for you and for your children." By thus speaking kindly to them, he reassured them.  Genesis 50:19-21

“Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.”  Matthew 10:32

See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, take heart! (Psalm 69:33)

In the readings from Friday, Joseph was finally reunited with his dying father.  Now, after his father is buried in the ancestral grounds, Joseph finishes off his amazing journey of mercy with an ultimate act of forgiveness directed toward his always scheming brothers.  Those brothers continued their jealousy right up to the very end in order to save their own necks.   

Joseph’s humble words ring out across the millennia: “Can I take the place of God?”  Jesus might have been thinking about the example set by his ancestor Joseph when he was giving them the instructions for their mission.  “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.”

Just as Joseph was an example of the responsibility he felt to care for his brothers and their children.  Not only did he offer forgiveness of sins, but in the long line of leaders of the Hebrew Bible, he pledged to care for their widows and children. “Therefore, have no fear. I will provide for you and for your children."

In the spirit of expressing our modern responsibility to care for others, Dorothy Day once said, “The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.”  That rings true as we walk through the debate over health care.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, reacted strongly to the revised Senate health reform bill, the "Better Care Reconciliation Act" (BCRA).

"The USCCB is reviewing carefully the health care bill introduced by Senate leadership earlier today. On an initial read, we do not see enough improvement to change our assessment that the proposal is unacceptable. We recognize the incremental improvement in funding the fight against opioid addiction, for instance, but more is needed to honor our moral obligation to our brothers and sisters living in poverty and to ensure that essential protections for the unborn remain in the bill."

Consider how the Good News calls upon us to acknowledge God and care for his children, especially those who are poor. What can you do to help them take heart and be glad?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

“Giving Without Cost” by Beth DeCristofaro

"I am your brother Joseph, whom you once sold into Egypt. But now do not be distressed, and do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here. It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you." (Genesis 45:4-5)

Jesus said to his Apostles: "As you go, make this proclamation: 'The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost, you are to give. (Matthew 10:7-8)

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;
teach me to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to seek reward,

except that of knowing that I do your will. 
  St. Ignatius Loyola

Kat Sigler
An accepted “truism” these days is that one should be charged a nominal fee for a service, a program, a training so that it will be valued.  Do we value God’s free gifts to us less – Creation, breath, humor, sensitivity, artistic ability (and on and on) because they are free?  Joseph’s brothers would undoubtedly have valued grain with or without a cost because it meant life or death.  Joseph gave them grain and gave them back their money with enormous mercy.  Joseph modeled generosity in a magnificent way, not only forgiving his brothers but dispensing life to a famine-struck world when he and Pharaoh might have instead closed the borders to foreign refugees.  Joseph turned betrayal and danger into the living hands of God reaching out to those in need and in loving embrace of family

Jesus sent the Disciples out to touch people’s lives with free, God-given abundance of faith.  We have the opportunity to be in giving, generous relationships every day but first, we need to recognize and cultivate God’s generosity to each of us.  Freely God gives to us.  Nothing is ours without God’s beneficence and thus freely, joyously, we can give away the love gifted to us.  In fact, when I accept God’s bounty with humble joy, I can begin to also see how privileged is my life.  Free grace blesses me.  Sharing my power in order to empower another, not just handing down charity to the less well-off, becomes my challenge:  Without cost (I) have received; without cost (I am) to give

This week the Senate will again put forward legislation on healthcare.  “Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, has provided a more detailed critique of the Senate "discussion draft" health care bill, dubbed the "Better Care Reconciliation Act" (BCRA).  ‘Removing vital coverage for those most in need is not the answer to our nation's health care problems, and doing so will not help us build toward the common good, said Bishop Dewane. ‘For the sake of persons living on the margins of our health care system, we call on the Senate to reject changes intended to fundamentally alter the social safety net for millions of people.’"[i]

Although Bishop Dewane’s comments were specifically written for the bill which was not voted on, his insights are valid for this week’s debate and bill preparation.  Share what is freely given – alert your Representative and Senator that health care for all people, especially the poor and vulnerable, is essential to the mental and spiritual health of America and certainly is of our generous, giving God. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

“Until You Bless Me” by Melanie Rigney

By Alexander Louis Leloir [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

After (he had taken his household) across the stream and had brought over all his possessions, Jacob was left there alone. Then some man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When the man saw that he could not prevail over him, he struck Jacob's hip at its socket, so that the hip socket was wrenched as they wrestled. The man then said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go until you bless me." (Genesis 32:24-27)

In justice, I shall behold your face, O Lord. (Psalm 17:15a)

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38)

Lord, instill in me the faith that You will see me through my struggles.

It’s easy to turn our backs on God—in the short term. Life has a way of buffeting us about, of illness and disasters and disappointments happening to us or those we love for no discernible earthly reason.

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

Things go all right for a while when we turn away. Oh, sure, it seems weird that Sunday mornings come and go with no Mass, that what was our morning or evening prayer time instead becomes consumed with anger and regret and depression. But we’re still getting by, and it can almost feel good at times to tell God that you and He are finished.

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

And then comes that day, months or years or decades down the road, when we realize that truly, there is no substitute for faith when it comes to getting through this life. Things might not make sense with God all the time, but without Him, nothing makes sense.

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

And it is in that moment, the moment that we grudgingly or fearfully ask for forgiveness and seek His renewed blessing that we realize He never did let go, much as we thought He had.

And neither had we.

Where are you wrestling with God or one of His angels? Hold on to Him… and your faith.

Reaching to the Heavens

Then he had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens; and God's messengers were going up and down on it. And there was the LORD standing beside him and saying: "I, the LORD, am the God of your forefather Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants.  Genesis 28:12-13

While Jesus was speaking, an official came forward, knelt down before him, and said, "My daughter has just died. But come, lay your hand on her, and she will live." Jesus rose and followed him, and so did his disciples.  Matthew 9:18-19

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?  (Robert Browning)

Just as Jacob’s ladder reaches back and forth between heaven and earth, the people who encounter Jesus reach between their lives and the heavenly possibilities that await their faith in Jesus. The faith that the official (Mark and Luke tell us his name is Jairus) and the bleeding woman have in Jesus is now the ladder connecting the miracles made possible. Jesus becomes the physical and spiritual ladder that they reach out to touch and to climb.

Today, Jesus brings Jairus’ daughter back down to earth on the stairway that would have carried her to heaven.  This is one of only three times Jesus performs such a miracle.  The other times involve the widow Nain’s son and Lazarus. 

Those who witness this miracle and the parallel cure of the woman who was bleeding are now at a point when Jesus identity is nearly fully revealed.  Last week, we saw Jesus take command over the natural world by calming the stormy seas. Then, Jesus commanded the spiritual world when he ordered the demoniacs to depart and tossed them into the sea.  Now, Jesus also exhibits his control over the physical world of disease and even death. 

Despite the faith that is on display by Jairus and the woman, people who are mourning the death of the girl continue to doubt and mock Jesus. (“When Jesus arrived at the official’s house and saw the flute-players and the crowd who were making a commotion, he said, “Go away! The girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they ridiculed him.”)  However, Jesus silently gets in the last word simply by taking her hand and bringing her back from the sleep of death. Now, who do you say that He is?  

No matter how hectic our lives may be or may become, step back.  All that glitters is not gold and no amount of money will buy us a rung on the stairway to heaven.

Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains. (I Timothy 6:9-10)

Instead of a quest for money or power, we are on a journey in search of meaning in a world filled with ambiguity just like Jairus and the woman who is bleeding.

If we reach out in the right direction, there is still time to change the road we are on.  We can choose the path of faith as exhibited in today’s Gospel.  Or we can choose the path of ridicule and mockery.  The Piper Jesus is calling on us to join him on the spiritual stairway to heaven.

[Verse 4 – Stairway to Heaven by Jimmy Plant and Robert Page]

If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now
It's just a spring clean for the May queen
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on
And it makes me wonder
Your head is humming and it won't go, in case you don't know
The piper's calling you to join him
Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow, and did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind

Sunday, July 09, 2017

My Yoke is Easy

Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass. Zechariah 9:9

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." Matthew 11:28-30

God, sometimes this world is hard to understand.
And even when we trust you, our hearts still ache.
So we come to you today asking for the hope we need.
Hope that sees past the here and now to the then and there.
Hope that believes what we cannot yet glimpse.
Hope that holds our hearts up in the moments
when life brings us to our knees.
You are the only one who can sustain us.
You are the only one who can save us.
Be the rescuer of our souls, the deliverer of our dreams,
the holder of our hearts.
We believe that even the darkest night must lead to dawn.
We wait with expectation.
Give us Courage. Surround us with Comfort.
Love us through to the other side in a way that only you can.
We put our hope and our hope for those we love, in you.
(by Holly Girth)

To every Jewish person who heard Jesus speak, the word “yoke” means only one thing:  the law.  Michael Card, writing in Matthew: The Gospel of Identity, quotes the Mishnah[i]:

He that takes upon himself the yoke of the law,
from him shall be taken away the yoke of the kingdom
and the yoke of worldly care;
but he that throws off the yoke of the law,
upon him shall be laid the yoke of the kingdom
and the yoke of worldly care. 

Card explains that “kingdom” in this context has to do with repressive empires like Rome, not the Kingdom of God.  The duality here is between the dictates of the dictator and the dictates of the Pharisees. 

In opposition to the belligerent Romans and the rule-making and rule-enforcing Pharisees, Jesus offers a viable and very attractive option.  Jesus offers rest to those who make him their rabbi.  Card says that Jesus “throws off the 613 burdensome commands of old orthodoxy” and instead promises rest for their soul. 

Using the image of a yoke is ironic -- almost contradictory -- to the promise Jesus makes.  Who – or what – wears a yoke?  A yoke is a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (such as oxen or horses) are joined at the heads or necks for working together.  That cross-bar “resting” on their necks seems pretty similar to the horizontal bar of the cross.  

How many times – when you are asked about your personal condition – do you respond to the questioner with a comment about how tired you are even after just waking up from a night’s sleep or a nap?

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” 

This is a powerful message for our over-worked lives and society. Our lives are dictated by our commutes.  Our work schedule is hard to escape with e-mails and voice-mails and internet connectedness.

Today, the Good News asks us to connect instead to Jesus and make him our rabbi. What does it mean today to make Jesus our rabbi?  Bishop Robert Barron – auxiliary from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and leader of the Word on Fire ministry – tells us that in today’s Gospel, Jesus is “identifying every person who feels put upon by the world: economic worries, physical suffering, deep injustice, the death of a husband or wife, or the fear of your own death.”

Bishop Barron reminds us that the answer to our woes is to submit to the pastoral promises of the kingship of Christ. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” We are asked to serve his purposes and go where he wants us to go, not where we want to go.  Barron asks:

Is Christ commanding your life in every detail? Is he the Lord of your family life? Of your recreational life? Of your professional life? Of your sexuality? Of your friendships? Are you totally given over to him, under his lordship?

[i] The Mishnah is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions known as the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic literature.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

May God Give to You the Dew of the Heavens

So, when Esau went out into the country to hunt some game for his father, Rebekah [then] took the best clothes of her older son Esau that she had in the house, and gave them to her younger son Jacob to wear; and with the skins of the kids she covered up his hands and the hairless parts of his neck. Then she handed her son Jacob the appetizing dish and the bread she had prepared.  Genesis 27:14-17

“No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:16-17

"May God give to you
of the dew of the heavens
And of the fertility of the earth
abundance of grain and wine. Genesis 27:28

Many of the sons and brothers we encounter in the Hebrew Bible weave tangled, conflicted webs.  Jacob and Esau were the sons of Isaac and Rebekah and the first twins mentioned in the Bible. Even before birth, they struggled with each other in the womb. Such a prenatal shoving match foreshadowed the conflicts to come. 

The twins grew up to be very, very different. Jacob was “a quiet man, staying among the tents” and grew to be his mother’s favorite. Esau was “a skillful hunter, a man of the open country” and his father’s favorite. Prior to the episode in today’s reading, one day, Esau returned from hunting famished.  He wanted some of the lentil stew that Jacob cooked up. Jacob figured to outsmart his older brother and offered some stew in exchange for his birthright—the special honor that Esau possessed as the older son, which gave him the right to a double portion of his father’s inheritance. That must have been some tasty stew because Esau put his temporary, physical needs ahead of his legal rights and sold his birthright to Jacob.

Such impulsive actions show us that Esau did not value his birthright over a bowl of lentil stew.  Therefore, some would say that he did not deserve to be the one to continue Abraham's responsibilities.  Esau did not exhibit the steady, thoughtful qualities required of a leader.

The notes of the NABRE pick up explaining the episode in our first reading from the Hebrew Bible -- this climactic wresting away of the blessing of Esau.  Through further deception (this time coupled with a cunning disguise), Jacob conspires with his mother to steal away Isaac’s blessing for Esau –- in addition to his already obtained birthright. This would make the “theft” of the land complete.

Esau’s life reminds us to hold fast to what is truly important, even if it means denying the appetites of the flesh. Both Old and New Testaments use the story of Jacob and Esau to illustrate God’s calling and election. God upset the natural order of things to choose the younger Jacob to carry on the Abrahamic Covenant and father twelve sons who would lead the twelve tribes of Israel.[i]

The external skins (Jacob wearing Esau’s clothing) are not what is most important.  The outside is only skin-deep. What is inside – in the heart and in the soul -- is more important than what we want to put into our stomachs.  That is the corresponding lesson in today’s Good News. 

The limits of the skins of traditional Hebrew Law are represented by the old wineskins in Matthew’s reading. Old wineskins had been "stretched to the limit" or become brittle as wine had fermented inside them; using them again, therefore, risked bursting them. Jesus is the new wine that could not be contained by old wineskins.

Just as the relationship between Jacob and Esau was not limited by the traditional structures of birthright, Jesus and his teachings on fasting and more were not limited by the ways people interpreted old Hebrew law.

Just like the Pharisees had issues with how the disciples did not fast, what are some of the issues you have with modern Church law?  Conflicts came through in the news this week as the Catholic governor of Virginia refused to commute a death penalty sentence and proceeds to allow the execution of a mentally ill man.

How can you follow the “fresh wine” Jesus offers with the ideas you have?

Friday, July 07, 2017

Mercy, Not Condemnation by Colleen O’Sullivan

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.  (Psalm 106:1b)

As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.  He said to him, “Follow me.”  And he got up and followed him.  While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples.  The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.  Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”  (Matthew 9:9-13)

Our own belief in you, O Lord,
is only a shadow of your faith in us,
only a shadow of your faith in us,
your deep and lasting faith.
(from Only a Shadow, Carey Landry)

Matthew’s unhappy musings as he sits at the customs post: I hate my life. I can’t stand sitting here day after day, despised by all who pass by.   I wish with all my heart that I knew how to do something else.  I should have listened to my mother when I was younger.  Back then I thought she was a horrible nag:  Mattie, study harder.  Mattie, let us help you find someone who can teach you a trade.  No, I frittered my youth away and then one day, I found tax collecting was one of the only jobs open to me, probably because no one else wanted to stoop this low.  It didn’t sound so bad at first.  Easy money.  Just inflate what you tell people they owe in taxes to the Romans and keep the extra for yourself.

But now I feel like a pariah.  Everyone knows the truth about me and it shows in their disdain toward me.  They know I don’t do an honest day’s work.  I guess you could even say I am making my way through life on the back of extortion and lies.

I wish I could do something different, but what?  And how?  Who would even want to associate with someone of my ilk long enough to discuss a new job?

There’s that guy Jesus over there, the one everyone is talking about.   Oh no, he’s heading over here.  What could he possibly want with me?  He’s a healer, everyone says, but what could he want with me?

He’s asking me to follow him!  I don’t know where he’s going, but what do I have to lose?  I’m miserable sitting here and about ready to pack it in, anyway.  I’m just desperate enough that I’m going to see where he’ll lead me.

Jesus has a loving way of looking at us, a way of seeing past the outer trappings.  He could see how desperately unhappy Matthew was.  Even more, he could see the person Matthew could be, given half a chance.  Jesus is merciful.  He doesn’t berate the tax collector for his life of fraud and deceit.  He calls him away from that life and offers him the chance to be the person God created him to be.  And Matthew takes him up on it.

Jesus sits with him at dinner, offering him something to eat and drink, inviting him to enjoy the fellowship around the table.  Maybe this is the first time in Matthew’s adult life that he has felt genuinely welcome and accepted.

Picture Jesus looking at you.  Maybe there are things in your life you’d rather Jesus didn’t see.  But if you look into Jesus’ eyes, you will find compassion rather than condemnation.  As Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading, he desires mercy, not sacrifice.  Jesus isn’t about to throw you to the wolves; his eyes speak of second chances, a better life if you’ll let him take your hand and lead you.

What Jesus asks in return is that we look at others through this same lens of mercy.  Don’t look with disdain on the homeless, the poor, the imprisoned, the strangers – refugees and immigrants – in our midst.  Look for the human beings behind the labels we put on them.  They’re actually just like you and me.  Every one of us has a story.  Every person has hopes.  We all desire a good life for ourselves and our loved ones.  We want to be safe, we want to have a place to call home.  We want our children to have enough to eat and the opportunity for an education. 

Remember the words of St. Teresa of Avila: Christ has no body now but yours.  No hands, no feet on earth but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.  Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.  Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.  Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.  Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Be the one who, like Jesus, looks beyond the obvious and extends a helping hand, the hand of hope.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

“Beloved Child” by Beth DeCristofaro

(God’s messenger said to Abraham) I know now how devoted you are to God since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son."  (Genesis 22:12)

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Courage, child, your sins are forgiven."  At that, some of the scribes said to themselves, "This man is blaspheming." Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said, "Why do you harbor evil thoughts? Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"– he then said to the paralytic, "Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home." (Matthew 9:2-6)

Help me to overcome my lack of devotion, Lord.  Jesus, I will pick up my stretcher of faults and infirmities knowing that your forgiveness and generosity are beyond my understanding will enable me to walk always giving glory and gratitude to you.

An “Ah hah” moment came to me recently as I talked with an elderly woman sharing wonderful stories of her life.  She told me about her loving family and raising 5 children.  She also sighed remembering the tragedy of a young brother paralyzed and the death of her beloved husband in his 50’s.  She laughed saying that her life was very full, not perfect but long and mostly happy.  At her words, I realized that what I thought of as the perfect life, the perfect day, the perfect marriage was, in fact, was that I was able to get my way in all things!  And, humbly, I was immediately struck with the awareness that “my way” is not only selfish but so incredibly short-sighted.  Do I really know what I want or need?  Do I know what God wants for me?

Abraham desired to fulfill his moral duty to the God who had sent him into a new land.  God gave him more than a new home. God gave him ancestors – from both Isaac and Ishmael – numerous as the stars.  The paralytic had faith in a miracle worker but Jesus gave more.  Jesus forgave him giving him a new life of spirit and body.  What might God gift me with if I set my eyes on him instead of the illusion of the perfect life, event, test, project? God’s gifts might be invisible to my human eye or they might be the most awesome gift ever visible to human eyes:  a baby born in humble holiness who died and rose for me and you.

When do I act as if I have the authority on earth which belongs to Jesus alone?  What prompts me to “harbor evil thoughts”, those which diminish another or are not rooted in love?  In the swirl of busyness, when I feel most righteous or greatly troubled, may I slow down and listen for that quiet yet infinite voice of God saying “My child, I know how devoted you are to Me.  Rise and walk, forgive as you are forgiven.”

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

The Lord Hears the Cry of the Poor

God heard [Ishmael’s] cry, and God's messenger called to Hagar from heaven: "What is the matter, Hagar? Don't be afraid; God has heard the boy's cry in this plight of his. Arise, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand; for I will make of him a great nation." Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water, and then let the boy drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. Genesis 21:17-20A

When Jesus came to the territory of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs who were coming from the tombs met him. They were so savage that no one could travel by that road. They cried out, "What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?" Matthew 8:28-29

If it doesn't take you out of your comfort zone, it's not a cross, it's a crutch. #discipleship (by Maryknoll Missioners @MaryknollFrsBrs)

As we contemplate the births and identities of Isaac and Ishmael, the events in Genesis bring to mind Luke’s birth narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus. The banishment of Hagar and Ishmael resolve the conflicts between the identities of Abraham’s two sons. Identity conflicts also come out in the Gospel of Matthew.

In yesterday’s Good News, Jesus calmed a violent (dare we say “demonic”?) storm on the Sea of Galilee that threatened to kill him and his traveling companions – potentially leaving their bodies floating in the lake. The after-effects of that storm pushed the boat across to the shores on the other side.  That episode ends with a critical question on the identity of Jesus (“The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?”). Today’s Gospel attempts to answer that question.

When Jesus got out of the boat, two demoniacs coming from the cemetery met him. Matthew tells us that these men were “so savage that no one could travel by that road.” Nonetheless, Jesus walked right up to them.  (after all, he keeps saying “Do not be afraid.”) 

The very first question posed by the two men shows no doubt on their part about what sort of man they are encountering: “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?” The disciples, who walked throughout the land with Jesus, showed a serious lack of first-hand knowledge about the true identity of their miracle-making Teacher. However, the two demoniacs knew exactly who they were encountering as soon as they met Jesus on the road clearly identifying him as the Son of Man. The identity of the Son of God is then publicly established and displayed further by Jesus’ power to command the departure and banishment of the spirit of Satan into the herd of pigs (whose dead bodies end up floating on the Sea of Galilee where a little while earlier, a storm-tossed boat threatened to do the same to Jesus and his companions).  

However, while Jesus’ identity is resolved somewhat in the second episode, the people remain in fear and ask Jesus to go away.  Despite the repeated instances where Jesus tells people “Do not be afraid,” neither his disciples nor his neighbors take that to heart. The only – and unlikely – people at this stage who seem to recognize Jesus for his true self are the Centurion seeking a cure for his servant and the two men possessed by Satan.

The people whom you would think recognize Jesus don’t.  They people whom you would think would reject Jesus actually seem him for exactly the person he is. Who is Jesus and what is he asking of you?

As Melanie noted in yesterday’s reflection, this summer, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops convened a gathering of key leaders from dioceses and Catholic organizations from all across the country in order to assess the challenges and opportunities of our time, particularly in the context of the Church in the United States. This has been an ongoing initiative of the Bishops' Working Group on the Life and Dignity of the Human Person. The gathering assembled Catholic leaders for a strategic conversation, under the leadership of the bishops, on forming missionary disciples to animate the Church and to engage the culture.

We tend to look at the Church through our own ideological lens:  progressives v traditionalists.  People on the left and the right seem to be opposed to seeing or seeking common ground on issues like the death penalty, abortion, social activism, and pacifism. Everyone wants to define the Church rather than letting the Joy of the Gospel define it for us. 

When Mother Teresa was asked what should be done to promote world peace, she famously said: “Go home and love your family.” Instead of constantly thinking about Catholic identity through the lens of the national political stage, maybe we should begin making life revolve around our parish, and think about our Catholic identity more through the liturgical calendar than through the election calendar. Let’s resolve in the second half of this year to live out our faith in “ordinary” ways—being more patient and forgiving to people around us.

It is interesting to note the second question the demoniacs pose to Jesus: ”Have you come here to torment us?”

My guess is that Jesus would answer a resounding yes no matter who asked that question.  The answer brings to mind a recent message from Maryknoll: If it doesn't take you out of your comfort zone, it's not a cross, it's a crutch. #discipleship