Saturday, August 29, 2015

What Shall I Ask For?

On the subject of fraternal charity you have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another. Indeed, you do this for all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Nevertheless we urge you, brothers and sisters, to progress even more, and to aspire to live a tranquil life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your own hands, as we instructed you.  1 Thessalonians 4:9-11

The king said to the girl, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.” He even swore many things to her, “I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”  Mark 6:22B-24A

Chapter 71: That the Brethren Be Obedient to One Another
Not only is the boon of obedience to be shown by all to the Abbot, but the brethren are also to obey one another, knowing that by this road of obedience they are going to God. 

“Ask and you shall receive.”  We have been exposed to that popular maxim from the Bible throughout our lives.  So when Herod promises the birthday girl anything she wants, what goes wrong?

Lots…but if we put the bottom line up front, the answer is later in Mark’s writing:  (Mark 24) “Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours.

Clearly, the young girl did not ask in prayer.  If so, she would have asked in humility for world peace, a cure for cancer, or for everybody to just get along with each other.  The request was not even hers but it was her mother’s request to get the nuisance of a prophet out of the way so she could marry the King.  The request also was everything that prayer should not be.  It was selfish.  It was vengeful.  It was violent.  It was not authentic. It was not offered in the spirit of charity and obedience that is the hallmark of the Rule of St. Benedict which I have been foisting upon you almost daily since the cycle began in May.

As a counter balance to the selfishness of Herod’s wife and daughter, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians gives us a bite on the apple of action:  Love one another but progress even more, and to aspire to live a tranquil life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your own hands. 

This might have been a simple message two thousand years ago.  Today, too often, the work of our hands is in typing and commerce and driving.  What else can your hands do today for someone else?  Hardworking hands deserve support. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Waiting Like Christians

By Colleen O’Sullivan

This is the will of God, your holiness: that you refrain from immorality.  (I Thessalonians 4:3)

“At midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him!’  Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.  The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you.  Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’  While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.  Then the door was locked.  Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’  Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  (Matthew 25:6-13)

Rabbi Eliezer said: Repent one day before your death.  His students asked him, ‘Does a person know when his day of death will occur?’  He answered them, ‘Then he should repent today, perhaps he will die tomorrow!  Thus, all his days will be full of repentance!
(from the Talmud as quoted in Torah With Morrie #4: Live Like You're Dying)

Endings come when we least expect them.  Sometimes they are all too abrupt.  I doubt a single person who lost his or her life on September 11, 2001, whether in the air, at the Pentagon or in one of the World Trade Center buildings, got out of bed that morning feeling like this is it, this will be my last day on earth.   Other times endings are so delayed that we forget we’re waiting for something.  The Christians in Matthew’s day believed that Jesus would come back for them at any moment.  The more time went by with no sign of Jesus’ return, the more lax they became about living Christ-like lives. 

There’s no getting around it; waiting can be difficult.  However, in the grand scheme of things, we are not running the show.  God is.  We have waited for centuries for his Son to return.  Maybe he’ll come back tomorrow.  On the other hand, maybe people millennia from now will still be waiting.  It’s not for us to know.

Our Scripture readings today are about how to live our lives while we wait.  Paul and Matthew assume that we’re waiting with the genuine expectation that Christ will return at the end of time.  The apostle Paul reminds the Thessalonians to live holy lives as they wait.  In today’s verses from his first letter to them, he specifically talks about living moral lives with regard to sexuality.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the bridesmaids.  Five of them came prepared with lamps and extra oil so that when the bridegroom arrived for the wedding, they could light his way.  Five of them forgot the extra oil.  The bridegroom took so long to show up that they all fell asleep.  When he finally got there, the girls who’d thought ahead refused to share their oil with the others.  So, the five unprepared girls went out in search of lamp oil and spent so much time doing that that they found themselves locked out of the festivities upon their return.   The message is clear that we should always be prepared, but this parable leaves me with a few questions:  Where was the bride?  Where would a teenage girl buy oil at midnight?  Were the foolish bridesmaids foolish simply because they didn’t prepare beforehand and/or because they left the festivities?  What would have happened if they had stuck around and their lamps went out?  Would they have been thrown out?  Why didn’t Jesus chide the other five for not sharing?  After all, his famous story about the sheep and the goats comes at the end of this same chapter, and there Jesus makes very clear that only those of us who give of ourselves and our possessions to the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, etc., will be with him for all eternity.  I hope all this made better sense to the original audience for Jesus’ storytelling.

A few questions we could ask ourselves:

Do I believe what we say when we recite the Nicene Creed - He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end?  Do I believe what we say at the acclamation of the mystery of our faith – Christ will come again?

Am I living as though I have that expectation?  While I am waiting, am I striving to live a holy life or am I putting that off till some later date?  Am I living in such a way that it wouldn’t matter if Jesus returned tomorrow, because I live in a state of preparedness?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Stay Awake, Increase and Abound in Love

By Beth DeCristofaro

Jesus said to his disciples: “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. (Matthew 24:42)

Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart. (Psalm 90:12)

Now may God himself, our Father, and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. [Amen.] (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13)

Stay Awake!  How easy it is to drift off or find ourselves mentally absent.  St. Monica is revered for her persistence in praying for the conversion of her entire family, especially the recalcitrant and dissolute Augustine. 

Today another beautiful woman, Chaplain Mary, is being remembered for her dedicated, skilled and faith-filled service.  Rev. Mary directed pastoral care at a large, urban hospital where she was well suited to as skilled administrator and passionate advocate for her department but also gently and pastorally present to fearful, hurting, confused patients and families.  Although she had health issues, her death was unexpected.  I didn’t know Mary well enough to know if asked the week before her death about mortality whether she would say “I still have so much to do” or “I’ve run a good course and had a good life.”  But I do know that she was Awake.  She touched many with holiness and welcome.  She abounded in love and persistence.


St. Monica lived to see her prayers answered.  Not all of us necessarily do.  Jesus asks us to stay awake in faithful knowledge and constant hope that the Bridegroom will arrive for us.  Are our lights burning?  Are we awake?  Do we feel that each day, rooted in Christ, we increase and abound in love?  Were we to meet Jesus face to face like Mary has, what is needed in our own spiritual house to show the Master that we have been faithful and prudent servants?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Walk in a Manner Worthy of the God Who Calls You

You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers. As you know, we treated each one of you as a father treats his children, exhorting and encouraging you and insisting that you walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his Kingdom and glory.  1 Thessalonians Chapter 2: 10-12

Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.  Matthew Chapter 23:27-28

The Rule of Benedict Chapter 68: If a Sister Is Commanded to Do Impossible Things
If it happens that difficult or impossible tasks are laid on a sister, let her nevertheless receive the order of the one in authority with all meekness and obedience. But if she sees that the weight of the burden altogether exceeds the limit of her strength, let her submit the reasons for her inability to the one who is over her in a quiet way and at an opportune time, without pride, resistance, or contradiction. And if after these representations the Superior still persists in her decision and command, let the subject know that this is for her good, and let her obey out of love, trusting in the help of God.

Probably two of the most difficult tasks we face as Christians are to listen to the Word and to consistently and congruently act upon what we hear. Jesus calls to task the scribes and Pharisees for their lack of interior and exterior consistency.  They look outwardly like they are devout.  However, they make demands on others that they are not willing to take upon themselves.  There is no congruency between what they do and what they say for others to do.

Benedict recognizes that we are asked to do impossible things.  We cannot always escape the need to tackle the impossible unless we trust in the help of God.  For when the spirit of the Lord is upon us, we cannot fail.  

Today’s readings ask us to we treated each one of you as a father treats his children.  If we are to walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls us into his Kingdom, we must endeavor to be more consistent and congruent. 

They Daily Examen might be one ticket to assess how we are doing on the journey.  The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us.  The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience. (See more at: It consists of five steps:

1.   Place yourself in God's presence. Give thanks for God's great love for you. 
2.   Pray for the grace to understand how God is acting in your life. 
3.   Review your day — recall specific moments and your feelings at the time. 
4.   Reflect on what you did, said, or thought in those instances. Were you drawing closer to God, or further away? 
5.   Look toward tomorrow — think of how you might collaborate more effectively with God's plan. Be specific, and conclude with the "Our Father."

The Examen, as Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ, says, “brings my nitty-gritty to God and God to my nitty-gritty.” St. Ignatius advised praying the Examen every day, no matter what else was happening. The daily prayer invites us to look back on the day to see where God was clearly present or where things didn’t go so well and to ask God for help in the future.[i]

Consider ideas on how to incorporate the Daily Examen into the course of your day.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Inside of the Cup

By Melanie Rigney

“But as we were judged worthy by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, that is how we speak, not as trying to please men, but rather God, who judges our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

You have searched me and you know me, Lord. (Psalm 139:1)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.” (Matthew 23:25-26)
i - Amad. Gabrieli [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you, and I detest  all my sins, because of Your just punishments, but most of all because they offend You, my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. (Act of Contrition)

Warning:  Call to go to confession ahead.

Yeah, I know. It can be scary to tell all your deepest, darkest sins to a priest who also happens to be a friend. What if he lets something slip to someone else? Or, conversely, what if you confess to a priest who doesn’t know you from Adam, who won’t understand that you’ve made so much progress already? What if he yells at you? What if he refuses to absolve you? What if he gives you a penance that you just aren’t willing to do?

Then there’s the whole venue thing. What if you’re in the box, and he can’t hear you and asks you to speak up? What if someone who’s waiting can hear what you say? Or, what if you’re face to face and the priest’s eyebrows go up or he grimaces as you talk?

So, all too often, we decide to skip the whole sacrament… and just keep going to Communion at Mass anyway, but feel a little guiltier every time. Or we figure we’re basically good people who tithe and love our families and friends and total strangers and do service without complaint, most of the time anyway, so we just don’t need to go.

In short, we forget, as Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading, that the only way the outside of the cup can be truly clean is for the inside to be shiny and bright as well.

Please God. Clean your soul. Go to confession. You’ll feel so much lighter and better armed to do battle with the evil we all face daily.

If you have trouble with the wonderful sacrament of penance and reconciliation, consider approaching it in a different way. If you’ve always used the confessional, try face to face or vice versa. If you’ve always gone to a priest you don’t know, try going to one you do, or vice versa. If you regularly partake in the sacrament, add a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for giving us this beautiful opportunity to state our sins and intentions to overcome them with His help… and, with His grace, to watch those sins evaporate.

Come Here

The angel spoke to me, saying, “Come here. I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” He took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It gleamed with the splendor of God. Its radiance was like that of a precious stone, like jasper, clear as crystal.  Revelation 21:9B-11

But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true child of Israel.”  John 1:46-47A


Rule of St. Benedict Chapter 66: On the Porters of the Monastery
At the gate of the monastery let there be placed a wise old woman, who knows how to receive and to give a message, and whose maturity will prevent her from straying about. This porter should have a room near the gate, so that those who come may always find someone at hand to attend to their business. And as soon as anyone knocks or a poor person hails her, let her answer "Thanks be to God" or "A blessing!" Then let her attend to them promptly, with all the meekness inspired by the fear of God and with the warmth of charity.


Only the richest images are called upon to describe the New Jerusalem (aka the new church).  Many of symbols were borrowed by St. John (and his  from the book of the prophet Ezekiel.  Whether penned around 600 B.C. like the book of Ezekiel or A.D. 200 like Revelation, beyond the symbolism, we are invited. “Come here.” “Come and see.”  The east gate is unlocked and opened for us.  It remains our decision to choose to enter or not.

As we are invited in, all our needs will be met.  Is it any wonder that St. Benedict placed a porter at the monastery door to provide hospitality to any visitors who knocked?  Ask and you shall.  Seek and ye will.  Knock and the door will be. The door to heaven opened for Nathanael on earth through the person of Jesus.  It opened in a vision for Jacob.  It, too, will be opened for us. 


When I was in college, there was a popular poster in some rooms depicting fine bread, grapes and wine with the inscription: “Jesus of Nazareth requests the honor of your presence at a dinner to be held in his honor?”

Sometimes when my parents would call me to do a particular chore growing up (cutting the grass, cleaning the pool, taking out the trash), if I did not move right away to complete the task, I might get a stern comment, “What are you waiting for?  An engraved invitation?!”

The invitation is still open.  It reads, “INRI.” Are you ready to take the step Nathaniel takes?  Are you ready to ascend the Stairway to Heaven? 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

We Will Serve the Lord

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Phil Russell

Joshua addressed all the people (the Tribes of Israel at Shechem): “If it does not please you to serve The Lord, decide TODAY whom you WILL serve...As for me and my household, we will SERVE The Lord.”

“But the PEOPLE answered, “Far be it from us to forsake The Lord, for the service of other gods…for it was The Lord who brought us out of a state of SLAVERY...Therefore we also will serve The Lord, for he is our God.” (Joshua 24:15-18)

“Taste and see the goodness of The Lord.” The Lord is closer to the brokenhearted; and those crushed in spirit he saves.” (Psalm 34:9,19)

“This saying is hard; “I am living bread come down from Heaven, whoever eats it will live forever.” [From last Sunday's Gospel] “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer ACCOMPANIED him.”

Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “MASTER, to whom shall we go?  We have come to BELIEVE and we are CONVINCED that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)

So, I have this internal jukebox that always seems to be playing, in my 
mind. The song that is playing in all this is from the Broadway Musical “Damn Yankees.”  It's called “Heart.” “You gotta have heart, miles and miles of heart.” Goes the song.  But the story is an interesting one!  About a middle-aged guy, Joe Boyd who is a diehard fan of the losing Washington Senators Baseball team. (As a kid, I remember going to a few of those ball games at Griffith Stadium.) Joe would sell his soul for the Senators to beat the New York Yankees and win the pennant. Enters Mr. Applegate (the Devil), who offers to turn Joe into Joe Hardy, a powerful young baseball player, in exchange for his soul.  When Boyd agrees, he becomes Hardy and leads the Senators on a winning streak.  When Joe Boyd starts to miss his wife, though, and questions the deal, Applegate sends the temptress, Lola into the mix. How did it go for Joe?

It's an old age story of human nature. Selling out. But to whom? Will it be Jesus or, will it be “Applegate?”

Joshua, put it out there before the Tribes and they chose. To follow.
However, in the Gospel account we see that there were those who, returned to “their former life.”

In my experience of “Breaking Open the Word,” what did I hear?  What did it mean to me?  And what am I going to do with it? 

It is so easy to often be swayed by the winds of the culture, or the crowd or just maybe...The deal with “Applegate!”  I love the name.  Notice it's an APPLE!

Whom will you SERVE?  What will you EAT? 

“This saying is hard, who can accept it?” said the many. And Jesus still says, to our murmuring hearts; “Does this shock you?”

Lord Jesus help us to respond as did Joshua; “WE WILL SERVE THE LORD!”

Give us HEARTS that remain STRONG and STEADFAST!

“You have the words of eternal life.” John 6



Casting herself prostrate upon the ground, Ruth said to him, “Why should I, a foreigner, be favored with your notice?”  Ruth 2:10

The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  Matthew 23:11-12


Holy is His Name by John Michael Talbot

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
And my spirit exalts in God my Savior
For He has looked with mercy on my lowliness
And my name will be forever exalted
For the mighty God has done great things for me
And His mercy will reach from age to age

And holy, holy, holy is His name

He has mercy in every generation
He has revealed His power and His glory
He has cast down the mighty in their arrogance
And has lifted up the meek and the lowly
He has come to help His servant Israel
He remembered His promise to our fathers

And holy, holy, holy is His name
And holy, holy, holy is His name


We have many examples of the greatest become the least.  However, on a day when we mark the royal Queenship of a humble Jewish girl, we recall how the mighty one has looked with mercy on her lowliness and exalted her above all.  Ruth provided the question that Mary asked ages hence:  “Why should I be favored with your attention?”

Israelite custom made provision for the poor, the widow, the stranger and the orphan to gather what was left behind by the harvesters, and instructed farmers not to cut to the edges of their fields, for the sake of these marginalized

This simple act of hospitality meant that farmers left something behind.  They did not harvest everything so that the poor could have something.  While it was the king’s duty to care for the “anaweim,” that duty was shared by all who owned property and controlled resources. They got the benefit of gleaning not because they were poor, but because they were members of the human family.  Ruth got the benefit of gleaning because she was adopted into her new family.  Mary got the favor of the Lord.  Are you ready to act accordingly as the Lord comes to help you?


Will you say yes to give rebirth to Jesus in our day?

When I think about the powerful making themselves lowly, one modern example in my book is former President Jimmy Carter.  This week, he was in the news with the revelation of his cancer. 

Former President Jimmy Carter held a press conference earlier this week to announce that in addition
to the previously discovered liver cancer, doctors had also discovered four melanomas on his brain. Despite the diagnosis, he remained upbeat and positive, saying "I'm perfectly at ease with whatever happens." He continues to lead with grace and dignity, even in the face of a brain cancer diagnosis.

It's no wonder the residents of Plains, Georgia admire him so. And it was this admiration that spurred supporters to start a new campaign—Jimmy Carter for cancer survivor. As President Carter and his family returned home yesterday evening, they found the streets of Plains lined with supportive messages.  The smallest act of hospitality – putting up lawn signs – probably made President Carter blush when he drove home from his first radiation treatment.

These people admire President Carter because he not only preached the Good News, he lived it.  Conducting Bible study every week when he was home in Plains.  Building houses for the poor through Habitat for Humanity.  Leading teams to foreign lands to witness for free and fair elections.  Creating a new model for the life of a president after leaving office.

As the Daily Kos story put it, “I think this is one campaign we can all get behind—Jimmy Carter for Cancer Survivor.” 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Greatest Commandment

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Naomi said, “See now!  Your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her god.  Go back after your sister-in-law!”  But Ruth said, “Do not ask me to abandon or forsake you!  For wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”  Thus it was that Naomi returned with the Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, who accompanied her back from the plateau of Moab.  They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.  (Ruth 1:15-16, 22)

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-39)

The fatherless and the widow he sustains,
but the way of the wicked he thwarts. 
The Lord shall reign forever;
your God, O Zion, through all generations.  Alleluia.
(Psalm 146:9bc-10)

The Pharisees are back at one of their favorite pastimes in today’s Gospel reading, attempting to trap Jesus into saying something they can use against him.  This time they want him to name the greatest commandment.  Jesus instead tells them that the entire law and the prophets can be summed up very simply:  Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself.  Do those two things and all God’s commandments will be covered.

God doesn’t ask for our love in a vacuum.  First, there is always God’s great love for us.  God hopes we will love him back.    In the first reading, we get a feel for how the God of all the universe is also the God who cares greatly about the nitty-gritty of our everyday lives.

There was a famine in the land which caused Naomi and her husband along with their two sons to leave their home in Bethlehem and go to live in Moab.  Naomi’s husband died at some point, leaving her a widow.  Both sons, who had married Moabite women, also died ten years later.  How alone she must have felt!  She had lost all her immediate family.  She had no grandchildren, just two brokenhearted daughters-in-law.  Naomi found herself in a land that wasn’t hers with no one to take care of her.  She heard one day that back home God had brought the famine to an end.  Naomi decided that she would undertake the journey home. 

Naomi knew it would be best for her sons’ widows to stay where they had family, but Ruth truly loved her mother-in-law.   She said she would go with Naomi, she would become one of Naomi’s people, she would even love and worship the God of Israel!  In this story of human love, we see reflected the type of love God has for all of us   Just as the God Ruth chose to embrace never leaves us, neither would she ever leave this woman whom she had grown to love.  She fulfilled God’s desire that we love one another.

If you have a chance to read the rest of the story, you’ll see that one of the overall messages is that God never meets an outsider.  God’s goodness knows no boundaries, national or otherwise.  Ruth came from people for the most part despised by the Israelites, yet God ultimately arranged for her to become the great-grandmother of King David and, therefore, part of Jesus’ family tree as outlined in Matthew’s Gospel.

This week, reflect on some time in your life when you have felt God’s presence in the nitty gritty of your days, and give thanks.  Then pick one person you know who is lonely or is carrying a heavy burden, and extend the love of God by doing something kind for him or her.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Lord is My Trust

By Beth DeCristofaro

Jephthah made a vow to the LORD. “If you deliver the Ammonites into my power,” he said, “whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites shall belong to the LORD. I shall offer him up as a burnt offering.” …  At the end of the two months (Jephthah’s daughter) returned to her father, who did to her as he had vowed. (Judges 11:30-31, 39A)

Blessed the man who makes the LORD his trust; who turns not to idolatry or to those who stray after falsehood. Sacrifice and offering you do not want; you opened my ears. Holocaust and sin-offering you do not request Psalm 40:5, 7)

But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.  He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’  But he was reduced to silence.  Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:11-14)

"High and Holy God, give me this day a word of truth to silence the lies that would devour my soul and kind encouragements to strengthen me when I fall.  Gracious One, I come quietly to your door needing to receive from your hands the nourishment that gives life.    Amen and Amen."  (St. Bernard,

Two disturbing stories are found in today’s readings.  The first is an infuriating and tragic tale of a warrior whose trust in God was shaky.  How many of us today still bargain with God?  “If you make me well, God, I’ll say a rosary every day for a year,” for example.  Jephthah went further, however, offering a human sacrifice, a ritual prevalent in his day among pagans.  This prideful bargain resulted in the death of his only daughter.  God wants freely given reverent compliance not burnt offerings.

In the case of the wedding guest who did not have the correct garment, Jesus was telling the tale of a person who was not willing to put on the new cloth of life in Christ such as we receive in Baptism.  This man hoped to attend the feast without truly repenting, changing heart and mind and living life as a faith filled witness.  But Jesus knows where our hearts are fixed.  He issues us the invitation and offers us the garments of his Word for our taking. 

Whether the tale of Jephthah’s martyred daughter is true or not, it became a tradition that Israelite women mourned her in a four-day ceremony.  Today, perhaps, she stands as a witness to all women and vulnerable people who victimized in violence.  What are my “blind” spots in which I choose idols, falsehood or lack of trust?  Ask Jesus to turn my weaknesses into entryways to reliance on the strength and graces of God.   

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Take What Is Yours

“Then all the trees said to the buckthorn, ‘Come; you reign over us!’ But the buckthorn replied to the trees, ‘If you wish to anoint me king over you in good faith, come and take refuge in my shadow. Otherwise, let fire come from the buckthorn and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’”  Judges 9:14-15

“‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  Matthew 20:13-16

Rule of St. Benedict Chapter 64: On Constituting an Abbess
In the constituting of an Abbess let this plan always be followed, that the office be conferred on the one who is chosen either by the whole community unanimously in the fear of God or else by a part of the community, however small, if its counsel is more wholesome. Merit of life and wisdom of doctrine
should determine the choice of the one to be constituted, even if she be the last of the order of the community.

Two parables today leave us thinking about the role and constitution of our leaders and how these different messages fit together. 

The first is the parable of the trees from the Hebrew Bible as told by Jotham right after the people chose the murderous Abimelech as their king.  In the parable, the trees are asked to choose wisely and act in good faith and then the king will be a just ruler.  The olive tree, the fig tree and the vine do not want to give up their goodness to be king.  Without a generous spirit, the king would have nothing to offer to the people.  Then, the people turned to the buckthorn. 

Here, it helps to have a little background in horticulture.  Some species of buckthorn are said to be invasive outside their natural areas. According to one source, the nursery industry in parts of the U.S. stopped selling it in the 1930s, but many buckthorn hedges may still be found in older neighborhoods.  While some species are used to make dyes and oils and gunpowder, most do not have the positive qualities that we associate with figs, olives or grapes.

Therefore, the choice of the buckthorn is implied to be a poor choice as king of the trees. Jotham, who escaped the murder plot by going into hiding, is offering a pointedly negative critique of the choice of Abimelech as king.  He would probably feel right at home being an analyst for cable news. 

Rather than having admiral qualities like the other options, Jotham is charging that the people chose poorly and selected a king who would work for his own purpose, not for the good of the people.  The leader has only shown a selfish lust for power, not any kind of generous spirit for the people.   Abimelech took what was NOT his by killing off his competition and practically forcing the people to make him king.

While hubris and a lack of generosity are at the root of the first reading, true generosity – poorly understood -- is the theme of the Good News.  Positive generosity from the landlord is not grasped by the people who do not know what to make of what appears to be excessive generosity.  When challenged why the late workers were given the same wages as those who worked all day, the landlord replied, “Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go.”  In this case, we have the opposite situation.  The generous nature of the leader is shown but it is not accepted.  Beyond generosity, the landlord also drives home the point of humility concluding that “the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Choosing the right leader – who exhibits the right qualities of leadership – is the common theme of the Hebrew Bible, the Good News and the reading from the Rule of St. Benedict for today. 

We have many leaders in our lives – political, family, religious, and organizational.  Some of us also may be leaders to others. Cursillo confers upon us special leadership responsibilities in our community and groups.
How were you chosen for that role? How do you chose others to be your leader?

Sometimes, we apply for jobs in management and go through a rigorous selection process.  For every person chosen, several other candidates must be passed over.  Sometimes, we might be the ones not chosen.  Although disappointed, how do we then react with a generous heart to the person now in charge? Are we envious because we are not in charge?

Sometimes, we might be the choice.  How do we then react with a generous heart to providing proper leadership to those in our charge? Maybe we should always keep in mind the words of the Roman centurion whom we quote at Mass.  “Lord I am not worthy…but only say the Word.”  

Monday, August 17, 2015

I Shall Be With You

By Melanie Rigney

The LORD turned to (Gideon) and said, “Go with the strength you have and save Israel from the power of Midian. It is I who send you.” But Gideon answered him, “Please, my lord, how can I save Israel? My family is the lowliest in Manasseh, and I am the most insignificant in my father’s house.”“I shall be with you,” the LORD said to him, “and you will cut down Midian to the last man.” (Judges 6:14-16)

The Lord speaks of peace to his people. (Psalm 85:9)

Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is
Ferdinand Bol [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Then Peter said to him in reply, “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Matthew 19:23-30)

Lord, help me to remember that even when I don’t believe in myself, You are there to love and guide me.

Gideon knew precisely who he was: the least of the least in Manasseh. And yet the Lord chose him to deliver the Israelites from the Midianites, in a situation where the Israelites were so outnumbered there could be no question that the victory belonged to God.

The disciples knew it was impossible for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle. So, if it was even more difficult those who were rich to enter the kingdom, what hope did anyone have? And when Peter noted their giving up of “everything,” Jesus challenged the group further—had they given up their lands, their homes, their loved ones? If not, their place in the new age would not be guaranteed.

It’s hard to understand why the Lord who loves us so would strip away the people and things we hold dearest, that give us comfort on the journey. It’s harder still to understand just what the Lord sees in us that makes Him believe we can do that, and other seemingly impossible things He desires of us. Like Peter, we protest we’ve already done so much, or, like Gideon, we protest the request is too much. May we have the faith and strength in both situations to instead believe… and say yes, remember He is always with us.

What does God want that you feel ill-equipped to provide? Talk with a spiritual adviser about how you might move beyond this lack of belief in yourself—and Him.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Then Come, Follow Me

When the LORD raised up judges for them, he would be with the judge and save them from the power of their enemies as long as the judge lived. The LORD would change his mind when they groaned in their affliction under their oppressors.  But when the judge died, they would again do worse than their ancestors, following other gods, serving and bowing down to them, relinquishing none of their evil practices or stubborn ways.  Judges 2:18-19

“All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” 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.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Matthew 19:20-22

Chapter 62: On the Priests of the Monastery
…[L]et the one who is ordained beware of self-exaltation or pride; and let him not presume to do anything except what is commanded him by the Abbot, knowing that he is so much the more subject to the discipline of the Rule. Nor should he by reason of his priesthood forget the obedience and the discipline required by the Rule, but make ever more and more progress towards God.

According to the introduction to this book in the New American Bible, “The Hebrew word translated “Judges” in the English title of the book refers not to specialized judicial officers or magistrates but to leaders in general.”

During this period after Joshua, Israel underwent a cyclical pattern of infidelity, oppression, “crying out,” and deliverance which is at the heart of today’s first reading. According to the notes:

“When the Israelites are secure, they forsake the Lord and worship other gods. In punishment the Lord places them in the power of a foreign oppressor. But when they cry out in distress, the Lord takes pity on them and raises up a judge, who delivers them from the oppressor. The Israelites remain faithful to the Lord during the lifetime of the judge, but when the judge dies they again abandon the Lord, and the cycle begins anew.” 

Be our leaders “judges,” priests, prophets, kings or lay people, we still have to maintain perspective of the challenges laid before us by Jesus. If given money, power, or other gifts, we must give up what we are given.

A stubborn person is determined to do what he or she wants and refuses to do anything else.  People who are stubborn are difficult to move, change, or deal with.  The Israelites were stubborn and set in their disobedient ways.  The rich young man with many possessions was happy to selectively pursue the commandments that he chose, but not all the commandments delivered by Jesus.

Are we any different from the Israelites or the rich young man with many possessions? 

On September 12, 2001, the churches were filled.  When we were filled with fear for ourselves, our neighbors and our country, we turned to God.  The sanctuary was a comfort to our afflictions.  However, when we got comfortable again, we were in no rush to be afflicted.  What other masters have given way since then?  iPhones.  NFL teams.  New cars.  401(k)/TSP.  The great solitary eye. 

The key to the treasure is lack of treasure. Despite all that we have, ask yourself, “What do I still lack?”  Do not cower from the answer because you need to reconcile with that answer before you can follow the Ultimate Commandment:  “Come, Follow Me.”  Don’t get too weighed down, distracted or stubborn for that journey.