Friday, July 01, 2016

I Desire Mercy


By Colleen O’Sullivan

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!  “When will the new moon be over,” you ask, “that we may sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?  We will diminish the containers for measuring, add to the weights, and fix our scales for cheating!  We will buy the lowly man for silver, and the poor man for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”  (Amos 8:4-6)

The Pharisees saw (that Jesus was at table with Matthew, many other tax collectors and sinners) 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 9:10-13)

Piety
Lord, open my eyes to the plight of your neediest children.  Open my heart in love.  Show me how to give of my abundance.

Study
Once, when I was in high school and had just gotten my driver’s license, my mother asked me to go to the grocery store and pick up a few things for her.  I was excited about this new privilege and responsibility.  I proudly walked into the store with my list and headed to the aisle my mom had marked for Spam.  (Yes, she and my father truly liked Spam.)  Found it!  Just as I was reaching for the can, an elderly man came up behind me and started yelling at me.  It is people like you who make it hard for me to eat, he bellowed.  That can of Spam has gone up such-and-such percent in the last week.  You shouldn’t buy it. Because you are going along with the increase in price is making it hard for me to afford to eat!  I almost dropped the can I was so startled!  I’d never before been yelled at by a complete stranger in a store.  I felt scared until I thought about what he had just said.  I was looking at Spam as undesirable food, but here was someone who couldn’t even afford what I was spurning.  He was yelling out of desperation and frustration.  Was I really doing something wrong?  I wondered.  Was I unknowingly part of something preventing people from being able to buy groceries? From the vantage point of many decades later, I think my sin was my blindness.  I took my middle-class, suburban lifestyle for granted.  My family wasn’t wealthy, but we never lacked for anything we needed.  Had my eyes been open, I might have noticed that not everyone in my town or my school was so fortunate.  Then I could have done something about it.

The prophet Amos takes this one step further in his preaching to the people in the Northern Kingdom, a very prosperous nation in his day.  He doesn’t accuse them of blindness to poverty and need.  He says, “You know the poor are in your midst, and you are deliberately exploiting them!  You are short-changing them when it comes to measuring the food you sell.  You are putting inedible refuse in the wares you hawk.  You are cheating the needy and laughing about it!  It still goes on today.” 

I’ve lived in several different places over the years, and I’ve noticed the same thing in each place.  A grocery store chain may charge the same prices in every store in a given geographical area, but if you go to that chain’s stores in lower income neighborhoods in that area, you discover that consumers don’t get the same bang for their buck.  Those stores often stock second-rate produce, while charging first-rate prices.  Maybe that goes for all the rest of what they sell, as well.  I’ve only ever taken note of the lower quality produce, but that was enough for me to realize what inequities there are in this world.

Jesus Christ Eats With Sinners
Engraved after artwork 
of Alexander Bida (1813-1895)
It’s no wonder Jesus is drawn to those the world tosses aside.  If he weren’t, who would love them?  Who would heal their illnesses?  Who would forgive their sins?

Jesus enjoyed eating with tax collectors and sinners who knew they were nobodies in their society.  They knew they needed a Savior.  Jesus didn’t waste time on people who were sure they had everything right; he went straight to those who were honest about their condition.

Action
The man who yelled at me in the grocery store has long since departed this world.  But there are millions of others today who are hungry or starving.  And Jesus is asking us to take up his ministry of seeking the lost and forgotten.

Why not make a contribution this week to an organization that will feed the hungry? 

Here are a few suggestions:
SOME:  So Others Might Eat - http://some.org/
Catholic Charities, Arlington Diocese, Christ House Food Pantry - http://www.ccda.net/programs_christhouse.php
Food for the Poor - http://www.foodforthepoor.org/
Catholic Relief Services - http://www.crs.org/

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Courage, Rise up and Go


By Beth DeCristofaro

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The LORD took me from following the flock, and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Now hear the word of the LORD!”  (Amos 7:14-16)

After entering a boat, Jesus made the crossing and came into his own town. And there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. 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’? (Matthew 9:1-5)

Piety
Lord grant me the grace
to have freedom of the spirit.
Cleanse my heart and soul
so I may live joyously in your love.
        (www.sacredspace.ie)

Study
Scripture is filled with stories of people who thought they were just not enough.   Prophets, kings, heroines started out as exiles, shepherds, peasant girls. By being called and heeding the voice of God they overreached themselves.  In the NAB notes to the book of Amos we learn that “Amos is a prophet of divine judgment, and the sovereignty of the Lord in nature and history dominates his thought. … his conservatism was in keeping with the whole prophetic tradition calling the people back to the high moral and religious demands of the Lord’s revelation. Amos’s message stands as one of the most powerful voices ever to challenge hypocrisy and injustice. He boldly indicts kings, priests, and leaders.”[i]

In our own life we waffle: “Who me Lord?” and often “Just tell me what you want me to do, Lord.”  But Jesus’ merciful and inspiring interaction with the man brought on the stretcher provides another way of hearing the call.  This man was brought to Jesus.  He responded rather than initiated.  And Jesus showed him that his spiritual wellbeing and his physical healing were equally valuable in the eyes of God.  Jesus came to him when he saw the faith of his companions.  Jesus comes to us, children, recognizing faith, the need for healing or completing an incompleteness.  Jesus comes to us. 

God writes on the wall of our lives through relationship.  Jesus as our human brother as well as divine Lord welcomes us into a dynamic, life-fulfilling bond and rapport. Jesus asks us to expand this special kinship through community with others.   May we not be indicted by being hypocritical, acting in our own self-interest, choosing idols or otherwise being blind to his presence and grace as was Amaziah and the scribes. 

Action
Take up the mat on which I lie to follow Jesus with a word, action, deed.  Neither illness, law, culture, ignorance, fear, accident of birth – no nothing - can keep Him from me nor me from Him.  Whose mat can I help carry, being with them in their plight until they are ready to leave it behind?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Put On Your Cloak and Follow Me


On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter, secured by double chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while outside the door guards kept watch on the prison. Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying, “Get up quickly.” The chains fell from his wrists. The angel said to him, “Put on your belt and your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.”  Acts 12:6-8

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.  Matthew 16:15-18A

Piety
Lord, please stand by me and give me strength in the darkest hours when we are most filled with doubt.  When you rescue me from my personal prison, help me to proclaim your Good News with fervor and authenticity. 

Study
How fittingly that St. Peter, the reluctant but passionate leader, from the crucifixion of Jesus to his own, was rescued on the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  The was the holy feast that marked the beginning of the end for Jesus.  First, the Passover commemorated the redemption from slavery and the departure of the Israelites from Egypt by night. It began at sundown after the Passover lamb was sacrificed in the temple.  Peter’s departure coincided with the anniversary of this flight.
 
But that is not all.  The Passover supper also is associated with the eating of unleavened bread, a reminder of the affliction of the Israelites and of the haste surrounding their departure. Also, note the haste in which Peter’s departure is effected once he was freed from his chains and his imprisonment. 

Praise and thanks to God for his goodness in the past were combined at this dual festival with the hope of future salvation. Similar praise and thanks are offered by St. Peter for his delivery from captivity. 

All the miracles throughout the Bible occur because the Lord or the Spirit of the Lord stand by his children and gives them strength.  Thus, the requirement that Peter did not just stand up and walk out.  He needed his escort and accompaniment from the angel of the Lord. 

St. Peter embraced his suffering and imprisonment as a requirement of working out his own salvation. It isn't enough to simply believe or have faith.  After his denials, St. Peter professed that faith at the “Last Breakfast.”   To be free of evil, St. Peter has to work hard through great peril and through Christ to secure his freedom.  He does not find that in some lofty heaven but right on earth in the prisons and hospitals and orphanages.

On the morning of the Ascension, as Jesus left their sight, the apostles were reminded, quite dramatically, of something Jesus had told them. Two men in brilliant white clothes appeared to them, and asked them why they were looking up to heaven. Jesus had told them very clearly where he was now to be found. He would be found among the hungry, the deprived, the marginalized, and the homeless. In Cry the Beloved Country, Alan Paton writes, "Do not look for me just in sanctuaries, or in the precise words of theologians, or in the calm of the countryside. Look for me in the place where people are struggling for their very survival as human beings." [i]

Peter found Christ in the prison of his denial, in the prison of his captivity, and in the prison of his faith.  Only then, could he pick up his cross daily and follow his friend and suffering servant. Peter overcame the physical authority of leaders who put him into prison to emerge as the authority with the actual keys to heaven.  While art and literature show St. Peter with actual keys, the emotional and spiritual qualities that St. Peter represents are the keys we must inherit and imitate in order to get into heaven.

Action
When were you most aware of the Lord standing by you?  When the going gets tough, is when we are most in need and least aware of the hand the Lord places in our lives.

Martin Luther King loved this quote: "You write a new page of the gospel each day, by the things that you do, and the words that you say. People read what you write, whether faithful or true. What is the gospel according to you?"

As we contemplate two great saints today, how can you write a new page of the Good News with our awareness of and action required to put on our cloak of Christ and follow Jesus? 

And There Was Great Calm

Rembrandt [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons


The lion roars—who will not be afraid! The Lord GOD speaks—who will not prophesy! (Amos 3:8)

Lead me in your justice, Lord. (Psalm 5:9a)

As Jesus got into a boat, his disciples followed him. Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves; but he was asleep. They came and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. (Matthew 8:23-26)

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

Study
Point to it. You know you can.

Point to that time of incredible grief or sorrow or pain or suffering in your life. Perhaps it was the diagnosis of an incurable disease, for yourself or someone you love. Perhaps it was a senseless death, the result of a mechanical failure or a careless but not malicious act. Or perhaps it was malicious. Or perhaps it was the unexpected end of a marriage, a friendship, a job or ministry that brought you great joy, that you did well.

You felt swamped by the waves, terrified by the storm. It seemed it never, ever would end.

And then… it did.

Oh, not right away. Maybe not even in a day or a week or a month or a year. But it ended. It became the new normal. You went on with living, with treatments, with more days of fond memories than of anger, with new ways to serve. In some ways, maybe the time after the storm was richer for the struggle. There was a great calm.

We know that the Lord hears our cries when we believe we are perishing. We can point to those times. We know He has a future with hope for us; He’s told us that. May we remember those times He brought us great calm when storm clouds gather again.

Action
Spend some prayer time today in praise for what the Lord has done for you in times of despair.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Remember This




Beware, I will crush you into the ground as a wagon crushes when laden with sheaves. Flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong man shall not retain his strength; The warrior shall not save his life, nor the bowman stand his ground; The swift of foot shall not escape, nor the horseman save his life. And the most stouthearted of warriors shall flee naked on that day, says the LORD. Amos 2:13-16

A scribe approached and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But Jesus answered him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”  Matthew 8:19-22

Piety
You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss
A sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by

It's still the same old story
The fight for love and glory
A case of do or die
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by
As Time Goes By by Herman Hupfield (1931)  

Study
Frankly, I needed some background because the small book of the prophet Amos only appears in the Lectionary every three years.  A quick detour into the Introductory notes helps set the stage for the ground covered in the first reading.  The New American Bible introduces the book with the following passages:

Amos was a sheepbreeder of Tekoa in Judah, who delivered his oracles in the Northern Kingdom during the prosperous reign of Jeroboam II (786–746 B.C.). He prophesied in Israel at the great cult center of Bethel, from which he was finally expelled by the priest in charge of this royal sanctuary (7:10–17). The poetry of Amos, who denounces the hollow prosperity of the Northern Kingdom, is filled with imagery and language taken from his own pastoral background. The book is an anthology of his oracles and was compiled either by the prophet or by some of his disciples.

The prophecy begins with a sweeping indictment of Damascus, Philistia, Tyre, and Edom; but the forthright herdsman saves his climactic denunciation for Israel, whose injustice and idolatry are sins against the light granted to her. Israel could indeed expect the day of the Lord, but it would be a day of darkness and not light.

This is where our reading today picks up.  Amos’s audience would applaud his condemnation of foreign kingdoms in the foregoing seven oracles, especially of Judah. But now he adds an eighth, unexpected oracle—against Israel itself. This is the real “punch line” of this whole section, to which the preceding oracles serve mainly as introduction.

Amos, it seems, is treading the same waters as the other prophets and the historical books.  He also is calling Israel to task for following its sinful ways and not the ways of the Lord.  Sinning?  Going on among the children of God?  Sinning?  Going on among the people of Virginia?  Kind of reminds me of that scene in Casablanca when Captain Renault is going to close down Rick’s CafĂ© AmĂ©ricain when he finds backroom gambling.

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here! [a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.
[aloud] Everybody out at once!

Casablanca is a modern allegorical movie but the characters could have been plucked from the pages of any number of biblical books.  Rick Blaine is the reluctant disciple – trying to remain neutral yet clearly tilting toward social justice as the movie goes on. Ironically, he also operates out of the desert trying get people their freedom – if not from personal sin than the moral sin epitomized by the belligerent German army. Ultimately, Rick does everything possible to change the situation for Victor Lazlo and Ilsa Lund.

Amos and Isaiah and Jonah and all the Hebrew prophets are the moral compass who were early models calling for the Rick Blaine’s of the world to change. Rick is the embodiment of the ears which finally heard the message and changed from a position of selfishness -- his neutrality in war and in love -- to clearly take sides for humanity’s sake – and NOT HIS OWN.

Which brings us to the Gospel from St. Matthew.  Even with Jesus right in front of the characters in this story, they still fight their own self-interest when the Lord calls them. Jesus continues to pull them away from what holds them back. If we cannot relate to the ancient stories like these, then maybe we can relate to Rick and how he overcame his self-proclaimed neutrality as time went by to tackle the larger task. 

Stay tuned for how Captain Kirk and Luke Skywalker are just 21st century iterations of Amos, Jonah and Rick Blaine.

Action
Living in the current era, we confront the same kinds of decision points: whether to ignore the human misery all around us or to take a stand and oppose this system in whatever way is open to you to effect change. 

Can we open our ears to the calling of Amos and Jesus? Follow me and this will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. The world will always welcome lovers of humanity as time goes by.

Da-dy-da-dy-da-dum, da-dy-da-dee-da-dum...


Prepare for His Reception


by Diane Bayne

I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want. But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  Galatians 5: -18

On the way, they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?" Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village. Luke 9:52B-56

Piety
R. You are my inheritance, O Lord.
You will show me the path to life,
fullness of joys in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever. Psalm 16

Study
The Words of today’s Gospel include the words of Jesus to His would be followers.  Each of these words requires, first of all, that we understand their message (Study), so that we can apply them to our own life (Piety) and, finally, put them into practice, (Action).

In considering the messages in this Gospel, the first task required – even before our Piety and Action –  is our Study. 

The first words of Jesus in this Gospel are to James and John.  Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem.  When James and John see that the Samaritan village will not welcome Jesus, these two eager Disciples, trying to anticipate his wishes, ask him:  "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?"   Then, we have Jesus’ response to them: “Jesus turned toward them only to reprimand them.  Then they journeyed to another village.”  Luke 9: 55-56

What are we to make of Jesus’ response?  In his book The Gospel of Luke, William Barclay explains that James and John probably believed they were doing a praiseworthy thing when they offered to call on a divine aide to blot out the village filled with people whom the Jews regarded as enemies. 

Barclay comments, “There is no passage in which Jesus so directly teaches the duty of tolerance, as in this…The conviction that our beliefs and our methods alone are correct has been the cause of more tragedy and distress in the church than almost any other thing…There are many ways to God. He has his own secret stairway into every heart.  He fulfills himself in many ways; and no man or church has a monopoly on his truth…But, and this is intensely important -- our tolerance must not be based on indifference but on love. We ought to be tolerant not because we could not care less, but because we look at the other person with eyes of love.” (Barclay, pp. 130-31)

The rest of Jesus’ messages in this Gospel concern the sacrifices that discipleship demands:  As they were making their way along, someone said to him, “I will be your follower wherever you go.” Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head." 

To another, he said, "Come after me." The man replied, "Lord, let me go first and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their dead. Come away and proclaim the kingdom of God."

Yet another said to him:  "I will be your follower, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home."  To him, Jesus said, “Whoever puts his hand to the plow but keeps looking back is unfit for the kingdom of God."

Jesus makes clear to all of these men that there is a cost to following him. To the first man, Jesus is saying: “Before you follow me, count the cost” – and “can you really do what I’m doing?”  Regarding the second, Barclay comments that in everything there is a crucial moment; if that moment is missed, the thing most likely will never be done at all.  The third message is no one can plow a field while looking back.  For the Christian, the watchword of the kingdom is not “Backward” but “Forward.” Of this message Barclay comments “Here Jesus says “Return!  I accept no lukewarm service.”  (Barclay, pp. 131-32)

Piety and Action
As a result of this study, we are able to understand the reason for Jesus’ rebuke of James and John. We can now see that “Even if a man be utterly mistaken, we must never regard him as an enemy to be destroyed but as a strayed friend to be recovered in love.”   (Barclay, pp. 129-131). With this understanding, we are now able to apply Jesus’ words to our own life (PIETY) and to see the importance of acting tolerantly in our own life and behavior (ACTION) even when – especially when – the actions and reactions of others are different from our own.


Following Jesus is not for sissies!  Only the single-minded and wholehearted need apply!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Not Worthy


Rise up, shrill in the night, at the beginning of every watch; Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord; Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your little ones Who faint from hunger at the corner of every street.  Lamentations 2:19

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed…When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”  Matthew 8:8, 10

Piety
Father, help us to pray with the same faith and humility to be healed and be united with your son Jesus as does the Roman centurion.  Holy Spirit, give us the gifts to respond properly to the offer to receive the gift of the Spirit of the Lord.  Amen.

Study
Our recent readings from the historical books of the Hebrew Bible have provided repeated scenarios about what happens when the people (us) do not do as the Lord requests.  Today’s first reading from the Book of Lamentations sets the stage for how we are to atone for our transgressions.

The poetic images provided show how the sons and daughters of Zion get their entire body involved in the prayers.  We see them sprinkling dust on their heads, raising their hands in prayer.  Hunger so engulfs them that their children are fainting on the streets.  All because they went about their own wishes, not the plan laid out by the Lord.

Enter Jesus six hundred years later.  The Lord’s mercy is a constant offering to all around him, especially the widows, orphans and infirm.  However, so is the near occasion to continue sinning. People continue to follow their own will.  Thus, Jesus does not find great faith among the people in the temple.  However, a centurion from the belligerent Roman army which is occupying ancient Palestine comes to Jesus and utters the phrase that has been inserted into our daily Mass.

Every time we prepare for communion, we echo most of this prayer.  Right after the celebrant proclaims: "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Happy are we who are called to His Supper.” 

Now the priest holds up the host and cup, inviting the community to come forward and receive. We respond with the centurion’s own words – not the words of any disciple who was at the Last Supper.  Not the word of a prophet.  Not the words of a saint.  The centurion.  Matthew 8:8. Pour out the contents of your heart for healing.

 “Lord, I am not worthy for you to enter under my roof.”  Not the roof of my mouth or the roof of my house.

Our journey toward the altar is like the Centurion’s journey.  First, he goes Him-ward to Jesus.  Then, once he receives the audience with the Lord, he goes in peace to serve the Lord.  Heading home-ward, the Centurion will witness the first fruits of his faith. 

This procession reflects the journey we all have towards God. First, we get into the Communion line accepting the invitation to journey Him-ward.  Then, when our souls are healed, we go in peace to love and serve the Lord.  Even better still is that our journey is made with friends in the community – a sign of unity flowing from the Eucharist.

Action
How do you prepare to receive Christ into your body and soul?  Do you treat Communion as a routine, repeatable episode?  Would you approach the altar differently if, like the Roman centurion, you could only have one encounter with Christ in your lifetime? 

Whenever we receive an important guest, we bring out the family China, the silverware that has been handed down from our grandmothers, and the crystal stemware.  We put on our Sunday best – that is why these clothes are our Sunday best.  But, we do not skip sharing the meal.

Growing up, when we went to Mass, sometimes my siblings or cousins or parents would ask, “Are you going to receive…?”  They were not asking for our confession but for us to indicate if we felt that we were like the Centurion.  Thinking back, what a stupid question.  Would you go to a banquet and not eat when the meal was served?  “No, I just came here for the conversation.” 

If we are happy to be called to His supper, we should share in the meal.  We may think we are not worthy but Jesus is there asking to come in whether we are ready or not. Jesus puts up no fences to our sharing in his Supper.  If he waited for us to be truly worthy, we would never “receive.”  However, Jesus is eager to come under our roof. We should be as eager to receive him.  As eager as the Roman centurion. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Before You Were Born


By Colleen O’Sullivan

In the days of King Josiah, the word of the Lord came to me, saying: 
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you. (Jeremiah1:4-5)

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John.  And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at this birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.  John will drink neither wine nor strong drink.  He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.  He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn their hearts toward their children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”  (Luke 1:13-17)

Piety
For I know well the plans I have in mind for you… plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.  (Jeremiah 29:11)

Study
In the first reading God assures the prophet Jeremiah:  Even before you were born I “knew” you.  I didn’t merely know your name or what you were going to look like.  I knew you through and through.  I knew what gifts and graces I would bestow upon you.  I knew that I would set you apart to be my prophet, and you would not let me down.  You would proclaim my message to my people.

In the Gospel reading, the angel of the Lord tells Zechariah that he and his wife, Elizabeth, are to be blessed by the birth of a son, even at this late time in their lives.  This child will be called John.  Even now, as he grows in your wife’s womb, the angel says, I can tell you that his birth will fill you and many with joy.  He will be a fine young man, pleasing in my sight.  Before he even sets foot on the earth, this special child will be filled with the Holy Spirit. In his lifetime, John will lead many to God, and he will prepare the people of Israel for the coming of the Anointed One.

Two stories, centuries apart, where God asks someone to do something in particular for God and then gives that person what he or she needs for the task.  Jeremiah and John the Baptist are well-known figures in the Scriptures, but the Bible isn’t merely a history book.  It’s the story of how God relates to all God’s children, including you and me.  God may not be asking any of us to be prophets; God may not need any of us to prepare the way for something new as John the Baptist did.  But God, by creating us, knows us better than any human being ever will.  God knows the innermost nooks and crannies of our beings, who we are, and what graces he will bestow upon us.  Just as God had specific roles for Jeremiah and John the Baptist to play, so God has a plan and purpose for each of us.  But how do we discern what this might be?  I doubt that either Jeremiah or John stumbled upon their vocation without years of prayer behind them.  To hear what God has in mind for us may take a long time – time spent both talking to the Lord and, even more, listening for the response.

The very idea that we would spend time figuring out what someone else has in mind for us, even if it is God, is totally counter-cultural.   We live lives dictated by social media, television, ads, movies, etc., that together shout one message:  It’s all about you!   All the things that pop-up on the websites you go to are tailored to your likes.  Buy this!  See that!  Need some exercise? Wait, get a Fitbit, so you can do it “properly.”  When we really get sucked into all this, there’s hardly any time to think about God or creation or all God’s other children throughout the world who lack smart phones or computers or, sometimes, food or shelter.  There’s not much opportunity carved out for wondering what it is God specifically has in mind for you or me to be doing.

Action
There are three questions that echo throughout the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises.  What have I done for Christ?  What am I doing for Christ?  What ought I do for Christ?   Using these as the basis for prayer may be a start on naming the unique role God has envisioned for each of us in the Kingdom.