Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Enriched in Every Way


I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Corinthians 1:4-7

“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time?  Blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so.  Amen, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property.”  Matthew 24:45-47

Piety
“Too late have I loved you, O Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! Too late I loved you! And behold, you were within, and I abroad, and there I searched for you; I was deformed, plunging amid those fair forms, which you had made. You were with me, but I was not with you. Things held me far from you—things which, if they were not in you, were not at all. You called, and shouted, and burst my deafness. You flashed and shone, and scattered my blindness. You breathed odors and I drew in breath—and I pant for you. I tasted, and I hunger and thirst. You touched me, and I burned for your peace” (St. Augustine, Confessions).

Study
St. Augustine's writings remains (for me) dense and hard to understand – not because there is any lack of articles and books about him.  Rather, because his writing is hard to read through for me. Normally, I do not shy away from the intellectual-spiritual doctors of the church and other giants.  St. John of the Cross.  St. Benedict.  St. Ignatius.  Thomas Merton. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  Dorothy Day.  Henri Nouwen.  But, my confession is that the Confessions of St. Augustine remain difficult to comprehend.  Daunting may be the right word.  Crazy as it sounds, I would rather pick up Kierkegaard than Augustine. 

His mother, St. Monica, whose feast day was yesterday, prayed for the conversion of her son who was distracted in the many perversions of his day.  In his youth and early adult years, Augustine was not always the “faithful and prudent” servant praised in today’s Good News.  It was not until he turned 36 years old before he was ordained.  But then he became a bishop by age 41!  The famous story is that as his mother prayed and cried for his conversion, he joined her in that prayer, but just not yet.

Whether or not you tackle City of God, the Confessions or the Homilies is your choice in study.  Eventually, we all will probably get that book off our shelves or from the library and use it in our study.  But for me, just not yet.

Action
Much more accessible and understandable today are the daily comments and tweets of our @Pontifex.  Did you catch the list of things Pope Francis said made for a happy life?  Just when I thought my (and the world’s) amazement with Pope Francis had run its course, he did it again. In a long interview with an old friend who was writing for an Argentine magazine, the pope put forward a 10-point plan for happiness.  You can read his list here

How long until we see the book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Pope Francis?”  

In addition to this ten-point plan (almost sounds like something Woodrow Wilson would propose at Versailles), have you also noted all the articles on happiness?  In a frenetic, chaotic world with more and more separation between people, we often just want to wake up feeling good in the morning and we want to know how. There are essays and books filled with tips on achieving true happiness and bliss but one tip remains fairly consistent: expressing gratitude makes people feel good.

Maybe that is why the five days of gratitude (#gratitude challenge) is making its way around social media circles these days.  Maybe not as viral as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the practice of appreciation is pretty awesome in that it can be done anywhere, at any time. You can write a list of specific things within a day that you’re grateful for (hello, education, people, fresh olives, Reese’s peanut butter cup ice cream or snow crab legs – just not all at the same time) or reach out and express your gratitude to others.  

For what and whom in this divine milieu are you grateful?  What makes you enriched in every way?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Open Your Hearts

Memorial of Saint Monica

By Colleen O’Sullivan

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 evil doing. (Matthew 23:27-28)

Piety
Blessed are you who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways!  (Psalm 128:1)

Study   
When someone calls out, “Woe to you,” we know the rest isn’t likely to be good!  In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus has entered Jerusalem for the final time.  The crowds have cheered, sung hosannas and waved their palm branches.  Jesus has swept the money changers out of the temple, told some more parables, slipped out of the Pharisees’ trap on paying taxes to Caesar, and sparred with the Sadducees about whether or not there would be a resurrection from the dead.  Things have heated up and the Pharisees try a couple more times to entrap him. 

I guess Jesus has had it with the Pharisees and their friends.  Maybe he figures the end is near anyway, so he has nothing to lose by telling it like it is.  He begins in a series of seven woes addressed to them.  In today’s reading the Lord says they are like whitewashed tombstones whose pristine exteriors unsuccessfully seek to cover what lies beneath – death and decay.  As my grandmother always used to say, “Beauty is only skin deep; it’s what’s on the inside that counts.”  What lies inside the Pharisees’ hearts - self-righteousness, pride and contempt for others – isn’t pretty.

I wouldn’t spend too much time on the Pharisees, though, because we’ve got our own disparities to deal with.  The images we project to the world are frequently at odds with what lies beneath the surface of our lives.  Who hasn’t put on a pleasant face when inside we were boiling with anger?  Who hasn’t put on a stiff upper lip when inside we wanted to collapse in tears?  Or put something in the collection basket, when inside we were resenting giving every penny of it?  Summoned up what passed for a kind expression when inside we were feeling pity and contempt for another?   

Jesus came to make us whole.  He came to redeem whatever it is inside each of us that we seek to hide.  The Lord tried to do this for the Pharisees, but they refused to open their hearts to him.  Today, he invites every one of us into an intimate prayer relationship with him, a quiet place where we are wrapped in his love, a place where we, in turn, allow ourselves to fall in love with him, a place where our hearts are slowly transformed over our lifetimes as we steep in that Divine Love.

Action
What face do you like to present to the world?  How do you want people to see you?  What is it in you that is incongruent with your projected image?  Or what part of you do you seek to hide from others?  Offer that aspect of yourself to Jesus in prayer and ask him to transform it and make you whole. 

Authentic Power is Service with Love


By Beth DeCristofaro

Jesus said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.  You pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law:  judgment and mercy and fidelity.  But these you should have done, without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23)

Piety
(O God we pray that) all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be 'protectors' of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. . . . Let us never forget that authentic power is service." (Lord remind us that) "Only those who serve with love are able to protect!"

Study
Reading the headlines and reviewing history one is apt to forget that authority of governments are intended to forge bonds of order and work for the common good.  Hearing Jesus accuse the leaders of temple reminds us that even today leaders can lose track of their spiritual calling in the quest for power or even political gains.  In every message of Jesus, however, I should also be asking how am I a leader and am I “neglecting the weightier things” by being complicit or even overtly acting for the detriment of others.

How powerful are the stories of those who do not neglect the weightier things.  Missionaries in Africa who choose to work amid the sickest of the sick even at the risk of their own health.  Pastors who stay and protect their flock amid persecution in Cairo and Homs.  Religious who have been martyred in Brazil, Jamaica and other countries solely because they served the poor.  A layman whose dedication to bringing the truth to the light was exploited and murdered.  Catholic Workers who welcome the unwanted, the “other,” into their homes. 

Action
What do my actions say as a leader in my Fourth Day?  Do I protect?  Am I of goodwill and recognize, encourage goodwill in others?  Do I serve with love?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Endurance and Faith

Monday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Accordingly, we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God regarding your endurance and faith in all your persecutions and the afflictions you endure.  This is evidence of the just judgment of God, so that you may be considered worthy of the Kingdom of God for which you are suffering.  2 Thessalonians 1:4-5

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.  You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men.  You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.  Matthew 23-13

Piety
Our pilgrimage to God is a marathon. Hence it’s not about speed but about endurance. It’s as much about taking care of our faith along the way as learning to praise God in the midst of anything and everything. Our marathon will be finished the same way it was started: By taking steps of faith in hope.  (From Practicing Patience, Cultivating Endurance, April 24, 2012 by Mari-Anna StÃ¥lnacke @flowingfaith

Study
Today’s readings are almost mirror images of discourse answering the question, “Where and when is boasting allowed?”  Paul’s letter to the people in Thessalonica clearly explains the answer, “Only when it is about the works of another, not about the works of ourselves.”

Enduring suffering is the key to the kingdom – a kingdom that requires of us to pick up our cross daily.  The Pharisees get Jesus’ condemnation because they live a life that is the opposite of suffering. 

Rather than use their keys to open the gates, they lock the gates of heaven to themselves and to others by their woeful and woe-filled behavior.  These “blind guides” may appear clean on the outside.  However, on the inside they are false prophets.

Action
Vatican City, Aug 24, 2014 / 08:52 am (CNA/EWTN News) - During his Angelus address Sunday Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel account of Saint Peter's recognition of Jesus as the Lord, urging those present to honestly evaluate their own faith.

“Brothers and sisters, what happened in a unique way in Saint Peter, also takes place in every Christian who develops a sincere faith in Jesus the Christ,” he told crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square on Aug. 24.

“Today's Gospel challenges each of us: How is your faith? Let each of us answer in our heart. How is your faith? How is it? What does the Lord find in our hearts: a firm heart, like a rock? Or a heart like sand, that is, doubtful, mistrustful, unbelieving?”

How is your faith?  Is it as big as a mustard seed or as fragile as the faith of a dozen disciples locked in an upper room? 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

But Who Do You Say that I Am?


By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

Thus says the LORD to Shebna, master of the palace: “I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station.  Isaiah 22:19

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!  Romans 11:33

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Matthew 16:15

Piety
Our piety is one of the ways we say who Christ is in our lives.  We say Christ is our life by the goodness of our lives.  There are pious moments when we show our love by our reverence, attention and devotion.  These moments flow over to the ways we do the secular things in our lives.  The totality of the focus of our hearts is the best of our piety because thus we are treating the people of our lives as reflections of the God who merits all our attention.  Our love of God challenges us to find Christ in the last, the lowest and the least persons of our lives.  God created everything good.  The right use of creatures proclaims Christ in whom we are.  We by our use of creatures with care and attention to what is right make Christ visible by who we are.  Our destiny is Christ and all the ways our piety keeps Christ close to us are the works of salvation and the good news that Christ has come to share with us.  Piety in each other is the good news of salvation calling forth the best of us. 

Study 
By our study we realize that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Each moment of our lives is filled with God’s love for us manifest in creation and in the reality of the ongoing of our lives.  We would not live if God did not keep us in existence.  The victory of Christ centers the throne of Christ.  The cross is his victory.  On the wood of the cross we were given our salvation.  In the embrace of Christ from his cross all that would separate us from the victory of Christ loses its meaning.  Nothing is worth more than his embrace of our sinfulness as he gives us his life for forgiveness and rebirths us in the love of his Father.  God is not only in our world; he is also the meaning of our lives and gives meaning to all that we do when we live in his name and spread the good news of salvation.  For many the road of God’s wisdom is impassable.  To us who are called, the cross is the exquisite wisdom of God revealing his love for us. 

Action 
The best action of our lives will be the climbing of the cross of Christ to look at our world through his eyes.  The value of what we suffer is immeasurable in the likeness to Christ it brings.  Our suffering can be the key to unlock the mystery of God’s love when we offer our suffering in the name of Christ.  We need to say with our work that we are the presence of Christ for those we serve.  We need to meet the needs of others with the love of Christ who gives his all for each of us.  We need to be like to Christ who offers his sufferings for us.  The Cross is the wisdom of Christ.  We do our best to make a world more just and special by living the love of Christ for each other.  Our sufferings offered in the name of Christ can make the world amazed at how the Christians love one another.  Let us bring our world back to Christ.  Then nothing will be able to separate us from the love of Christ.  We will be his love.  

Whoever Humbles Himself

Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

The voice said to me:  Son of man, this is where my throne shall be, this is where I will set the soles of my feet; here I will dwell among the children of Israel forever.  Ezekiel 43:7AB

“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

Piety
A great way to pray is to look for God’s presence in your life. More than 400 years ago, St. Ignatius Loyola encouraged prayer-filled mindfulness by proposing what has been called the Daily Examen. The Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and to discern his direction for us. Try this version of St. Ignatius’s prayer. - See more at: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/how-can-i-pray/#sthash.kmX6bqhI.dpuf

Study
Whose glory is all this about?  If the reading from Ezekiel did not make the glory of the Lord, not the people, abundantly clear, Jesus knocks down anyone – especially the Pharisees – who may exhibit an attitude of moral superiority.  Practice what you preach and stop fishing for praise and recognition for every action you take.    

Jesus is pretty clear in denouncing the abuses of the scribes and Pharisees.  In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus forbids not only the titles but the spirit of superiority and pride that is shown by their acceptance.[1]  He goes on to a series of seven “woes” which further point out practices which must be avoided.

Ascent toward heaven “is made through the humility of this present life,” not through the kinds of actions Jesus condemns in the Pharisees.  The Rule of St. Benedict prescribes twelve degrees of humility for his brothers and sisters.  By taking on such practices, the Rule explains the end result obtained in walking these humble steps:
Having climbed all these steps of humility, therefore, the monk will presently come to that perfect love of God which casts out fear.  And all those precepts which formerly he had not observed without fear, he will now begin to keep by reason of that love, without any effort, as though naturally and by habit.  No longer will his motive be the fear of hell, but rather the love of Christ, good habit and delight in the virtues which the Lord will deign to show forth by the Holy Spirit in His servant now cleansed from vice and sin. (RB: Chapter 7)

Action
This exhortation in Matthew is not about “them.”  It’s about us.  It’s about me.  If we take these words to heart, how should we look at and evaluate our own conduct and attitudes? There are many examples of how to do that in prayer resources but the Jesuit Examen (one version here: http://www.diocese.cc/upload/images/originals/Examens070510A.pdf) provides substantive steps.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Can These Bones Come Back to Life?


By Melanie Rigney

The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he led me out in the spirit of the LORD and set me in the center of the broad valley. It was filled with bones. He made me walk among them in every direction. So many lay on the surface of the valley! How dry they were! He asked me: Son of man, can these bones come back to life? “Lord GOD,” I answered, “you alone know that.” Then he said to me: Prophesy over these bones, and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Listen! I will make breath enter you so you may come to life. I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow over you, cover you with skin, and put breath into you so you may come to life. Then you shall know that I am the LORD. (Ezekiel 37:1-6)

They cried to the Lord in their distress; from their straits he rescued them. And he led them by a direct way to reach an inhabited city. (Psalms 107:6-7)

(When the scholar asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus said:) “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 first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Piety
Lord, fill these bones with Your truth and nourishment.

Study
Back on the Fourth of July weekend, I clanged some exercise equipment on my right ankle. It swelled up and turned black and blue, but I still could walk without any pain. Now here it is practically Labor Day, and my ankle still has a goose egg on it, albeit smaller and minus the colors of the rainbows. I suppose I should go see the doctor anyway, but I keep putting it off. I do know that I’ve spent a lot of time poking and probing and testing that ankle instead of assuming good health and otherwise ignoring it.

Maybe it’s the same way with our spiritual health. When all is well and we have an ongoing communication with the Lord, we don’t think a lot about how the relationship could become even deeper or how we could live in ways even more pleasing to Him.

How much harder life is when our spiritual “bones” dry out, when we are confronted with the reality that what we want now, right now, is not part of the Lord’s immediate plan for us. It’s like with my ankle. The situation’s made me more conscious of the parts of my body that don’t work, and more appreciative of the parts that do. Spiritual dryness can remind us to appreciate the times when our souls are well watered and fed… and poke and prod and test when our interior life isn’t working the way it should. We can pray for the Lord’s breath to come upon us and heal us as no doctor’s visit or ankle brace could ever do.

Action
Where are you experiencing spiritually dry bones? Ask the Lord to reinvigorate them.

A New Spirit Within You


I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.  I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees.  You shall live in the land I gave your ancestors; you shall be my people, and I will be your God.  Ezekiel 36:26-28

Then the king said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come.  Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’  The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests.  Matthew 22:8-10

Piety
Father, thank you for giving us a new heart and new spirit.  Continue to give us the strength, the hope and the love to walk with you as we bring the Good News of your love from the sanctuary to the streets.  Amen.

Study
Good and bad alike, God ignores our faults.  He invites us into relationship with him regardless of what we have done in the past, washing away our sins and ignoring the hardness of our hearts.  Today’s Gospel is like the opposite of the Prodigal Son.  In that parable, the Father gave a feast for his son who had strayed. His brother was upset that their Father had not given a feast for him. 

Today, the Father-King holds a wedding feast for his son but none of the original guests come.  They ignore his invitation – or worse still – they kill his messengers (the prophets).  When the chosen people stay away and continue to pursue their own self-interests.  Finally, the doors are opened wide for whomever accepts the invitation.

While the invitation is freely given, it comes with a price – the price being entering into a proper relationship with the Father-King.  The new covenant described in Ezekiel requires of us two things:  to accept the new spirit offered and then to live by the Lord’s decrees.  According to the notes section of the New American Bible, this ending is unique to Matthew’s gospel, a story-within-the-story.   

“Matthew presents the kingdom in its double aspect, already present and something that can be entered here and now, and something that will be possessed only by those present members who can stand the scrutiny of the final judgment. The parable is not only a statement of God’s judgment on Israel but a warning to Matthew’s church” about the price they must pay for the new covenant of love which is freely given to us in baptism.

The guest without a wedding garment represents those who refuse to the repent, who refuse the change of heart and mind, which is the condition for entrance into the kingdom.  Such a life of love-in-action must be continued by our faith commitment to the new covenant.

Action
Our invitation into relationship also comes with a price.  We must choose to pick up our cross daily and walk with God.  Our wedding garment is the symbol of our willingness to change the direction in which we seek happiness.

Our baptism invitation is not the end of our relationship.  Our initiation continues when we share Eucharist, seek a new heart in Reconciliation and bring the word to the world in Confirmation. We also spread this covenant of love with the community that we build via marriage or holy orders.

Recently, I have been to several weddings and have pending invitations for more in the coming weeks and months.  The bride and groom dress on that day in a fashion in which they have not seen of each other previously – and in garments which they may never wear again.  They are changing the normal of their past and entering into a new normal based upon love. The guests also dress in their Sunday finest and share in the new direction that the loves of the bride and groom will take.

Where are you on this journey?  What is the new normal of your Fourth Day?  Are you building communities? Are you bringing the word to the world?  Or are you still loved yet still locked into the upper room of your life trying to stay in your old comfort zone?

The covenant requires us to change the direction in which we look for happiness just like the bride and groom and the wedding guests.  It won’t be found in your new car, your new job or your new digital toy.  It will only be found when we willingly step one foot in front of the other to walk in the way of the Lord, not the world.

This whole section in Matthew’s gospel screams that the walk will not be easy.  Think of those peaceful protestors in Ferguson, MO who are crying for justice following the death of Michael Brown.  It is fitting that the ministers of the community are anchoring the peaceful marches step-by-agonizing-step while trying to bridge the search for justice with those who seek vengeance through violent means.

His Excellency, Robert J. Carlson, Archbishop of St. Louis, recently issued a letter to the faithful in the Archdiocese of St. Louis but in it is a message for us as well:
“The residents of Ferguson, Missouri, are struggling to find peace in the chaos. As people of Christ, we are struggling to find direction in the unrest.”  He went on to write how he finds strength in the peace prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.  

“In all circumstances, but especially in these difficult times, we are all called to be instruments of peace through our words and actions. Pope Francis recently stated that, "All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace."

Last night, the Archbishop Carlson celebrated a Mass for Reconciliation and asks for continued prayers from all of us that the new way forward of peace and justice will be found in Ferguson.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My Cup Overflows

Memorial of Saint Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church

By Colleen O’Sullivan

For thus says the Lord God:  I myself will look after and tend my sheep.  (Ezekiel 34:11)

You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Only goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.  (Psalm 23:5-6)

“’Are you envious because I am generous?’”  (Matthew 20:15b)

Piety
Bless the Lord, my soul; all my being, bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, my soul; and do not forget all his gifts.
(Psalm 103:1-2)

Study   
The prophet Ezekiel tells us that when the shepherds of Israel turned out to be overwhelmingly self-absorbed, the Lord God himself stepped in and pushed them aside.  I love my flock, and “I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” 

The psalmist sings the praises of the Shepherd who leads us to peace, who provides rest and sustenance in green pastures, who comforts us with his presence in our dark valleys, who throws a banquet in our honor, who showers us with kindness and mercy all our days.

I have recently returned from spending almost 5 weeks at a Jesuit retreat house, making my way with 23 others through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  At every turn, I was reminded of God’s generous and gracious love – in the gift of my life, in all the wonders of creation, in the friends God has placed in my path, in the forgiveness for my sins and hope of eternal life that God offers.

After the first reading, the psalm and my recent retreat, the Gospel for today sounds a jarring note.  It gets to the heart of our sin – ingratitude.  The story is about a vineyard owner who needs some extra workers.  He goes to the nearest 7-Eleven or other gathering place for day laborers and hires some help.  Every few hours he goes back and takes on a couple more workers.  At the end of the day, he hands out the wages, and every single person gets the same amount, no matter how few or how many hours spent in the vineyard!  Were we truly grateful for what we receive, which, when it comes from God, is always more than sufficient, there would be none of the complaining and kvetching that we read about in the story.  We would be joyful as well as happy for others’ good fortune.  Instead, the story ends with the vineyard owner wanting to know if we’re envious because he’s generous.  Kind of makes you want to slink away in shame.

Action
Our God is the ultimate Generous Giver.  Take some time today to reread Psalm 23 or look at Psalm 103 and gratefully reflect on the ways in which God has blessed you.

For God All is Possible


By Beth DeCristofaro

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, “but for God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:24-26)

Piety
Thank you for the new day.
Thank you for this work.
Thank you for this family.
Thank you for our daily bread.
Thank you for this storm and the moisture it brings to a parched earth.
Thank you for the corrections that bring me to growth.
Thank you for the bank of crown vetch that brings color to the hillside.
Thank you for pets that bind us to nature.
Thank you for the necessities that keep me aware of your bounty in my life.
(Joan Chittister, from The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer, Twenty-Third Publications)

Study
Recently I heard Bro. David Steindl-Rast, Benedictine monk , give a TED talk on how to be grateful.  He speaks and teaches about gratefulness, saying that an attitude of gratefulness, a heart full of gratitude, can be the source of joy and communion with the world and others which surmounts tragedy, cruelty, want, divisions.  Sr. Joan Chittister teaches that gratitude is the basic element of real belief in God.  In proclaiming our gratitude we realize that …for men (saving ourselves) is impossible… but that all we are and all we have come from the hands of God.

Bro. David’s talk made me think of the Cursillo approach.  Br. David says that being grateful is as easy as learning to cross the street.  Just as your mother or father told you many years ago, when you come to a street you need to slow down and “Stop, Look, Go.”  We can apply this to a moment of decision, a place of sadness or even waking and going to bed when you can take a moment to take stock.  You look at the place you are and the abundance of life.  Now you go forward, grateful and accompanied by the sure knowledge of the abundance of God within you.

In Cursillo terms I see Stop or Piety: Reconnect with God our Giver of Life.  Place yourself in the moment with Jesus.   Look and Study: What in this moment is God giving to me? Where is Jesus in this moment?  For example: Is this an instance of learning about the world or myself?  A chance to reprioritize?  An opportunity to build community?  An occasion to just be.  Then “Go!” or Action:  In what way will I shine God’s light in this moment?”    For God all things are possible.  And God is for us in all ways, at all times.

Action
Each moment is pregnant with possibility.  “Stop, Look and Go” helps me remember that each moment is there for God to work in my life and in the world.  How aware am I?  Do I keep my God close in the moment or relegate Jesus to Sunday mornings or inside of church?  Today at each dangerous curb, each seemingly insurmountable cliff and even each green valley stretched ahead,  “Stop” “Look” and “Go” deliberately with God.  In what way will I share my abundance with another today?  If you’d like, listen to Bro. David:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

What Do I Still Lack?


“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

Piety
Father show us what we lack so that we will know why you take away our power and possessions to follow you.  Holy Spirit, please give to us what we need to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and the will of God, not of our own ego.  Amen. 

Study
When invited to be on Cursillo team for the first time, our rector told the story of a picture of Jesus that his daughter kept on her mirror.  If memory serves me well, the quote from Jesus to her said: “I never said it would be easy.  I only promised it would be worth it.” (Is that right, Rector Frank?)  Today’s readings are about the hard way of the Good News that few follow. 

Earlier in Matthew 7:13-14, we read: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.  How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.”

There were large crowds at this stage of Jesus’ ministry which numbered into the thousands.  Crowds grew so large he sometimes had to escape by boat.  Yet, as people realized what Jesus was asking, they peeled away from the crowd like the rich young man who had many possessions.  They wanted Jesus to have an easy message.  Or at least a message easier to follow.  Their possessions bound them (and us) like the cloth strips bound Lazarus in his grave. 

Jesus changed the rules.  In Exodus, Deuteronomy and Leviticus we get a ream of rules to follow. Some practical. Some required just for survival in the desert.  Today, Jesus adds a new twist.  Drop everything except that cross. 

Today’s rule is not in the Hebrew Bible.  Certainly the Ten Commandments wanted us to have a healthy relationship with possessions.  We are warned not to covet our neighbor’s goods.  We are warned not to steal.   Certainly while Moses was up on Mount Sinai, people had a little issue with their gold jewelry being smelted into an idol.  But Jesus – in this encounter with the rich young man – goes much further than Moses.  Rather than asking for us to give up a tithe (one-tenth), Jesus asks us to give up 100 percent for him. 

Let’s not think Jesus is saying we all have to become John the Baptist or St. Francis of Assisi or live a hermit-like life of St. Anthony the Great. He is giving us three steps.  Go.  Sell.  Give.  Jesus is NOT saying not to store up treasure.  However, he distinguishes between treasures in silos or banks or mutual fund companies or real estate investment trusts and treasures in heaven. “But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”  (Matthew 6:20-21)

The NAB points out (in the notes to this passage) that “…[a]ctual renunciation of riches is not demanded of all; Matthew counts the rich Joseph of Arimathea as a disciple of Jesus.”  Jesus had his feet bathed in expensive perfume rather than sell the perfume to give alms to the poor.  Peter sent to find a gold coin to pay the temple tax.  Discipleship is not necessarily nor always an ascetic call to be homeless and indigent and wear sackcloth and eat locusts and honey in the desert. 

Some may choose that path.  However, we know from the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount that only the poor in spirit can enter the kingdom and, as here, such poverty may entail the sacrifice of some – if not all – of one’s possessions.

Action
What do we still lack?  Faith?  Fellowship?  Willingness?  Lack of openness to asking?  The wrong motivation?  Humility? 

Another way to ask this is, “What do I still have that gets in the way or has become the obstacle between me and God’s friendship?

What is our golden calf that gets in the way of our following?  How can we untie ourselves from the behaviors, habits and possessions that binds us to our current way of life in order to follow Jesus? 

Many abstain from affluenza yet do not attend to their obligations to God and to each other. Any unbinding is not the last act.  It has to be done for the right reason (to follow God).  We have to give up the portion (whatever size that might be) which is the obstacle to God’s friendship. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Great is Your Faith


By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

[T]hem I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.  Isaiah 56:7

For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.  Romans 11:32

“O woman, great is your faith!  Let it be done for you as you wish.”  And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.  Matthew 15:28

Piety
Our piety allows us to approach Christ many different ways.  The Canaanite woman approaches as one who does not belong to the Israelites.  Christ sees his mission to the Jews to recall them into being God’s people. The leaders of God’s people rejected Jesus.  This foreign woman sees what Jesus has done for those of his people that approached him with faith and know what to ask.  Because she does not belong, she is turned down at first.  Jesus comes to feed his people with the Good News of salvation.  She wants what belongs to God’s people and is turned down.  Her humility in asking captures the attention of God’s Spirit in Christ.  “Even dogs get the leftover scraps from the Father’s table.”  She challenges Jesus to go beyond his mission and he responds to the call of her love for her daughter.  Jesus gives her the miracle she is asking for and at the same time finds his own horizons broadened.

Study
The Canaanite woman is a quick study in how to approach Jesus for what we want and need from God.  We learn the ways our prayers could be answered.  We are given what we ask.  We are given something so much better than what we were asking that we do not recognize the answer to our prayer.  We are given at another time what was asked for and we realize that the time of the gift is always the best time for us to receive it.  We study the answers to our prayers and discover that God never leaves us unanswered.

Action
The best of all our actions is always prayer.  Since God answers our prayer with what we really need, our most frequent prayer should be the prayer of gratitude.  It is worth resolving that every action of our lives begins with a prayer.  It is worth inviting the Lord to send us the inspirations of what we should be about and help us in what we are doing that we might truly be Contemplatives in Action.  The greatest gift we have been given by God is our freedom and our return of our freedom to God has its fullest expression when see God at work in whatever we are doing.  We are all called to be Contemplatives in Action. We pray as if everything depends on us and we work as if everything depends on God.  Thus, we make prayer out of all our actions and honor God by inviting him to be all of ourselves.  We die to self to be born again in Christ.