Thursday, August 25, 2016

What Do You See in the Cross?


By Colleen O’Sullivan

Brothers and sisters: Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…(W)e proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.  (1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 23-25)

Piety
Oh, that old rugged Cross so despised by the world
  has a wondrous attraction for me
For the dear Lamb of God, left his Glory above
  to bear it to dark Calvary.
The Old Rugged Cross, George Bennard, 1913

Study
Nikolay Ge, Crucifixion (1892)
As I write this, I am surrounded by piles upon piles of boxes, all waiting for me to unpack them and turn my new house into a home filled with peace and love. I had a great deal of help from family and friends getting those cartons packed up and moved, for which I am very grateful.  But for a long time to come, I think one particular moment will stand out in my memory. One of my youngest friends, a 10-year old who considers me one of his “aunts,” was bubble-wrapping and packing all my framed pictures and decorations. I thought every wall was empty and every tabletop bare, when he said, “Aunt Colleen, what about these?” In a little corner next to my bedroom I had a picture of St. Clare of Assisi and my Crucifix. I said, yes, we have to pack them. They’re very important! So, a few more feet of bubble wrap were dispatched to take care of St. Clare. 

Then, while holding the Crucifix, he asked, “What’s this?  It’s shaped like a cross.” For a second I thought he must be joking, but when I glanced up, I saw that he was dead serious. “And why is there a person attached to it? Who is it?” That he truly had no idea took my breath away, but I tried to hide my shock and simply answered his question. He’s an inquisitive child, and he had a lot of questions about Jesus and why he ended his life on a Cross. It’s difficult to impart the Gospel in one morning’s packing session, but I gave it my best shot!

St. Paul, there may very well be people in the world who find it impossible to accept the notion that the Son of God would give his life on a Cross.  There may be people who consider themselves too worldly and sophisticated to put any stock in such “religious nonsense.” If you were writing today, you would have to add another group of people as well, people who know a lot about “Pokemon Go!” and texting but nothing at all about the Lord or the Cross or what any of it means for their lives. 

I can’t imagine my life without faith, and at the core of my faith lies the Cross of Christ. When I look at the Cross, I see many things. I see what seems to me to be the greatest injustice ever perpetrated against another human being. I see the result of sin and betrayal. I see innocent suffering in its purest form. (I’ve always found it interesting that in My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok, the main character, a Hasidic Jewish artist, can find no other way to portray his mother’s great suffering than by painting a crucifixion scene, which results in his being asked to leave his community.) I see the ultimate gift of love, Jesus’ outpouring of his very life blood so that you and I can have life and have it abundantly. I see someone without sin who is willing to take my sin upon himself. I see the glory of God hidden in what appears to be the degradation and humiliation of a death reserved for only the foulest of criminals.

I see the Jesus who sits at the bedside of the sick and dying, the Jesus who walks beside the world’s endless streams of refugees seeking a place to call home, the Jesus who comforts the sorrowing in every time and place. I see the Jesus who asks me to live as he died – for others.

Action
Maybe an honorary aunt’s “job description” includes sharing her faith and introducing Jesus as our forever friend. It seems like that’s what God asks all of us to do.  With whom could you share the Good News today?

For Grace and Courage to Stay Awake!


By Beth DeCristofaro

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

Piety
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. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Corinthians 1:4-9)

Study
Last night the news coming from the earthquake that wrenched Italy kept me up again.  Other, recent wakeful nights have brought details of horrors facing families and heath care workers in Aleppo, Syria.  As a health care chaplain, I am all too well aware that Jesus’ words from the Gospel are still very true today even with modern medical miracles.  Our lives are preciously unique yet fragile in so many ways. 

Paul’s words are thrillingly hopeful and promising.  The radio broadcast “On Being” last week featured people reflecting on how being a runner enhanced their spiritual lives.  A Muslim woman told how she prayed as she ran, appreciating the beauty of the outdoors as gift from Allah.  At times, she said, she just had to run with hands in the air in tribute to Allah’s generosity.  Another runner, a Sikh man, felt that running gave him the chance to blend in and enjoy being one with other runners.  His experiences every day included meeting people who immediately judge and often fear him because of how he looked and assumptions of who he was.[i]  Neither of these people is Christian but their appreciation of the sanctity of life is compatible with Paul’s appreciation of our fellowship with Jesus.

Cursillstas can share words like Paul’s which will drown out words of disunity, hatred and fear heard too often in our towns and in our country.  To soon each one of us will have to face personal tragedy whether it be an earthquake, war, cancer, homelessness, accident or other.  Divisiveness and racism are human-made tragedies we can resolve.   Stay awake, Jesus says!  Stay awake not in grief or dread but awake, alert to God’s presence and our part in building his kingdom.  Stay awake, sure that you are kept firm in Him until the end.

Action
On September 9, join Catholics around the country praying and acting for peace, unity, and racial justice.  In the words of a prayer of the faithful for the day: “For the grace to see every human being as a child of God, regardless of race, language or culture, let us pray to the Lord.  For the courage to have difficult conversations about racism, and for a better appreciation of how our words and actions – or even our silence – can impact our communities, let us pray to the Lord.”  http://usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/racism/index.cfm 

[i]Billy Mills, Christina Torres, Ashley Hicks, Et Al. — Running as Spiritual Practice,    http://www.onbeing.org/program/billy-mills-christina-torres-ashley-hicks-et-al-running-as-spiritual-practice/8878

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Under the Fig Tree


Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” John 1:49-51

Piety
"Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God." Matthew 5:8.
 
The purity of Bartholomew allowed him to immediately see and recognize the Lord when introduced by Philip.  Lord, allow us to see you more clearly and love you unconditionally like you love us.   

Study
“Here is a true child of Israel.
There is no duplicity in him.”

With such a strong characterization and pronouncement by Jesus, it is hard to believe that we do not have more content about Nathaniel/Bartholomew in the New Testament.  If he was incapable of deceit, Jesus did not dwell on St. Bartholomew’s virtues but rather focused on the flaws of the Pharisees and scribes who needed to change their evil (or at least selfish) ways.

Beyond the scene in today’s reading from John Chapter 1, we meet up with Nathanael of Cana one more time in John 21 (the last book) when Jesus grills fresh fish for the “last breakfast.”  After being hidden away in the Upper Room, six disciples went out with Peter to literally go fishing.  None of this “fisher of men” symbolism.  They went back to their comfort zone –- fishing -- even this man from Cana who had “no duplicity in him.”

But Nathaniel was lacking "duplicity" - that is, his heart was undivided, his intentions pure - his openness to reality was always ready to recognize and surrender to the truth when he encountered it. He remained open to his friend Phillip's invitation to "Come and see (1:46)."[i]

Nathanael did indeed see great things that morning when the disciples recognized the risen Christ on the shore. The first Epiphany may have come to the Magi.  The second Epiphany came to Nathanael in the scene of today’s reading.  The last one came to the seven fishermen.

Who was there:  Bartholomew or Nathanael? 

We are confronted again with the fact that we know almost nothing about most of the apostles. Yet the unknown ones were also foundation stones, the 12 pillars of the new Israel whose 12 tribes now encompass the whole earth. Their personalities were secondary (without thereby being demeaned) to their great office of bearing tradition from their firsthand experience, speaking in the name of Jesus, putting the Word made flesh into human words for the enlightenment of the world. Their holiness was not an introverted contemplation of their status before God. It was a gift that they had to share with others. The Good News was that all are called to the holiness of being Christ’s members, by the gracious gift of God.

The simple fact is that humanity is totally meaningless unless God is its total concern. Then humanity, made holy with God’s own holiness, becomes the most precious creation of God.[ii]

Bartholomew/Nathanael sets himself apart from the Pharisees and scribes with his authenticity and honesty that allows nothing to come between his eyes and the Lord. 

Action
When have you been face-to-face with the Truth like Bartholomew/Nathanael?  How did you react? 

There are some who might deny the truth.  Pope Francis addressed this in his Encyclical on the environment called Laudato Si’ (“Be praised” or “Praise be to you”)—a line from the Canticle of the Sun by St. Francis of Assisi.

The letter is addressed to all people who share our common home and specifically addresses Care for creation -- something that is close to his heart.  Pope Francis believes that there are significant ecological problems today that need to be addressed. They include not only problems in the natural environment but also in the human sphere, particularly among the poorest. The issues include:
  1. Pollution and climate change
  2. The issue of water
  3. Loss of biodiversity (i.e., the extinction of plants, animals, etc.)
  4. Decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society
  5. Global inequality
However, some people would like to deny the truth about what is happening – a cause for more evangelization, not less. 

Concerning the idea that the climate is getting warmer, in general, the pope writes:

A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes in lifestyle, production, and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it [LS 23].

The pope thus sees there as being “a very solid scientific consensus” regarding the idea of global warming.  Human activity, however, is only one factor in causing this.

"Nature" is giving us some graphic lessons in this just recently. There are devastating floods in Louisiana and rampaging fires in California, burning much more extensively because of a multi-year drought. And although I'm well aware that we cannot definitely link specific weather events to climate change, the extent of these disasters suggests that climate change is indeed playing a role -- at least in their size and scope. A wake-up call perhaps?[iii]

How did you react to reading Laudato Si’?   

Monday, August 22, 2016

Encourage Your Hearts

James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

By Melanie Rigney

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

Say among the nations: The Lord is king. (Psalm 96:10)

“Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup so that the outside also may be clean.” (Matthew 23:26)

Piety
Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love; in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions. Thoroughly wash away my guilt; and from my sin cleanse me. (Psalm 51:3-4)

Study
Who doesn’t love a fun flirt, a sweet crush, a mild infatuation? We stand straighter, dress better, and perhaps are wittier in hopes of capturing the other person’s attention. We try to appear to be more than we know we are.

And then life goes on. Nothing materializes, and we return to being ourselves. Or something does materialize. And the more time we spend with the other person, we realize that we idealized him or her, and start to learn about habits that annoy us. And we go back to being ourselves because being that person we were during the flirtation simply takes too much effort. Slowly, we reveal the inside of the cup, clean or otherwise… and hope we’ll be loved anyway. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. But we delude ourselves into thinking the more attractive we are on the outside, the longer it will take for the other person to find out about some of the dregs within.

With God, it’s a different story. He knows all about us, inside and out… and loves us as we are. It’s real love, love built to last if we’re willing to embrace it. That said, we know loving God isn’t effortless, anymore than loving a family member or friend or complete stranger is. It takes patience and sacrifice. It takes striving to become what the Lord knows we can be, whether we’re in the midst of tragedy and sorrow, amazing joy, or, as we often find ourselves, somewhere in between. It is made easier by the gifts described in today’s first reading, the grace that encourages our hearts and strengthens them as we find the courage and faith to cleanse the inside of the cup.

Action
Pray for the awareness today of the ways in which the Lord is encouraging and strengthening your heart.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Trying to Enter


We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, as is fitting, because your faith flourishes ever more, and the love of every one of you for one another grows ever greater. 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. 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “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

From A Prayer For The Queenship Of The Blessed Virgin Mary
O Mary Immaculate Queen, look down upon this distressed and suffering world. Thou knows our misery and our weakness. O Thou who art our Mother, saving us in the hour of peril, have compassion on us in these days of great and heavy trial. Amen. 

Study

The Church fathers offer up a study in contrasts today for the Feast of the Queenship of Mary. The chosen Gospel reading strikes me (IMHO) as an odd choice indeed by the Magisterium. 

The seven “woes” are directed against the scribes and Pharisees accusing them of the hypocrisy in the difference between their speech and action (Mt 23:3) and in demonstrations of piety that have no other purpose than to enhance their reputation as religious persons.

From the Assumption on August 15 through the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15, we have a chance to focus on what we can learn from Mary about how to form our lives.  We mark the memorial of the fifth Glorious Mystery within the octave of the Assumption.  The memorial gives us pause to reflect instead on the different role that Mary of Nazareth plays in Sacred Scripture and in our faith life from that of the scribes and Pharisees.  The evangelists presented Mary as the Most Holy Virgin Mary – a model of perfection in each quality for the whole Church to follow:
  • Humble (Luke 1:48)
  • Obedient (Luke 1:38; 2:21-2, 27)
  • Pure (Mt. 1:18, 20, 23; Luke 1:27,34)
  • Prudent (Luke 2:19, 51)
  • Faithful (Luke 1:45; Jn 2:5)
  • Devout (Luke 1:46-7; Acts 1:14)
  • Poor (Luke 2:7)
  • Patient (John 19:25)
  • Merciful (Luke 1:39, 56)
  • Sorrowful (Luke 2:35)

During his Sunday homily for the 9 am Mass at the Church of the Nativity, Fr. Bill Korpi reminded many of us older Catholics about one of the first lessons we memorized in the Baltimore Catechism.  Technically, it was question 6.  The answer we recall foreshadowed the Cursillo tripod we would learn much later in life: “God made me to know Him (study), to love Him (piety), and to serve Him in this world (action), and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.” God was so committed to this path that God sent his only son to do exactly that.  Mary was the perfect disciple.  However, the Pharisees were the exact opposite of perfect disciples and this brought down the woes of the world on their own shoulders. Jesus existed to show us the way through the narrow gate.  The Pharisees instead, blocked us.  “Nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.” 

Humble and obedient Mary opens the narrow gate for our piety, study, and
action.  She wants to help us through.  How?  Well, Fr. Bill’s other enduringly memorable image of the Church recalls those amusement park signs about who could get on this best rides.  You had to be taller than a certain metric to get on.  Jesus, however, reminds us that we have to be like children to get into heaven.  Rather than waiting to grow up, Fr. Bill reminds us that to be like a child, most of us will have to get down on our knees to get through the narrow gate that Jesus and Mary are holding open for us.

Action

Are you trying to enter?  If so, consider how (like Mary) you will help those who do not have the means to get through – like the children of Syria who are being terrorized, maimed and killed by their own leaders.

According to CRS, as Syria marks five years since the beginning of its brutal civil war, Catholic Relief Services has supported over one million people affected by the conflict.

“The scale of the suffering is devastating,” said Kevin Hartigan, CRS Regional Director for Europe and the Middle East, who has overseen the response for the past four years “but as Pope Francis reminds us, there are human faces behind the staggering statistics.  Each of the millions of displaced Syrians is an individual uprooted from a full life, a family member, a loved one.”
The war has led to the displacement of more than 11 million people. That’s more than half the country’s pre-war population. And that number continues to grow every day.

Syria’s neighboring countries—JordanLebanon, Turkey and Egypt—have reached a breaking point, with some 4.1 million refugees crossing their borders. Lebanon alone has more than 1.2 million refugees, the highest number per capita in the world.

The needs of Syrian refugees are basic: food, shelter, and medical care.  You can help with a gift through CRS and also by speaking up on behalf of these war refugees.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Open the Door for Us


By Diane Bayne

Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”  He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.  After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’  He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’  Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.  Depart from me, all you evildoers!’  And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out...(Luke 13:23-29)

Piety
For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”  (Luke 13: 30)

Study
What a shock it must have been for the apostles to hear these words from Jesus!  As good, lifelong Jews, they assumed that they would be assured of admittance to the kingdom of God and that it is the Gentiles who will be refused admittance. 

According to New Testament Commentator William Barclay, here Jesus is clearly declaring that entry to the kingdom can never be automatic but is the result and the reward of struggle.  Barclay points out that the word for striving is the word from which the English word agony is derived.  Says Barclay, “. .the struggle to enter (the kingdom) must be so intense that it can be described as an agony of soul and spirit. . . The Christian way is like a climb up a mountain pathway towards a peak which will never be reached in this world. . . for the Christian, life is ever an upward and onward way.”  Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, p. 183. 

Action
The theme that the Christian way is always an uphill struggle is reiterated by many Christian authors.  In a recent book, Rediscovering Jesus, Matthew Kelly declares that “Everybody has a gap to close. . . and it’s a big gap. . . an obvious gap. . . (it’s) a gaping hole in my life and the life Jesus invites me to live in the Gospel.”  (Rediscovering Jesus, Matthew Kelly, pp. 112-113.)  According to Kelly, the only way we can close this gap is by getting close to Jesus.  Kelly then proceeds to list four actions by which all who call themselves Christians can close this gap:

1) Read the four Gospels, over and over, for fifteen minutes each day.

2) Practice The Prayer Process–a process to help you enter into a daily conversation with Jesus

3) Deny yourself.  Find a handful of small ways to deny yourself each day.

4) Practice spontaneous prayer.  Talk to Jesus about the events of your day as they are unfolding. 

Says Kelly, “Our lives change when our habits change. God uses new habits to transform us.  These four habits will have a beautiful and radical impact on your life if you allow them to sink their roots deep into your life.   So begin now.  This is a fresh start.  Be bold. Resist any temptation to put it off.  Close the Gap.  Begin it now.”  (Kelly, p. 115)

In the language of Jesus: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. . . For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Or, to put it another way– and in the language of Cursillo: ULTREYA!  Onward and Upward! Old age is not for Sissies–and neither is following Christ. 

Here I Will Dwell

Memorial of Saint Bernard, Abbot, and Doctor of the Church

Then I heard someone speaking to me from the temple, while the man stood beside me. 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 43:6-7AB

Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. Matthew 23:3-5A

Piety
Near indeed is his salvation for those who fear him; glory will dwell in our land. Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss. Truth will spring from the earth; justice will look down from heaven. Yes, the LORD will grant his bounty; our land will yield its produce. Justice will march before him, and make a way for his footsteps. (Psalm 85:10-14)

Study
Near indeed.  Jesus wants to be as close as your immediate family. 

Ezekiel was rightly surprised that the Lord has chosen to move in next to him.  Maybe not more surprised than Mary of Nazareth, but surprised nonetheless.  Yet on a weekly (or daily basis), our celebration of the Mass is when Jesus says the same to us.  Here in you, I will dwell this week.  Open up and take me with you when you go forth in love and service.

If we open up, our Lord will come to us. Maranatha. 
20 hours ago

Action
When we think about the Lord dwelling with us, it is hard not to think of the tens of thousands of people in the Louisiana flood areas who have no place to dwell today.  The flooding in Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes is more extensive than anyone expected -- more than 40,000 homes have been damaged and more than 100,000 people have been affected.  Yet the news media is obsessed with covering the controversy of vandalism by swimmers in Rio. 

Our hearts break for Louisiana again – a state that is still rebuilding after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita more than ten years ago.  Schools and business and roads remain closed.  People must boil water before drinking it (if they have power to their stove). State Farm alone has more than 22,000 claims. 

Yesterday
You can chip in right now to help the Baton Rouge Area Foundation (http://www.braf.org/) or the Capital Area United Way (http://www.cauw.org/) in Baton Rouge.  These not-for-profit groups are among those which are doing critical work to provide medical assistance and supplies to the victims of this natural disaster and which are directing money to community non-profits that need it for the people who REALLY NEED HELP. United Way also has a list of the supplies they need to be donated to clean up. 

Near indeed.  

Thursday, August 18, 2016

I Will Put My Spirit in You


O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am the LORD. I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.  Ezekiel 37:12-14

“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. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”  Matthew 22:37-40

Piety
The Catholic Worker believes
in creating a new society
within the shell of the old
with the philosophy of the new,
which is not a new philosophy
but a very old philosophy,
a philosophy so old
that it looks like new.[i]

Study
God likes creating things.  Sometimes those things are brand, spanking new.  See Genesis.  Sometimes those new things are made out of something else entirely and changed.  See the water blush in the presence of its creator during the wedding reception at Cana.  Sometimes, those things are renewed from the shell of the old inside the body of something new.

The two commandments Jesus gives in Matthews Good News are really not new per se. The first commandment is based in the Hebrew Bible:

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

Neither is the second commandment new.  It too takes root in the Hebrew Bible:
“Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”  (Leviticus 19:18)

However, Jesus elevates these two with his teaching that they are first and second to none.  He takes something old and makes it new. This fulfills the kind of vision that is implied in the first reading. The notes to the New American Bible explain more about the Vision of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel as a figurative description of God’s creation of a new Israel.

Even though that creation begins with the remains of the old Israel, the exiles under the image of dry bones, depicting a totally hopeless situation, the new Israel is radically different: it is an ideal people, shaped by God’s spirit to live the covenant faithfully, something the old Israel, exiles included, were unable to do. While this passage in its present context is not about the doctrine of individual or communal resurrection, many Jewish and Christian commentators suggest that the doctrine is foreshadowed here.

A new Jerusalem is coming. Get ready for “a philosophy so old that it looks like new,” as Peter Maurin wrote in the Easy Essays which are neither easy nor in essay form (free verse poetry). This, when Jesus proclaims the Nazareth Manifesto in the temple, we feel the full force of that new creation possible when the Spirit of the Lord is put in us.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-21)

Action
Is it any wonder Jesus would like to take something old (like us) and make us new again?  What is possible when the Spirit of the Lord is put into each one of us?

If Jesus seeks to do that on the social level, the path toward that renewal is to change one person at a time. Change, Jesus asks us, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

To accomplish this, Jesus puts his Spirit in us every time we receive the sacraments and go out into the world to love and serve him and the people according to those two greatest commandments. 

[i] What the Catholic Worker Believes, http://www.easyessays.org/

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Prove My Holiness

By Beth DeCristofaro
Thus says the LORD: I will prove the holiness of my great name, profaned among the nations, in whose midst you have profaned it. Thus the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when in their sight I prove my holiness through you. (Ezekiel 36: 22-23)
“The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast … 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: 2, 11-14)
Piety
A clean heart create for me, God;
renew within me a steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me from before your face,
nor take from me your holy spirit.
Restore to me the gladness of your salvation;
uphold me with a willing spirit.
I will teach the wicked your ways,
that sinners may return to you. (Psalm 51:12-15
Study
YouTube® videos display people, perhaps even a bride and groom, misbehaving and acting inappropriately at weddings.  Cringe-worthy photos, dirty-dance contests, and excessive drinking disrespect the sacredness of the event.  A friend of mine admitted with amusement and a touch of pride that his mother smacked an aunt in her face during the wedding feast of a cousin.
Thomas Merton speaks of God’s presence being manifest in all beings who are true to their nature: “But this sadness generates within me an unspeakable reverence for the holiness of created things, for they are pure and perfect and they belong to God and they are mirrors of His beauty.  He is mirrored in all things like sunlight in clean water: but if I try to drink the light that is in the water I only shatter the reflection.”[i]
God is proved to the world through the fickle, idol-worshiping Chosen People.  God is proved to the world through me.  Did the wedding guest refuse to mirror God even when he was given garments to wear?  Jesus, through his cross and resurrection, gave us garments of charity, faith, love, and virtues which flow from the Spirit indwelling?
Action
Wisdom,  Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, Fortitude, Fear of the Lord, Piety  Refresh by reading up.  http://www.loyolapress.com/our-catholic-faith/scripture-and-tradition/catholic-basics/catholic-beliefs-and-practices/gifts-of-the-holy-spirit   
Practice one today – perhaps by intentionally doing Spiritual or Corporal Works of Mercy.  Manifest God.  Prove to the world which hurts so deeply the holiness of God.

[i] “A Year with Thomas Merton:  Daily Readings from His Journals”, T. Merton and Jonathan Montaldo, Harper one, 2004, p. 259.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

For You Are with ME


Thus says the Lord GOD: I swear I am coming against these shepherds. I will claim my sheep from them and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep so that they may no longer pasture themselves. I will save my sheep, that they may no longer be food for their mouths. For thus says the Lord GOD:  I myself will look after and tend my sheep. Ezekiel 34:10-11

So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘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?’  Matthew 20:10-16

Piety
A psalm of David.
I
The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.
II
You set a table before me in front of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of the LORD for endless days.

Study
Psalm 23 outlines things that the generosity that Lord shows to the believer:[i]
  1. A sheep fed. “I shall not want” (verse 1).
  2. A child led. “He leads me beside the still waters” (verse 2).
  3. A backslider restored. “He restores my soul” (verse 3).
  4. A friend comforted. “your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (verse 4).
  5. A warrior feasted. “You prepare a table before me” (verse 5).
  6. A priest anointed. “you anoint my head” (verse 5).
  7. A pilgrim housed. “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (verse 6).
However, despite the fact that we want to believe the pastoral roots of sunshine, warm grass and happiness, there is something more serious that takes place inside this Psalm.  Check out the very different setting for verse four:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

It is easy to imagine that the Lord laying down beside us when we relax in the summer grass at the side of the river or on the beach.  Yet, the real test of the disciple is when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  If we realize that the Lord stays with us there, then we shall truly be His apostles.

Yet too often we miss its core message. There is an abrupt transition in verse four that takes us from a nice Hallmark field to the valley of the shadow of death. It’s easy to skip this part as gloom and despair don’t necessarily fit alongside a beautiful green meadow.  But it’s this valley that provides the key message of Psalm 23.

God does lead us to good places, but the road often winds through dark valleys. Pain and hardship are a part of life and it is in these moments when God reveals Himself most powerfully.  Notice what else changes in verse four.  For the first part of the Psalm David speaks of God only in the third person; “He leads me.”  But after the valley there is a powerful change.  The psalmist no longer speaks about God; now He directly speaks to Him, saying, “You are with me.” Pain is difficult, yet it is often the trigger that leads us to spiritual intimacy.[ii]

Whether we turn to Isaiah or Micah or John, the image of God that shines through is a God who is with us through thick and thin.  He wants to walk with us.

Action
Where is your road leading today?  Who is with you?

Last week, legendary New Orleans clarinetist Pierre Dewey “Pete” Fountain, Jr., (1930-2016) died.  Although there are many Dixieland, jazz and honky-tonk tunes he performed that will remain in my mind, at the top of that list is this one (“Just A Closer Walk with Thee”):

  1. I am weak, but Thou art strong;
    Jesus, keep me from all wrong;
    I’ll be satisfied as long
    As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.
    • Refrain:
      Just a closer walk with Thee,
      Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
      Daily walking close to Thee,
      Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.
  2. Through this world of toil and snares,
    If I falter, Lord, who cares?
    Who with me my burden shares?
    None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee.
  3. When my feeble life is o’er,
    Time for me will be no more;
    Guide me gently, safely o’er
    To Thy kingdom shore, to Thy shore.
Songs like this unite the image of God from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament – a God who wants to be so close to us he sends his only son to live with us, walk with us, talk with us, and love us.  All he wants is for us – no matter what path we are on now – is to get on the same path to live with Him, walk with Him, talk with Him and love Him.

Through the valley of the shadow of death, through this world of toil and snares, Jesus shares our burdens with us. Daily. Amazing. Grace.

Monday, August 15, 2016

What Will There Be for Us?


By Melanie Rigney

Because you have thought yourself to have the mind of a god, therefore I will bring against you foreigners, the most barbarous of nations. They shall draw their swords against your beauteous wisdom, they shall run them through your splendid apparel. They shall thrust you down to the pit, there to die a bloodied corpse, in the heart of the sea. Will you then say, “I am a god!” when you face your murderers? (Ezekiel 28:6-9)

It is I who deal death and give life. (Deuteronomy 32:39c)

Then Peter said to him in reply, “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27)

Piety
Lord, may I always keep You front and center in my life, for you are all I need.

Study
Heinrich Hofmann [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
You know how your favorite scripture reading can change from time to time, depending on where you are on your spiritual journey and what joys and challenges life is tossing at you? Well, right now, at this particular juncture, it’s Matthew 19:27 I find myself turning to again and again:

Then Peter said to him in reply: “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?”

Everything indeed, it must have seemed to them then: time with their families. Time spent on fishing, tax collecting, and the other activities that had consumed them. Independence and security and perhaps a bit of ego. Logical, then, to ask what they were going to get in return since Jesus had just said those with riches would have to give them away to follow him.

Do you ever feel like you too have given up everything to follow Him? I do—time, talent, and treasure. I’m not complaining, just stating what it looks like to me. And when His next desire for me manifests itself, I find myself asking like Peter, “Really? Do you want more? How can I do more? You already have everything. When do I get something back?”

Then sanity and faith prevail… and I pick up that cross, sometimes daily or even hourly, and give up more… time with silly computer games. A tendency to talk first and think second. Doughnuts in the morning.

And my prayer becomes, “Jesus, I trust in You… regardless of any tangible result, there may be here on earth.”

Action
Just for today, do what the Lord desires, remember that what’s in it for you is peace and the promise of eternal life to the faithful.