Tuesday, January 17, 2017

To Save Life

It is even more obvious if another priest is raised up after the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become so, not by a law expressed in a commandment concerning physical descent but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. For it is testified: You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.  Hebrews 7:15-17

"Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?" But they remained silent. Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, Jesus said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out and his hand was restored. Mark 3:4-5

Firefighter's Prayer

When I am called to duty, God, wherever flames may rage,
Give me strength to save a life, whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child before it is too late,
Or save an older person from the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert, and hear the weakest shout,
Quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling, to give the best in me,
To guard my friend and neighbor, and protect his property.
And if according to Your will I must answer death's call,
Bless with your protecting hand, my family one and all.

Jesus, like me, has a tendency to wears his emotions on his sleeve (or face in my case). Today, we witness Jesus, “…looking around at (the Pharisees) with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart.”  This scene plays out as another in a series of confrontations that St. Mark related within the first three chapters of his Good (?) News. 

Jesus has already forgiven the person who the Pharisees may see as the unforgivable (the paralytic man). Jesus has already accepted the persons whom the Pharisees see as the unacceptable (the tax collector and the sinners). How inappropriate! Compounding the offense at Mosaic Law, Jesus now goes to work on the Sabbath! For shame!

The healing is the most important action in today’s Gospel from the perspective of the man with the withered hand. However, something still deeper is happening here in addition to that powerful example.

In making his decision for action, Jesus uses a traditional rabbinical test: What is necessary “to save a life?” In the Hebrew Bible Book of Maccabees, the Jews were gearing up to fight the Gentiles. They decided to act (fight) on the Sabbath in order to preserve life (by not getting slaughtered by the invading Gentiles).  On that day they came to this decision: “Let us fight against anyone who attacks us on the sabbath, so that we may not all die as our kindred died in their secret refuges.” (1 Maccabees 2:41). 

Knowing that his audience would be familiar with this test, Jesus uses it as his basis for action and for setting up a New Order/Orthodoxy.  However, once again, the Pharisees are silent in the face of the question posed by Jesus.  Ironically, Jesus will not take on such silence until he stands before Herod on Good Friday.

The plot thickens.

Many people among us have professions which do not allow for Sabbath Rest.  Nurses. Firefighters. Doctors. Police officers. First Aid Squads.  These and many others have chosen professions which require work on the Sabbath.  Others have jobs which they have no choice but to work on the Sabbath. 

There used to be so-called Blue Laws that required business like shopping centers and car dealers to close on Sunday.  Challenges in the courts have made those obsolete. Sometimes, those are hardly considered life-or-death businesses.  When I worked as a car salesman in Lynn, Massachusetts, those blue laws were still in effect in 1979.  However, our boss required us to walk the lot for Sunday shoppers who come by because they thought they would not be badgered by a salesman. They were probably as surprised as the Pharisees watching Jesus cure the man with the withered hand in the temple on the Sabbath.

Keep these Sunday workers in your prayers and support them at every corner – like when your firefighter knocks for a contribution to buy a new truck or walks the hot street corners on Labor Day Weekend offering up his or her time to collect funds – not for fighting fires – but for fighting muscular dystrophy.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Inheriting the Promises

By Melanie Rigney

James Tissot. Disciples Eat Wheat on the
Sabbath (Brooklyn Museum)
Brothers and sisters: God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones. We earnestly desire each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of hope until the end, so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who, through faith and patience, are inheriting the promises. (Hebrews 6:10-12)

The Lord will remember his covenant for ever. (Psalm 111:5)

“The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)

“You must also tell the Israelites: Keep my sabbaths, for that is to be the sign between you and me throughout the generations, to show that it is I, the Lord, who make you holy. .. Six days there are for doing work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord.” (Exodus 31: 13, 15)

Sabbath. On the surface, this should be one of the easiest commandments to keep. Who doesn’t realize that the human mind and body need the kind of rest that is found only in time spent with the Lord?

But we get… itchy. There’s so much to do, in our families, in our parishes, in our other ministries, and our secular world obligations. Sure, we give lip service to the Fourth Commandment, but who really gets hurt if we skate around it a little? Just what kind of a parent are you if you’re not schlepping a talented child to Sunday sports practices? Just what kind of an employee (or boss) are you if you don’t check your phone frequently on Sundays? Just what kind of a sister or brother in Christ are you if you don’t attend that routine ministry meeting scheduled for Sunday because everyone is too busy on weekday evenings?

But here’s the thing. The Lord gave us the Sabbath to make us free—free so that we remember who it is who gave us life, to slow down and find peace and pleasure in Him. No, that doesn’t necessarily mean sitting in total silence for the entire day. But it does mean casting out the “to-do” list and obligations, even just for a few hours.

In his marvelous book Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, Wayne Muller observes:

Sabbath requires surrender. If we only stop when we are fished with all our work, we will never stop, because our work is never completely done. With every accomplishment, there arises a new responsibility… Sabbath dissolves the artificial urgency of our days because it liberates us from the need to be finished.

We can be a slave to our children, to our job, to our best intentions. Or we can acknowledge what Muller calls that “artificial urgency” of finishing what will never be finished… and dedicate ourselves to spending some quality time each week with the One who was with us in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. The choice is ours. It should be a simple one.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins tomorrow. Consider participating in activities… or spending some Sabbath time discussing faith with a non-Catholic Christian.

The Bridegroom with Them

Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God…  Hebrew 5:1-4B

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast. People came to Jesus and objected, "Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" Jesus answered them, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.  Matthew 2:18-19

In perhaps his only public sharing about his experience of God, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., told a story in his book Stride Toward Freedom, a story which took place in 1956 at his kitchen table and featured prominently a close moment with Christ.  King was in the middle of the Montgomery bus boycott and got a midnight phone call threatening his with death if he did not leave Montgomery in the next few days. He tells this story: 

I was ready to give up.  With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward.  In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God.  With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.

The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory.  “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right.  But now, I am afraid.  The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too ill falter.  I am at the end of my powers.  I have nothing left.  I have come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before.  It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.”  Almost at once, my fears began to go.  My uncertainty disappeared.  I was ready to face anything.  

Jesus’ most important work happens at the table.

Mark gets to the heart of the conflict between the Old-World Order and the New Jerusalem pretty quickly.  After most of the reading in the last week concentrated on the healing touch of Jesus, we have our third consecutive weekday with Jesus stirring up the Pharisees.

The stories pivoted from healing to conflict when the friends lowered the paralytic man through the roof to be touched by the Lord.  The Pharisees objected to the language Jesus used in forgiving sins. Then, in the Good News for Saturday, we studied the conflict when Jesus sat down to eat with the reformed tax collector Matthew/Levi (and other sinners).  Today, in another dinner scene, the Pharisees inquiring minds want to know why the disciples do not follow the traditional ritual fasting.  At least crazy John in the camel hair coat and his disciples obeyed these rules.

Later in Mark 7, the scribes object to disciples who eat with unclean hands. Then, in chapter 8, Jesus begins the table miracles with the feeding of the four thousand.  Finally, in Chapter 14, the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. 

Randall S. Frederick, managing editor and creative director for The Hillhurst Review, wrote for the website Theology & the City, a paper titled “Table Fellowship as Expressed in the Gospel of Mark.”  His theory:

The matter is not one of hygiene, but of social stability. In the minds of this group [of Pharisees], the disciples are enemies of social stability; the disciples threaten the fabric of Jewish nationalism. There is certainly an emphasis on what is “clean” and “unclean,” that is, the dietary codes and laws of the Torah. Indeed, these two words show up no less than thirteen times in the Gospel of Mark and their usage has as much socio-political implication as it does spiritual. [i]

This is about more than just dietary practices, fellowship, and fasting.  As Frederick describes, table theology then focuses on those ways in which Jesus is offering the opportunity for people to unite. Not politically, not in religious belief or practice, but through something as familiar, as simple, and as community-building as a meal. He invites those on the borderlands of his society to come together, to reconcile, and to share a meal together – washed hands or not.

Table fellowship is used to convey Jesus’ idea of the Kingdom of God as a place of community-building instead of a place of division until he celebrates the ultimate sharing meal on his final Passover.

Today, we celebrate the life and actions of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., high priest of the civil rights movement.  Dr. King also used the image of table fellowship to find a place of community-building instead of division in his most famous speech.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

As Cursillstas who use table fellowship as a cornerstone of our weekend experience, we would do well to sit down with the “others” in our lives and get to know them, to eat with them, to share stories with them and find common ground. To hear their stories and humanize them over a meal would bring to bear all of the things Jesus does in his ministry, towards reconciling the world.

Yes...Jesus does his most important work at tables. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

God’s Footprints

By Beth DeCristofaro

The LORD said to me: You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory. (Isaiah 39:3)

Paul,…to the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. (1 Corinthians 1:1-2)

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, 'A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.' (John 1:29-30)

Jesus is announced and revered in so many ways:  Servant, Lord, Christ, Lamb, the one who took away sin, existent before, is also the glory of God present.  And the heralds, prophets, evangelists tell us that we, too, are called to be holy because he has come before and given us a new life of grace in God.  In the face of such a mighty call to action, it is helpful to remember that His presence is even in the little things of our lives such as kindness, respect, giving.  Those little things are sacred fabric because the Lamb is also our Shepherd.

Poet Rabindranath Tagore put the mystery of our mundane into verse:

GUESTS OF my life,
You came in the early dawn, and you in the night,
Your name was uttered by the Spring flowers and yours by the showers of rain.
You brought the harp into my house and you brought the lamp.
After you had taken your leave I found God's footprints on my floor.
Now when I am at the end of my pilgrimage I leave in the evening flowers of worship my salutations to you all.[i]

In these unsettling times, I picture the Lamb of God coming, reminding me of His call to me, His servant.  Look at the floor of your own life to see and be grateful for those who left God’s footprints.  To whom do you bring footprints of God?  Be gratified, be generous, and leave God’s footprints, show God’s glory, everywhere you step today. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Sharper Than Any Two-Edged Sword

Calling of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio

The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account. Hebrews 4:12-13

While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus heard this and said to them, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." Mark 2:15-17

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone?
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.

I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why you'd think He's talking straight to you and me.

All week long, we have had example after example of Jesus’ healing touch.  With the call of Matthew/Levi and the following dinner at this new follower’s house, the narrative now starts to turn and bring into the account of the inevitable conflicts with the Pharisees that will add rising tension throughout Ordinary Time until it ends in the Passion and then resurrects on Easter morning.

The passage from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews really sets up the dichotomy.  Christ’s word is living and effective in calling sinners like the hated tax collector who is willing to change and get on the path to follow Jesus. Levi cuts his ties to his recent past evil practices.  However, no creatures duplicity is able to hide from the perceptive eye of the Lord.  Not even nor especially that of the Pharisees and their dangling tassels that hassle the people.

Jesus cuts down the cords to those tassel-wearing Pharisees with a saying that is sharper than any two-edged light saber.  The healthy do not need a physician.  This silenced his critics who on the surface objected to Jesus eating with Rome’s dreaded tax collectors and Israel’s unworthy sinners.  But is cut deeper still.  Because the scribes and Pharisees were so outright self-righteous, Jesus could see that they were not capable of responding to Jesus’ call to repentance and faith in the gospel like Matthew/Levi or Peter or the many people of genuine faith whom Jesus touched in the readings throughout this week.

How will you provide Jesus’ touch on this cold, dark and wet winter day? Even though you may not go out in volunteerism, you could call someone who is shut-in by circumstances.  You could clean out those closets and dressers and donate items to A Wider Circle or a local thrift shop.  If that is too much, then just wear some black in the spirit of the blind, the lame, the imprisoned and the less fortunate. Why, you'd think He's talking straight to you and me?!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Seeking Jesus

By Colleen O’Sullivan

They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.  Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him.  After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”  Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, “Why does this man speak that way?  He is blaspheming.  Who but God alone can forgive sins?”  Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, “rise, pick up your mat and walk?’  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth” - he said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” (Mark 2:3-11)

Lord, may I always be as persistent in seeking you out as this paralyzed man and his friends.

James Tissot (French, 1836-1902).
The Palsied Man Let Down through the Roof
(Le paralytique descendu du toit), 1886-1896,
Brooklyn Museum of Art, Public Domain
As I was pondering today’s Gospel reading, it struck me how often in the Gospels people have trouble getting to Jesus.  Here, as in many other instances, Jesus is surrounded by swarms of people, both inside this house in Capernaum and all around the building outside.   Later in his Gospel (5:25-34), Mark tells the story of a woman suffering greatly from hemorrhages.  Again, Jesus is surrounded by a crowd, but, in desperation, she reaches out and manages to just touch the hem of his robe, immediately experiencing healing.  On another day, Luke (18:35-43) tells the story of a blind man begging by the side of the road.  He cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.”  Jesus’ entourage tells him to be quiet, not to bother their leader.  They want Jesus to keep on going.  Fortunately, Jesus is more compassionate than they are and stops to talk with and heal this poor, suffering man. 

And happily for the paralyzed man in today’s reading, he has some very good, persistent friends.  They know how much this man believes that if he can just get to Jesus, he will be healed.  So, they size up the situation.  No way can they risk having him jostled by the throng of people gathered outside.  But they are determined, so they decide to lift the man, stretcher and all, to the roof, break through and put him down right in front of the Lord.  He is exactly where he wants and needs to be, in Jesus’ presence.  The Lord forgives the man’s sins and then, to try and prove a point to the scribes in the crowd, goes on and gives the man the ability to get up, move around and walk again.

There is much in this story to consider.  The scribes may have been the learned men of their day, but if they had to take a test based on logical thinking, they would fail miserably.  If, as they assert, only God can forgive sin, they are totally missing the “then” part of this “If, then” equation.  They are in the very presence of God, but their lack of insight keeps them from taking in the truth.

Jesus asks them which is easier – to forgive sin or to heal someone of physical infirmity?  The question that occurs to me isn’t that one; rather, which is the type of healing I most desire.  As we are reminded every month at the diocesan healing Mass, the only kind of healing anyone is assured of is inner healing or forgiveness.  A broken leg, heart problems, cancer – none of those have to keep you from Jesus.  But if your heart isn’t in the right place, that can be a major impediment to being close to the Lord.

It isn’t generally hordes of people who keep us from Jesus.  It’s the busyness of our lives, the refusal to set aside time to sit in the Lord’s presence or to pray.  It’s still very early in the year and not too late to make a resolution to set aside a block of time every single day to be with Jesus in prayer.

Sometimes we hesitate to approach Jesus because our sins leave us feeling ashamed and unworthy.  But I can’t think of a single instance in the Gospels where Jesus turned his back on anyone who sincerely wanted his help.  Our Lord is compassionate, merciful and forgiving, so seek him out and unburden yourself.

Partners Through All

By Beth DeCristofaro

Healing Power by Lee Hodges
Encourage yourselves daily while it is still "today," so that none of you may grow hardened by the deceit of sin. We have become partners of Christ if only we hold the beginning of the reality firm until the end. (Hebrews 3:13-14)

A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and said to him,  "I do will it. Be made clean. The leprosy left him immediately, and he was  made clean." (Mark 1:40-42)

Lord, be my Partner, be my Shepherd, make me Clean.  May I find still waters of peace and green pastures of hope glimmering in my spirit even when I am lost in the valley of hurt and death.  May mercy and kindness follow me and may I offer them to others along my way.  May I live with you daily and forever. Amen (Based on Psalm 23)

There is just so much in this Gospel.  The leap of trust made by the leper who begs, “make me clean” and Jesus, God, was moved.  Then there is the JOY!  Of course this man spread the word about his healing!  Who wouldn’t!  When the last round of chemo is complete, when the cast is finally taken off, when the surgical sutures are removed are we overjoyed?  There is a need for celebration.  And, of course, this leper who was exiled from the human company was restored to his rightful place as a man in the neighborhood and religious community.

Because I work in healthcare I sometimes wonder about the many people who were not cured by Jesus.  Perhaps they could not reach Him because of their infirmity.  Perhaps they were on the fringe of the crowd just too far to ask for a cure.  Perhaps they were their own obstacle due to fear, vacillation or even disbelief.  Were those people not worthy?  Today people hear of new cancer cures and can be disastrously disappointed when the cure won’t work for them.  Or one person survives a gunshot while the person next to them does not.  A baby is born in perfect health yet in the next room a baby clings to life due to microcephaly.    Are they not worthy of healing?  Our humanness begs “heal me,” “make me clean”.

In Paul’s letter his words to hold firm, to stay loyal as “partners of Christ if only we hold the beginning of the reality firm until the end” gives me some insights.  It not only takes the leap of faith but hard work to stay firm on our walk with Christ.  We don’t earn the partnership but we can lose it by filling ourselves with distractions, sin, false ideals and not leaving room for our divine partner.  Importantly, staying firm until the end implies to me that there is a much bigger reality, a spiritual reality to which we can be loyal.  Being a partner of Christ is not dependent on our health, our beauty or lack of it, our status in life or financial state.  Being Christ’s partner is for the long haul - the eternity to which He calls us.  “Encourage yourselves daily while it is still today” no matter the struggle, the complacency or the suffering which make up normal, daily, human existence.  Turning from him to worldly promises is not the fulfillment of joy, community or healing He offers. Christ is in partnership with us and he is ready to heal our immortal soul.

Jesus, God and Man, was moved by the leper and is moved by our plight.  He promises partnership with us.  What causes me to be discouraged and turn away from Him?  When do I take out my disappointments, my leprosy, on others?  Encourage others and yourself today – the Lord is moved by them and moved by you, loving and healing equally.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Waited on Them

Because he himself was tested through what he suffered,
he is able to help those who are being tested.
Hebrews 2:18

On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.
  Mark 1:29-31

Precious Lord, take my hand,
lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.

Through the storm, through the night,
lead me on to the light;
take my hand, precious Lord,
lead me home.
(Precious Lord, words and music by Thomas A. Dorsey)

Jesus has quite the bedside manner.  From the pebble dropped in the water of curing Peter’s mother-in-law, his service ripples out to healing people across Capernaum and beyond.

Peter’s mother-in-law had an equal impact.  After she was healed, she served the Lord as did many who, like her, were healed.

Jesus chose to become one of us, to share in this messy world where illness, violence, hatred and indifference toward each other abound.  He took the hand of many in trouble to pull them through.  The more you think about it, the greater the mystery of it all.  Why would God’s Son, who could have remained with his Father in the comfort of their heavenly realm, want to be with us?  We don’t love God like we ought to. We don’t love each other like we should.  We don’t even always know how to love ourselves.  It’s a mystery why Jesus didn’t count equality with God the thing he would hold onto but instead was willing to become like you and me and suffer all the ills we human beings are subject to.  It’s the mystery of divine love.  In order to save us from the mess we’ve created, Jesus entered the fray of human existence.  It could only be Love.

It’s Love who takes us by the hand when we’re laid low by sin, or illness or despair.  It’s Love who raises us up and restores us to the community.  It’s Love who gives us strength to get back on our feet to serve one another in Christ’s name.

I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.

When was the last time you found yourself flat on your back, unable to move?  Lost your job.  Realized how much you hurt a loved one.  Discovered your marriage was over when your spouse walked out.  Admitted you had committed a grievous sin.  Received an ominous medical diagnosis.

Fill in the blank, because we’ve all been there.  Maybe you’re there today.  If so, cry out to the Lord of Love.  He will hear your call.  He will take your hand, raise you up, and your life will go on.

In return, God seeks our service.  We are not here simply to follow someone else. Being part of something good does not automatically make us good. What we do with our own lives is the measure of their value. We are here to learn to take ourselves and each other in hand, in service.

Monday, January 09, 2017

A New Teaching with Authority

By Melanie Rigney

For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering. (Hebrews 2:10)

You have given your Son rule over the works of your hands. (Psalm 8:7)

All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” (Mark 1:27)

Jesus, I am powerless over the demon-like forces that threaten me. Command them to obey… and give me the faith to obey You as well.

“What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits.” It was the title of an album in my formative years, and the concept still rings so true.
  • The vice of wrath in what may seem a perfectly appropriate situation can become insidious, leading to a habit of bitterness.
  • The vice of overindulgence in sugar, alcohol, or a million other things in which we overindulge can become overpowering, leading to a habit of focus to the exclusion of all else on our next fix.
  • The vice of self-flagellation over something we truly did have control over and messed up royally can erode our self-respect and dignity, leading to a habit in which we set up our ineptitude as a false god.

Sometimes demonic forces come into our lives full grown and powerful, and it is those rare cases that exorcism may be the only solution. But so much of the time, evil starts out small in our live and relatively easy to resist. The more power we give the devil, the more power he is happy to take.  Regardless of how much power we cede before we realize what we have done, the New Teaching Authority is always there to show us His love… and drive them out in the Father’s name. May we have the faith to ask for that help… and to obey as the purification is under way.

Identify some small vices in your life that are becoming habits. Talk with Jesus about ways to command their removal. Consider reading Elizabeth Scalia’s Little Sins Mean a Lot: Kicking Our Bad Habits Before They Kick Us, either by buying a copy or getting one at your local library.

A Light for the Nations

I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness. Is 42:6-7

After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Matthew 3:16-17


Initiation.  We are on our first day out of the Christmas season into “ordinary” time and on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, an ordinary day it is. 

Most of my generation of so-called cradle Catholics will never remember our baptism because it occurred before our first birthday.  We will remember the baptism of our children and grandchildren and those initiated at the Easter Vigil Mass when we renew the promises made for us at the intersection of the altar and the Baptismal fountain.

That day, we were initiated into the ranks of priest, prophet and king.  We get a sense of what that means in the words of Isaiah.  We were initiated into an activist religion.  Isaiah reminds us that it was the words from the Hebrew Bible that made up the Nazareth manifesto when Jesus publicly declared his mission.

Once we are in the grasp of the Lord, it is up to us to open the eyes of the blind, to free those who are imprisoned by society and sin, and to light the world with virtue.  When we do that, the heavens will open and the voice will proclaim that we, too, are beloved and pleasing to the Lord.

An article appearing in U.S. Catholic magazine by Jim Forest recounts the lessons he learned from Dorothy Day.  “We feed the hungry, yes,” she said. “We try to shelter the homeless and give them clothes, but there is strong faith at work; we pray. If an outsider who comes to visit us doesn’t pay attention to our prayings and what that means, then he’ll miss the whole point.”

Forest writes:

…Dorothy Day taught me that justice is not just a project for the government, do-good agencies, or radical movements designing a new social order in which all the world’s problems will be solved. It’s for you and me, here and now, right where we are.

Jesus did not say “Blessed are you who give contributions to charity” or “Blessed are you who are planning a just society.” He said, “Welcome into the Kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world, for I was hungry and you fed me.”[i]

Once initiated, Jesus showed us the path.  As Dorothy Day said, “We are here to celebrate him through these works of mercy.”  Christ has left himself with us both in the Eucharist and in those in need. “What you did to the least person, you did to me.

“Where will you find the face of Christ today? On the Metro?  In the car weaving in front of you on the Beltway?  In the emergency room or the birthing room? 

Remember the Ideal talk on your weekend.  Our Ideal is reflected in how we spend our time, talent and treasure.  As Jim Forest reminds us in his U.S. Catholic article, “Change begins not in the isolated dramatic gesture or the petition signed but in the ordinary actions of life, how I live minute to minute, what I do with my life, what I notice, what I respond to, the care and attention with which I listen, the way in which I respond.”

How will you respond to the Baptism of Jesus today?  How will you carry out your own baptismal promises in apostolic action?

Sunday, January 08, 2017

And One King Held the Hope of The World

Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you, the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. Isaiah 60:1-3

You have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for your benefit, namely, that the mystery was made known to me by revelation. Ephesians 3:2-3

And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Matthew 2:9B-11B

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.  (James Joyce, “The Dead” in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man).

How many kings were present on the Epiphany? (Do not count Good King Wenceslaus. He was looking out on the Feast of Stephen.)

On Christmas morning, I had an “epiphany.”  We sat in the pews at the Church of the Nativity celebrating the Nativity.  During communion, we heard an amazing song that captured the spirit of this season from Advent through Epiphany – “One King” originally recorded in 1999 by Point of Grace. It also has the answer to that question.  Here are some of the lyrics:

Kings of earth on a course unknown
Bearing gifts from afar
Hoping, praying
Following yonder star

Silhouette of a caravan
Painted against the sky
Wise men searching
For the Holy Child

One king held the frankincense
One king held the myrrh
One king held the purest gold
And one king held the hope of the world 

Where will you find the newborn king of the Jews? In the cold, dark winter, look out your window for a hint of the star. Look east like the Magi.

Is Epiphany the perfect Cursillo feast day to celebrate?

In the manger scene where all this takes place, we have the retreat house: Missionhurst was my Bethlehem.  Others made their Cursillo Epiphany at San Damiano.  The weekends for the seriously ill were at the old Dominican Retreat House. Think back.  Where was your weekend experience?

We have group reunion:  the three magi. There were three with gifts but there may have been more in the traveling party.  Plus, there also had to be women present – a nurse-midwife at least.  Plus, Joseph had all those relatives who would want to see their new nephew or cousin as the family tree of Jesse sprouted another branch.

We have the Palanca sacrifice of the journey, the gifts, and the homage.  We have the hospitality of the Saturday night celebration and the Sunday “closura” when the candidates are reunited with the community.  Getting the gifts from the magi must have surprised Mary as much as “maƱanita” greets the candidates.  How beautiful is the morning! 

The Wise priests, prophets, and kings still seek close moments with the Holy Child on Cursillo weekends and on their caravan of their Fourth Day Journey following yonder star. With all those parallels, it is the PERFECT day to recommit yourself to supporting your community. The next Cursillo Epiphany will start on March 23 at Missionhurst.   Therefore, it also is the perfect day to offer Palanca for the Women’s 149th Cursillo team that begins formation TODAY on the Feast of the Cursillo…I mean Feast of the Epiphany. Click here to see where to send it by electrons or snail mail to support Team Epiphany and Rectora Annie Sweeney.

Today is also the day our Eastern Rite friends celebrate Christmas.  Wish a Merry Christmas to your friends at St. Mark’s Coptic Church on Braddock Road and every other eastern orthodox congregation.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Do Whatever He Tells You

We have this confidence in God, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, we know that what we have asked him for is ours.  1 John 5:14-15

When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servers, "Do whatever he tells you." John 2:3-5

"What action shall I perform to attain God?" the disciple asked the elder.
"If you wish to attain God, the elder said, there are two things you must know. The first is that all efforts to attain God are of no avail."
"And the second?" the disciple insisted.
"The second is that you must act as if you did not know the first," the elder said.
(From “The Rule of St. Benedict: Insight for the Ages,” by Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB.)

What is covenant – a big concept used a lot in the Hebrew Bible? 

Let’s illustrate.  Do you have a pet?  Maybe a cat?  Maybe a dog? Our cat (Calla as in lily) will give me the benefit of climbing up in my lap and purring all morning while I drink my coffee or all night while I watch the evening news or NCIS or ESPN.  For that benefit, all I have to do is what she asks…scratch her ears, her head, under her chin, between her shoulder blades.  Calla and I have a covenant. She gives me the pleasure of her company and I give her what she asks.

Our late golden retriever (Belle Watling of Sugar Land) was the happiest dog on the planet.  She would run around, chase the tennis ball, ride in the back of my red pick-up truck, run outside and get the newspaper (hopefully only mine and not the neighbor’s, too).  For the pleasure of her companionship, Belle only asked for food, a nice warm soft doggie bed and little else.

We have a covenant with our pets.  Quid pro quo.  I do this for you.  You do this for me.  Our two readings today are quid and quo.  This.  And that.  In the first reading, we see what God will do for us (“He hears us.”).  In the second reading, we see what Jesus (through Mary) asks us to do for the Lord (“Do whatever he tells you.”).

I am sure that the wine steward and the bridegroom will never forget what happened when they discovered what was really inside those six stone jugs. I guess as the poet said, the water looked at its creator and blushed.  When covenant works, we can really make fine wine, too.

How does your covenant play out with people?  In your family?  In your workplace?  In your classroom?  In your parish?   In your neighborhood? Covenant is not some far away, obscure or ancient concept.  Covenant is what is happening in your close moments with Christ.  

Maybe it is manifest in that thank you note you got for that Christmas gift.  That small note reminds you that you’ll never miss what they will never forget. God continues to intervene in our personal story in new ways every day through Jesus and the people Jesus sends to join our journey and our wedding reception.