Saturday, July 04, 2015

The Lord Spoke to Me

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time           

By Phil Russell

"As the Lord spoke to me, the spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard the one who was speaking to me:  Son of man I am sending you.” Ezekiel 2:2-3A 

That I, Paul, might not become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me…Three times I begged The Lord about this that it might leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Jesus departed from there and came to his native place (Nazareth) accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished.  They said,  " Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? Is he not…and they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house."...He was amazed at their lack of faith. (Mark 6:1-6)

When I share at Breaking Open the Word (BOW) with RCIA on Sundays, I love the use the African Method.  Yes, it came from the Continent!  The method is simple: What did you hear (in the Readings)?  What did it mean to you?  And what will you do with it?  Since I came to use this method with these on the Journey of Faith, I began to use it myself on a more regular basis.

Could this affect my PIETY?  (It often does!).

"As The Lord spoke to me," and often my own query is, "Are you speaking to me?"  And oh so very gently do I hear, "YES, I am speaking to you, Philip." (How many times am I more like one of his kinsmen, rather than the one baptized in his Name.  Baptized, Prophet, Priest and King.).

So, why then, is it so easy for me to, shrink back from my CALL.  JESUS, persists: "My GRACE is sufficient for you."  And I find Him, ending the sentence back to me with just a "period," rather than and "exclamation point." But in my heart of hearts, I know that there is an Exclamation Point on that sentence.

Oh, Lord, help me for I am a man of unclean lips! Make me clean, so, that I may say, "Here Am I. Send me!"  (Isaiah 6:5-9)

“Lord, I remember when I took up that cross (at the 91st Men's Closing in May of 1994) I spoke, "and I am counting on Christ."    Help me now Lord, with your GRACE, to STUDY my Environment and work at affecting change. (And, Lord, I am talking about affecting a change in me!)

"So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying hands on them." As I break open this Word, these last sentence JUMPS OUT at me. I always thought Jesus left there defeated (my thoughts, not Mark's).  However, he was able to cure a few!

WOW, thanks for that one Lord and please HELP me (by Your GRACE) to WALK and to LIVE in my BAPTISMAL Mantle as Prophet, Priest and King. I want to be like you and to be YOUR HANDS, affecting change and healing!

I would like to take this opportunity to share something with you that Father Joe spoke to me so many years ago as Spiritual Director on my Cursillo Weekend.   As I had shared the pain of defeat with him, he said, "Always remember that the Rose is the product of the Thorn Bush."  I have never looked at a Rose quite the same way. There were Roses blooming on that Pathway, at Missionhurst, that Sunday Morning as I made my way out to the sounds of singing!   

De Colores and a hand stretched out to Father Joe as I humbly am passed this baton, 


Friday, July 03, 2015

Both Are Preserved

“May God give to you of the dew of the heavens and of the fertility of the earth abundance of grain and wine.”  Genesis 27:28

“No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”  Matthew 9:16-17

Prayer for Our Earth[i]
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, hat we may protect life and beauty. Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one. O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes. Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth. Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light. We thank you for being with us each day. Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace.

Both are preserved…the vessel and the contents. The body of Christ is preserved in our bodies.  Our outer vessels are preserved by partaking in the body of Christ.  Such an interconnectedness pervades a very important document released last month. 

The images of Isaac giving his son a blessing filled with the fertility of the goodness of the earth reminds me of the encyclical LAUDATO SI issued by Pope Francis last month.  It begins:

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

How fitting that @Pontifex opens this document with a prayer by his papal, saintly and spiritual namesake. In the spirit of our stewardship of the Earth, the gospel reminds us that we must preserve the gifts given to us in fresh wineskins so that we – the passengers on Spaceship Earth – are protected as is the “common home” where we live.

Pope Francis calls for “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”

Pope Francis reminds us that Jesus lived in full harmony with creation and that our Savior invites us to do the same. This encyclical offers a plan of action moving forward based upon shared dialogue “which can help us escape the spiral of self-destruction which currently engulfs us.”

Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.

Repent!  Change.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

See the Glory of God

By Colleen O'Sullivan

(A) week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them.  Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”  Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”  (John 20:26-28)

They have been saying all our plans are empty.
They have been saying "Where is their God now?"
Roll away the stone. See the Glory of God. Roll away the stone.
(from  Roll Away the Stone, Tom Conry, 1993)

I remember hearing the story of “Doubting Thomas” as a child.  No one ever wanted to be a doubter like him.  (How ironic that at some point or another in life, we all have doubts.  Condemn Thomas and you condemn yourself.)

Today, I see him a little differently.  He’s only mentioned a few times in the Gospels, but what is recorded paints a picture of someone who cares a great deal for Jesus.  In John 11, Jesus receives word that his friend Lazarus is seriously ill.  He wants to go back to Judea to see him, but to get there, he would place himself in danger of being captured and perhaps stoned to death.  The disciples are frightened and counsel Jesus not to go in that direction.  Thomas is the lone voice speaking in solidarity with Jesus.  Thomas says something along the lines of:  Let’s go.  If Jesus is captured and dies, we’ll share his fate. We say we love him and he is our friend; we follow where he leads. 

In John 14, during the discussion around the table after the Last Supper, we hear Thomas’ voice again.  Jesus says he’s leaving to go and prepare a place for them.  He says they know the way.  Thomas is the only one who speaks up and gives voice to what they all must have been thinking.  We don’t know the way.  We want to be with you.  What is the way of which you speak?

I picture Thomas sad and disheartened after the Crucifixion.  He must feel hurt when Jesus appears to all the other disciples but him.  He doesn’t want to think he’s been left out, so he adopts this stance that he won’t believe his friends until he sees Jesus for himself and can actually touch the wounds he saw inflicted on him on Good Friday.   When Jesus enters the room a week later, Thomas is there.  Jesus takes Thomas’ hand in his and Thomas feels the gaping wounds left by the nails.  He puts his fingers on the spot where Jesus’ side was pierced.  For Thomas, at this moment the stone is rolled away.  His heart is filled with joy and awe-filled reverence.  No more wondering.  No more taunting cries about Jesus’ absence.  Here is his Lord and his God!  His friend has returned to see him!  I think this is the only place in any of the Gospels where Jesus is referred to as “God.”

Calling him “Doubting Thomas” seems unfair.  He has no more doubts than any of us.  He’s willing to march into danger if that’s where Jesus wants to take him.  He is loyal.  He wants to be by his friend’s side.  He is willing to put into words what others are afraid to say.  The other disciples aren’t willing to speak up and admit they have no idea what Jesus is talking about on Holy Thursday.  Thomas is the only one with the temerity to ask.  And his response to being in the Risen Lord’s presence is one of great faith, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus isn’t putting Thomas down with his words about how blessed those are who believe without seeing.  He’s not even talking to Thomas as much as he’s speaking to you and me.  When you are praying today, reflect on Jesus’ words and exactly what it is that makes you a person of faith.

Pick Up Your Stretcher and Go Home to God

By Beth DeCristofaro

Jesus knew what (the scribes) were thinking, and said, “Why do you harbor evil thoughts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”– he then said to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” He rose and went home. (Matthew 9:4-7)

Merciful Father, I come to you in gratitude, thanking you for life, my life.  Healing Jesus, I place myself and my sinfulness before you, asking you to heal me again to wholeness in you.  Spirit of grace and courage, fill me with a holy longing for your presence in all my thoughts, actions and desires.  I offer you my shortcomings and my sincere desires to walk always in the light of God.

With all of the abundant rainfall we’ve had and the many warm days, I’ve been contesting with weeds in my yard for weeks now.  In fact, the view out my back window looks more like the tropics than the D.C. suburbs.  Splendid vines hang in sheets of varied greens from trees.  They cover bushes, wrap around each other and are growing so profusely that soon we will be able to swing from yard to yard.   It’s a love / hate relationships between us.  I have a grudging respect for the tenacity and adaptability of weeds.  They cling to life in the thinnest layer of sand on my patio or the tiniest grain of dirt in the cracks in walls.  Even as I ruthlessly pull and dig I admire their survival abilities.

Sins can be like this.  We find ourselves surrounded, covered and perhaps overwhelmed by sin.  It is in the world and within us, as Jesus saw in the paralytic man.  Sins root deep, planted by choice or bad judgement.  Some cover the light of grace, we think, just as weeds block the sunlight and kill azaleas or crops.  Weeds and sin can choke out what is native to us, vulnerability, openness, relationships, faith, and hope.  Some are even quite pretty so we find worth in holding onto them.  Even those sins we do not acknowledge or do not recognize keep us from our true relationship with Jesus because they become central rather than Jesus.  Sin can also cause us to fear that we are not deserving of Jesus’ grace and presence.  It isn’t sin, however.  We don’t deserve.  Rather we are gifted, given and loved.  Weed-like, sin gets in our way of believing the truth that we are loved and Jesus has defeated sin in a final, victorious gift of Himself. 

Jesus did not ask the paralytic what sins he had committed.  We don’t know if he was a righteous man or an abusive father.  Jesus knew his human frailty and knew that his sin called for the greater “cure” than paralysis; curing his relationship to himself and to God held a magnificent reward.  Jesus’ forgiveness brought the man back into right relationship with his Creator.  Just as his legs bore weight for the first time in years, his spirit was weightless in grace with God.  Indeed this was the most important of Jesus’ healings on that day. 

Consider closely the sins which keep you from right relationship with Jesus and bring yourself before him – ask help from your friends in the Communion of Saints to carry you if you feel paralyzed with the weeds of your sin.  Seek out the Confessional.  Look into the eyes of Jesus and hear him say “Your sins are forgiven.”  Then take up your stretcher and dance in the light of his love for you, his special brother, his unique sister.  Dance in the joy that believes his cross and resurrection was for you.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Don't Be Afraid

God heard the boy’s cry, and God’s messenger called to Hagar from heaven: “What is the matter, Hagar? Don’t be afraid; God has heard the boy’s cry in this plight of his. Arise, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand; for I will make of him a great nation.”  Genesis 21:17-18

When Jesus came to the territory of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs who were coming from the tombs met him. They were so savage that no one could travel by that road. They cried out, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?”  Matthew 8:28-29

I will bless the Lord at all times,
with praise ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the Lord,
who will hear the cry of the poor.

Let the lowly hear and be glad:
the Lord listens to their pleas;
and to hearts broken, God is near,
who will hear the cry of the poor.

By John Foley, S.J. (1978)

We might turn our backs on the cry of the poor and call them lazy.  However, the Lord hears everyone who calls Him by name – even demoniacs -- and responds. 

Abraham and Sarah, though they know how blessed they have been with the birth of their son Isaac, turn their backs on Hagar and Ishmael.  Yet no amount of exile from society can exile these two from being in the earshot of the Lord. Ishmael is blessed in the same way that Isaac. 

The Lord does not stop with the poor or the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, either.  In the Good News, we also witness Jesus responding to the two demoniacs who know his name (There is the significance of “naming” and identity again.).  Even though the people of Israel and the disciples are still not sure what to make about this carpenter’s son from Nazareth, there is not a shred of doubt in these evil spirits that they are in the presence of the Son of God.  They specifically call him out by name. 

Do you hear the cry of the poor?  Or are you turning your back while you go shopping or rush to work or some other recreational activity? 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Lord, Save Us! We Are Perishing

By Melanie Rigney

The sun was just rising over the earth as Lot arrived in Zoar; at the same time the LORD rained down sulphurous fire upon Sodom and Gomorrah from the LORD out of heaven. He overthrew those cities and the whole Plain, together with the inhabitants of the cities and the produce of the soil. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she was turned into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:23-26)

Oh Lord, your mercy is before my eyes.  (Psalm 26:3)

They came and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. (Matthew 8:25-26)

Now I think I’m going down to the well tonight and I’m gonna drink till I get my fill/And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it but I probably will/Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture a little of the glory of, well time slips away/and leaves you with nothing, mister, but boring stories of glory days. –“Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen

The good old days, the glory days, if you will. Life was easier then, when we were younger, healthier, prettier or more handsome. The weather was better, and so was the music. And maybe, so were the people.

Change is hard, in the world and in our relationship with the Lord. Sometimes, we see the lesson on the other side, as the apostles did when they were fearful their boat would capsize and Jesus calmed the storm. Other times, we may find our situation more comparable to that of Lot’s wife, who was consumed by her longing for the past.

Maybe the good old days were better. Maybe tomorrow will be even worse. But all we have is the opportunity to do the Lord’s work today, faithfully and fearlessly. Squandering that opportunity by looking back keeps us from doing what He desires.

Show, don’t tell, your beliefs today.

Kept the Faith

[Herod] had [Peter] taken into custody and put in prison under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. He intended to bring him before the people after Passover. Peter thus was being kept in prison, but prayer by the Church was fervently being made to God on his behalf.  Acts 12:4-5

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

I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me.  2 Timothy 4:6-8A

What is “this rock” of which Jesus speaks? 

Some say the rock is Peter.  His name certainly means rock.  However, what Jesus was asking for from the disciples was a mark of their faith in him and that is what Peter delivered.  Peter said that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  This rock was Peter’s faith.  That same faith was the standard by which St. Paul looked back upon his life.  In the letter to Timothy, he measures his success by one standard only: “I have kept the faith.”

Herod also was trying to energize support among certain Jews by persecuting the new Christians.  The notes to the New American Bible for today’s first reading explain: 

While Luke does not assign a motive for [Herod’s] execution of James and his intended execution of Peter, the broad background lies in Herod’s support of Pharisaic Judaism. The Jewish Christians had lost the popularity they had had in Jerusalem, perhaps because of suspicions against them traceable to the teaching of Stephen.

In the persons of Peter and Paul – and in their confrontations with civil authorities -- we see once again that political leaders really do not know what to do about inspiring church leaders.  Sometimes, civil leaders take the view, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”  Thus, some historical records point out that Senator John F. Kennedy (as a candidate for President) offered support to the civil rights movement led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  However, historians note that Kennedy’s actions were of a wary ally who also was trying to energize votes of a critical block without alienating others.[i]

Sometimes, when they do not join up as wary allies, they just throw them in jail.  Nelson Mandela.  Martin Luther King. Dorothy Day.  Jesus of Nazareth.  St. Peter in chains. St. Paul in prison.

Maybe on this feast of Peter and Paul, we should realize not to place too much trust in the political leaders of any branch of any government.  Sometimes they may rule or vote or speak in accordance with Catholic teaching.  Other times they may not.  Such leaders as these are not the rock which Jesus asked Peter to build the Church.  Rather, Jesus asks Peter and us to build the Church upon the rock of faith, not political expediency or calculations.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Of Abundance

By Melanie Rigney

God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being; and the creatures of the world are wholesome, and there is not a destructive drug among them nor any domain of the netherworld on earth, for justice is undying. (Wisdom 1:13-15)

I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.  (Psalm 30:2a)

… As a matter of equality, your abundance at the present time should supply their needs, so that their abundance may also supply your needs, so that there may be equality. (2 Corinthians 8:14)

(Jesus) took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded.  (Mark 5:41-42)

Lord, open my heart, mind, and soul to sharing all I have and receiving all You discern I need.

When we pray over and contemplate today’s second reading from 2 Corinthians, there’s a temptation to take it literally. It’s easy to leave the lesson at face value: Those who are blessed with financial wealth should share it with the homeless, the hungry, the destitute, those who live on society’s margins. We give to our parish via envelope or electronically, we answer the Bishop’s Lenten Appeal, we drop off gently used clothing at the shelter, and we provide cans and boxes and bottles for the food pantry—and call it good.

An Allegory of Abundance
by Hendrick van Balen the Elder and Jan Brueghel the Elder.
But there are other kinds of abundance: abundance of joy. Abundance of laughter. Abundance of faith. Abundance of love. Abundance of confidence. Abundance of sorrow. Abundance of doubt. Abundance of compassion. We’re called to share those gifts as well… and to unstiffen our neck and accept from others when we in turn have needs.

Let me tell you a little story. Ten years ago when I was finding my way back to faith and the Catholic Church, a dozen people (at the time, I failed to see the significance of that number) popped into my life at one critical point or another. Some are still good friends and confidantes; others are not.  One of the latter shared with me the story of a marriage that had disintegrated beyond repair… and a faith and trust in the Lord that at times was all she had during that period. When I told her later about the impact she had had on my faith journey, she laughed and shook her head. At that particular juncture, she said, she had been bone-dry spiritually. She was both shocked and delighted to hear Christ had reflected Himself through her, sharing an abundance she had not realized she had.

We all know someone who needs something large or small—right now. It might be a window air conditioner or a pair of sandals or a listening ear or a walk to take us out of ourselves or simply a hug. In the same way, we all need something—right now. The Lord provides for us all. We are never alone. But more often than not, He provides through our family, friends, acquaintances, total strangers. May we let His great love, in whatever form it takes, be the Great Equalizer.

Say yes today to someone’s offer to share his or her abundance—financial, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual.

Is Anything Too Marvelous For The Lord To Do?

But the LORD said to Abraham: “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really bear a child, old as I am?’ Is anything too marvelous for the LORD to do? At the appointed time, about this time next year, I will return to you, and Sarah will have a son.” Genesis 18:13-14

When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.” He said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.  Matthew 8:5-6

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me. (Ignatius Loyola)

Is anything too marvelous for the LORD to do?

Whether responding to the plea of the centurion, the desire of Abraham and Sarah, the illness of Peter’s mother-in-law, or our own needs, nothing is too big or too small for the Lord to accomplish even in the face of doubt from his closest followers.
Three Pilgrims Announce the Birth of Isaac
by Alexander Ivanov

An interesting follow-up note on the significance of naming (which we reflected upon Wednesday in relation to the nativity of John the Baptist).  In the course of the narrative about Sarah having a son at her advanced age, both she and Abraham laughed at the thought.  The notes to the New American Bible point out that the Hebrew word for “laughed” is yishaq, which is also the Hebrew form of the name “Isaac.”

When the Lord visits our tent, I hope we can have a good laugh with Him, too.  May our laugh be rooted in faith, not doubt.  In preparation, let us offer up everything from our strengths to our infirmities for His holy disposal.