Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Stewards of God's Grace

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Brothers and sisters:  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, as I have written briefly earlier…  To me, the very least of all the holy ones, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for all what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God who created all things, so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens.    (Ephesians 3:2-3, 8-10)

Jesus said to his disciples:  “Be sure of this:  if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.  You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”  (Luke 12:39-40)

Sing praise to the Lord for his glorious achievement; let this be known throughout all the earth.  
(Isaiah 12:5)

Lord, just as you made the Apostle Paul a steward of your grace, so you have done for each of us.  Out of your unfathomable love, you have called us into being and breathed your Spirit into us.  As we have sinned and failed you along life’s way, you have picked us up, forgiven us and welcomed us back with open arms.  Through your Son’s death and resurrection, you have given us hope of eternal life with you.  Before all time, you knew your plans for how we each would share your gracious gifts with our brothers and sisters.

Many are the routes we take to awareness of your presence and grace in our lives, for the most part not as dramatic as the way in which Paul was stopped on the road to Damascus.  A grandparent’s stories about Jesus, a teacher’s lessons, a pastor’s preaching, the guidance of a spiritual director, our prayer lives – all open our eyes to your working in us.

Awareness leads to gratitude.  Once we’ve recognized that you are working in our lives, O Lord, our hearts are thankful.  We realize how abundantly blessed we are.  Truly our cups overflow, as the psalmist reminds us.

Lord, we are so richly blessed; there is nothing to do but share what you have given us with our brothers and sisters.  Paul was led to share the Gospel with the Gentiles.  We are called to be generous in accord with the unique gifts and graces you have bestowed upon us.  

If we are living that paradigm of awareness gratitude sharing, the Gospel reading for today should hold no threat or fear for us, as many people say it does.  It’s not so much a story about end times as a story about how to live today.  When we’re truly grateful, I can’t imagine anyone saying to himself or herself, I’ll wait a while to give thanks or to share out of my abundance.  We just naturally want to do it in the present moment.  Spend a few minutes today considering what graces God has entrusted to you.

If you’re in a sharing mood, please consider making a donation to Catholic Relief Services to aid them as they partner with other church organizations to offer assistance to Ebola-stricken areas in West Africa.

Be Vigilant, Our Lord Comes

By Beth DeCristofaro

(Jesus) came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.  (Ephesians 1:17-20)

Jesus said to his disciples:  “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. (Luke 12: 35-37)

Grant us, Lord, we pray,
A sincere respect for your gifts,
That, through the purifying action of your grace,
We may be cleansed by the very mysteries we serve.
Through Christ our Lord.
        (Prayer over the Offerings from the Mass for the Day)

A dear friend of mine says that among the reasons that she loves being Catholic are two important ones.  First is the Truth of Christ’s actual presence in the Eucharist which is such an awesome, undeserved gift.  The second is that at any time or place that she would like to attend a Mass she can find one (within reason!) where she always feels at home even if the liturgy is in another language or the hymns are not known to her.  She feels that as Catholics we have a unique opportunity to share this marvelous celebration of God’s word and presence.  Around the globe at any time of the day or night there is liturgy being said which, my friend counts as an essential need for our broken, complicated world and for her in navigating it day to day.

The liturgy, sacraments, our private prayer practices are ways in which we “gird our loins” and become aware.  Amid our culture which recommends upgrading, doing what feels convenient, and valuing “my” journey over the adherence to an institution, our religious practices can be the lights which guide us. 

As a “replenishing” of the oil in your lamp, attend liturgy at a time and place that are new for you or try a new prayer form.  Pray also for the Bishops who leave the Synod in Rome and return to their home dioceses where the world is moving fast and their flocks are in need of accessible, loving, vigilant Shepherds.

Monday, October 20, 2014

What Matters to God

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.  For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.  Ephesians 2:8-10

But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’  Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”  Luke 12:20-21

"From generations of soldiers and government officials on my father's side I inherited a belief that no life was more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your country - or humanity. This service required a sacrifice of all personal interests, but likewise the courage to stand up unflinchingly for your convictions. From scholars and clergymen on my mother's side, I inherited a belief that, in the very radical sense of the Gospels, all men were equals as children of God, and should be met and treated by us as our masters in God."  (Dag Hammarskj√∂ld, second Secretary-General, United Nations).

What matters to God? 

Luke contrasts people whose focus and trust is on material possessions (depicted by the rich fool of the parable) with those who recognize their complete dependence on God (depicted by the reference to those whose radical detachment from material possessions symbolizes their heavenly treasure).
What matters?  That goes without saying.  When it comes to treasure and possessions, Jesus has only one answer about what matters: 

“Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.  For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Luke 12:33–34).    

“For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”  Are we too worried about growing bigger barns to hold our bigger IRA/ROTH/401K accounts?  Are we too worried about building bigger houses to store our furniture, electronics, food, and possessions?  Are we too worried about building bigger garages to store our SUVs and Mini Coopers, our Toyotas and our Fords, our motorcycles and our boats?

The more we have, the more we want to protect it.  Is it any wonder that a recent article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that during the last recession, those will less helped more?  Research shows that the rich pitched in less.  http://philanthropy.com/article/As-Wealthy-Give-Smaller-Share/149191/

Vox reported on the empathy gap research:  “Even during the downturn and recovery, the poorest Americans upped their charitable giving. Meanwhile, the highest-income people gave less and less.  The rich also give to charity differently than the poor: compared to lower-income Americans, the rich's charitable giving places a far lower emphasis on helping their disadvantaged peers. When the poor and rich are (figuratively and literally) moving farther apart, an empathy gap naturally opens up between the upper and lower classes — after all, if I can't see you, I'm less likely to help you.”

Now, we also are worried about things which – comparatively speaking – may not affect many of us.  Some have pointed out that we are more likely to get sick from influenza rather than Ebola/hemorrhagic fever.  However, our worry may have also clouded our propensity to act. 

That worry does not have to remain the status quo.  The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has a list of 58 organizations working on the West Africa Ebola Virus.  http://www.cidi.org/ebola-ngos/#.VESYQfnF98G
The government agency notes: “As relief and recovery efforts evolve, these organizations tailor their work to meet the changing needs of people and communities. Monetary donations enable responding organizations to react with speed and specificity in critical sectors now and as communities recover. Even a small donation can have great impact. Monetary donations save lives and money.”

Now you can do more than just worry. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

What Belongs to God

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

I am the LORD and there is no other, there is no God besides me.  It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me.  Isaiah 45:5-6B

At that he said to them, "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."  Matthew 22:21

“Render to God the things of God and to Caesar the things of Caesar” is a wonderful saying of Christ that gives clarity to the destination of piety.  Piety is the road less travelled to heaven.  A straight and narrow path is what we are looking at in our piety.  Some roads take us around the mulberry bush and others take us right to where we are going. Piety is our road to heaven.  The Contemplative in Action has a wide road because such a one has all of the nitty-gritty of life as part of the road.  The road to heaven is paved with good intentions that were worked at with heart and soul.  Success is not as important as intention and effort.  The spiritual giants of life are always telling us that the ordinary is extraordinary in the road to heaven.  What we are doing is never more significant than why we are doing it.  It is how much of ourselves we put into what we do in love that determines the quality of what we have accomplished.

We look closely at what is behind the questions of life that are put to us.  Trick questions come from the evil spirit.  The evil spirit can use the form of the angel of life.  There are times we fall short of what God would do with us and through us.  It is study that allows us to go beyond our comfort zone in what we would do for the Lord.  The Examen is a spiritual tool that allows us to study what we are doing with all the whys looked into and covered with the mantel of good intentions.  Our study allows us to see where the Lord is leading us.  What more we can do to give the Lord greater visibility in our lives comes from our study.

Our piety and our study drive us down the road of sanctity.  Our good habits of life are always the gentle voice of the Spirit pushing us too reach out to the needs of those around us.  If we only do what we have to do we are offering justice perhaps.  However, if we give of our substance in time and effort we can help the Lord to change the world.  When we give our life for the sake of our neighbors, we love even as Christ has loved us.  Thus, we render to God what belongs to God.

Send Out Laborers

At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me.  May it not be held against them!  But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it.  2 Timothy 4:16-17B

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”  Luke 10:2 

Paul and Silas, bound in jail
Had no money for to go their bail
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Hold on (hold on), hold on (hold on)
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Paul and Silas began to shout
Doors popped open, and all walked out
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
Hold on (hold on), hold on (hold on)
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
(From civil rights song based upon “The Gospel Plow”)

Paul is very disappointed – an emotion we share but that we see very little of in what was written by the evangelists about Jesus.  The Christians had abandoned Paul and did nothing to defend his case in court.

“Those who serve Christ are as prone to disappointment as anyone else. If the Gospels are any indication, we might even say that disappointment is a certainty,” according to an article in Christianity Today by John Koessler.   Our savior has come but are we blind to His purpose for us? 

Paul’s persecution was part of the long line of prophets who were not respected in their native land, nor anywhere else.  John the Baptist experienced this.  Jesus did.  The rest of the disciples. Jesus’s commission of them foretells that the work will be long and hard.  The harvest is abundant.  There is much work to be done.  However, there are few people willing to pick up their cross daily and follow Him.  However, that is not what Jesus promises.  He does not say we will not be disappointed.  He does say we will be rewarded:

For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.  For the scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him.  For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  (Romans 10:10-13)

Disappointment goes both ways.

When were you disappointed with God?  Did you not get a long-sought-after promotion?  Are you having trouble getting along with your family, friends, neighbors or co-workers?  Was there something that you prayed about and your prayers were not answered? 

When might the Lord have been disappointed with you?  (No need to answer that).

How does God want us to deal with the emotion we call disappointment?

In one blog I read, the writer recounted the story of Joseph Barsabbas – a prime candidate for disappointment and for walking away from his ministry.  Joseph was a candidate to replace Judas Iscariot as one of the Twelve, but when the votes were counted, Matthias was chosen (Acts 1:26).  How would you feel?  I’ll bet that was a blow.  The Bible never mentions Joseph again. But tradition says he later became the Bishop of an area southwest of Jerusalem and died a martyr. Assuming that’s accurate, imagine what Joseph may have learned about disappointment and how he might have counseled Christians in his day or us today.  Despite the disappointments that pursuit of success in life, in business or in ministry, we must keep on keeping on.

Friday, October 17, 2014

For the Praise of His Glory

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

By Melanie Rigney

In Christ we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ. (Ephesians 1:11-12)

Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own. (Psalms 33:12)

“Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7)

Lord, how can You care for me so? I am in total awe of Your love.

They are gifts, those precious moments when you know you are doing exactly what the Lord desires. Maybe it comes when you’re snuggling with your toddlers before bedtime, or when you get compliments for a particularly soul-stirring homily, or when the face of the woman at the food pantry lights up because you remember her name.

And then there are the other moments. You know them too: When the kids are overtired and don’t fall asleep no matter how many times you read their favorite book, or someone in the congregation takes great umbrage at your homily and tells a well-connected friend who works for the diocese, or when you work like a dog on a volunteer project and everyone has “helpful” ideas on how it might be done better.

And in those moments, we listen. The kids can’t help being that tired. Your homily was the best it could be in that particular moment. Those other folks really do mean well with their ideas; it just doesn’t seem that way in the moment.

Even if we aren’t able to be that charitable to others or ourselves in moments of conflict, it’s always helpful to step back and remember even when we feel the most like failures, we are loved beyond all understanding by the Father. If you don’t believe that, believe you are loved more than many sparrows. That’s a start.

Write a thank you note to God today for His great love.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Fruits of the Spirit

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Brothers and sisters:  If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law… (T)he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such there is no law.  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.  (Galatians 5:18, 22b-25)

The Lord said:  “Woe to you Pharisees!  You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb, but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God.  These you should have done, without overlooking the others…  And he said, “Woe also you scholars of the law!  You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not life one finger to touch them.”  (Luke 11:42, 46)

His mercy endures forever, his faithfulness lasts through every generation.  (Psalm 100:5b)

Our Scripture readings today each point up the difference between life under the Law vs. life lived in the Spirit of Christ.  By Jesus’ time, the Law had truly become a burden.  Much of human origin had been added to it over the generations.  There was a rule or regulation to fit every ritual, every social situation as well as every moral circumstance.  Adherence to the Law was considered the path to God.  The Pharisees and the scholars of the Law were always quick to point out where a person wasn’t living up to the letter of it.  Their sanctimonious attitude is what angers Jesus so much.  He says they have forgotten about the love of God and about having compassion for others.

Paul reminds the Galatians that they are free in Christ – free from life under the Law and free to live in the Spirit.  When a person lives in the Spirit, his or her life bears the fruits of the Spirit.  Those who know love and forgiveness through Jesus gratefully pass these gifts on to others through these fruits.

As I reflected on these readings, it struck me that in a way it’s a mind vs. heart issue.  Our hearts don’t need to be involved if all we are doing is following a checklist of do’s and don’ts.  Our minds will suffice.  And for some of us, that’s as far as we want to go.  If we want to live in the Spirit, however, our hearts have to be open to the indwelling presence of the Spirit.  We have to come to know the Spirit of Jesus through prayer.  Our hearts have to be willing to be transformed through the power of the Spirit.  It’s the path to true freedom, but it requires more of us.

It also occurred to me that the checklist approach or simply following a list of rules involves an image of God I don’t want anything to do with.  I don’t think God is a God of conditional love, but if getting it all right is the path to this God, what happens if we miss a regulation or two?  Is God going to be angry with our imperfection?  Is God going to give us the cold shoulder or love us less?

God loves us unconditionally and, out of that love, places his Son’s Spirit within each of us.  If we live in the Spirit, our lives will produce fruits that pass on the love of God to others.  That is what God desires of us – that we share what we, through grace, have received.

The indwelling Spirit produces fruit in our lives as a result of our relationship through the Spirit with Jesus.   What fruit do you desire?  Spend some time today praying for that gift.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Christ is Freedom for Me and You

Tuesday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

By Beth DeCristofaro

Brothers and sisters:  For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. …For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.   (Galatians 5: 1, 6)

(Jesus said in reply) You fools! Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside? But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.” (Luke 11: 40-41)

Jesus, I feel within me
A great desire to please you but, at the same time,
I feel totally incapable of doing this without your special light and help,
Which I can expect only from you.
Accomplish your will within me – even in spite of me.
        (St. Claude La Colombiere, SJ)

A recent study conducted out of the University of Southern California and reported on a National Public Radio broadcast, looked at the possibility that politicians who sponsor legislation aimed at curbing suspected voter fraud could be acting out of bias. Politicians who sponsor voter fraud legislation were 40% more likely to not answer e-mail questions about voter ID requirements sent by constituents with Latino names than legislative colleagues who did not endorse such legislation.  Questions by constituents with Anglo-sounding names were more often responded to. The study determines in part that “The implication is that discriminatory intent underlies legislative support for voter identification laws.”[i]  What is striking is that many of these civil servants genuinely describe themselves as not racist nor discriminatory.  However it appears that they are being swayed by their internal, perhaps unrecognized, prejudices.

We’ve seen photos of Pope Francis embracing with loving concern juvenile delinquents and others who would not have been tolerated in a Pharisee’s dining room.  Pope Francis, in a homily to the Bishops as the Synod on the Family began, stated:  “’God’s ‘dream’ is his people. He planted it and nurtured it with patient and faithful love, so that it can become a holy people, a people which brings forth abundant fruits of justice.”  How are we loving and holy people bringing fruits of justice while not laying on judgments?

Take a moment to consider with humility a group of people, a person, who grates on your nerves because they do not follow the rules, or does not respect you for your position, or in some way marches to her/his own drum.  Examine that place of irritation within you.  Then reflect on the Other and seek Christ.  Examine the place of freedom within you which opens as you let go of a tiny yoke of internal slavery.  Invite Christ into the space and pray for the Other as well as yourself. 

For Freedom

For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.  Galatians 5:1

“At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.”  Luke 11:31-32

Father, raise us up from the poverty of temptation and from the prison of sin.  Help us to recognize that there is something greater in life.  That something is the promise of your Son.  He leads us to more than what we want…and that is what you want of us.  Holy Spirit, set us free to carry our cross daily.  Amen.

The sign of Jonah may be interpreted by some as a resurrection allegory.  The whale where Jonah was swallowed and later emerged back into life symbolizes the tomb from which Jesus will emerge.  In Matthew 12:38-42, the meaning for “sign of Jonah” is interpreted by Jesus as his death and resurrection.  “Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.”  That is a memorable part of the story but there is more than the straight allegory to the resurrection.

However, the “sign of Jonah” in Luke also means the preaching of repentance by a prophet who comes from afar.  Jonah ended up in the belly of the whale to escape his call to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh.   John the Baptist carried on that message – the same message that Jesus picked.  Jesus used John’s (and Jonah’s) very words asking his followers to repent and change the direction of their lives. 

When Jesus carried this forward, there is something greater because in His life is the fulfillment of these scriptures. The irony here is that Jesus says, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah.”  However, in Jesus, the generation and all which follow are given more than the sign of Jonah because they and we get the cross and the sign of Jesus.

Repentance is not a one-time occurrence.  Paul asks the Galatians to not submit to the slavery of sin again.  However, just as ours is a cyclical church that offers the sacrifice of Jesus on a daily basis, the sacrifice is offer because we are tempted and submit to the near occasion of sin on a daily basis.

Who is Jonah in your life? Who brings the message of change to your habits?  How do you respond to the call of scripture? 

To whom are you Jonah?  To whom are you bringing the message of change?  Are you avoiding the responsibility to teach that message by jumping overboard or are you embracing your duty to teach that message?

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014 A

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

On that day it will be said: "Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!  This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!"  For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.  Isaiah 25:9-10A

But when the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.  The king 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 22:11-14

Prayer, fasting and good works are the garments for the feast of the Lord.  Our piety takes on the textures of the good things we have done for one another.  It is God who sent his son into our lives that we might know the best way to serve God.  God loved us so much that he wanted to be one with us in his son.  The son is the way, the truth and the life of our piety.  We might seem to struggle to put on Christ but the willingness of Christ to embrace us with his love from the cross is how the heart transplant takes its beginnings.  We still have to come to the feast.  Every Eucharist is a return not only to the last supper, but all the more a return to the actual dying of Christ on his Cross.  Our Eucharist celebration is the actual dying of Christ.  And every time we celebrate the Eucharist we are reliving the dying of Christ by our presence and our participation in Eucharist. 

Our invitation to the banquet of the Lord is wide open.  We can be part of the bridal party by how we dress up our lives by our imitation of Christ that gradually becomes the reliving of Christ in our time and age by the way we have put on the spirit of Christ.  How many ways our lives speak the love of God for all of us is seen in the very giving of our lives to the needs of the time we live in.  We are called to be updates of Christ.  If we die with Christ, we rise with him.  Our study of how Christ announced the love of God by giving his life leads us to offer our lives in reaching out to the needy of our world.  Our freedom to protect our comfort and ourselves gradually loses its attraction in the realization that Christ died for us and that we likewise can die for him in what we do for one another. 

We can do all things in him who strengthens us.  The best action of our lives is seen in going to Eucharist as often as we can.  Sometimes our duties and our obligations keep us from making a daily Eucharist, but we are all able to give at least one day to the Lord each week and Eucharist is the mainstay of growing in Christ.  Even as we become what we eat, Christ grows in us both by our frequenting Eucharist and the ways we give our lives for the sake of each other.  The glorious riches in Christ Jesus are ours in each Mass.  Christ is the glorious meal that Isaiah talks about that God has prepared for us on the mountain of the Lord.  We climb the mountain of Christ’s life to find in our climb all the love God has for us in his Son.  Our love for Christ gives us the happiness God has waiting for us.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Faith Has Come

Saturday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a disciplinarian.  For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus.  Galatians 3:25-26

While he was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.”  He replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”  Luke 11:27-28

Blessed is the one who reads aloud and blessed are those who listen to this prophetic message and heed what is written in it, for the appointed time is near.  Revelation 1:3

Faith has come.  Emmanuel has come.  The promise of Abraham is fulfilled. Now, that God has delivered on his promise, the ball is in our court.
Remember the promise that the Lord made to Abraham who was willing to sacrifice his only son:

“I swear by my very self—oracle of the LORD—that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your son, your only one, I will bless you and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants will take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth will find blessing, because you obeyed my command.”  Genesis 22:16-18

Like Abraham, we, too, will find blessing.  Abraham found blessing because his faith moved him to respond to the Lord’s call.  Jesus wants us to recognize that faith is essential but it is only the first step.  Faith opens our ears, our minds and our hearts to the message of the Lord. 

Appropriately, the first word of the Prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict is “Listen.”  “Listen carefully my child.”  Before we being anything anew, St. Benedict advises us to turn to the Lord:  “…whatever good work you begin to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it, that He who has now deigned to count us among His children may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds.”  Only then can we observe it.  Our action, then, must be connected to our faith.

Observe is an interesting verb for the NAB translators to use at Luke 11:28.  “Observe” seems passive.  On one level, it just means to watch, notice, or see something.  However, on another deeper level, when we observe something, we conform our action or practice to a law, a ritual or a condition. On this level, we actively comply with the word by making it reflect our actions. “Serve” or service is at the root of observe. Observe also share the prefix root “ob” with obey meaning "toward," “in the way of,” “by reason of.”  When we listen, it moves us toward service. 

Another translation (The Jerusalem Bible) turns that phrase slightly differently in its translation:  “Still happier those who hear the word of God and keep it.” (Luke 11:28).  Even “keep” sounds like we are holding onto it for ourselves. 

IMHO the translators or The New Living Translation (admittedly not an official Catholic translation) get what I think Jesus means perfectly.  Jesus replied, "But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice."  This is closest in meaning to our NAB version of another phrase in Luke 8:21: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”
In John 13:15-17, the propensity for turning faith into action is reinforced:  “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.  Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.”

Is it any wonder that our Cursillo tripod has a pillar in piety, study and action?

To what will you listen carefully today?  How will it spur you to action? 

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Every Kingdom Divided Against Itself

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

By Melanie Rigney

Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, Cursed by everyone who hangs on a tree, that the blessing of Abraham might be extended to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Job 40:3-5)

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

When Jesus had driven out a demon, some of the crowd said: “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven. But he knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house.” (Luke 11:15-17)

Lord, I strive to make my life and my ways a kingdom devoted to one: You.

Driven out any demons lately?

Maybe it’s that cookie at the coffee shop or the difficulty in staying loving when your children are driving you crazy or that person in your prayer group to whom you’d just like to say, “Get to the point already.” But it happens. We can conquer demons. We do it frequently.

The challenge is that often, there’s another, similar demon that remains. Maybe you’re successfully resisting the cookie, but then there’s that third glass of wine in the evening. Maybe you’re doing well with not yelling at your children, but with people who cut you off in traffic, well, that’s another story. Maybe you’re controlling your tongue in prayer group, but at work, forget about THINK (Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it inspiring? Is it necessary? Is it kind?) before you speak.

Demons. That’s the problem. They have a tendency to change forms and hang around. Living a consistent, faith-filled life in all situations, even with Christ’s help, can be difficult. But it’s the only way to keep the kingdom undivided against itself.

Identify one demon in your life that is popping up in several situations. Speak with a priest, spiritual adviser, or trusted friend about ways you can drive it out for good.

From Faith

Does, then, the one who supplies the Spirit to you and works mighty deeds among you do so from works of the law or from faith in what you heard?  Galatians 3:5

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Luke 11:9-10

Father, help us forge a common understanding of what we need to do when armed with the grace of faith brought to us by your Son.  Holy Spirit, give us the conviction to overturn the disagreements the drive us apart and bind our wounds of discord so that we stand together and serve together in faith.  Amen.

Paul’s contention that justification comes not through the law or the works of the law but by faith in Christ and in his death is supported by appeals to Christian experience and to scripture.  That did not mean the subject was settled after Paul’s pronouncement.  In fact, this very question led 1600 years later to the Protestant Reformation. 

Paul reminds his audience in Galatia that the gift of God’s Spirit came from the gospel received in faith, not from doing what the law enjoins. The story of Abraham referred to is an example that shows faith in God puts you on the right side.  However, it does not cut off the invitation with only the “chosen people.”  The promise to Abraham extends to the Gentiles, as well.

Back in the 1500’s Martin Luther and his followers had declared sola fide! Faith alone! Grace alone! Nothing we do can earn our salvation.  This was not unlike Paul’s message nor that of St. Augustine.

For Martin Luther, the place of good works in the everyday life of a Christian was to be found within the context of righteousness, justification, and grace. Essentially, works were not to be viewed, in any way, shape, or form, as the means to justification and grace. The only way one can achieve righteousness, according to Luther, is through faith. Indeed, the pursuit of good works as the means to salvation could be as detrimental to grace as ignorance of sin. Good works, however, are not totally discounted in value by Martin Luther. Quite the contrary, they have a positive and important role to play in both the revelation of an individual's sinful nature, and in the proper Christian response to God's grace. Be this as it may, the Biblical passage: "He who through faith is righteous shall live," which Luther seems to have understood as the keynote of his teachings, can be taken as the vantage point from which his understanding of good works can be judged. They are, without a doubt, divorced from all baring on the act of justification; for, 'by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified."[i]

However, it took another 450 years before the Lutherans and Catholics signed an historic document on the topic which healed the rift that opened with the Council of Trent.  Talk about family feuds!

The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification essentially says that Lutherans and Catholics explain justification in different ways but share the same basic understanding. The central passage reads, “Together we confess: by grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to good works.”

The declaration acknowledges that good works are a genuine response to God’s grace—not the cause of it. The declaration also rescinds the formal condemnations of both the Catholic and Lutheran Churches against one another.[ii] 

How does your faith equip you and call you to do good works?  It is our faith that causes us to respond when our neighbor is hungry and knocks on our door for food.  Without faith, we might roll over and go to back to sleep. 
We knock on God’s door with our prayer and God answers.  Who is knocking on your door today?  Will you answer?  After all, God works mighty deeds and Jesus performed many signs to get our attention and instill our faith.  Should we not also perform this as a branch from the tree of faith?