Saturday, August 31, 2013

Invite the Poor

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.  Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.  What is too sublime for you, seek not, into things beyond your strength search not.  Sirach 3:17-18, 21

You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them.  Hebrews 12:18-19

“…[W]hen you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.  For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  Luke 14:13-14


Humility is a difficult virtue because we never want to be the last, the lowest and the least.  We prefer to see ourselves as making a difference in our world where place and position and job cause people to be valued more than anything else.  Humility turns people away from what really counts in life.  Our Christ connection is found in surrendering to others.  Christ emptied himself out of what belonged to himself as Word of the Father and took upon himself our lowly position.  Because he emptied himself out of what our world respects and looks for, he was given the name above every other name.  He has the name that we bow to when we are thinking of God’s love for us in his Son.  Humility is the awareness of the truth of where we stand in relationship to Christ.  Christ is our Way, our Truth and our Life.  In Christ our humility has its foundation.  No matter what we do, before Christ I am a poor and unworthy servant.  Christ is the human expression of the mystery of God.


We study how to unite ourselves more fully to Christ.  There are many ways to join ourselves to Christ.  The least person in the kingdom of God has a Christ part.  We are all created in the image and the likeness of Christ.  How we read the Scriptures unites us to a deeper walk with Christ.  We put on his mind and his heart by the scriptures.  He offers us his own life when we celebrate Eucharist.  He becomes us even as in Baptism we are jointed to his life.  We take him into ourselves by every Eucharist and become more and more who we are meant to be by our growth in Christ that happens when we feed at the Heavenly banquet.


Humility is the truth of us as seen in conjunction with Christ.  As we are exposed to his love and his gift of himself, we try to love each other even as he has loved us.  Following the example of Paul, we try to have in ourselves the same mind that we find in Christ Jesus.  We treat each person as better than ourselves.  Sometimes we have to play mental games with ourselves.  I say to myself that if I had your graces, I would do half of the good you do.  If you had my graces, you would do twice as much as I do.  We walk the road of humility by treating every one as better than ourselves.  Humility is the truth of who we are before Christ.  Humility is its own reward, because everyone likes a generous giver.  We all want to be better than we are and when we find ourselves treated as such we cannot help ourselves from admiring the wisdom to the one who sees the great ness we want to be true of us in ourselves. 

I Will Give You Great Responsibilities

On the subject of fraternal charity you have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.  Indeed, you do this for all the brothers throughout Macedonia.  Nevertheless we urge you, brothers and sisters, to progress even more, and to aspire to live a tranquil life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your own hands, as we instructed you.  1 Thessalonians 4:9-11

Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents.  See, I have made two more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.  Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.  Come, share your master’s joy.’  Matthew 25:22-23


Peace, like all our efforts, is ultimately the work of God but it is our great responsibility to work to make it happen.  We are called by our baptism to be instruments of peace for those around us and for the world. We need to believe that, although our efforts to pray and work for peace may seem small and insignificant, God is indeed building the house.  “Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain who build.  Unless the LORD guard the city, in vain does the guard keep watch. (Psalm 127:1)


We’ve got to be careful not to take the Gospel reading today too literally.  Really.  If you just read the word, it is about money.  But it is NOT about money.  It really is about grace. It’s about love.  It’s about Christianity in action.
You have been told not to put your light under a bushel because it loses something mighty “crucial.”  It loses the ability to shine in the world.  When we get gifts from the Lord, what do we do with them?  Do we put them to work in the world or do we hide them under a rock or lock them in the Upper Room?  For us to “progress even more” in our action, we must aspire to love one another no matter what the obstacle.
The Lord has a never ending supply of grace for us.  The Holy Spirit has countless gifts to shower upon us.  When we get these, they cannot lie dormant. 


The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice.  The Lord comes to rule the earth with just us.  So we can act on the Lord’s instruction, we must use the gifts provided to advance the cause of love, not war.
This week, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, called on Secretary of State John Kerry to work with other governments to "obtain a ceasefire" in Syria and create "a future for all Syrians, one that respects human rights and religious freedom."
Bishop Pates addressed the Syrian crisis the same day Jordan's King Abdullah II and Pope Francis met at the Vatican. There Pope Francis spoke of Syria's "tragic situation" and said that "the path of dialogue and negotiation between all components of Syrian society, with the support of the international community, is the only option to put an end to the conflict and to the violence that every day causes the loss of so many human lives, especially amongst the helpless civilian population."
In his letter, Bishop Pates stressed: 
The longstanding position of our Conference of Bishops is that the Syrian people urgently need a political solution that ends the fighting and creates a future for all Syrians, one that respects human rights and religious freedom. We ask the United States to work with other governments to obtain a ceasefire, initiate serious negotiations, provide impartial and neutral humanitarian assistance, and encourage building an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens, including Christians and other minorities.
Let us pray that these efforts to come to a negotiated peace will prevail and further civil war and international intervention can be avoided.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Light Dawns for the Just

Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

By Melanie Rigney 

Brothers and sisters, we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that, as you received from us how you should conduct yourselves to please God—and as you are conducting yourselves—you do so even more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 4:1-2)

Light dawns for the just; and gladness, for the upright of heart. Be glad in the Lord, you just, and give thanks to his holy name. (Psalms 97:11-12)

(Jesus told the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, in which the foolish virgins went to buy oil, only to find the door locked when they returned.) “The other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:11-13)

Lord, help me to remain awake and alert in Your love.

And so, the last big weekend of the summer is upon us.

Personally, I struggle with this time of year, despite the forecasted summer-like temperatures for northern Virginia. It’s all about the light. We’ve already lost nearly an hour in the morning and nearly an hour in the evening from the peak light of June 21 (which, I am sure is no coincidence, also happens to be my birthday). I don’t do as well as the dark time lengthens. I find it more difficult to get up and go to the day job, more difficult to motivate myself to go to the gym when I get home, more difficult to get stuff done in the evenings I don’t work out. It doesn’t help that I know it’s only going to get worse and worse until December 21 or so rolls around. By comparison, I’m a chirpy bird from about April through July, up even before that early crack of dawn, whipping through to-do lists like nobody’s business. I work at remembering those times and that energy to keep going as we lose more and more light.

Our faith lives can fall prey to similar circumstances. When we are living in the light and, to paraphrase Paul, behaving in a God-pleasing manner, it’s easier to keep going down that narrow path and to say no to the temptations that beset us. But when darkness begins to inch its way into our souls, we often change directions… ever so slightly at first, often in ways that aren’t readily apparent. We cut corners on our prayer lives or our service opportunities or our general conduct. And slowly but surely, the light can become all but extinguished.

The difference between the sunrise-sunset calendar and God’s love is huge, however. While we have no control over how much sunlight we receive in a given day, God’s Light is always there for the asking. We just have to be willing to accept that Light… and do our best to live in it.

Take off the sun blocks—fear, complacency, jealousy, and so on—that are attempting to shield you from God’s Light...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Fill Us With Your Love

Now may God himself, our Father, and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.  1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her.  So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head.  He went off and beheaded him in the prison.  He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl.  Mark 6:26-28a

Father, give us the wisdom to pray unceasingly so that we may listen to and genuinely hear the words you have for us today.  Jesus, work through us to continue to build up your people.  Holy Spirit, fill us with love so we can help others achieve their dreams. Amen.


How do we succeed?  Is it by stepping on the backs of others or by lifting them up? 

The readings give us another stark contrast between the norms of society as exhibited by the king and how the new emerging Christian community changes the outlook for success.

The King – pretending to be all powerful, promises his daughter her any wish.  When she makes a bold and lethal choice, the king could have shown some moral leadership.  Instead, he gave in to the situational pressure and the expectations of follow-through behavior to fulfill the “trappings” of his supposed power.  However, in showing what he thought was the power over the life and death of John, he really showed how powerless he was in the face of evil choices that controlled his behavior and the trap set for him by his wife.

The message in Thessalonica is the opposite of such peer pressure and envy.  The people of this Greek community hear from Paul that the way to success is NOT by climbing over the dead bodies of others.  Rather Christian success is accounted for by lifting up others so that we can ascend the ladder of the Lord with them, not over them.


Early in its history, I used to be fascinated by the show “Survivor.”  But in reality, this show gives us a very Herod-ian picture of life.  To succeed in the end, the “winner” actually has to put down challenges from others in the community until he stands alone. 

In Thessalonica, to win in the game of Biblical Survivor, the formula is to reassure (not reject) others.  To live if others stand firm, not if others are trampled.  Rather than envy, the disciples share joy and thanksgiving.  Rather than directing our lives for selfish pursuits, Paul will succeed if he pursues and assures the success of others, not their failure.

How can you promote the success of others?  When we are filled with love for others, not jealousy, or conceit, or pride, then we can show others the way to heaven on earth. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Beautiful in Christ

Memorial of Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

By Colleen O’Sullivan
And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received it not as the word of men, but as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.  (I Thessalonians 2:13)

Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.  You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.  Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.” 
(Matthew 23:27-28)

O Lord, may my heart ever be your dwelling place.

I wonder what Jesus sees when he looks at us.  We live in a culture that puts a premium on physical appearance, and I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time blow-drying and styling my hair, putting on makeup and picking out clothes and accessories that coordinate before I walk out the door in the morning.  But when Jesus looks at me, does he care about any of that?

He certainly seemed to notice the Pharisees’ appearance, saying they looked for all the world like whitewashed tombs.  We know that tombs hold nothing but death and decay within them, and that’s what Jesus zeroed in on.   He wasn’t impressed by the outward appearance of gleaming beauty, because he could see beyond that to the emptiness within.  These weren’t godly people; their hearts were full of self-righteousness.  They knew the words of the Law, but the loving spirit of God was missing.

In Jesus’ eyes, what makes a person beautiful has nothing to do with outward appearances, which can be deceiving.  When I think about beautiful people, I often think about my grandmother.  She had a hard life.  She was one of 13 children who were separated when she was orphaned at age 4.  Farmed out to relatives who treated her as a servant, she could easily have become a bitter person.  However, she was anything but.   She was always laughing and telling funny stories. She always had hugs and kisses to spare.  She would never have been crowned Miss America, but her faith in and devotion to Christ made her shine.

When I think of beautiful people, I also think about the women in my Cursillo group.  Each one brings her unique spirituality to the group.  There are as many different ministries represented each week as there are Cursillistas.  It’s the Word at work in their hearts and souls that makes them stand out in the crowd.

Imagine Jesus walking past you today.  As he glances at you, what does he see?