Thursday, November 28, 2013

Walk in His Paths

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

“Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.”
  Isaiah 2:3b

You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.  For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand.  Romans 13:11-12a

Therefore, stay awake!  For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.  Matthew 24:42-43

Waiting is part of our piety. We are awaiting the coming of Christ. It is the second coming we honor when he will come to take us to his eternal joy in us. Piety is the fullness of our relationship to Christ. It unfolds in all the things we do to honor him in our lives as we get ready for his coming. We celebrate his birth in such a special way that we can get lost in all the gifts we give. But we are honoring his coming into our lives as our Savior. He comes as the child that we all once were to let us knows where our relationship to him begins. He comes in such an unassuming way that we are not afraid of him. We prepare for his coming by showing the gratitude of love to all the people in our lives that are special to us. We give as a response to God giving His to us. How can we love the God we do not see if we do not love the neighbors we do see?  Every gift at Christmas time opens us to the gift that God is to us in his son Jesus.

Our prayer and the reading of Scripture give us a profound awareness for whom we are waiting. His coming makes a difference in our world despite how secular our world is becoming. How focused we are on the coming gives Advent its deepest meaning. Christ is the truth of who we are meant to be. We study his life that by our exposure to him we can find out who we are meant to be. We are created in the image and likeness of God in Christ. Christ is so much more than our ticket to heaven. We study who he becomes in his humanness to realize who we should become as children of God.

A good Advent takes planning. A morning of prayer can whet our appetite for Christmas. The meaning of our lives takes its form through how we share Christ with each other. We are motivated by seeing the expectation of the Hebrew people for the coming of the Messiah. At the Church of St. Aloysius in Washington D.C. on Dec. 8th there will be a morning of prayer with Mass that will be hopefully a good start for building up the spirit of Christmas in our hearts. Contemplative prayer is the language of love for God.  There will be three examples of Contemplative prayer to model the experience of that type of prayer. The experience is better than words to describe it. The Morning of prayer will start at 9 and will finish around 12. All are invited to be part of the celebration of the Immaculate Conception as a preparation for the Birth of Christ. In a world that has gone too secular, it is good to have a chance to put Christ back into Christmas.  Mary is a wonderful teacher of how to welcome the coming of Christ.

At Once They Left Their Nets

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.  Romans 10:9-10

“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  At once they left their nets and followed him.  Matthew 4:19-20

As we close out this liturgical year, grant us a spirit of trust.  Trust in you to call on us to be your arms and legs and fishers in this world.  Trust to hear what you call on us to do.  Trust to avoid distractions.  Trust to respond at once.  May the sunrise of tomorrow, bring us a new day in a life lived for you each moment of each day the year.   

“At once they left their nets.”

Simon.  Andrew.  James.  John.  All four had the same reaction to their Savior.  No hesitation.  No discernment.  No probationary period or plebe year. 

“At once they left their nets.”

Jesus also had no hesitation.  He did not require a long application.  No standardized testing.  No medical exam.  No blood tests.  He simply called.  And those who heard simply answered, “Yes” as they voted with their feet to follow. 

“At once they left their nets.”

There is precious little we do without undergoing research and evaluation.  If we are hiring for a job, we screen candidates, do background checks, conduct interviews, check references, and then narrow down the field to the chosen candidate.

“At once they left their nets.”

Not Jesus.  And certainly not the Apostles.  They set aside the rational behaviors and went on faith.  Look what happens when Peter tries to inject rational judgment.  On Good Friday, after the crowds turn on Jesus, he goes into denial to escape the same immediate fate.  Perhaps he figures that maintaining a psychic distance will help him save his hide.

Fortunately, at the outset, he does not want to create any distance between himself and the Lord.  The career as a follower will not be fruitful if he rejects the Lord.  What are a bunch of fish when you can be a fisher of souls?

With what are you occupied and preoccupied?  Are you still tending your nets and collecting the taxes of this world?

Perhaps you are still providing hospitality to visiting guests after Thanksgiving.  Perhaps you have begun jousting with the crowds shopping for gold, frankincense and myrrh at the Mall.  Perhaps you have never gotten a break from working in a service industry like restaurants, retail or services that are in demand. 

What can you leave behind in order to follow Him who calls?

My Words Will Not Pass Away

By Melanie Rigney

The court was convened, and the books were opened. I watched, then, from the first of the arrogant words which the horn spoke, until the beast was slain and its body thrown into the fire to be burnt up. The other beasts, which also lost their dominion, were granted a prolongation of life for a time and a season. As the visions during the night continued, I saw One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; when he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, he received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:10-14)

Everything growing on earth, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. (Daniel 3:75)

Jesus told his disciples a parable. “Consider the fig tree and all the other trees. When their buds burst open, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near; in the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Luke 21:29-33)

Lord, help me to glory in Your presence in the dawn and the dusk, in the cold and the heat, in joy and in heartbreak.

And here we are, with one more day (or two, depending on when you read this) to go in ordinary time. On Sunday, Advent begins and we move to the Year A readings, moving from the current Gospel of Luke to the Gospel of Matthew.

It’s a time of endings and beginnings in other aspects of our lives too: we wonder if this will be the last Christmas we have our parents or grandparents. We wonder if we’ll be parents or grandparents or even great-grandparents anew in the coming year. We wonder how that yearend review will go at work, and some of us wonder whether Congress will keep the federal government open in January. Some of our elected officials are worried about their own job status a year out. We wonder if we’ll be thinner/fatter/grayer/more wrinkled/poorer/richer/happier/more depressed/more spiritual/less beset by doubts and anxiety next year at this time.

Note that the Book of Daniel was written some 200 years before Jesus’s birth, and the Gospel of Luke was written more than thirty years after the Resurrection. This human focus on the ultimate Ending and final Beginning is as eternal as the Lord himself. But there’s simply no need for us to try to figure it out. God’s got it covered. He always has. As this liturgical year draws to a close, let’s refocus on God and the way He works in our lives now, today, and what we can do to bring His Word to the world.

Write down how you will attempt to see God more clearly, love Him more dearly, and follow him more nearly in the new liturgical year. Resolve to review your list at the end of each month.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

None But This Foreigner

And now, bless the God of all, who has done wondrous things on earth; who fosters people’s growth from their mother’s womb, and fashions them according to his will!  May he grant you joy of heart and may peace abide among you.  Sirach 50:22-23

As they were going they were cleansed.  And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.  He was a Samaritan.  Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not?  Where are the other nine?  Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”   Luke 17:15-18

Lord, we thank you for the goodness of our people and for the spirit of justice that fills this nation.  We thank you for the beauty and fullness of the land and the challenge of the cities.  We thank you for our work and our rest, for one another, and for our homes.  We thank you, Lord: accept our thanksgiving on this day.  We pray and give thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The foreign leper makes an intentional choice.  He and his companions experience an encounter with Jesus.  Some go off on their own way.  The lesson we learn from the foreign leper is that he returns to the Lord in thanksgiving.  He recognizes that the encounter changes him and changes the way he should live out his life.

In addition to the normal readings for Thursday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time, the magisterium also provides a set of readings for the uniquely American holiday of Thanksgiving. Those readings align with the Gospel from the closing Mass of the Men’s 103rd Cursillo in Arlington, VA.

The point of the Cursillo experience is that once we encounter Jesus on the mountaintop, we need to stay connected to Him and the mission He has for us in life.  Even though it can be hard to stay so focused without the support of our friends and community, Cursillo gives us methods to stay focused and supported.  We mark our continuing experience by choosing to intentionally incorporate piety, study and action in our daily lives. 

Thanksgiving is a day that is meant to change how we sleepwalk through out lives without considering the help we get from others.  In some ways, joined with Christmas and Easter, it is an ideal day to align with our Cursillo experience.  The Daily Examen is a practice that can strengthen our Fourth Day and help us emulate the Samaritan.  The five steps of this practice include:
1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Warnings… and a Promise

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Daniel answered the king: “You have rebelled against the Lord of heaven.  You had the vessels of his temple brought before you, so that you and your nobles, your wives and your entertainers, might drink wine from them; and you praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, that neither see nor hear nor have intelligence.  But the God in whose hand is your life breath and the whole course of your life, you did not glorify.  By him were the wrist and hand sent, and the writing set down.  (Daniel 5:17a, 23-24)

Jesus said to the crowd:  “They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name.  It will lead to your giving testimony.  Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute…  By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”  (Luke 21:12-15, 19)

Bless the Lord, my soul; all my being, bless his holy name!  (Psalm 103:1)

My mother never liked the end-of-the-church-year Scripture readings.  Too dark, grim and frightening, she would proclaim every year.  I suppose they can seem like that on the surface.

Both of our readings today constitute warnings.  In the verses taken from the Book of Daniel, the handwriting on the wall tells us what happens when we don’t acknowledge or glorify God.  King Belshazzar, a successor of Nebuchadnezzar, who carried the Jews off into exile, continues to hold them captive.  Carousing at a wild party, he drunkenly orders the sacred vessels pillaged from the Temple in Jerusalem brought in.  They are then desecrated by the guests.  Praises to false gods ring out.   The partying comes to an abrupt halt, however, when a hand is seen writing on the wall.  The prophet Daniel interprets the writing for the king.  The message is essentially that those who don’t worship the true God are found wanting and will not come to a good end.

In today’s Gospel reading, on the other hand, the warning is to believers.  Your very faith may be the cause for persecution and suffering.   Certainly this seems to be true today in other countries such as Egypt and Syria.  Here in Northern Virginia, I find more disdain for my faith than any type of persecution.  Acquaintances and friends who’ve left the Catholic Church sometimes sneeringly ask, “Do you still believe all that stuff?”

Yes, I believe.  And, my mother’s opinion aside, there is good news in these Scripture readings.  The Lord’s promise is that if we are faithful, if we are firmly rooted in him and our hearts are open to his presence in us, we have nothing to fear.  This doesn’t mean that we will never be looked down upon, seized or even asked to give our lives for our faith.  It does mean that when challenged, whether through persecution or disdain, Christ will give us the words to use in reply.  Beyond that, our faithful perseverance means that we will live in Christ and He will live in us forever.  I can think of no better news than that.

What would the handwriting on the wall say about you and your faith?

Monday, November 25, 2013

God’s Kingdom Shall Stand Forever

By Beth DeCristofaro

(Daniel said) “This was the dream; the interpretation we shall also give in the king’s presence. … In the lifetime of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever.  (Daniel 2:36, 44)

While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, he said, Jesus said, “All that you see here– the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” (Luke 21:5-6)

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.

‘Tis the season for over-the-top, in-your-face decorations everywhere.  Unfortunate that they arrive earlier every year.  But I must confess, I do enjoy the festive feel.  I particularly love the myriads of flowers used, especially in church and lights glimmering merrily at night.  Peering through the consumerism, it is hopeful to celebrate as a people, as Christians together.  We await the blessed human event of a divine baby’s birth at the same time we celebrate the eternal Kingdom that He ushered in with his Life, Death and Resurrection.

Tinsel, poinsettias, LED figurines, nativities, elves, “Christmooses” (Christmice?) and other modern “costly stones and votive offerings” are very short-lived.  They are apt metaphors for Jesus’ prophecy that in days to come there will be no stones standing.  We certainly spend a lot of time decorating for the holidays, putting on our faces to go to work, acquiring the most profitable career reputation, accumulating just the right cars, addresses and beach homes.  Or we might hide from life through addictions, false identities, and power trips.  All of these, just like our own lives will of course also be thrown down.   Have we prepared our own temple for Jesus to dwell within with as much effort, time and focus? 

Many things about life are both brief and treasured:  rainbows, infancy, the lights of Christmas, even a 40+ year marriage can feel short to two who are deeply in love and committed to each other.  What can you do to bring some sense of the eternal into your everyday so as to celebrate the exquisite gift of God’s presence, right here right now?  Am I focusing on “costly stones” or the attractions of culture rather than actively and humbly building God’s Kingdom?  Consider an on-line Advent retreat or reflection.  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Test Your Servants

Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief chamberlain had put in charge of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days.  Give us vegetables to eat and water to drink.  Then see how we look in comparison with the other young men who eat from the royal table, and treat your servants according to what you see.”  Daniel 1:11-13

He said, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”  Luke 21:3-4

Father, help us to imitate the examples of your servants Daniel and the poor widow.  Entering the last week in the Liturgical Year, may we keep our focus on the examples you provide rather than those offered up by Madison Avenue, Wall Street or Hollywood.  

As we stand on the threshold of the season of advertising and consumption, we have two models of alternative behavior.  Black Friday has almost taken on more prominence than Thanksgiving Day or the First Sunday of Advent.  The sales have already begun.  The stores open on Thursday (not even waiting for the clock to strike midnight).  As a society, we do not want to miss a single sale…a single chance to get a deal on something for ourselves or our family and friends. The present moment presents us with presents given and gotten.

Before we get too far into this week, think about how different the holiday would be if the image at the head of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was Daniel, not Snoopy or Santa.  Daniel, known for giving up the king's fine food for vegetables.  Or maybe the parade grand marshall should be the poor widow giving her last cent under the watchful eye of Jesus.  The poor widow giving up her last coin rather than spending it on herself could be dancing up a storm in Herald Square instead of the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes shilling for more ticket sales for the Christmas pageant.  

What test does this week offer to us?  How can we emulate the poor widow?  How do we accept the challenge to “put in more?”  The holiday advertisers are already tempting us with Doorbuster Sales…Pre-Black Friday Specials…Cyber Monday Now…and a Special Helping of Football.  

With all the recent natural disasters (Philippine typhoon, tornadoes in Illinois and more), here is another story to target your research before you open your wallet for disaster relief (