Thursday, January 30, 2014

Struck Down Dead

Memorial of Saint John Bosco, Priest

By Melanie Rigney

(David’s letter directed Joab): “Place Uriah up front, where the fighting is fierce. Then pull back and leave him to be struck down dead.” So while Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to a place where he knew the defenders were strong. When the men of the city made a sortie against Joab, some officers of David’s army fell, and among them Uriah the Hittite died. (2 Samuel 11:15-17)
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me. (Psalm 51:3-4)
“To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade. (Mark 4:30-32)

Lord, give me the wisdom to know when to beg forgiveness not only from You but from those I have injured… and when the better course is to avoid wounding even further those I have offended.

When it came to the Monkees (a ’60s TV show and sort of band), I was a Micky girl. When it comes to the Rolling Stones, I’m a Keith girl, through and through. And, when it comes to the Old Testament, I’m a total David girl. When I went to my first reconciliation in 30-plus years, Psalm 51 was provided for guidance in the evening’s program. It was the first time I’d ever read it. It spoke to me like no other written word ever had. Like David, I had lived and sinned large. I yearned for some of that confidence of his that if I went to God with a truly contrite heart, I could be forgiven, that no matter what I had done, God still loved me.

It was painful, therefore, as I prayed over today’s readings to put myself in the place not of my friend David but in the place of his friend Uriah. David was ashamed of the truth, of his dalliance with Bathsheba and the resulting pregnancy, and was too ashamed to give the truth to Uriah. Who knows? Perhaps Uriah would have called out David. Perhaps he would have forgiven both of them and accepted the child as his own. Or perhaps he would have stepped away from his marriage so David and Bathsheba could be together. David was too frightened or too ashamed or too arrogant to find out. And so he sent his friend, a good man, to death. For the first time, the incident left me feeling a little sour, rather than uplifted by the words of Psalm 51 penned after David realizes the enormity of what he has done. We don’t know if Uriah had parents or siblings or other friends and family members to whom David went after the fact to beg forgiveness.

I thought about people I have wounded, not to the point of death but still wounded, in the years since I first read Psalm 51. I was reminded that while our relationship with God is the most important one we’ll ever have, we don’t get a pass when it comes to the way we treat others. When we break that second greatest commandment, to love others as we love ourselves, the ripple effects can be huge. And I resolved that going forward, when I think of the beauty of Psalm 51, I will keep in mind the carnage behind it, and strive to leave less debris in the wake of my time here on earth.

Write a letter asking for forgiveness from someone you have injured. Mail it if appropriate. Offer up your weekend Mass prayers for this person.

Be Made Visible

Jesus said to his disciples, “Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?  For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light.  Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear.”  Mark 4:21-23

Lord, find a home with us.  Help us to overcome our anxiety.  Let our eyes see your mystery so it is no longer hidden.  Let our ears hear your message.  Then, let us go out like the Twelve on the mission you commit to us.

In many of the readings in already early in this season of ordinary time, Jesus performs a sign or a miracle and then tells the person healed not to say anything to others.  Or sometimes, he asks them only to tell the priests in the temple. 
The various people cannot keep from spreading the Word about Jesus. Jesus is hidden.  He started life in a dark stable and was brought to Egypt in secrecy.  He was in the protection of his family for years.  Yet, now as the ministry begins to be fulfilled, his “secret” is coming to light.  People are beginning to learn that he is the One, the Messiah. 

Following this series of parables, this chapter in Mark concludes not with a parable but with a miracle as Jesus will calm the stormy seas. He is no longer just talking about what will happen in symbolic parables.  Now, he is moving more swiftly into action. After he calms the seas, the next chapter is filled with driving out demons and healing.  His lamp is no longer under a bushel.  His lamp is being re-positioned on the highest lamp stand

Every day is a new Christmas.  Every day is a new Good Friday.  Every day is a new Easter.  These are days we can decide to do something to end hunger and poverty. 

Tuesday night, President Obama delivered his fifth State of the Union speech.  Since then, commentary on the speech have highlighted – among other things -- some details that advocates for poor people and immigrants, in particular, would like to see addressed.  According to the National Catholic Reporter, Fr. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, released a statement saying he was encouraged by Obama's focus on "creating ladders of opportunity that have the potential to raise up the vulnerable in our nation, strengthening communities across the country and restoring the dignity of every American."

As the country marks the 50th anniversary of the "war on poverty" launched under President Lyndon Johnson, said Snyder, "we must decide as a nation that we can't wait any longer to act on behalf of those least among us."

Where can you mount a lamp to shine its light on poverty so people can help to overcome it?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Building a House God’s Way

By Colleen O'Sullivan
“The Lord also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you...  Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.”  (2 Samuel 7:11c, 16)

And (Jesus) taught them at length in parables, and in the course of his instruction he said to them, “Hear this!  A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil.  It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots.  Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it and it produced no grain.  And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit.  It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” 
(Mark 4:2-8)

O Lord, may my efforts for your Kingdom be in line with your desires.  May I be a generous sower in your name.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes when we tell God what we’re going to do for him, we discover that God has a totally different plan in mind?  That’s what happens to King David.  He is looking around reflectively one day, admiring his fine cedar palace, when suddenly it occurs to him that there he is living in comfort while the ark of the Lord has nothing but a tent for a dwelling place.  He decides the thing to do is build God a fine house.  But God, it turns out, has something else entirely up his sleeve.  Through the prophet Nathan, God tells David: I have no need of a house right now.  After all, I’ve got the whole universe!  I’ve always wanted to be wherever my people are and I’ve never minded traveling around with a tent for a shelter.  No, here’s what I’m going to do.  I’m going to establish a house for you and your descendants, not of bricks and mortar (or cedar), but a dynasty that will last forever.

Jesus, of the house and lineage of David, is the fulfillment of that promise.  And what the Lord asks of you and me in today’s Gospel reading is that we work alongside him in his Father’s kingdom by sowing his word wherever and whenever we can.  Back in Jesus’ day, farmers had no idea what kind of soil they were dealing with, because they didn’t cultivate it before planting time.  They scattered the seed indiscriminately and hoped that some of it would sprout and yield a rich harvest.  Jesus asks us to do the same.  Don’t worry about the results; just be generous with the sowing.  Some of it will come to naught, but what falls on fertile ground may produce yields beyond our wildest dreams.

Christian sowing takes many shapes and forms.  In my Cursillo group, some women help each year with the hypothermia shelter when it comes to the local parish.  A few volunteer at the Lamb Center in Fairfax.  Others have served on team for Cursillo weekends.  Some participate in music ministries.  One person is part of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC), and works in a different IVC ministry each year.  Another teaches CCD.  There are simply too many types of sowing going on to capture them all here.

What seeds are you spreading for Christ?  Be generous as you spread the word, and when you pray today, ask the Lord to bless your efforts.  

Here Is My Brother, My Sister

By Beth DeCristofaro

And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.  For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3: 34-35)

Grant me, O Lord my God,
a mind to know you,
a heart to seek you,
wisdom to find you,
conduct pleasing to you,
faithful perseverance in waiting for you,
and a hope of finally embracing you.   Amen.
        (St Thomas Aquinas)

Two weeks ago, three-year-old “Coco” Campolongo was killed along with his grandfather in a Mafia assassination carried out because the older man had not repaid a debt.  In his address Sunday before the Angelus, Pope Francis prayed not only for the murdered innocent but also for his killers.  In part he said:  “Let us pray with Cocò, who is surely in heaven with Jesus, for the people who committed this crime that they repent and convert to the Lord” (  The Holy Father denounced the awful crime yet also held out hope that God’s grace and mercy will soften the hearts of the criminals and, essentially, welcome them back into Jesus’ family.

Perhaps Jesus’ words to his followers and Pope Francis’ words to us can induce us to pause and consider who is called.  Pope Francis also reminded his audience that Jesus’ Word is for everyone and that salvation is withheld from no one.  He challenges us to leave our places of comfort and spread the Word to everyone, everywhere.  Jesus is not just for those we are comfortable being around or with whom we agree.

I find it difficult to believe that the shooters at Columbia Mall, VA Tech, Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, etc., etc., etc., might be Jesus’ brothers.   But indeed they might.  Instead of hardening our protective perimeters and tightening restrictions on those with mental illness we might look closely and with love at those who are lonely, hurting, marginalized and angry.  Perhaps this is the time to beat our guns into plowshares and evangelize our environments in such a way that people no longer choose violence to express how isolated they are from fellow humans and from God.   Jesus lived in a violent age of oppression.  He shunned violence.  What can I do?  Consider

Monday, January 27, 2014

Tie Up the Strong Man

But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man.  Then he can plunder his house. Mark 3:27

Father, you have found your servant.  Free us from the lures of the strong man so that we might turn to you in obedience.  Through your mercy, make us worthy and strong to tackle the mission you have for us.

Jesus uses an image here which his audience knows well from the Prophet Isaiah: “Can plunder be taken from a warrior, or captives rescued from a tyrant?  Thus says the LORD: Yes, captives can be taken from a warrior, and plunder rescued from a tyrant; Those who oppose you I will oppose, and your sons I will save.”  (IS 49:24-25)

Jesus has been presenting his mission as the fulfillment of the prophecy.  Here, he explains that he is stronger than his enemies.  There are at least three ways (IMHO) two ways to look at the metaphor of the strong man.  All of them might be right. 

First, is Satan the strong one?  Until Jesus can overcome the temptations and diversions planted by the Evil One, Jesus cannot get us to work for His love.  However, who but one stronger can overtake the strong man?  Therefore, Jesus succeeds in this endeavor by tying up the strong man (Satan) so that Jesus himself is free to operate and win over our hearts and minds.
Second, are we the strong one?  We can be the humans in His audience that day or the humans in the extended audience of the Gospel reading now.  Our selfishness is what Jesus has to get us to control.  Once he ties that up, Jesus can get us to focus on the love of God and the love of our neighbor.   Or are we more like Martha’s and Mary’s brother Lazarus, tied up in cloth from which we need to be cut free?

Finally, is Jesus the strong one?  Probably this is the only real reading that matters.  The winner in this tug-of-war between good and evil is whoever prevails in the end.  The survival of the fittest will be the survival of the one who can conquer all others – including sin and death.  The only One who fits that bill is the itinerant preacher and carpenter’s son from Nazareth.  He ties up the strong man and then frees us from what has us tied up in knots.

"Strong man" does not have many good connotations in modern society outside of a circus.  Politically, a ruler who is considered a "strong man" usually is considered dictatorial.  He rules by force in an authoritarian regime.  The Philippines used to be ruled by a strong man in the person of President Marcos.  Franco in Spain.  Casto in Cuba.  Mao in China.  Mubarak in Egypt.  Robert Mugabe.  Napoleon.  Noriega in Panama.  Quadafi in Libya.  Stalin.  Putin. 

Strong man does not imply strong leadership.  Leadership by inspiration and the positive force of personality is practically the opposite of leadership by force.  In this camp think Franklin Roosevelt.  Think Nelson Mandela.  Think Pope John Paul II and now Pope Francis.  Perhaps our current pontiff is the anti-strongman. 

Practically a week does not go by where our new Pope, in power less than a year, does not do or say something or get photographed in a very pastoral situation. 
Some of his recent "tweets" on the Pontifex Twitter account are near daily reminders of how to bind the strong man:
  • It is easy to ask God for things; we all do it. When will we also learn to give him thanks and to adore him? (January 25)
  • We are called to live our baptism every day, as new creatures, clothed in Christ. (January 24)
  • Like Mary, may we nurture the light born within us at Christmas. May we carry it everywhere in our daily lives. (January 23)
  • It is not enough to say we are Christians. We must live the faith, not only with our words, but with our actions. (January 22)

Whether he is having two children joined him to release peace doves or speaking with compassion about a child attacked over the alleged debts of his father, Pope Francis binds the strong men by disarming them with his words, deeds and attitude. His example gives me inspiration to tackle with love the strong men (and women) I encounter. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Great Light

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness: for there is no gloom where but now there was distress.  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.  Isaiah 8:23-9:1

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.  He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled.  Matthew 4:12-14

Piety brings the union of minds and souls for the purpose of loving Christ as a brother.  Christ is much more than an acquaintance of our lives.  He is much more than a friend.  Our love for him brings us to live what Paul talks about in Gal. 2, 19 when he says he no longer lives, but Christ lives in him.  We are going towards a relationship of identity.  Christ calls us to find our real selves in him.  We are created in the image and the likeness of Christ.  When we find ourselves in him, we find the real self.  People today talk about looking for the real meaning of their lives.  We know that the real meaning of our lives is found in Christ.  He wants to be so much more than a friend.  Christ would be our soul mate.  Our spiritual journey challenges us to do more than put on the mind and the heart of Christ.  We are called to be real Christs by our vocation as Christians.

We know that it is Christ that is calling and tugging at our hearts by the love he has for us.  The union of Christians will happen because we recognize the call of Christ in each other.  Christ dispels the darkness of our world by the light of his life.  We see his presence in the good people of our lives.  We are able to stretch our limits because he shows us the way in the generous souls that accompany our journey.  We find by the principle of attraction where we are meant to be.  It is Christ that is the cohesion of our love for our community.  He breaks down the walls that exist in small minds.  He dispels our gloom by his light.  We who have walked in darkness have seen the great light of Christ in the good people of our lives.  Christ dispels our darkness by the intensity of our search for him in each other.

We need to let go of differences by the decision to look for the best possible meaning in each other.  Christ lives in the needs of us all.  We work for Christ and honor Christ when we appreciate the good of each other.  There is no person who does not rejoice when another sees the good he or she is trying to do.  The ‘P.M.A.’ of this walk with Christ is the positive mental appreciation of what others do.  We need to keep a high ‘pma’ in our lives is we want to dispel the darkness that loses people on the edges of our community.  We need to strive to have together the mind and heart that was in Christ.  The wisdom of the cross is seen in the offering of our lives for one another.  Christ is our way, our truth and our life.  We need to walk together toward Christ to unite our world in God’s love for us in the “Word Made Flesh.”  We work at being Christ’s love for our world.

Every Creature

“I asked, ‘What shall I do, sir?’ The Lord answered me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told about everything appointed for you to do.’  Since I could see nothing because of the brightness of that light, I was led by hand by my companions and entered Damascus.”  Acts 22:10-11

“Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”  Mark 16:15

We cannot merely pray to God to root out prejudice; 
For we already have eyes 
With which to see the good in all people 
If we would only use them rightly.
We cannot merely pray to God to end starvation; 
For we already have the resources 
With which to feed the entire world 
If we would only use them wisely.
Excerpts from “A Prayer for Social Action” by Jack Reimer

The disciples are commanded to proclaim the Gospel “to every creature.”  

Building off of yesterday’s message about ministering even to one’s enemy, we see in our first reading for today the story of the conversion of Saul.  Jesus speaks to BOTH Saul (an enemy and persecutor) and Anais (a disciple).  Jesus once again shows by example that the Lord is not asking us to do anything the he would not do himself.  He reveals truth to both his enemy and his friend.  Both are challenged to all themselves to be led by the Word into action.  Both obey.

Just think of the implications of this.  Ever fight with your siblings?  Have a disagreement with your neighbor over a fence line or their trash?  Ever disagree with the government or politicians.  The challenge of the Gospel of Love is to overcome or get past these kinds of disagreements and always side with Him.
In a society that wants to put everyone and everything into a box, the Good News defies boxes.  Jesus defies Blue states and Red states. 

Think of the story of two nuns in the news these days. Mother Patricia Mary, l.S.P. runs the Mullen Home for the Aged in Denver.  Her order, the Little Sisters of the Poor have been in the news fighting an unjust law.  The news cycle for the last three weeks have pitted the order of nuns against the Obama Administration.  The have allies from Fox News to the Becket Fund to Catholic University.  Yesterday, they prevailed in an intermediate victory not to comply with the unjust law. 

Now consider Sister Megan Rice, a nun with the Society of the Holy Child Jesus.  She too is fighting an unjust law but it is a much more lonely fight.  On July 28, 2012, Rice, at 82 years old, and two fellow activists (Michael R. Walli and Gregory I. Boertje-Obed) broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, spray-painted antiwar slogans, and splashed blood on the outside of the heavily guarded Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.  Then they waited for officials to arrest them.  A jury found them guilty and they face sentencing next week which could land them in jail for up to 30 years.

Both Mother Patricia and Sister Megan are challenged to be led by the hand in following the Gospel of Life.  Both obey.  Are you read to walk with both of them and support them in their nonviolent fights? 

They are proclaiming the Good News to every creature – be they instruments of the culture supporting abortion or a culture support construction of nuclear weapons.  Our challenge is to embrace a consistent ethic of life on all issues, not just the ones we or the media think are popular. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Great Is the Generosity

By Melanie Rigney

(Saul said to David:) “You are in the right rather than I; you have treated me generously, while I have done you harm. Great is the generosity you showed me today, when the Lord delivered me into your grasp and you did not kill me. For if a man meets his enemy, does he send him away unharmed?” (1 Samuel 24:18-20)
Have mercy on me, God, have mercy. (Psalm 57:2)
(Jesus) appointed Twelve, whom he also named Apostles, that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. (Mark 3:14-15)

Lord, help me to be charitable to my enemies, even when I catch them off their guard and at a total disadvantage.

Who is the biggest enemy you’ve ever had in your life, not counting yourself? Perhaps it’s person who injured you or a loved one physically. Or maybe it’s the person who successfully wooed the man or woman you considered the love of your life, or that annoyingly perfect person who always manages to ace you out of promotions at work or plum assignments in ministry. What would you do if you had the opportunity to rid yourself of that enemy once and for all, to exact retribution and wipe him or her off the face of the earth forever?

That felt good for a moment or two, didn’t it, imagining that person getting his or her just desserts?

Now think of David, one of most magnificent, flawed people we meet in the Bible. Saul’s been hunting him down with three thousand of Israel’s finest. But when David has the advantage of surprise, he does nothing more than cut off an end of Saul’s cloak. He confronts Saul, and says he will leave it to God to determine the ruler, hardly what one would expect of a cunning military tactician.

It seems insanely risky, this decision of David’s to let Saul go when he could have permanently destroyed his one-time mentor. Yet it typifies David’s grand faith, his total ability to trust more in God than in himself, on those occasions when he resisted his impulses to act rashly and worry about the consequences later. May we do the same in our relationships with friend and foe alike.

Pray today for a current or former enemy—and for yourself, that the venom inside you may be released and replaced with compassion.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Touch Him

Jonathan then spoke well of David to his father Saul, saying to him: “Let not your majesty sin against his servant David, for he has committed no offense against you, but has helped you very much by his deeds.  When he took his life in his hands and slew the Philistine, and the LORD brought about a great victory for all Israel through him, you were glad to see it.  Why, then, should you become guilty of shedding innocent blood by killing David without cause?”  1 Samuel 19:4-5

Hearing what he was doing, a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem…He had cured many and, as a result, those who had diseases were pressing upon him to touch him…He warned them sternly not to make him known. (Mark 3:8A, 10, 12)

Excerpts from “A Prayer for Social Action” by Jack Reimer
We cannot merely pray to God to end war; 
For the world was made in such a way
That we must find our own path of peace
Within ourselves and with our neighbor…
Therefore we pray instead 
For strength, determination, and will power,
To do instead of merely to pray
To become instead of merely to wish;
That our world may be safe,
And that our lives may be blessed.

Because the books of the Hebrew Bible are arranged in a set order, I always assumed that it was a chronologically re-telling of salvation history.  But today is an example of how the time frame in this long narrative for the prophets overlapped. The words and deeds of Jonathan seem to foreshadow a warning that the prophet Ezekiel echoes later in the Hebrew Bible.  “Son of man, I have appointed you a sentinel for the house of Israel.  When you hear a word from my mouth, you shall warn them for me.” (Ezekiel 3:17)

Even though the warning from Ezekiel to be the watchtower for society, the events in Samuel’s history and Ezekiel’s warning both at the same time according to the notes in the New American Bible -- after the fall of Jerusalem (587 B.C.). 

The Divine Right of Kings like Saul to do whatever they want was a part of the social-economic-political life in the world both ancient and modern.  In some ways, the attitude if not the actuality of it passed on today’s leaders in countries around the world. Many of the individuals in modern history whose lives stand out do so because they elected, like Jonathan, to take an ordinary stand against an unjust regime.

Think Ghandi in India.  Think Lech Walesa and the shipyard workers in Gdansk, Poland who cracked the wall of the iron curtain with the organization of the Solidarity trade union.  Think Aun San Suu Kyi in Burma.  Think Nelson Mandela in Africa.  Think the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., right here in the United States.  They have all shown us that a struggle can be mounted with words and direct action, not with violence, the effect change in the world. Most (except Ghandi) are counted among the 101 individuals and 22 organizations which have earned the Nobel Peace Prize.

In essence, we all have inherited the legacy of Jonathan.  It’s right there in our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. We have the right to redress grievances by the petitioning the government.  We have the right to elect rulers and if they don’t do a fair and legal and ethical job, to bounce them out by peaceful election or by impeachment.  

We may not be a U.S. attorney investigating abuse of power, but this preferential option for action also is embedded in our covenant with God.  We have a tendency to focus on the preferential option for the poor that is rooted in Catholic Social Teaching.  However, no less a thread in that fabric is our responsibility to speak up and act out like Jonathan or those Polish shipyard workers.  It’s right there in the themes of Catholic Social Teaching enumerated in the USCCB web site:
The Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Therefore, every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities--to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.

Just like Jonathan, we must speak out when we see injustice anywhere.  But we also must act, just like Jesus did with the people he cured with a touch.  Pick an issue and petition your government this week to make the changes you want to see in society.  Yesterday, thousands braved sub-zero weather to petition the U.S. government to change laws on abortion and protect the unborn. 

What issue shall you touch to petition the government about to bring about a seamless garment that advocates for a consistent ethic of life in our culture?  How will you do it?  Start small with letters and work your way up to direct action.  And do not forget to turn first to God for guidance.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Trust in God

By Colleen O’Sullivan
… Saul answered David, “You cannot go up against this Philistine and fight with him, for you are only a youth, while he has been a warrior from his youth.”  David continued:  “The Lord, who delivered me from the claws of the lion and the bear, will also keep me safe from the clutches of this Philistine.”  Saul answered David, “Go!  The Lord will be with you.” (1 Samuel 17:33-37)

(Jesus) said to the man with the withered hand, “Come up here before us.”  Then he said to the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”  But they remained silent.  Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”   (Mark 3:3-5)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely;
In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6)

In first grade, it was those big, tall third graders down the hall and on the playground.  Years later, it was going away to school in another part of the country.  Then, before I knew it, school days were over and I was an adult, out in the world, on my own, becoming a pastor of a church for the first time.  Fast forward a little over a decade and it was figuring out how to leave my church members and come back to the Catholic Church.  As I’ve grown older, there’ve been losses of beloved friends and family members. Only a few years down the pike, retirement is looming. 

There are many Goliaths in every one of our lives, hurdles that loom large on our horizons, anxiety-producing specters.  When I look back, I realize I’ve survived all these hurdles that seemed so insurmountable at the time, some better than others.  And the truth is, the ones I came out better on were the things I entrusted to God.  David was right to put his confidence in the God who had already saved him from many dangers.  That trust in the Lord was what enabled the young man to go out and face the Philistine’s infamous giant.

When we read the psalms attributed to David, it’s fairly obvious that God wasn’t someone he merely believed in.  God was someone with whom he had an intimate relationship, so much so that he felt free not only to praise his Creator, but to pour out his despair and even anger at times.  That’s the type of relationship Jesus would like to have with each of us, one so close that we are able to share all the details of our lives with him – the good, the bad and the ugly.  We see in today’s Gospel reading how compassionate and caring our Savior is.  He is ready to heal our ills, to stand by us as we confront the Goliaths in our lives.  He is there waiting for us every moment of every day, seven days a week.  

Going through life with a pull-up-your socks, go-it-alone attitude is unnecessarily difficult.  It’s no way to live and it doesn’t help us face down the inevitable Goliaths along life’s way.  Jesus desires to be our friend and stronghold.  A wonderful book I can recommend on this subject is A Friendship Like No Other by William A. Barry, S.J.

Today is the March for Life in Washington, DC.  Pray for the safety and well-being of all those gathered from across the nation in these frigid temperatures.

Monday, January 20, 2014

I Have Chosen My Servant

By Beth DeCristofaro

Not as man sees does God see, because he sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.” … Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and from that day on, the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David.  (1 Samuel 16:7, 13)

Then (Jesus) said to them, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.  That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”  (Mark 2:28)

I have chosen David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him.
  My hand will be with him;
my arm will make him strong.
  No enemy shall outwit him,
nor shall the wicked defeat him.
  I will crush his foes before him,
strike down those who hate him. …
  Forever I will maintain my mercy for him;
my covenant with him stands firm.
 (Psalm 89:21, 27)

St. Agnes, chosen by God, witnessed to her faith and trust in God by refusing to worship the Roman Gods and even refusing a Roman husband who might well have been able to rescue her from martyrdom.  Her fidelity and courage moved even those who were vehement Christian haters.   I recently heard the story of an African American man who served 30+ years in prison, many of them in solitary confinement on death row, for the murder of two policemen.  If it were not the Deep South he might have been found guilty for a lesser crime because the two officers were Klansmen who threatened him, a mitigating circumstance which finally led to his release.  This man, however, always held hope that he would someday be freed.  He told an interviewer that he had been called to by God to help others even during his incarceration.  He bears no ill-will nor does he see himself as a victim.

In the Collect of today’s Mass we pray:  “Almighty ever-living God, who chooses what is weak in the world to confound the strong, mercifully grant, that we, who celebrate the heavenly birthday of your Martyr Saint Agnes, may follow her constancy in the faith. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”  May our constancy follow us in our moments of greatest weakness for it is our need that we experience God’s greatest strength.

In a recent homily “Pope Francis invited the faithful to ask for the grace to be docile to the Word of God, a Word that ‘discerns the feelings and thoughts of the heart’.” (   The church offers many opportunities to be chosen.  Tonight at 6:30 is Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for an end to abortion.  February 2-6 Catholics will gather to discern how to be a “poor church for the poor” at the Social Ministry Gathering.  This is the International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  See the USCCB website for more information. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Fresh Wineskins

But Samuel said: “Does the LORD so delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obedience to the command of the LORD?  Obedience is better than sacrifice and submission than the fat of rams.  1 Samuel 15:22

“No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak.  If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse.  Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins.  Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined.  Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”  Mark 2:21-22

Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail, August 1963

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus realized that he was bringing something new into the world.  Before he could change course, he started from where people were at his present moment.

Although Jesus wants a new obedience to come from his instructions, his message built directly off of the prophetic teaching right up through John the Baptist.  In picking up where they left off, he still seeks something from his followers that the prophets did not obtain – obedience.  In the first reading, the student Samuel chastises his mentor Saul for his lack of obedience.  That same sense of admonition comes out of the mouths of the Pharisees. 

Jesus wants us to take on a new attitude, not just the same lip service that the Pharisees and Sadducees paid to Hebrew law.  He wants us to take up this message with a new attitude -- like it is a new law.  Rather than sticking with the ways of the past (burnt offerings), he wants us to adopt a new way of following in His footsteps.

New wine (Jesus’ teaching) must be poured into new wineskins (our minds, hearts and souls).

Today, the nation celebrates a day devoted to the spirit of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Posters abound which us not to make this just a day off, but a day engaged in making his “dream” a reality.  Most will see or hear some of all of the famous “I Have a Dream” speech in the media today. 

Rev. King also took to task the Pharisees of his day when he wrote in longhand the Letter from the Birmingham Jail in longhand to eight white religious leaders of the South.  These leaders had called his present actions of civil disobedience "unwise and untimely."  However, in justifying the actions that landed him in jail, Dr. King reminded his critics that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The tension that exists between Jesus and the Pharisees over the lack of “proper fasting” is similar to the tension between Dr. King’s civil disobedience and those calling for negotiation.  Dr. King explained that there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. He wrote, “It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.”

“We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God.”

Interestingly, Jesus uses the image of the bridegroom – who represents half of a couple bound together in extreme love.  King also calls on those who read this seminal letter to be extremist in Christ’s love.

Jesus was as disappointed in the Hebrew church leaders as Dr. King was in the leadership of the white churches of the South and the rest of the nation – leaders who wanted to pay attention to the letter of the law and not the spirit of love that infused the law.

King knows what Jesus wants – an obedience to the Good News which does not separate social issues from the gospel. He concludes by writing, “Over the last few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. So I have tried to make it clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or even more, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.”

Dr. King wants the message of obedience to the Good News to be held in fresh wineskins, not judged from the perspective of old laws that preserved inequality and oppression.

“What is new and what is creative and what is strong demands something strong and new to hold it,” said Dr. King in a sermon at the beginning of 1962.  New messages cannot be confronted by closed minds.  Jesus was ahead of his time because people did not fully realize how to accept and put into practice his new message of love.  

Dr. King’s ideas also were ahead of his time and his 1962 sermon and his 1963 incarceration.  He knew that “If you have new wine of integrity and concern, be sure that you get a new bottle strong enough and powerful enough to hold it.”  

If Dr. King were alive today, he would be finding new battles to fight and new messages to deliver.  What do you think he would be getting arrested to change?  Are you willing to be by his side in that cell be it Birmingham or Boston, Jerusalem or Jacksonville?