Saturday, May 31, 2014

Why Are You Standing There?

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

“Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?”  Acts 1:11a

May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might.  Ephesians 1:18-19

“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:18-20

Our piety is forever asking us the question of the angels to the Apostles. Why stand you here idle?”  Piety is our love of the Lord and our love is shown by actions. The command of the Lord is simplicity itself. The Father has given all power in heaven to him. Christ’s command is that we make disciple of all the nations. He promises his presence to us to the end of time. He asks us to pass on to others what we have learned from him.

We look at what Christ must have been wondering about to himself. The task was so daunting that he must have wondered how he was going to be able to spread what he taught the Apostles through them. He must have looked to the Spirit with a desire for his apostles that we cannot imagine. At the last Supper he prayed not only for them but also for those who would come to believe because of the Apostles. That is the endless prayer of Christ that comes down through the ages. Christ is praying for those who will come to believe because of us. The task is daunting; but all is possible to the love of God.

Our actions speak the reality of God in our life. Our actions are how we get our feet back on the solid ground of walking as extensions of Christ in all we say and do. We have to be more than space cadets looking up to the sky without any connection to the Church and the Mystical Body of Christ that we are all parts of by our apostolates that flow from our Baptism.  Actions speak louder than words. We can preach always by our lives and occasionally use words. The Ascension is the Nativity of Eternal Life for the Church. We claim the Resurrection of Christ by the joy of the Resurrection already ours by our vision of the Christ of the Resurrection. Christ comes back into our lives by the work of the Spirit that gives us the seven gifts of Wisdom, Knowledge, Counsel, Understanding, Piety, Fortitude and Fear of the Lord.  These gifts strengthen and enlighten the way we try to do the work of Christ. These gifts of the Spirit allow us to be the continuity of the humanness of Christ by the way we live out the Sacramental life of the Church. Our Baptism makes us the presence of Christ in all that we are doing to spread the waters of Baptism over our world. 

Exercise Hospitality

Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality.  Romans 12:12-13

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.  Luke 1:53

Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for He is going to say, "I came as a guest, and you received Me" (Matt. 25:35).  And to all let due honor be shown, especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims.  (Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 53: On the Reception of Guests)

Mary and Elizabeth are a study in contrasts.  First we encounter a woman so young and inexperienced that she has become pregnant without having “relations with a man.” (Luke 1:34b).  Then we have the sign given to Mary in confirmation of the angel’s announcement to her is the pregnancy of her aged relative Elizabeth. If a woman past the childbearing age could become pregnant, why, the angel implies, should there be doubt about Mary’s pregnancy, for nothing will be impossible for God.

Is it any wonder that they had a lot to discuss?  Mary hastened to see Elizabeth and stayed three months. This kind of open hospitality is the perfect metaphor for all things biblical. Where people live, what they eat or do not eat, with whom they spend time, and more are the constant themes spread throughout sacred history and our ordinary times as well. 

Hospitality abounds.  Adam and Eve are welcomed into a garden to live…and then expelled. Noah invites pairs of all species onto his allegorical houseboat.  From kings to shepherds to kings, the Bible is about these ordinary encounters of hospitality that become extraordinary when Jesus dwells inside Mary.  Mary visits Elizabeth.  There is no room at the inn.  The Son of Man has no place to lay his head until his head is laid in a cave and covered with a rock. Down to the very end when he invites his friends one last time to a breakfast of fish grilled on an open fire.  And his final commands to Peter is one of hospitality:  "Feed my sheep!"

Exercise hospitality. It’s more fun than dining alone. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

“No One Will Take Your Joy Away from You”

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

By Melanie Rigney

One night while Paul was in Corinth, the Lord said to him in a vision, “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you. No one will attack and harm you, for I have many people in this city.” He settled there for a year and a half and taught the word of God among them. (Acts 18:9-11)

All you peoples, clap your hands, shout to God with cries of gladness, for the Lord, the Most High, the awesome, is the great king over all the earth. (Psalms 47:2-3)

Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy. When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” (John 16:20-22)

Lord, be my port, my shelter, and my rainbow in the storms that buffet my life.

Has your hour arrived?

I suspect many of us feel we have more than one during our lives. I think of the heartaches some of my friends have endured in the past couple of years: loss of an infant after less than one day of life, after an all-too-normal full-term pregnancy. The death of a spouse who suffered a never-before-experienced seizure while driving and was involved in a head-on collision. The discovery of not one but two life-threatening medical conditions despite decades of healthy, balanced living. The loss of yet another job at an age where it’s next to impossible to find a new one.

Will their grief be turned into joy at some point? For some, it appears to be in progress. The young couple is pregnant again, five months later. The woman who lost her husband has retired and moved to the vacation home where they both had hoped to live in a few more years. The others are waiting, hoping, and praying. That’s all any of us can do when our hour is here or approaching. It’s about having the patience and faith to follow, and to believe in that greatest of all love, even when there is no earthy evidence of it.

The great St. Teresa of Avila talked of the road we travel with and to Christ this way in her Way of Perfection:
It is most important—all-important, indeed—that they should begin well by making an earnest and most determined resolve not to halt until they reach their goal, whatever may come, whatever may happen to them, however they may have to labor, whoever may complain of them, whether they reach their goal or die on the road or have no heart to confront the trials which they meet, whether the very world dissolves before them.

For despite how important a beautiful baby, a good job, and wonderful spouse and indeed our very lives on earth are to us, they do not represent the ultimate joy. We find that when we believe what the Lord promises: We will see him and nothing can ever take that from us.

Set aside fifteen minutes of prayer time today to listen: not to ask for or complain about a single thing. Consider how you feel when the time has passed.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Grief Will Become Joy

“When they opposed him and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your heads!  I am clear of responsibility.  From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”  Acts 18:6

“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.”  John 16:20

Those who sow in tears will reap with cries of joy.  Those who go forth weeping, carrying sacks of seed, Will return with cries of joy, carrying their bundled sheaves.  Psalm 126:5-6

When Paul’s preaching was rejected, he literally “shook out his garments.”  This is a gesture indicating Paul’s repudiation of his mission to the Jews there and he then turns to preach to the Gentiles.  This follows the instruction from Jesus which is reinforced in all of the Synoptic Gospels.

“Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’ Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand.”  Luke 10:10-11

Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.  Matthew 10:14

Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.”  Mark 6:11

Rather than go forth weeping for the failure of this ministry to take root, Jesus tells his followers to continue to persevere until their words fall on ears which are willing to hear and hearts which are willing to open.

By human accounts, Jesus was an itinerant preacher who was rejected by his closest followers in his own temple and town.  He was turned over to belligerent occupying authorities, convicted of trumped up charges without any advocate to speak on his behalf.  There were no long appeals when he was put on death row.  No ACLU taking his case back to the emperor in Rome or to the military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay.  Yet Jesus was not discouraged by “failure” in the human accomplishments because the grief that his friends experienced was turned to joy when Peter marched into that empty tomb.

Does failure discourage you?  When have you “failed” at something if judged by the standards of the world?  What lessons have you learned from failure?  What part of Jesus did that experience allow you to pick up and carry with you?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Guide You to All Truth

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

The God who made the world and all that is in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands...For ‘In him we live and move and have our being,’ as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’  Acts 17:24, 28

“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.  But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.  He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming.  John 16:12-13

Father, in unity share with us all that is yours so that we may come to know you and love you. Amen.

A close friends who was raised Catholic is one of many of my friends who has moved away from the organized church for much of his adult life.  Today’s reading reminds me of how he spends his Sundays.  He does not spend time in sanctuaries made by human hands but rather running around a lake or on the beach or just around the city or suburb where he happens to live or visit. Being out in the natural surroundings of God’s natural environment is his way of worshiping what God has created and given to us.  
He moves and has his being there while people run toward churches on Sunday only to live how they choose from Monday through Saturday.  My friend lives his faith experience in serving others in his job, in his family, and in his community.
Those Greeks Gnostics addressed by Paul paved the way for people like my friend.  They don’t have any issue with parts of the Word.  However, some of the church practices and hypocrisies have driven them away over the years. 

Pope Francis has signaled that he may be open to addressing some of the practices and sins which have driven people away from the church.  The news Monday after his visit to the Holy Land announced that he will meet with a small group of victims of sexual abuse along with Boston Archbishop Cardinal Sean O’Malley. 
When issues like sexual abuse, celibacy, the treatment of opportunities for all people and more are addressed in a substantive and meaningful way, maybe more people will react like Dionysius, Damaris, and others who invited church leaders of today to return and speak to them some more about the Good News as the Holy Spirit guide us all to the truth.

Rejoice in Your Faith in God

By Beth DeCristofaro

…Paul shouted out in a loud voice, “Do no harm to yourself; we are all here.” … (The jailer) brought them up into his house and provided a meal and with his household rejoiced at having come to faith in God.  (Acts 16:26, 34)

Jesus said to his disciples: “Now I am going to the one who sent me, and not one of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’  But because I told you this, grief has filled your hearts.  But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go.  For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. (John 16: 5-7)

Yahweh, Elohim, al-Lah, God is the presence
in whom my being comes alive
the core and ground of my existence
the infinite and inexhaustible ground of all being
the source of life and goodness
the fountain of all holiness
the originator of unconditional love and
the initiator of the Big Bang.
This presence calls me to fullness of life
to praise and thanksgiving
to integrity and wholesomeness and
to courageous vulnerable love.
Rabbi Jesus the Messiah teaches me
to live fully
to act justly
to love tenderly
to walk humbly with my God and
where necessary to lose graciously.

Recently I watched a movie – a good one – during which someone tried to comfort a grieving person with the familiar “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”  We try so hard to put rationality into mystery, to have reason within realms of emotion and to envision divinity pulling strings so that tragedy might have purpose.

It seems to me that much of the Gospel, however, speaks of the Lord giving.  Love and the Spirit imbues sacredness to what we often feel is just ordinary.  Paul could have escaped, an angel opened the way for him, but he stayed to proclaim the Word and thus Life to his persecutor.  Jesus confirms his friends’ sorrow but tells them that their sorrow is mortal while the Spirit is eternal and will rest within them if they continue to believe. 

Differences abound and secular difficulties seem insurmountable in the Middle East.  Pope Francis, Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Muslim leader Omar Abboud embraced at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem during the Papal visit, certainly a rejoicing in God, a faith shared by each of them.  Pope Francis has also continued his message that economic injustice, cruelty to children in any form and persecution of persons based on religion are intolerable and not of God.

In what ways can we more fully rejoice in the gift of faith and the truth that God is present in our lives?  Are there times when we exclude?   Do we hold stereotypes around groups to be true without seeking the face of God in the other?  Pray and consider what you would do if you were given the choice to make that Paul made – stay in bondage in order to free someone.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Consider Me a Believer

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, Priest

One of them, a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying.  After she and her household had been baptized, she offered us an invitation, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home,” and she prevailed on us.  Acts 16:14-15

“Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.  If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.  And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me.”  John 15:20-21

God of peace, stir in the hearts of the leaders of all nations, and in all who would use violence to further their cause. Change their hearts and minds. Give them a passion for peace. Bring an end to the pain, suffering, injustice, and violence in our world.
We know, dear Lord that ultimate peace will not come until your kingdom is here in all of its fullness. Nevertheless, we pray for a foretaste of the future. We ask for the growth of peace throughout our world today, so that fewer and fewer men and women will have to risk and even to sacrifice their lives. May your kingdom come, Lord, and your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven!
All praise be to you, God of grace, God of mercy, God of justice, God of peace!  Amen

A memorial on Memorial Day.  Today, the memorial for St. Philip Neri coincides with the civil holiday of Memorial Day in the United States. 
In the Roman liturgical calendar, we learn that “memorials” are lower in importance than solemnities and feasts.  There are 159 memorials listed in the general Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, and six more that are celebrated only in the dioceses of the United States. Many of the fixed days dedicated in memory of a saint like Philip Neri are memorials – and can be viewed through two different lenses either obligatory or optional.  Of the 165 memorials celebrated in the US, 71 are listed as obligatory (like today) and 94 are listed as optional.  On those 71 days, every church in every location celebrates the same memorial.
Working in parallel with the liturgical calendar, Memorial Day can be observed through two different lenses.  Through the lens of the civil-religious calendar, it is a day for remembering and honoring those who have died in battle – giving the ultimate sacrifice. 
More than 150 years ago, in its earliest traditions, it was called Decoration Day and was an occasion to put flowers or flags on the graves of veterans.  This is distinct from Veterans Day which honors those who are or who have served in the armed forces.  From the pastoral lens, Memorial Day is an opportunity for healing and remembering loss of those in the armed forces or public service (such as police officers).  We have an opportunity to be present with others as we come to terms with loss and devastation attributed to war.  In addition, many also will remember the non-combatants who were innocent victims of wars.

Whether we are remembering a specific saint or a specific person killed in war, we are connected to them through a shared value system based on faith or patriotism.  Lydia was united with the early disciples through the share belief in Jesus of Nazareth.  We are connect to Jesus, Lydia, the early church and the modern church in the same way – through values that we hold in common.      
The bottom line to remember on this day? “No slave is greater than his master.”  John (13:16 and 15:20) repeated that for emphasis twice even after we witnessed the washing of the feet ceremony.  Matthew and Luke also echo it.  If we share and accomplish that value in our piety, study and action, we will memorialize Jesus in unity as living stones believing in his honor. Let us truly make this a day of prayer for permanent peace.
Pause in prayer at 3 p.m. local time Monday for a National Moment of Remembrance.
PS:  Did anyone else recognize the similarity in the parallel citations to the reference of John 13:16 and John 3:16?  Just a coincidence?  Or maybe the subject for a future reflection.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

I Will Not Leave You Orphans

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.  Acts 8:14-17

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.  For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God.  Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit.  1 Peter 3:17-18

I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.  John 14:18

Our piety results from Christ having sent the Spirit to his disciples.  Because we have the spirit dwelling within us, we have Christ and the Father.  He truly has not left us orphans. He comes to us first and forever by our baptism.  Our maturing in the life of Christ takes place with the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Christ does not force himself on us.  For most of us, Christ is the gift of our baptisms.  Because of the faith of our parents most of us have been given Christ.  It is sad to know family and friends who have not passed on the gift of Christ to their children.  We do not do a child a favor by making him wait for the gift that makes us part of the family of God.  It might well be true that those who had to make the choice for themselves appreciate the gift of their faith more than those of us who were given Christ without any work of our own.  The family of God has its continuity in the Christ of the Sacraments of the Church where the humanness of Christ lives on in us by our sharing in his life through the Sacraments.

We study the Scriptures that we might be better able to see Christ in our world.  Our faith opens us up to what we see in the Scriptures.  The world does not see Christ because it is shallow in its search.  We go below the surface of appearances by our study to see the why of the goodness of those who know Christ.  Christ lives in the love of our friends and the good people of our world.  We search out the needs of the least of our people because we realize that Christ comes to every genuine need and it is Christ we serve when we reach beyond our comfort zones to take care of the least of our world.  We hear Christ saying we are doing for him when we live out the Corporal and the Spiritual works of Mercy.

It is by our actions that we show the love of Christ.  We live the commandments because that is how we show our love of Christ.  Our interpersonal relationships are the truth of loving our neighbor as ourselves when we do the best we can for each other.  Christ lives in us by our goodness to and for one another.  It is better to put ourselves out in the extra we do and to suffer for doing good.  Those who defame the good work we do, will be put to shame in the last judgment when all the records of our good will be seen for what Christ accepts in our good intentions rather than in our accomplishments that might need some facing up in Christ.  Christ suffered for our sins so that we, when accepting the embrace of the Christ of the cross, might know ourselves as saved in the love of Christ.  Because we love Christ, we will keep his word and the Father will love us and we will come to God.  Because we love Christ, he will reveal himself to us and will bring us to the Father. 

On Account of My Name

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.  If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.  And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me.”   John 15:20-21

God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, which is pretty much everyone, since I’m clearly not you, God.  At least not the last time I checked.

And while you’re at it, God, please give me the courage to change what I need to change about myself, which is frankly a lot, since, once again, I’m not you, which means I’m not perfect.  It’s better for me to focus on changing myself than to worry about changing other people, who, as you’ll no doubt remember me saying, I can’t change anyway.

Finally, give me the wisdom to just shut up whenever I think that I’m clearly smarter than everyone else in the room, that no one knows what they’re talking about except me, or that I alone have all the answers.

Basically, God, grant me the wisdom to remember that I’m not you.  Amen

Jesus just wants to be a part of our lives.  Much of what he speaks to addresses ways for us to walk with him, dwell with him, and unite with him in thought, word or deed.  He teaches us to pray as he does to the Father.  He asks us to imitate Him.  And he asks us to work in his name not any other. 

Doing so will set us apart from people motivated by other goals.  “[T]he Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.”  (John 14:17)  We know the spirit of truth when we come to know Jesus.

The Notes from this passage in the New American Bible explain that the term “Spirit of truth” is a moral force put into a person by God, as opposed to the spirit of perversity. It is more personal in John; it will teach the realities of the new order (John 14:26), and testify to the truth (John 14:6). 

But the other forces of the world will not appreciate the “truth.”  While that truth might set us free from being enslaved by consumerism, entertainment, capitalism or our local sports fanaticism, we will end up being “hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22)

Jesus reinforces this message of unity with Him and how it makes us estranged from the world in the Sermon on the Mount:  “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.” (Luke 6:22)  The idea of persecution for Jesus’ name is frequent in the New Testament.  For John, association with Jesus’ name implies union with Jesus as Eucharist is communion with Jesus.

Two actions by Jesus bookend the Last Supper Discourse.  First, Jesus conducts the most humbling of service when he washes the feet of his Apostles.  Second, Jesus surrenders to the physical forces of the world which arrest, convict and execute his mortal body.  Through that surrender, he is not extinguished but rather he conquers those forces by rising above them. 

This weekend we can celebrate, honor and remember those who sacrificed their lives for us.  In addition to the veterans who fought for us, do not forget others who were innocent victims of violence and hatred that paved the way for greater freedom for all.  We have all heard about Martin Luther King, Medgar Evans and Malcolm X.  However, veterans like Army veteran Jimmy Lee Jackson helped to pave the way for the voting rights act.  Korean War veteran Clyde Kennard survived the battles thousands of miles from home only to be barred from attending an all-white college.  Framed for a crime he did not commit, Kennard died of cancer in prison two years before the first black students attended what is now known as the University of Southern Mississippi.   

On this Memorial Day Weekend 2014, read and remember the sacrifices made by these veterans and other forgotten martyrs of the American civil rights movement here.  

Friday, May 23, 2014

Everything I Have Heard from My Father

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

By Melanie Rigney

(The letter the apostles and presbyters sent to the community at Antioch advised :) “It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.” ... When the people read it, they were delighted with the exhortation. (Acts 15:28-29, 31)

I will give you thanks among the peoples, O Lord. (Psalms 57:10a)

Jesus said to his disciples: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” (John 15:12-15)

Lord, I ask for the grace and strength to call Your Son friend.

No more secrets.

Imagine the puzzlement of the apostles at the Last Supper. According to John, Jesus has told them a great many things in a short amount of time: He’s going away, but he’ll be back. They will be capable of much. There are no more secrets; he’s shared all the knowledge God has given him, every last bit. Can’t you just see their jaws drop, at that bit of news in particular?

But hearing what the Father commands and being obedient to it, as we and the apostles know all too well, can be two different things. It’s easy to love your brothers and sisters in concept; it’s harder to love someone who injures you physically or emotionally, intentionally or unintentionally. It’s easy to love God with all your heart and soul in concept; it’s harder to love Him when you’ve received a life-threatening medical prognosis, or you’ve been out of work for a year, your family’s hungry and foreclosure proceedings have begun.

And yet, that’s precisely what would happen with Jesus. He never wavered from the Truth, no matter how deep the wounds from his scourging would cut, no matter how fast the disciples would flee from him in the coming hours. There was no big secret or mystery to it; he loved. It was as simple and as profound as that.

Do an act of friendship for someone you find it difficult to be around, or offer up a prayer of adoration to the Lord despite your hard feelings about something that’s happening in your life.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Remain in My Love

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter

“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.  Remain in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.  “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.”  John 15:9-11

Father, help us to act like Jesus even when those around us make it difficult. 

In his 32 years on earth, Jesus said much that is not recorded.  What got recorded and passed along makes it even more important.  Much has been written about what is written about what Jesus said and when he said it.  His first public preaching.  The Nazareth manifesto.  The last words on the cross.
Today, we reflect upon the message which is literally and figuratively at the heart of the Last Supper Discourse – that extended and final conversation with his closest friends before being arrested, tried and executed.  The Discourse is the longest uninterrupted passage we have from Jesus and it comes immediately after he washes the feet of his disciples as an example of the most humble kind of love and service.  Overall, the passage stretches over all or parts of five chapters in John’s Gospel.  Today’s reading is almost right in the very center of these 125 verses most significant passage.
In Jesus’ first public preaching, he picked up on John the Baptist’s very words and said, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”  The modern skeptic might react in several ways: So what? Who cares? What’s in it for me? Change to what?
Today, the answer is revealed.  Change to love of others as humbly as Jesus shows he loves us.  When we love others as Jesus loved us, we get a share of the love of Jesus and the Father.  When we love others as Jesus loved us, we stay in God’s good graces.  When we love others as Jesus loved us, we start to open the door to that promised land of the Kingdom of God.

Think of the most challenging person with whom you have a relationship.  Before you react in any way to what they do or say in your life today, think about this reading.  “Remain in my love.”  Let that guide your reaction.   

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Vine and the Branches

By Colleen O’Sullivan
Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.”   (Acts 15:1)
(Jesus said:)  “Remain in me, as I remain in you.  Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.”  (John 15:4-5a)

O Lord, Life-giving Vine, may we ever be anchored in you.

The other afternoon, I was sitting on my patio, enjoying the deep blue sky, the puffy, white clouds, the chance to just relax awhile.  My gaze wandered around the garden, taking in what needs to be done after a long, cold winter.  I smiled as I admired the beautiful blooms already adorning the rose bush.  My thoughts eventually turned to the vine and the branches at the center of today’s Gospel reading.  I tried to picture what they might look like.  What came to mind was a huge, sturdy vine, bright green, impregnable, the source of never-ending life for branches vibrant with a riot of flowers of every shape and hue in the spring and weighed down with the abundant fruits of our labors in the autumn.  The vine that is Christ supports and sustains us in all our wonderful diversity.

But we don’t always picture the vine and the branches in such a manner.  In our reading from the Book of Acts, we find the young church grappling with its first major crisis.  Those who were Jews believed that every Christian should have to observe the Jewish law and that all male followers of Christ should be circumcised as they were.  But where did that leave the growing number of Gentile converts, who knew nothing about the Jewish law?  Did every believer have to come to Christ in the same way?  Do all the blossoms and fruits on the branches have to be identical?  After much discussion and consideration, the early Church concluded that we are all saved through the same grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We are all firmly rooted in the life-giving Vine.  It is in that rootedness and in our faith that we find unity.

Sometimes I wonder if we ever learn anything from history, because we seem to fight the same battles over and over again.  We may be reluctant to admit it, but often we think others ought to be living their faith exactly the way we do.  Whether we’re conservative or liberal, we find fault with the other side.  (The middle-of-the-roaders don’t stand a chance.)  We find ourselves intolerant of types of spirituality and spiritual practices different from our own.  We think everyone else should share our taste in church décor or church music.  The list could go on and on.

It’s good to remind ourselves that the Church, in its earliest days, already decided that what makes us one is our rootedness in Christ, our faith in the one who died and rose for us.  Beyond that, there’s room on the branches for a startlingly beautiful array of blooms and fruits, no two alike but all relying on the same Source for life.

In The Holy Longing, Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, says the foundation for our church community is not found in like-mindedness or shared ethnicity or a whole host of other things.  We have community because we gather round the same Lord and share in the same Spirit.  (Ch. 6, “A Spirituality of Ecclesiology,” p. 118).   What intolerances could you set aside in order to focus more on the Christ who brings us together? 

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Peace of Salvation is Yours

By Beth DeCristofaro

Jesus said to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.  (John 14:27)

You are the peace of all things calm
You are the place to hide from harm
You are the light that shines in dark
You are the heart's eternal spark
You are the door that's open wide
You are the guest who waits inside
You are the stranger at the door
You are the calling of the poor
You are my Lord and with me still
You are my love, keep me from ill
You are the light, the truth, the way
You are my Saviour this very day.
“You are God,” Celtic prayer

There is a TV ad which shows a man, over loaded with things he is carrying and wheeling a piece of luggage, climbing a stopped escalator.  Of course he begins to overbalance, the suitcase gets caught and springs open spilling his belongings down the staircase.  I so relate to him as he tries to pick up clothing with hands already filled and the suitcase threatening to tumble all the way down.  Except if it was me on that stairway it would be rush hour at Rosslyn Metro and hundreds of commuters would be hurrying by annoyed that I am blocking the “fast lane” of the escalator.

Sometimes I feel that indeed I am trying to carry too many things.  Peace eludes me.  I often worry about things.  I hold on to disappointment that I did not get that job I hoped for so I feel stuck.  I carry sadness over the many horrific news stories that I hear.  I harbor frustrations over co-workers or family inadequacies that impact me (or so I think).  I fear what others might think of me or myriads of threats to life and limb.  I use energy to rationalize.  I judge.

Jesus continually looked at others with love.  By accepting that I am not frustration, disappointment, sadness and the rest, by knowing that I am loved so deeply that I need not bother rationalizing or judging others who are deeply loved, I can empty my hands.  In letting go of my burdens I trust and accept Jesus’ immense promise of peace.  I can live with empty hands, open to receive and share God’s love.

The next time you find yourself unsettled, not at peace, take a moment to realize the source of the ill at ease.  If it is another person, look again within and that which is responding to the other.  Ask Jesus for his loving assistance in giving over the urge to be in charge.  Open yourself to the healing of peace.  Repeat, many times each day as necessary.  

Bestowing His Goodness

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

We proclaim to you good news that you should turn from these idols to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them.  In past generations he allowed all Gentiles to go their own ways; yet, in bestowing his goodness, he did not leave himself without witness, for he gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filled you with nourishment and gladness for your hearts.”  Acts 14:15b-17

“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.  John 14:23

Chapter 53: The Reception of Guests
All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35).  Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims.  Once a guest has been announced, the superior and the brothers are to meet him with all the courtesy of love. (RB53:1-3)

Jesus sometimes speaks in parables which are hard to understand.  However, in these Last Supper discourses, while he breaks bread and drinks wine with his friends, he extends the metaphor by describing heaven as a feast of incomparable proportions.  For a people living in a barren desert of a land, knowing that God provides for everything from their basic needs for food and drink to their higher needs of love and community, has particular resonance.

We hear this imagery in the Hebrew Bible:  On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples A feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.  Isaiah 25:5

We hear it in the New Testament gospels and epistles:  One of his fellow guests on hearing this said to him, “Blessed is the one who will dine in the kingdom of God.”  Luke 14:15

That you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom; and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  Luke 22:30

And we hear it in the final book of Revelation:  “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.  Revelation 3:20

Seminal documents such as The Rule of St. Benedict also address the table of plenty.  Often in its short pages, you will find chapters devoted to the Qualifications of the Monastery Cellarer, Distribution of Goods According to Need, The Proper Amount of Food, the Proper Amount of Drink, the Reception of Guests, Clothing and Footwear, the Reception of Visiting Monks, and more.

In these terms, is it any wonder why hospitality is at the core of our faith? 

What better place to focus this week on “holy hospitality” than in the Holy Land where Pope Francis heads May 24-26 in a search for Christian unity.  In our lifetime, the holy land has been anything but a place of hospitality and more like a place of “holy hostility” with the Six-Day War of 1967, the Intifada, fights for control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and on and on and on with almost endless examples of attacks and counter attacks since May 14, 1948 when the modern state of Israel was formed.

Catholic News Service notes that “But inevitably, in a region so rich in history and so fraught with conflict, he will address other urgent issues, including dialogue with Jews and Muslims, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the plight of the Middle East's shrinking Christian population.” 

Maybe he should suggest that all people receive each other as guests with “proper honor…be shown to all.”

Let your prayers accompany Pope Francis on this mission of peace, unity and hospitality between nations, churches and neighbors.