Monday, September 29, 2014

Hear My Prayer, Lord

By Beth DeCristofaro

Job opened his mouth and cursed his day.  Job spoke out and said:  Perish the day on which I was born, the night when they said, “The child is a boy!”  Why did I not perish at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? (Job 3:1-3)

[B]ut (the Samaritans) would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem.  When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”  Jesus turned and rebuked them … (Luke 9:53-55)

O LORD, my God, by day I cry out;
at night I clamor in your presence.
Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my call for help.
(Psalm 88:1-2)

Job’s words are so apt today.  Just as Job did not deserve the calamities that befell him, neither did the people killed in the volcano eruption in Japan, the children killed in Syrian battles, the villagers in Congo who are attacked by militias, families dying of Ebola, children missing in Maryland.  People face catastrophes and tragedies everyday undeserved and often unexpectedly.  Job continued to speak with God even when he wondered why God caused his existence in the first place.

The Samaritans chose their misfortune when they rejected Jesus.  They preferred to remain with their hidebound beliefs instead of choosing Life.  Yet Jesus did not reject them.  They did not deserve mercy and Jesus showed them mercy.  Apparently James and John had power to punish.  Jesus rebuked them.  For Jesus, power is love, a love which He would fulfill in Jerusalem.  It is this power Jesus gives to his disciples and to us today.  It is this power He expects from them and from us which will build his kingdom.  It is this power of love which Jesus offers to us in the days when we feel cursed and in the days when we know joy.  Jesus’ love, forgiveness and mercy are constant.

Are there calamities I have “chosen” such as a lifestyle resulting in disease, stress or disruption in my family?  Are there terrors which I fear and therefore do not reach out in love?  Have I been hurt, abandoned, betrayed by someone or even by my own body through bad health and thus I hold back my love?  When I place myself in the presence of Jesus, walking with him to Jerusalem, may I ask him for his love and mercy upon myself and those I might have hurt.  Call down His love and mercy rather than fire from heaven in retribution.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

You Will See

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 7:13-14

Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”  Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?  You will see greater things than this.”  And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  John 1:49-51

Creator God, out of chaos you brought order.  Out of nothingness you brought life.  In the middle of all life stands the tree.

Trees provide the air that nurtures all your creation.  Birds make them their homes.  Cats climb them for protection.  Trees recycle life that has come before.

Bless the trees of this word, loving God.  Remind us to serve as their caregivers and protectors.  Give them long limbs and long life.  The gift of their breath is as special to us as the breath of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

According to the Grace to You website, John's whole gospel is written to prove that Jesus is the Son of God, that's how it begins, right? "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God," and he goes on to talk about in the Son was God manifest. And here in the very first chapter he gives the testimony of Nathanael to add to the thesis of the whole gospel that this Jesus is the Son of God. 

Nathanael probably lived in a small, one-room house.  With the heat and the noise, he probably headed outside for a little respite.  The notes to this chapter tell us that he came from a sect that studies scripture.  So maybe he was thinking about Scripture, or doing some contemplative prayer when Jesus sensed he was under that fig tree. Or maybe he was just relaxing -- getting in a quiet moment before the next household chore demanded time.

Whatever brought him under the tree, Jesus and Nathanael “seem” to know each other before they are even introduced.  This call of Nathanael, so early in John’s Gospel, is a story based upon conversion by words and images alone.  Although John’s Gospel is known for the signs and miracles related, there are really no signs used to call Nathanael except Jesus knowing his name before they meet.  In reaction, Nathanael also reveals his faith through the knowledge that Jesus is the Son of God and King of Israel totally independent of anything that takes place in the rest of John’s Gospel.

Jesus sees Nathanael in his lowly position sitting on the ground under a fig tree.  However, thanks to the fruit of his faith, Jesus reveals that Nathanael will rise far above that lowly station and climb Jacob’s ladder into heaven.

Trees play a central part in Scripture from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden to the tree upon which Jesus is crucified to the Tree of Life that bears fruit twelve times a year in Revelation 22.  In fact, several sources explain that the fig tree was the first tree bearing edible fruit to be mentioned in the Bible.  It was the source of the leaves that Adam and Eve used to cover their bodies. 

The fig tree represents the Jewish nation, which seemed to be thriving -- with an abundance of leaves -- but spiritually it was producing no fruit. Many times, the fig tree portrayed is barren.  Jesus often rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for this lack of spiritual fruit, according to Patricia Bagwell in her article on The Symbolism of the Fig Tree.  Nathanael’s rich spiritual sense contrasts with the barren spirituality of the scribes and Pharisees.   This he is rewarded with the knowledge of Jesus and the knowledge that Jesus gives him in return for his great faith.

While I cannot say I have ever sat in the shade under a fig tree, the neighborhood where I grew up was an old apple orchard.  Every yard had one or two apple trees left behind.  We climbed those trees or sat in their shade when the summer heated up.  We carved our initials in their bark.  We rolled around in the colorful leaves that fell.  We used the apples in various games we played.  Green apples make great projectiles.  However, they are not very good as substitute baseballs…unless your aim is to make apple sauce, not first base.  The fruit of our childhood was richer for those memorable trees. When the trees were no longer strong enough to bear fruit or support games, the wood was chopped, cut and split for fireplaces and ended up warming our homes and bodies in the winter.

Nathanael was richer for his time under the fig tree.   He was called out from that symbolic comfort zone to “come and see” and do great things.  We also are called out of our comfort zone to be aware of the world around us and how we can help with action, by sharing our treasure, or by donating our clothes, food, and more to help the poor and give them comfort, warmth, and food like those apple trees of my youth and the fig trees in Salvation History.  

PS:  "Poems were made by fools like me But only God can make a tree."  Joyce Kilmer

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Humbly Regard Others

By Rev.  Joe McCloskey, SJ

But if [the wicked] turns from the wickedness they did and do what is right and just, they save their lives; since they turned away from all the sins that they have committed, they shall surely live, they shall not die.  Ezekiel 18:27-28

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.  Philippians 2:3-4

“When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did.  Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him."  Matthew 21:32

Treating everyone as better than self is the challenge of grace.  Teresa of Avila met the challenge by saying to herself that “if you had the same graces as I, you would do twice as much.  If I had your graces I would do half what you do.”  The challenge is to have the same mind in us that Jesus had when he emptied himself out of his “God-ness” to be one of us.  The journey into fullness of life is giving all of yourself to the service of others.  It is a gradual awakening to the truth that perfect self-love is the love of others.  Selflessness is the discovery of who you really are by loving others with all that you are.  Christ loved us into his life.  We love God in our piety by loving all the Christ we can be by giving ourselves away even as Christ did.

Christ studied the prophets and discovered the plan of God for himself.  Human awareness takes and needs the appreciation of the love God has for us.  We are unable to deserve God’s love because he has first loved us.  God’s love is always waiting for us in his Son Jesus.  Even as the Scriptures made Jesus come alive to what the plan of God was for him, we learn what God wants from us in the ways Jesus comes alive to us in the Scriptures and in good people who live the gospel message in their lives.  Such people help us understand what St. Francis was trying to teach his young disciple when he said, “Preach always and occasionally use words.”  By the example of people who give their lives for the sake of others, we put into practice what Paul meant when he challenged us to be like Christ who emptied himself out of his “God-ness” to be one of us.  We find how we are meant to be spiritual people by how we put on the mind and the heart of Christ. 

Our actions need be what we say we are going to do.  We need to mean what we say and say what we mean.  The two sons of the gospel story are each half of the story of what our actions should be.  Christ has our hearts to live in from our baptisms and we have the responsibility to live his love by living up to his coming to make his home in our hearts.  We know that where there is love, God is there.  We need to make the love of God in us the energy of all our actions.  It is not enough for us to follow the footprints of Christ in the sands of life.  We must do our part to be his footprints wherever we go. 

Youth is Fleeting

Rejoice, O youth, while you are young and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth.  Follow the ways of your heart, the vision of your eyes; Yet understand regarding all this that God will bring you to judgment.  Banish misery from your heart and remove pain from your body, for youth and black hair are fleeting.  Ecclesiastes 11:9-10

While they were all amazed at his every deed, Jesus said to his disciples, “Pay attention to what I am telling you.  The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.”   Luke 9:43B-44

Andy Dufresne: [in letter to Red] Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. (From The Shawshank Redemption)

Wedding vows include the phrase, “In good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.”  When we have the good times, when we are healthy, when we are young and have not a care in the world (comparatively speaking), it is easy to be amazed at life and figure that things will never change.  Today, we are reminded that Jesus kept warning his disciples that the end was coming like the proverbial man in the cartoon with the sandwich board signs. 
Yesterday, I learned that a former colleague died in the memory care unit of an assisted living facility.  Bob was not even 70 (the new 50?).  In his youth, he earned his Ph.D. from Stanford University.  He was a researcher, public opinion pollster and former political science professor.  The gift of his intellect and ability to interpret data helped many organizations and clients better understand what was happening in the world around them.  Bob was always careful to tell us that we can “infer” certain trends from data but the data did not predict the future.  Those patterns, though, helped us to know what might happen in certain circumstances. 
In today’s presentation to the disciples, Jesus had no Powerpoint slides.  He did not resort to a poll.  He just told the disciples what the future holds for him.  You would think the disciples were travelling up a river in Egypt with the denial that expressed.
What we have will be taken away.

Right up there near the top of my ten most favorite movies of all time is The Shawshank Redemption – and it was on free television again last night.  In the film, the IMDB summary says that two “innocent,” imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency.  “Andy Dufresne is a young and successful banker whose life changes drastically when he is convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife and her lover. Set in the 1940's, the film shows how Andy, with the help of his friend Red, the prison entrepreneur, turns out to be a most unconventional prisoner.”
[To be polite, I should say Spoiler Alert if you have not seen this movie yet.  However, if you have not seem The Shawshank Redemption, there is a Monopoly Game card made just for you.  Maybe there you will have time to watch it.]
Red and Andy both had their youth taken away.  Maybe we will not be thrown into prison for a life sentence after being convicted of a crime we did not commit.  But we do not know what will imprison us in the future and take away what we have been given. 
The walls of every prison are not made of bars, bricks, locks and razor wire.  Maybe we will be imprisoned in a healthy body while losing our intellectual capacity. Maybe we will be imprisoned in a healthy mind while losing physical control of our body.  Maybe we will be imprisoned by doubt, or greed, or envy or bitterness.
The walls of the Shawshank prison could not imprison Andy Dufresne.  He always had his music.  He always had his library.  He always had his hope.  Even two months “in the hole” for calling the warden obtuse could not take his hope away.  
Hope is the bridge between faith and charity. Jesus’ cross is the symbol of hope between life and death and new life.  What gives you hope today?  How can you be a symbol of hope to someone who is trapped in their own personal prison – whether the walls are physical or emotional?  

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Christ of God

Friday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

By Melanie Rigney 

I have considered the task that God has appointed for the sons of men to be busied about. He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts, without man’s ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done. (Ecclesiastes 3:10-11)

Blessed be the Lord, my Rock! (Psalms 144:1)

Once when Jesus was praying in solitude and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.” (Luke 9:18-20)

Lord, I beg You for the peace and faith to accept Your timing. Help me to trust more and stress less.

Timing, as they say, is everything.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus directs the disciples not to share what Peter has figured out: that Jesus is the Christ. It’s too soon; the prophecies must yet be fulfilled.

We’re all familiar with the first reading from Ecclesiastes: a time to be born, a time to die; a time to kill, a time to heal; a time to mourn, a time to dance. But perhaps that familiarity prevents us from listening to what comes next: the writer’s paean to God, confident that whether we ever understand it or not, He has “made everything appropriate to its time.”

The rush of the fall and coming winter has already begun. You’ll find Christmas displays peeking through the Halloween retail offerings, and perhaps you’re already making your family’s Thanksgiving and New Year’s plans. Is all that “appropriate to its time”?

Maybe. Maybe it’s not always bad to live at breakneck speed. Maybe He has blessed some of us with so many ministry opportunities and so much to do in His name that warp speed is the only way to serve Him. Can you imagine Dorothy Day or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta or even Pope Francis listening when people advise them to slow down? We are here but a little while, and as the saying goes, we can sleep when we are dead, confident in the knowledge we did all we could for the Lord while we were here.

Timing, as they say, is everything.

The Arlington Diocese tomorrow presents a terrific one-day seminar in Woodbridge titled, “Risk Jesus ‘14.” Please prayerfully consider slowing down long enough to attend. You’ll find more information on the Diocese Web site.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Who Then is This?

All rivers go to the sea, yet never does the sea become full.  To the place where they go, the rivers keep on going.  All speech is labored; there is nothing one can say.  The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor is the ear satisfied with hearing.  Ecclesiastes 1:7-8

But Herod said, “John I beheaded.  Who then is this about whom I hear such things?”  And he kept trying to see him.  Luke 9:9

Now the valley cried with anger,
"Mount your horses! Draw your sword!"
And they killed the mountain-people,
So they won their just reward.

Now they stood beside the treasure,
On the mountain, dark and red.
Turned the stone and looked beneath it...
"Peace on Earth" was all it said.
From One Tin Soldier (The Legend of Billy Jack) by Dennis Lambert & Brian Potter, performed by The Original Caste (1970)

Do you have the curiosity of Herod?  Do you still wonder who is this Jesus character about whom you hear such things? 
Perhaps we transfer our curiosity to Pope Frances.  Whether we wonder about the mystical body of Christ or the actual Vicar of Christ who walks and talks and catches baseballs among us, we are curious.  Our study is all about answering that curiosity.  We seek satisfaction.  We seek something to say.  But we may never achieve that which we seek. 

The New American Bible notes explain of the first reading that “movement in nature and human activity appears to result in change and progress. The author argues that this change and progress are an illusion: “Nothing is new under the sun” as we chase after futile activity.

But the chase we are engaged in is the chase to know Christ.  And that chase is the one that is worthwhile.

Monday night was occasion to break bread (fruit, vegetables, and more prepared by D.C. Central Kitchen) with co-presidents Marie Dennis and Bishop Kevin Dowling, C.SS.R., and Secretary General Jose Henriquez of Pax Christi International.  I know many peace activists in the U.S., but am not too familiar with those from the international community.

The 50 or so assembled in a McLean, Virginia living room listened to stories about the aftermath of war in Yugoslavia, the children and teachers killed by shrapnel bombs dropped by their own government in the Sudan, the poverty experience by the platinum mining striker in the Diocese of Rustenburg, South Africa. 

“War ends,” Bishop Dowling explained, “when we stop killing each other.”  However, the wounds of death, rape, and horrible injuries cannot be healed without reconciliation. Peace Accords from Paris or Dayton or Versailles mean little if hearts and minds of neighbors who were killing neighbors cannot comeback together in community.

Upon arriving home and checking into the news, that very night was when the world learned that the latest offensive was launched in the Middle East at the latest sources of terror.  The battle has begun in response to the image brought to mind by Herod’s ancient execution of John and modern atrocities that make nations make war.  At some point it will end.  But the peace may never be secured without getting to the hearts and minds of the combatants, including our own hearts and minds.

That is the work of Pax Christi International. You can support its work through gifts to the Pax Christi Fund for Peace, 415 Michigan Avenue, NE Box 16, Washington, DC 20017 or
·         Maybe you can give $4 per month – one for the lives of four American churchwomen slain in El Salvador.
·         Maybe you can give $34 per month in honor of the mine workers who lost their lives fighting for better wages in Rustenberg, S.A.
·         Maybe you can give $60 per month in honor of the number of countries where Pax Christi International works.
·         Maybe you can consider $70 per month in honor of the years since Pax Christi International was founded at the end of World War II.
We seek satisfaction.  We seek Jesus.  We can find Him through those who work brick by dirty, sweaty, bloody brick to build his Kingdom here one day at a time. 

In the words of Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw: 
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Shield to Those Who Seek Refuge

By Colleen O’Sullivan
Every word of God is tested; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.   (Proverbs 30:5)
Jesus summoned the Twelve and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.  He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic.”
(Luke 9:1-3)

God is our refuge and our strength,
An ever-present help in distress.
(Psalm 46:2)

One of my youngest friends just started preschool a couple of weeks ago.  The first morning, about mid-way through, he informed the teacher that he is “not a fan of preschool.”  The second morning, he cried the entire time because, as he told me later that afternoon, he “didn’t want Mommy to go home.”  By the third morning, he had the presence of mind to bring his mini-security blanket along, which saw him through the day.

When I was a kid, I imagined that grown-ups always knew what they were doing, were never afraid and certainly never needed anything like a security blanket.  As we are all aware, that definitely is not the case.  Many things happen that leave us shaken, scared or feeling weak – the loss of a job, the end of a marriage, the death of a loved one, health or financial problems, just to name a few.  We all need to find security or refuge somewhere.  A little square of fabric doesn’t cut it when you’re an adult, but neither do some of the other sources of comfort we turn to – accumulated wealth, the approval of our friends, the seeming solace of food or drugs or alcohol. 

I thought about this as I read today’s Gospel account of Jesus sending the disciples out to proclaim the Kingdom and heal the sick.  He tells them to take nothing at all with them.  Leave behind the possessions and the money that are our usual crutches.   Being sent out on a mission would be anxiety-producing in and of itself, but not taking along any of those feel-good props?

The disciples aren’t going out empty-handed, however.  Neither are we, no matter where our journeys take us.  What we bring along doesn’t weigh an ounce, yet is the most precious thing imaginable.  In our hearts, we carry our relationship with Jesus.  And Jesus knows what it is to be human, to face fear.  He walks with us every step of the way.  He is the source of our strength in facing the challenges of life.  As the first reading from the Book of Proverbs reminds us, God is our place of refuge, our ultimate source of security.

What is it that seems frightening or overwhelming in your life today?  To what or to whom do you turn for shelter and strength?  Take a few minutes to share all this with the Lord in prayer.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Help Me to Be Your Sister, Lord

By Beth DeCristofaro

He said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” (Luke 8:21)

Open my eyes, Lord
Help me to see your face
Open my eyes, Lord
Help me to see.

Open my ears, Lord
Help me to hear your voice
Open my ears, Lord
Help me to hear.

Open my heart, Lord
Help me to love like you
Open my heart, Lord
Help me to love.

I live within you
Deep in your heart, oh, love
I live within you
Rest now in me.
        (Jessie Manisuban, 1988)

For dessert yesterday I ate a dark chocolate Dove “bite.”  Pretty tasty.  Inside the wrapper was written in delicate script “Indulge your every whim, love, Dove.”  Not so tasty.

This saying is geared to sell more product by telling me how important I am and how much I deserve this bite of chocolate - and more.  Ironically, this sugary chocolate has salt in it.  While it flavors the candy it also points out the irony that such a sugary saying can be bitter if it is followed.  Putting myself as the center of my life edges Jesus out.  But it is a pretty common approach to how we live our lives.  Jesus, rather, asks us to come together with Him in the breaking of the bread and to be bread for others.

Right now there is a women’s team in formation, a men’s team ready to go.  Candidates await and all are seeking God, seeking to hear God’s word more fully and act on it more completely every day.  Cursillo is one of the touchstones which pave my path, helping me follow more closely in God’s footsteps.  My other flagstones include a dynamic spiritual director, a supportive and loving husband and family, Eucharist, prayer and a vocation which feeds me.  I, personally, need such touchstones because it is just too easy to choose Dove candy, my creature comforts, ignoring the plight of others and other easy outs.   Thanks, Dove, for reminding me how tiny and transient a self-centered life can be. 

A Cursillo weekend is such a moving and fun way to have eyes and ears opened to God anew.  In what way are you supporting the teams and candidates for the upcoming weekends?  Do you know of potential candidates for the October and December weekends?  Speak to your brother / sister about taking part.  Check out the Cursillo website for details.

Come to the Light

The curse of the LORD is on the house of the wicked, but the dwelling of the just he blesses; when dealing with the arrogant, he is stern, but to the humble he shows kindness.  Proverb 3:33-34

“No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.  For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.”  Luke 8:16-17

You are the light of the world!
But if that light is under a bushel,
It's lost something kind of crucial
You've got to stay bright to be the light of the world. (From Godspell)

Our lessons for this week began with the “illogical” and un-businesslike Good News on Sunday about the landowner who paid all workers the same wage whether they worked for a full day or a full hour.  That does not make any business-sense whatsoever.  Yet, Isaiah reminded us in that first reading that God’s ways are not our ways, and our ways are not God’s ways.

Today, in proverbs and Luke, the message makes more sense…or at least it seems to make more sense if you are not among the arrogant, powerful or wicked.  Those who know the Magnificat expect the Lord to bless the dwelling place of the just person.  We expect the Lord – based on the message throughout sacred scripture – to show kindness to the humble who puts on the attitude of Mary. 

In the newspaper scandal business, there is an expression, “If it looks like you’ve got something to hide, it’s going to look like you’ve got something to hide.”  That was true in the Genesis story of Cain and Able.  That was true in the scandal of Judas.  When their actions became public, they could no longer live in the light.  Their wicked actions became visible. 

The opposite also is true:  “If it looks like you have nothing to hide, it’s going to look like you have nothing to hide.” That’s why the just and humble do not want to put their light under a bushel.  If you keep your light hidden, you have lost something mighty crucial:  the ability to live by example and show the world the path of the just and humble. We must grow the way the “rules” or proverbs point and not stray.  The friendship of Jesus rests with the person who leads an upright life. 

When you study the word “rule,” you see that it comes from the Latin word “regula” which means to “move in a straight line.”  It was the opposite of secular.  English borrowed Latin regula and nativized it as regal "rule, regulation, canon, law, standard, pattern."  When we grow according to a rule, we grow in the straight path, like a vine which grows up a trellis compared with a vine that grows wild in the woods.  

As the song goes, the tallest candlestick is no good without a (straight and upright) wick.

Since the days of Richard Nixon, the private-life scandals and hubris of our leaders are now fair game for public examination.  Think about Gary Hart’s Monkey Business.  Think about Bill Clinton’s you-know-what.  The path we must stay on is the path of justice, humility, and following the rules…the rule of law, the rule of God, the Rule of St. Benedict. 

What do you need to straighten out in your life?  Take some time to assess what is right and what needs “fixing.”  No need to wait for the New Year to make a resolution to change.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Are You Envious

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.  As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.  Isaiah 55:8-9

Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.  Philippians 1:27A

“ ‘What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?  Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?  Are you envious because I am generous?’  Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  Matthew 20:14B-16

Piety is the degree to which we are alive TO THE PLAN OF GOD in the moment.  The Good Thief steals heaven at the end of his life because he has his cross next to Christ’s cross.  The fullness of God’s love is expressed in the mystery of the cross.  Much is said by the Father in the simplicity of the cross of His Son being permitted.  “God so loved the world that he sent his Son to reconcile the world to Him.”  How do we accept the love of a God who gave us the best of Himself in the dying of Christ on the Cross?  Christ is the Good News of Salvation.  Christ came to give us a claim on heaven in our acceptance of the crosses of our lives.  God is love and He has all of His love waiting for us in our oneness with His Son.  Those that God truly loves he bring close to the Cross of His Son.   In the crosses of our lives we put up with the difficulty of life for the sake of our people.  We fill up what wants to the suffering of Christ’s Body, the Church.  All we need to do is to go out into the harvest of souls.  Our gospel today is all about the mercy and the love of God who takes care of us whenever we accept his invitation.  It is never too late to work for the Father.  He is generous to us in how he rewards our labors no matter how late we go to work for him.

Christ gives us a parable to study to understand the generosity of the Father.  Unemployment helps us understand the generosity of the Father.  It is not how long we work that matters.  Work is its own reward for those who are without work.  How glad they are to have a chance to do something that matters.  The Master of the harvest answers the question of those who expect more because they worked longer.  He gives good pay to those who work.  Why cannot we be generous to those who appreciate even more the having a chance to work?  Those, who bore the brunt of the heat of the day, were well paid.  Why are they jealous when others have the chance to work and are paid as well for less time?  God is such a lover that he can give us the reward for a life well lived when we do our best for the last moment of life.  It is not the job that we have or how long we worked at it.  It is how much appreciation and love we have for doing our best with the work we have.  The boy and the girl saints have a gospel that says they fulfilled a long time in a short time.

It is important to put all of ourselves into the moment we are now living.  Love is the coin of the realm of heaven.  It is possible to work a lifetime in the moment we are in.  Peter says an afternoon with the Lord can be worth a thousand years.  There is no greater love we can give than to work with all that we are in the moment we have.  Only the moment now touches the eternal “now-ness” of God who identifies himself as the “I am who I am.”  We do not have to wait for a job worthy of our efforts.  Doing our best makes the ordinary extraordinary. 

Bear Fruit

Memorial of Saint Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest, and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, and Companions, Martyrs

You fool!  What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies.  And what you sow is not the body that is to be but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind.  1 Corinthians 15:36-37

“But as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance.”  Luke 8:15

I have made vows to you, God; with offerings I will fulfill them, For you have snatched me from death, kept my feet from stumbling, That I may walk before God in the light of the living.  Psalm 56:13-14

What does it take to hear and embrace the seed that is the Word of God? 
Jesus goes to great length to be understood.  He did not present his teachings in words that only the learned could understand.  He presented his teachings with words and ideas which he hoped all could understand – often using common parables, analogies and symbolism.  However, if they still did not “get it,” Jesus would explain the meaning behind the story. 

For me, it helps to remember three core questions when reading any passage but especially the difficult-to-understand passages.  Those questions were first outlined to me by the Catholic poet-activist Rose Berger.
        What does it say?
        What does it mean?
        Why does it matter?

We can use some good historical sources to better understand the context of what Jesus was saying to his contemporaries.  Even though we are not farmers, we all still plant seeds in flower gardens, vegetable gardens or lawns.  We see those “bear fruit” when we can eat garden-fresh corn or tomatoes or pick flowers at their best.  We do not grow gardens for them to rot in the sun.  Jesus does not plant seeds in order for us to be eaten up by the birds of distraction or trampled by the boots of self-centeredness.  It is up to us to make sure we make the leap from what Jesus says to what it means and why it STILL matters in our lives today – two thousand years later.

Jesus answers those questions for us today in this passage written by St. Luke.  Some days, the homily helps us understand and embrace it.  If not, we can use aids like Living Faith, Our Daily Bread or Magnificat or various web-based services. 

“Why does it matter?” for me is the toughest question. To answer that, we have to “embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance.”  The next step is to respond by acting on what we understand.
The Word does not really exist without our response.  It just sits on the shelf like an old copy of Life magazine or Reader’s Digest.  If we hear the Word, we must become a light to others.  If it says, feed the hungry, we must feed the hungry.  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Empty, Too, Your Faith

By Melanie Rigney

If Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. (1 Corinthians 15:12-14)

Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full. (Psalms 17:15)

Jesus journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources. (Luke 8:1-3)

Lord, remind that I am not called to take this walk of life alone. Open my heart and soul to the companions You send.

Not even Jesus did it alone.

Of course we know he had the Lord at his side every step of the way, even at Calvary. And of course we know the Twelve and many of his other followers by name. How lovely, though, to consider that this wasn’t a one-way relationship of Jesus giving and giving and giving. Rather, as we are told in today’s Gospel reading, the Twelve, the Galilean women, and “many others” provided for the band of believers. Someone had to gather the food. Someone had to find the water. Someone had to ensure they were clothed.

Yes, the Lord always provides what we need. But it’s heartening to think that sometimes, He does that through the kindness of our friends… and that we needn’t attempt to exclude assistance from others during our spiritual journey. The burden can be lightened by the way He appears in them.

The North American Conference of Separated and Divorced Catholics ministry today begins a weekend leadership seminar in St. Louis for those who serve this group of Catholics. If you know someone who feels distanced from our faith due to a divorce or separation, prayerfully consider opening up a dialogue with that person on the resources available through this ministry.