Monday, June 29, 2015

Lord, Save Us! We Are Perishing

By Melanie Rigney

The sun was just rising over the earth as Lot arrived in Zoar; at the same time the LORD rained down sulphurous fire upon Sodom and Gomorrah from the LORD out of heaven. He overthrew those cities and the whole Plain, together with the inhabitants of the cities and the produce of the soil. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she was turned into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:23-26)

Oh Lord, your mercy is before my eyes.  (Psalm 26:3)

They came and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. (Matthew 8:25-26)

Now I think I’m going down to the well tonight and I’m gonna drink till I get my fill/And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it but I probably will/Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture a little of the glory of, well time slips away/and leaves you with nothing, mister, but boring stories of glory days. –“Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen

The good old days, the glory days, if you will. Life was easier then, when we were younger, healthier, prettier or more handsome. The weather was better, and so was the music. And maybe, so were the people.

Change is hard, in the world and in our relationship with the Lord. Sometimes, we see the lesson on the other side, as the apostles did when they were fearful their boat would capsize and Jesus calmed the storm. Other times, we may find our situation more comparable to that of Lot’s wife, who was consumed by her longing for the past.

Maybe the good old days were better. Maybe tomorrow will be even worse. But all we have is the opportunity to do the Lord’s work today, faithfully and fearlessly. Squandering that opportunity by looking back keeps us from doing what He desires.

Show, don’t tell, your beliefs today.

Kept the Faith

[Herod] had [Peter] taken into custody and put in prison under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. He intended to bring him before the people after Passover. Peter thus was being kept in prison, but prayer by the Church was fervently being made to God on his behalf.  Acts 12:4-5

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.  Matthew 16:16-18

I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me.  2 Timothy 4:6-8A

What is “this rock” of which Jesus speaks? 

Some say the rock is Peter.  His name certainly means rock.  However, what Jesus was asking for from the disciples was a mark of their faith in him and that is what Peter delivered.  Peter said that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  This rock was Peter’s faith.  That same faith was the standard by which St. Paul looked back upon his life.  In the letter to Timothy, he measures his success by one standard only: “I have kept the faith.”

Herod also was trying to energize support among certain Jews by persecuting the new Christians.  The notes to the New American Bible for today’s first reading explain: 

While Luke does not assign a motive for [Herod’s] execution of James and his intended execution of Peter, the broad background lies in Herod’s support of Pharisaic Judaism. The Jewish Christians had lost the popularity they had had in Jerusalem, perhaps because of suspicions against them traceable to the teaching of Stephen.

In the persons of Peter and Paul – and in their confrontations with civil authorities -- we see once again that political leaders really do not know what to do about inspiring church leaders.  Sometimes, civil leaders take the view, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”  Thus, some historical records point out that Senator John F. Kennedy (as a candidate for President) offered support to the civil rights movement led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  However, historians note that Kennedy’s actions were of a wary ally who also was trying to energize votes of a critical block without alienating others.[i]

Sometimes, when they do not join up as wary allies, they just throw them in jail.  Nelson Mandela.  Martin Luther King. Dorothy Day.  Jesus of Nazareth.  St. Peter in chains. St. Paul in prison.

Maybe on this feast of Peter and Paul, we should realize not to place too much trust in the political leaders of any branch of any government.  Sometimes they may rule or vote or speak in accordance with Catholic teaching.  Other times they may not.  Such leaders as these are not the rock which Jesus asked Peter to build the Church.  Rather, Jesus asks Peter and us to build the Church upon the rock of faith, not political expediency or calculations.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Of Abundance

By Melanie Rigney

God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being; and the creatures of the world are wholesome, and there is not a destructive drug among them nor any domain of the netherworld on earth, for justice is undying. (Wisdom 1:13-15)

I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.  (Psalm 30:2a)

… As a matter of equality, your abundance at the present time should supply their needs, so that their abundance may also supply your needs, so that there may be equality. (2 Corinthians 8:14)

(Jesus) took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded.  (Mark 5:41-42)

Lord, open my heart, mind, and soul to sharing all I have and receiving all You discern I need.

When we pray over and contemplate today’s second reading from 2 Corinthians, there’s a temptation to take it literally. It’s easy to leave the lesson at face value: Those who are blessed with financial wealth should share it with the homeless, the hungry, the destitute, those who live on society’s margins. We give to our parish via envelope or electronically, we answer the Bishop’s Lenten Appeal, we drop off gently used clothing at the shelter, and we provide cans and boxes and bottles for the food pantry—and call it good.

An Allegory of Abundance
by Hendrick van Balen the Elder and Jan Brueghel the Elder.
But there are other kinds of abundance: abundance of joy. Abundance of laughter. Abundance of faith. Abundance of love. Abundance of confidence. Abundance of sorrow. Abundance of doubt. Abundance of compassion. We’re called to share those gifts as well… and to unstiffen our neck and accept from others when we in turn have needs.

Let me tell you a little story. Ten years ago when I was finding my way back to faith and the Catholic Church, a dozen people (at the time, I failed to see the significance of that number) popped into my life at one critical point or another. Some are still good friends and confidantes; others are not.  One of the latter shared with me the story of a marriage that had disintegrated beyond repair… and a faith and trust in the Lord that at times was all she had during that period. When I told her later about the impact she had had on my faith journey, she laughed and shook her head. At that particular juncture, she said, she had been bone-dry spiritually. She was both shocked and delighted to hear Christ had reflected Himself through her, sharing an abundance she had not realized she had.

We all know someone who needs something large or small—right now. It might be a window air conditioner or a pair of sandals or a listening ear or a walk to take us out of ourselves or simply a hug. In the same way, we all need something—right now. The Lord provides for us all. We are never alone. But more often than not, He provides through our family, friends, acquaintances, total strangers. May we let His great love, in whatever form it takes, be the Great Equalizer.

Say yes today to someone’s offer to share his or her abundance—financial, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual.

Is Anything Too Marvelous For The Lord To Do?

But the LORD said to Abraham: “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really bear a child, old as I am?’ Is anything too marvelous for the LORD to do? At the appointed time, about this time next year, I will return to you, and Sarah will have a son.” Genesis 18:13-14

When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.” He said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.  Matthew 8:5-6

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me. (Ignatius Loyola)

Is anything too marvelous for the LORD to do?

Whether responding to the plea of the centurion, the desire of Abraham and Sarah, the illness of Peter’s mother-in-law, or our own needs, nothing is too big or too small for the Lord to accomplish even in the face of doubt from his closest followers.
Three Pilgrims Announce the Birth of Isaac
by Alexander Ivanov

An interesting follow-up note on the significance of naming (which we reflected upon Wednesday in relation to the nativity of John the Baptist).  In the course of the narrative about Sarah having a son at her advanced age, both she and Abraham laughed at the thought.  The notes to the New American Bible point out that the Hebrew word for “laughed” is yishaq, which is also the Hebrew form of the name “Isaac.”

When the Lord visits our tent, I hope we can have a good laugh with Him, too.  May our laugh be rooted in faith, not doubt.  In preparation, let us offer up everything from our strengths to our infirmities for His holy disposal. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Trust and Be Grateful

By Colleen O’Sullivan

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said:  “I am God the Almighty.   Walk in my presence and be blameless.”  God further said to Abraham; “As for your wife Sarai, do not call her Sarai; her name shall be Sarah.  I will bless her, and I will give you a son by her.  Him also will I bless; he shall give rise to nations, and rulers of peoples shall issue from him.”  Abraham prostrated himself and laughed as he said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old?  Or can Sarah give birth at ninety?”  Then Abraham said to God, “Let but Ishmael live on by your favor!”   (Genesis 17:1, 15-18)

When Jesus came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.  And then a leper approached, did him homage, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”  He stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I will do it.  Be made clean.”  His leprosy was cleansed immediately. (Matthew 8:1-3)

“Although others may think otherwise, whenever I think of the Divine Goodness, it seems to me that ingratitude is the most abominable of sins – that any creature capable of enjoying His divine and everlasting glory should detest it in the sight of our Creator and Lord.  After all, it is a forgetting of the graces, the benefits, and the blessings received.  As such it is the cause, the beginning, the origin of all sins and every misfortune.”  (from Spiritual Wisdom in the Letters of Ignatius Loyola)

Picture someone you love very much or someone whom you care for very deeply.  Imagine that you want to give that person a gift.  Not the ordinary, expected Christmas or birthday present.  Something very special, something you think will delight him or will let her know how much you think of her.  You spend a great deal of time coming up with just the right thing.  And then you present the gift.  The person opens it, and instead of “oohing” and “aahing,” they begin to laugh at what you offered and tell you what they would rather have had instead.

I’d be so disappointed and hurt if that happened.  I don’t know what your mothers told you about receiving gifts, but my mother always said to be grateful that someone thought enough of you to give you something.  Don’t focus on the gift itself and whether or not it’s what you would have picked out.

Somebody should have mentioned that to Abraham.  Here’s the Almighty God making a covenant with him.  God’s going to give Abraham a son by his childless wife, a son whose descendants will give rise to nations and rulers.  Is Abraham grateful?  Is he even the tiniest bit impressed?  No.  He makes a show of prostrating himself, all the while laughing at how ridiculous God sounds.  He and Sarah are old; they’ll never have a child now.  He shows absolutely no trust in God’s ability to change his life.  Abraham then digs himself a little deeper.  Not only does he not say thank you, he tells God what he’d rather have – something for Ishmael, his son by his wife’s servant.

In today’s Gospel reading, we meet just the opposite type of person.  He isn’t filled with self-importance.  He’s a leper, the scum of society.  In fact, being a leper means he has to exist outside of society.  He’s allowed contact with no one but other lepers.  His existence is a tenuous and lonely one.  But he sees power in Jesus.  And he tells the Lord that he knows Jesus can heal him, if Jesus desires to.  He has faith.  And Jesus touches him and restores him to wholeness.  We don’t know if he thanked Jesus in so many words, but what a contrast to Abraham in our first reading!  This leper made no demands, simply trusted that Jesus could cure him if Jesus wanted to. 

The best way I know to become more grateful is to review your day with Jesus in prayer.  Note the good gifts over the past 24 hours, no matter how small.  If you pray this way day after day, you will find it increasingly difficult over time to see yourself as anything but a loved and very blessed child of God. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

God Answers

By Beth DeCristofaro

(Hagar) answered, “I am running away from my mistress, Sarai.” But the LORD’s messenger told her: “Go back to your mistress and submit to her abusive treatment. I will make your descendants so numerous,” added the LORD’s messenger, “that they will be too many to count. Besides,” the LORD’s messenger said to her:  “You are now pregnant and shall bear a son; you shall name him Ishmael, For the LORD has heard you, God has answered you.  (Genesis 16:9-11)

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock…But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came…And it collapsed and was completely ruined.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

Father of mercy, like the prodigal son I return to you and say: "I have sinned against you and am no longer worthy to be called your son."   
Christ Jesus, Savior of the world, I pray with the repentant thief to whom you promised Paradise: "Lord, remember me in your kingdom."
Holy Spirit, fountain of love, I call on you with trust: "Purify my heart, and help me to walk as a child of light."   
Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
From:  Prayer of the Penitent, The Rite of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, (New York , NY: Catholic Book Publishing Co. 1975) p.37-39.

This story of Sarai and Hagar would have made a riveting although uncomfortable to watch reality show.  Sarai, the “don’s” wife is controlling and mean spirited, even if in her society giving your maid to your husband was acceptable.  Hagar becomes insolent and disdainful when she becomes pregnant.  Where is clan leader Abram?  We can envision him out with the flocks and his male relatives, keeping his head low and hoping the two women battle it out without him while expecting dinner on time.

But these quarrelsome people are our ancestors in faith.  I can find a lot of relief in this while being quite glad I did not live in their tents!  I too have been manipulative and cruel.  I too have acted arrogantly and selfishly.  I have also declined to get involved when intervention might have solved problems or brought peace.  I find relief because God loves these disagreeable folks so much that he comes personally to let them know they are loved.  God intervenes on Hagar’s behalf and does not take back the promise to Abram and Sarai even though they act as if, perhaps, they don’t believe the promise.  God comes through with life for them all.

Jesus gives words of shelter, comfort and hope in spite of the rains and winds which will pummel all of our lives.  How do we hear them?  Can we offer shelter and love to others out of the solidity of our own grounding in Jesus?

Make You a Light

It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.  Isaiah 49:6

All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him. Luke 1:66

"The order of the Vesper Psalms being thus settled, let the rest of the Hour -- lesson, responsorial, hymn, verse and canticle -- be carried out as we prescribed above."
Chapter 18: In What Order the Psalms Are to Be Said
Rule of Saint Benedict

Naming is a special task in the Bible.  From the story of Adam, one of the powers invested in humanity was to name those animals and people in the world.

The biblical concept of naming was rooted in the ancient world's understanding that a name expressed essence. To know the name of a person was to know that person's total character and nature. Revealing character and destiny, personal names might express hopes for the child's future. Changing of name could occur at divine or human initiative, revealing a transformation in character or destiny.[i]

The naming of the servant in Isaiah and the description of the servant’s vocation extends beyond the restoration of Israel in order to bring the knowledge of Israel’s God to the rest of the earth.  Thus the connection of Isaiah to the birth of John the Baptist is made all the more concrete.

The naming of John was equally as significant.  From David’s descendants God promised to provide Israel with a savior, Jesus.  John the Baptist – from the womb -- heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance (change) to all the people of Israel and beyond. 

Corporations call is branding.  Parents call it naming. 
What does the name your parents gave you mean?  How has it defined your personal brand and made you unique?

God gave human beings the ability and power to name. Just as God separates light from darkness and dry land from water, this biblical text affirms that humans–created in the image of God–may seek to bring order to our chaotic and dynamic world through the process of naming. [ii]

Each of us has a name given by God and given by our parents. Each of us has a name given by our stature and our smile and given by what we wear./ Each of us has a name given by the mountains and given by our walls./ Each of us has a name given by the stars and given by our neighbors./ Each of us has a name given by our sins and given by our longing./ Each of us has a name given by our enemies and given by our love./ Each of us has a name given by our celebrations and given by our work./ Each of us has a name given by the seasons and given by our blindness./ Each of us has a name given by the sea and given by our death. (Zelda, "Each Man Has a Name," as adapted by Marcia Falk in The Book of Blessings, New York: Harper Collins, 1996, p. 106ff.)

Just as the monks give order to their day by praying the Psalms in a prescribed order, we give order to our world by the names we use and the names we give. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

How Narrow the Gate

By Melanie Rigney

After Lot had left, the Lord said to Abram: “Look about you, and from where you are, gaze to the north and south, east and west; all the land that you see I will give to you and your descendants forever. I will make your descendants like the dust of the earth; if anyone could count the dust of the earth, your descendants too might be counted. Set forth and walk about in the land, through its length and breadth, for to you I will give it.” (Genesis 13:14-17)

He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.  (Psalm 15:1b)

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

Alexandru Logel/Shutterstock
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
—Final stanza, “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost

You kind of wonder about God sometimes. In today’s first reading, He tells Abram all about how blessed he’s going to be and numerous his descendants will be. Read that in tandem with the Gospel reading and your first reaction might be, for what? Seriously, what’s the point of all those descendants if so few are going to find the gate to the Lord? What kind of a loving God does that to His people?

Perhaps the better question is what kind of people do that to a loving God… and themselves. You see, it’s not God who makes the road to life so difficult. We do that to ourselves. We seek immediate gratification over patience and faithfulness. We embrace the temptations of the evil one, fully recognizing them for what they are. We figure God will understand… or we’ll make up for it later. If rationalization were a true gift, most of us would be abundantly blessed.

Why not take the road the Lord has so clearly marked for us, even as we and He acknowledge it is the one less traveled by? Why muddy up the path with darkness and fear and regret? Why make the journey more arduous and lonely than it has to be? We might not have as many companions on the constricted road… but we will have the One we need.

Spend one hour today fully conscious of the choices you make, from the way you interact with family, friends, or colleagues to the way you drive or conduct yourself on public transit to the thoughts you let enter your mind. Keep the narrow gate in view.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Do You Have Faith?

By Beth DeCristofaro

The Lord addressed Job out of the storm and said: Who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb; when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling bands? (Job 38:1, 8-9)

(Jesus) woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”

Jesus, Brother and Lord, reveal to me my misconception that I am director of my life. Help me to appreciate and accept that by joining you on your way to the cross you will make me into your mover and shaker, moved by you to shake this world and shaped by you to build your Kingdom.

What happened to Job was pretty awful and it sure wasn’t fair! God addresses Job in today’s passage with language that is absolute, startlingly beautiful and also personal. The Divine Creator speaks of storm, sea, darkness which to us are essential elements in nature and also serve as iconic symbols of eternity and uncontrollable power. To God, however, they are as infants, delivered from God’s own eternal body and protectively, lovingly swathed like a mother wraps her vulnerable baby. God set all creation in motion including and nourishing his beloved humankind. And all, storm, sea, darkness, living creatures are at His beck and call: (Jesus) woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”
We, like Job, are not really the movers and shakers of our own lives. God set limits on the sea on Job and also on you and me. Our earthly influence is so very ephemeral. Jesus’ embrace of full humanness and his acceptance of suffering unto death have made us movers and shakers within God’s kingdom, should we accept His invitation. Richard Rohr in from Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi states: “The Crucified revealed to the world that the real power that changes people and the world is an inner authority that comes from people who have lost, let go, and are re-found on a new level”. … Rohr uses the example of St. Francis and St. Claire saying “They let go of all fear of suffering; all need for power, prestige and possessions; any need for their small self to be important; and came to know something essential--who they really were in God and thus who they really were.”
Job understood that he was very weak yet prized by God who reminds him that suffering and limitation is part of God’s creatures. The disciples pondered “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” Can we also accept that God loves us and find in a unity with Jesus, broken and poured out? He is poured out for us even when loved ones die as did Job’s children. Jesus was broken on the cross to save us from final, eternal death even as we lose ourselves to addiction or hold stifling jobs. He stills the waves in our lives by navigating our boat right with us.

When have I perceived Jesus standing powerfully and serenely amid the crashing surf swamping my boat? He will give me that faith. God doesn’t need me but God wants me, He wants us. Give thanks for God’s abundant mercy.  

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Perfect in Weakness

Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:7B-9A

Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” Matthew 6:32B-34

Let us therefore bring our tribute of praise to our Creator "for the judgments of His justice" (Ps. 118[119]:164) at these times: the Morning Office, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline; and in the night let us arise to glorify Him.
How the Work of God is to Be Performed During the Day
Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 16

On the one hand, Paul has to be about the luckiest man on the face of the earth (until Lou Gehrig came along). He was a leader and was so powerful that he could oppress those around him. Then, he gave up all the power of his former position and took on a new identity – even a new name – to have a fresh start and a new beginning.

Paul's gifts quickly put him in a leadership position in the new church to which he had been one of its main oppressors. Yet, after rising back to the top, he faced the physical challenges that weakened him, he faced imprisonment that limited his missionary work, and he felt the obstacles of other opponents who replaced Saul as the thorn in the side of the growing church community.

However, through it all, Paul realizes that any obstacles, imprisonment and challenges are provided by God as part of his growth. Paul realizes that there is no “negative component” to how we experience him on our life. What we see as the negatives are placed there to provide us with proper perspective. Even when God delivers a physical limitation or a rival or opponent on the personal level, we can overcome that.

Jesus does not deny the reality of human needs – eating, drinking, providing for our basic needs. However, he warns us against becoming too anxious about the items on the first step of our needs and to instead focus on getting to the higher reasons for being.

Paul's experience works for us on both a personal level and on a missionary level. None of us are perfect. We have to cope with the limitations that we have been given. We have to rise above our physical weaknesses for activating the Daily Tripod in our lives.

These are easy words to type yet harder to live. All of us have times (daily) when our faith in Jesus is not as deep as it should be. We are not alone. We share that human condition with the saints and the sinners in our lives and in history. Maybe the lives of those in monastic communities may be an inspiration. No matter what their assignment – from abbot to porter to college president-- they break from that work seven times throughout the day to place themselves in the presence of God. How much easier it might be when they leave morning prayers or any of the seven “offices” of the day, to bring that presence with them into the world. That office is as important as any office to which they are assigned to do earthly work.

Our job is to be aware of our thorns and like Paul, rise above them and recognize that in our weaknesses, Jesus becomes strong. Our job is to retreat from the office enough that Jesus dwells in us and that we bring his presence back into the world in our work and His work.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Store Up Treasure in Heaven

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Brothers and sisters:  Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast.  To my shame I say that we were too weak!  But what anyone dares to boast of (I am speaking in foolishness) I also dare.  Are they Hebrews?  So am I.  Are they children of Israel?  So am I.  Are they descendants of Abraham?  So am I.  Are they ministers of Christ?  (I am talking like an insane person).  I am still more, with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death…  If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.  (2 Corinthians 11:18, 21-23, 30)

Jesus said to his disciples:  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.  But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.  The lamp of the body is the eye.  If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but, if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness.”   (Matthew 6:19-23a)

I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the Lord.
(Psalm 34:2-3a)

Every day I read the latest offering from the blog “People for Others.”  Yesterday, the subject was Denzel Washington’s commencement address at Dillard University in New Orleans.  One of the thoughts he offered the class of 2015 was:  “You’ll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse: ‘I don’t care how much money you make, you can’t take it with you…’”

We may pray with the psalmist for our souls to glory in the Lord, but many of us live like we’re glorying in our material possessions or other types of worldly treasure like pride or an inflated sense of self-importance that will cease to matter when we take our final breath.  I once had a roommate who told me with the utmost sincerity that her car was her prestige.  How sad, I thought.  The first ding or fender bender and there goes her self-worth…

St. Paul was on the right track.  He suffered greatly on his missionary journeys.  He was no masochist, but when he took stock of his life, it was all that he endured out of love for Jesus Christ that counted as his treasure.  His wounds and scars might have looked like weakness to the world, but they were signs of his great faith in the Lord and his zeal for the Gospel.  Because they tied him to Jesus and the Cross, they were the things of which he boasted.

We have just started the process of cleaning out my parents’ house in preparation for selling it.  My mother has been gone for almost four years and my father is in assisted living.  Jesus’ words about not storing up treasures on earth ought to be framed and hung on the wall for us to read and remember.  58 years of possessions from basement to attic.  This will not be an easy task.  Among the more interesting things that have turned up are two passport-sized booklets belonging to my maternal grandparents – their membership books for “The Purgatory Society.”

Jesus says the eyes of our hearts will fill us with light if our hearts are full of lasting treasure.  On the other hand, if our hearts are filled with the sorts of things that moths, time and decay destroy, we will walk in profound darkness.  What is it that you count as treasure?

Our Father Knows You Well

By Beth DeCristofaro

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:8)

Father, may we be one in you.
May we be one in you as he is in you,
and you are in him.

Glory, glory and praise to you.
Glory and praise to you forever, amen,
forever, amen.
        (from “Abba, Father”)

“Daddy!” shouted the priest, arms raised high like a toddler reaching to be swung up on high.  In a homily he explained that Abba, the word Jesus used in prayer was equivalent to “Daddy” and he encouraged us to delight in God’s invitation to be intimate and personal when we prayed.  His yell jolted all of us in the congregation and his point has stayed with me – be glad in the presence of my Divine God.

In my life I’ve been very blessed with many nurturing father figures.  My own dad, academic but with a sweet sense of fun and a collection of pretty awful puns.  From him I learned that depth of faith is a good foundation for one’s moral compass.  My grandfather, rough and tumble military officer, was a disciplinarian but never reminded me of my past transgressions.  He was strong and solid.  Fr. Martin Hayes, OSB, my uncle, exposed me to vocation.  At times I could tell that living in a monastery was difficult but he was loyal and committed to Benedictine rule and his Brothers.  Mr. McNeil was my fifth grade teacher who was kind to everyone in his unruly class.  Salvatore DeCristofaro, my father in law, valued and placed family first before all else.  Joe, his oldest son, had a quick wit and exhibited a huge sense of hospitality.  And of course the father of my own children, Tony, with whom I have shared my spiritual journey raised two compassionate daughters who are both filled with a sense of justice.

There are more men and women who model for me elements of the Divine Father, illustrating God’s goodness here on earth.   Like they did for me I strive to live “Thy will be done (starting with me) on earth…”

Give thanks for the Fathers in your life through whom you have come to know Our Lord God and Father.  Say a prayer for those who are not good models of fatherhood.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What Is Unusual About That?

By Melanie Rigney

For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God while I live. (Psalm 146:2)

“For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?” (Matthew 5:46-47)

Lord, You ask a lot. Why do I have to be kind to those who treat me with contempt, welcoming to those who do not welcome me? There’s only one way I can do these things: through You.

Without giving too much away, because that would defeat the purpose, of course, suffice it to say this passage of Matthew’s Gospel has been my go-to reading for the past couple of weeks. Summer brings a lot of strangers into our lives. It brings vacationers to our cities and parishes… and brings us to cities and parishes other than our own. It brings the opportunity to get reacquainted with family and friends we haven’t seen in months or even decades.

And often, “those people” are different from us. We’ve figured out ways to look past the petty annoyances we find in the people we see regularly… because we know them as kind, caring people. We may not know the name of our usual barista or checkout clerk at the grocery store, but we have seen his or her patience in helping another customer who has disabilities.  And so what if our spouse or best friend always takes the bigger “half” of dessert? We know that person to be kind and giving in so many other situations.

Then, there are the strangers… or once-knew-them-but-for-all-intents-and-purposes-now-strangers. They pontificate. They don’t care about our opinion or desires. The way we see it, they focus on themselves. And, in that greatest offense in the Washington, DC area, they stand on the left on Metro escalators. What is to love, I ask you, about these strangers?

Well, plenty, according to Jesus. Because it’s not about loving those who love us, as he says in today’s Gospel. It’s about loving, period. Everyone. Whether they love us or not. It couldn’t be any simpler… or more challenging. Love, without any expectation of it being returned. Love, even when it’s met with disdain and cruelty. Love, because He loved us first.

Pray today for the person who is most working your nerve. If it’s safe, reach out and ask that person a question about his or her hobby or passion, some subject that is likely to show the person’s lovable self rather than the part you find challenging.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Give To the One Who Asks

As your fellow workers, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says: In an acceptable time I heard you and on the day of salvation I helped you. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.  2 Corinthians 6:1-2

“If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”  Matthew 5:40-42

This chapter in our first reading from Paul’s second letter to the people in Corinth, Greece, might contain the single longest sentence in the Bible.  Your eyes will travel from verse 3 through verse ten in order to find a period punctuating the end of the sentence.  However, the appeal to the people of Corinth is simply put:  Now is the acceptable time to behold salvation. 

Now.  The present moment.

Just like when Jesus unfurled the scrolls in his hometown temple in Nazareth, he appealed to the congregation not to waste time.  The spirit of the Lord was upon him and the ears of his audience.  Paul appeals also to the people of Corinth that now is the best time for the scriptures to be fulfilled through their actions. 

Those actions might be elaborate and involve much suffering as listed by Paul in his letter.  They also might demand serving the belligerent Roman army by walking with them two miles because garrisons in Palestine had the right to “requisition” or demand the property and services of the Jews.  In either case, Jesus says to grant the request.  

We may never be pressed to carry the backpack of an invading army.  However, every day, we are likely to be asked to perform small acts of kindness.  The Christian response:  “just give to the one who asks.” 

Be aware of appeals that you hear today and respond in the spirit of Matthew’s Good News.