Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord for Strength

By Beth DeCristofaro

Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read. … He said further: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our LORD. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:8, 10)

He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. (Luke 10:2-6)

Jesus, my Brother, draw me to you as your favorite.  Help me to accept the joys and the sorrows in my life content that my labors are for the divine harvest and that the abundance of that harvest will be mine by your gracious generosity.  I thank you every day for the wonder of your presence by my side, oh My Best of Friends. 

St. Therese’ life helps us understand today’s readings which appear quite contradictory on their face.  In Nehemiah, the Israelites were dealing with a tumultuous and fragile transition from exile to a mostly destroyed land where foreign peoples have taken their former homes.  In Luke, Jesus tells 72 disciples that they must go forth carrying nothing in order to perform dangerous work.  The Israelites are encouraged to rejoice in the Lord while Jesus exhorts his disciples to identify and establish peace in God’s Word.

As a girl, St. Therese underwent a spiritual event causing her to turn her normal, me-centered life into a life centered on God’s love.  She convinced her family and the church to allow her to enter a life of prayer as a Carmelite nun and was “gifted with great intimacy with God.”[i]  Therese’ insight was that her happiness, her strength lay in God not in herself or her life.  Her life was filled with struggle, just as Jesus’ disciples’ lives and the lives of the Israelites.  But in her profound relationship with Jesus, Therese never lost her childlike wonder and joy

One of my favorite stories from Therese is that when cleaning the convent, Therese would gently pick up and deposit outside, alive, any spiders she came across. Shivers!  What shocking – completely “not me” action - might I do today to break through boredom, complacency, fear, overconfidence or other self-centeredness which keeps me from being Jesus’ Best Friend and rejoicing in God’s Will?

Follow Me

“How could I not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been eaten out by fire?” The king asked me, “What is it, then, that you wish?” I prayed to the God of heaven and then answered the king: “If it please the king, and if your servant is deserving of your favor, send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, to rebuild it.” NEHEMIAH 2:3-5

And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.”  LUKE 9:59-60

Father, only with Your help can we Rebuild Your Church.  Amen.

In the Good News from Luke, Jesus speaks of the severity and the unconditional nature of Christian discipleship. Even family ties and filial obligations, such as burying one’s parents, cannot distract one no matter how briefly from proclaiming the kingdom of God. 

Building the Kingdom of God has its parallels in the physical rebuilding of the Jewish community both in the Hebrew Bible (after the exile in Egypt and more) as well as in the New Testament when the community was enduring the Roman occupation. 

St. Francis of Assisi also was a great re-builder of the church both physically and
spiritually. For several years Francis searched the Scriptures, talked with friends and spiritual advisors, and prayed long hours in churches, woods and caves listening to God’s call and purpose for his life. Then one day in the church of San Damiano, a chapel right outside of Assisi, he heard the invitation of Jesus: “Francis, go rebuild my Church, which you see is falling into ruins.”[i] Francis did; he set out, gathered stones and rebuilt St Damian's, St Mary of the Angels and other damaged shrines. It was only as his life developed that he understood that what he was to rebuild - on the foundations of the Gospel - was the Universal Church, not just a physical building. 

Saint Jerome, the priest, monk and Doctor of the Church renowned for his extraordinary depth of learning and translations of the Bible into Latin in the Vulgate, is celebrated by the Church with his memorial today.  Ultimately, Jerome went to Bethlehem, established a monastery, and lived the rest of his years in study, prayer, and ascetcism.[ii]

We might think that such conditions were set aside for people who entered the monastery or the convent, but Jesus does not give a pass to the lay community. 

Christians have been doing establishing separate communities since the Acts of the Apostles.  Call it the Bruderhof, the Puritans, the Catholic Workers, the Amish, or the Pilgrims, the radical call for discipleship may be a call to these special break-away communities.  However, Cursillo attempts to establish such a community-within-community without breaking away from the environment but precisely by evangelizing our environment through our example of piety, study and action.

Many say that Pope Francis is changing the teachings of the Church. This notion is false. Pope Francis is not changing the teachings of the Church. He is, rather, changing the way that we understand the Church by living out her teaching of compassion. He is showing the evangelical and missionary nature of the Church through his actions as Pope, just as he did before being elected to the Papacy in March 2013.[iii] 

Pope Francis, through his simplicity and humility in his lifestyle is showing the humility of the Church, as well as a glimpse of who his successor was, not a king, but a poor fisherman from Galilee. He is also living out Christ’s (and the Church’s) teaching of compassion for others by embracing social outcasts, the sick, the young, the elderly and the poor.

Recently at work, there was a speaker from a local charity who came in to talk to my co-workers about his organization’s mission.  While we were talking privately before the meeting, we realized that we were both members of the Cursillo community in our home towns.  He asked me if I was still living my Fourth Day.  That is probably a good question to ponder whether or not you are in a weekly group reunion. 

Are you – and how are you – still living your Fourth Day whether your weekend experience was last month, last year or decades ago?

Monday, September 28, 2015

You Will See Heaven Opened

By Melanie Rigney

War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it. (Revelation 12:7-9)

In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.  (Psalm 138:1)

(Jesus said to Nathanael:) “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 1:51)

The Three Archangels,
Marco d'Oggiono [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen. (Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel)

And then, it was … done. Or was it?

Pope Francis boarded Shepherd One Sunday night and headed back to the Vatican with thousands of miles under his belt after his visits to Cuba and the United States. Thousands were blessed by small-group meetings with him at prisons, at shelters, and elsewhere. Millions attended large events or stood and cheered as the Popemobile drove by, with Francis smiling, always smiling, and waving and giving blessings. Millions more were touched virtually via TV, radio, newspaper, or social media. But today is Tuesday, and the pope is taking a day of rest at home.

And then it was … done. Or was it?

This trip will have been a complete failure if we all return to our daily lives, unchanged by Francis’s reminders about what Jesus desires from us:  Repairing rifts in our families and communities. Ministering to our brothers and sisters in need. Honoring and defending life at all stages, starting from the moment of conception. Protecting the environment in the largest sense of the word. Offering more mercy and joy to all we encounter, every day.

In attempting to live a more Christ-centric life, we will encounter evil every day, just as we always have. Evil encourages us to put up walls around our hearts and souls. Evil whispers, “Well done,” when we waste money, gasoline, or time on activities that benefit only ourselves, and perhaps not even ourselves in the long run. Evil tells us the status quo is just fine, that there’s no need to change.
Pope Francis reminds us in poignant, simple words and in his actions that the status quo won’t work if we wish to draw nearer to the Lord. In the moment, when we saw that smile, that hand, and heard that beautiful, reasoned voice, we likely made some private vows of change, of service, of harmony. Now it’s time to suit up and show evil we were serious about those vows. St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.

Write down one action you will take as a result of Francis’s words. Keep it in your billfold or other place where you will see it every day. Pray for progress. Pray for peace in the world and in your soul.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

With Faithfulness and Justice

Lo, I will rescue my people from the land of the rising sun, and from the land of the setting sun. I will bring them back to dwell within Jerusalem. They shall be my people, and I will be their God, with faithfulness and justice.  Zechariah 8:7-8

Jesus realized the intention of their hearts and took a child and placed it by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.”  Luke 9:47-48

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
― Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

A “rock star” departed from Philadelphia International Airport Sunday night en route to Rome.  When he lands Monday morning, he will be the lowly @Pontifex once again.  Although greeted by millions in his direct audiences and hundreds of millions in TV Land, the humility of the Holy Father shone through every day of his short trip to Cuba and the United States. 

His refrain was the same.  Pray always – especially for him.  Know Jesus.  Serve the Lord by serving the people with humility for the least.  He passed up a Capitol Hill luncheon to dine with the homeless in Washington.  He kissed the children who were afflicted and in wheelchairs.  He blessed the injured policeman.  He blessed the Speaker of the House, the President, the Mayor of New York and countless nuns, deacons, priests, bishops and lay people.
We do not need a reflection on this message written for today.  We had six days to reflect on this message as it was reflected in the piety, study and action lived by Pope Francis in Washington, New York and Philadelphia.  “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me.” 

The media was constantly trying to shoe-horn the papal message into boxes labelled “left” and “right.”  “Liberal” and “Conservative.”  “Democratic” and “Republican.”  Pope Francis would not fall for any of the short-term headline writers’ temptation.  He knows that rivalry between factions is not consistent with Christian discipleship.  Neither is intolerance.  That is why he consistently preached to welcome the stranger – because all of our families started out as immigrants.

Our challenge now is to live his Gospel message as disciples.  Or just go back to being fans of a rock star. 

“The spiritual life is first of all a life. It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived.” (Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude)

In His Name

By Beth DeCristofaro

Moses answered him, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!" (Numbers 11:29)

Jesus replied, "Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.   (Mark 9:39-41, 43)

By this we came to know the love of God: that Christ laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for one another.  (Communion Antiphon from the Mass for the Day)

Recently a character on a TV show told her teen-age son that even though he was doing all things right but still losing out that “You will continue doing the right thing because that’s what makes you a man.”  It struck me that Pope Francis would appreciate her advice.  He has gone farther and told us how to go about it:  choose love, choose mercy.  Pope Francis has modelled mercy and love with every action and word he shares.  He points out that there are many goods to choose from and that both choosing good but also how you go about that good are important. 

Moses realized and Jesus proclaimed that anyone who acts in the name of God belongs to God.  Of course Jesus also warned that our hearts must be routed and motivated from God not from our self-centered desires.  It seems to me that some of the division we see in the Church comes from competition for “good” issues.  The good I work for should not trump the one you are passionate about.  The cause I espouse does not prove I am a better Catholic Christian than you are.  There is so much hurt, isolation and despair in the world that all of our love and mercy are needed. 

Pope Francis spoke of four beloved, strong models of holiness in his address to Congress last week: Abraham Lincoln, Martin L. King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.  Read about one.  What do you learn from her/his passions, choices and actions that can help you deepen your desire to draw closer to Jesus and so act in His name?  

Friday, September 25, 2015

Pay Attention

See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the LORD. Many nations shall join themselves to the LORD on that day, and they shall be his people and he will dwell among you.  ZECHARIAH 2: 14B-15

“Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.” But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them so that they should not understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about this saying.  LUKE 9:44-45

"America" by Neil Diamond
We've been traveling far
Without a home
But not without a star

Only want to be free
We huddle close
Hang on to a dream

On the boats and on the planes
They're coming to America
Never looking back again,
They're coming to America

We are confronted by covenant language as directly as we were confronted by the Gospel message in the halls of Congress this week.  Zechariah universalizes the covenant between God and Israel to include all nations just like Pope Francis did in Washington, New York and Philadelphia. 

“They shall be my people, and I will be their God” is written in Jeremiah 32:38 is as real to us this week as if the prophet wrote, “They shall be my flock and I shall be their shepherd.”   

Yet, we also must heed the Good News by paying attention to what Jesus uttered and what Pope Francis echoed this week.  This is not just a 2015 re-enactment of a rock group coming to America.  This is a full frontal Argentinian-Jesuit-Roman Catholic Invasion.  In the examples that the Holy Father focused upon, we saw that the church must stand for the immigrant, the marginalized, the weak and the powerless. 

In a welcome break from the drumbeat of Presidential campaigning and government shutting down, @Pontifex invited us to look in the mirror and see Jesus looking back.  @Pontifex invited us to look at our borders and see Jesus crossing the Rio Grande.  @Pontifex invited us to look at the land and see the hand of God at work in all creation. 

If you do not know much about Dorothy Day or Thomas Merton, take some time to look up something about their lives or check out a key book from the library.  The Long Loneliness is Dorothy’s biography and The Seven Storey Mountain is Fr. Merton’s.    

You will learn that Servant of God Dorothy was a radical, divorced, single mother who had an abortion and was arrested often up until she was 80 years old for her protests against war and injustice.  However, none of that stopped Dorothy Day from converting to become a devout Catholic and a champion of the poor after she learned what love meant with the birth of her daughter. (

Can you try to live their commitment to the Gospel? 

Remember the Holy Father’s words at the United Nations:  “Solemn commitments, however, are not enough, even though they are a necessary step toward solutions. The classic definition of justice which I mentioned earlier contains as one of its essential elements a constant and perpetual will: Iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius sum cuique tribuendi. Our world demands of all government leaders a will which is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment.”

Thursday, September 24, 2015

God is Always with Us

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory?  And how do you see it now?  Does it not seem like nothing in your eyes? …And take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord, and work!  For I am with you, says the Lord of hosts.  This is the pact that I made with you when you came out of Egypt, and my spirit continues in your midst; do not fear!  (Haggai 2:3, 4b)

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38-39)

Almost exactly a year after Hurricane Katrina struck, I had occasion to travel to New Orleans for work.  I had some spare time while I was there, so I went on a 3- or 4-hour Hurricane Katrina bus tour.   The city itself had been hit hard enough, but what I remember most vividly was the devastation in St. Bernard Parish.  Not a sign of life as far as the eye could see in many areas.  Entire shopping malls knocked off their foundations, gas stations rendered useless, mile upon mile of empty, uninhabitable ruins where homes once stood.  The only visible signs of life were a Home Depot selling building supplies and a laundromat hastily erected for the oil workers who were so badly needed to keep the refinery there going.  As I looked out the window of the bus, I remember thinking, “Who will ever come back here?  There’s nothing to come back to.  Nowhere to live.  Nowhere to worship. No schools for the children.  No stores for purchasing necessities like groceries.  And yet, if no brave souls venture forth, St. Bernard Parish will always be a wasteland.”  It was destruction on a scale so unimaginable and overwhelming, I could hardly talk the rest of the day.

This must have been what the remnant of Jews returning from exile in Babylon experienced when they were liberated by the Persians and told they could go back and resettle Jerusalem.  They’d been away for 40-50 years.  Weeds had grown up.  Marauders had taken anything left behind.  Their homes and their beloved Temple had been lying in ruins for decades, laid waste by a conquering army.  A whole generation had grown up who’d never seen Jerusalem or the Temple, whose only home ever had been Babylon and, truth be told, they didn’t have much interest in pulling up stakes and moving back to the Holy City.  It didn’t look very holy anymore.  Rebuilding was going to be a monumental undertaking.  They did begin to reconstruct the Temple, but enthusiasm for the project waned and years went by without any progress.

About 14 or 15 years later, the new Persian King, Darius, ordered the Jews to finish rebuilding their temple. They did, but they knew it was nowhere near as resplendent as the former Temple had been.  Nothing was as good as it had been.  They were discouraged and wondered if God even remembered them or was even present in the midst of their suffering.

The prophet Haggai reminded them and all of us that God is always with us.  God was with them in exile.  God was with them as they attempted to rebuild amidst the ruins.  God was with his children as the fury of Katrina raged.  Even when we’re talking about devastation closer to home – the loss of your job, a best friend’s betrayal, the break-up of your marriage, the death of a loved one – God is always reminding us, “I am here with you.  Don’t despair.  Keep living.  Keep going.  No matter what, I am here with you and I love you.”

When have you been tossed about by life’s storms and knocked off your moorings?  Where did you feel God’s presence as you sought to regain your footing and go on?  Give thanks to the Lord for God’s enduring presence.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

An Eternal Wage is Offered You

By Beth DeCristofaro

Now thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways! You have sown much, but have brought in little; you have eaten, but have not been satisfied; You have drunk, but have not been exhilarated; have clothed yourselves, but not been warmed; And whoever earned wages earned them for a bag with holes in it. (Haggai 1:6)

Who then is this about whom I hear such things?” And (Herod) kept trying to see him. (Luke 9:9)

Set our hearts aflame, O Lord, with the Spirit of your charity, we pray, that we may always think thoughts worthy and pleasing to your majesty and love you sincerely in our brothers and sisters. Through Christ our Lord.

Several of our friends served as Eucharistic Ministers or attended Mass with the Pope yesterday.  As Jean, Jeff, Chris, Gary, Jean, Mel, Robert, Tuck and others prepared for their time with Pope Francis, I was thankful that the Pope would be surrounded by so many holy people who hold him up with their prayers and spirits.  And then I was even more grateful that Pope Francis sees holiness in each of us, often in spite of ourselves, and calls us to act on that internal well of grace gifted us by our loving God.

In today’s Gospel, Herod speculates about tales of a wonder-worker.  Herod beheaded John who chastised him on his adultery.  Often authority and power do not want to be challenged with morals or truth.  And of course we know that Herod did, in fact, see Jesus.  When Jesus was brought before him on trial, Jesus refused to play Herod’s games.  Herod rendered himself blind both to Jesus’ divinity and holy humanity by his own ego and cruelty.  Herod worked, was Tetrarch, at the pleasure of Rome which resulted in wages that secured him only a bag with holes in it.  He traded in the gift of Life offered by Jesus for a life of pomp and excess. 

The media coverage and excitement over the Pope’s visit is reassuring.  It says how much people long for something bigger, holier and need a moral compass.  The cheering crowds are energizing; I teared up as I saw our Catholic Vice President greeting Pope Francis at Joint Air Force Base Andrews.  But I wonder when the last time was when I cheered and jumped for joy when I spent time with Jesus in prayer?  How can I reinvigorate my desire to “see” Jesus in the everyday, ordinary “parade” of events which is my life?  How to best to show my excitement and gratitude that the Savior of the world chooses to spend time with me?  How can you?  Do we sow, eat, drink, buy or work for wages which are ephemeral or eternal?

A Stake in His Holy Place

“And now, but a short time ago, mercy came to us from the LORD, our God, who left us a remnant and gave us a stake in his holy place; thus our God has brightened our eyes and given us relief in our servitude.” Ezra 9:8

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

Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father, and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him. Show us your face and we will be saved. Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money; the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things; made Peter weep after his betrayal, and assured Paradise to the repentant thief. Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman: “If you knew the gift of God!”  (Prayer of Pope Francis for the Jubilee)

Tomorrow on the grounds of The Catholic University of America, hundreds of thousands will gather in person and via television for Mass to canonize Junipero Serra.   I would like to think when Pope Francis reads the Gospel verse “Take nothing for the journey,” that a smile will dance across his face.  Ironic.  If that does not raise the sense of irony, then perhaps, “Let no one take a second tunic” would have hit the home run. 

The pope’s entourage is about 100 people, reports The Washington Post.  “No pope stayed overnight in the United States until John Paul II in 1979.” Now there are plane loads of assistants. Entire altars have been constructed for one Mass.  The largest security operation in history is underway across three cities complete with parades and Pope-mobiles.  Could Jesus imagine it thus? 

Yet, strip away the pomp and you can almost hear Francis preach with fervor about the first reading from Ezra as we approach the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy that will commence December 8.  Francis plants his stake in our holy place…not our soil but our hearts.  He will be bringing us word that Jesus ransomed for us a stake in his Father’s house and heart – you know, the one with the many rooms. He will ask us to fully rely on God.

To what are we slaves?  

Our careers?  Our retirement savings?  Our mobile devices?  Our iTunes collection?  No matter your answer, God has still not abandoned us.  His mercy comes to us again and again as new life even before we hear word one from Francis during his first visit to U.S. soil. He will be smiling as he says, “mercy came to us from the Lord who left us a remnant and gave us a stake in his holy place.”

Pope Francis announced an Extraordinary Jubilee which has at its center the
mercy of God: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).  The Holy Year will commence on the next Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and will conclude on Sunday, 20 November 2016, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe and living face of the Father's mercy.

According to the website, the logo for the Jubilee of Mercy has been designed to express the profound way in which the Good Shepherd touches the flesh of humanity and does so with a love with the power to change one’s life. One particular feature worthy of note is that while the Good Shepherd, in his great mercy, takes humanity upon himself, his eyes are merged with those of man. Christ sees with the eyes of Adam, and Adam with the eyes of Christ. Every person discovers in Christ, the new Adam, one’s own humanity and the future that lies ahead, contemplating, in his gaze, the love of the Father.

During the Jubilee of Mercy, the Holy Father will perform particular works of mercy and is asking each Diocese to do so as well.  What will you plan to do in your action for the Jubilee?  

Monday, September 21, 2015

Standing Outside

By Melanie Rigney

King Darius issued an order to the officials of West-of-Euphrates: “Let the governor and the elders of the Jews continue the work on that house of God; they are to rebuild it on its former site.” (Ezra 6:7)

Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord. (Psalm 122:1)

The mother of Jesus and his brothers came to him but were unable to join him because of the crowd. He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside and they wish to see you.” He said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” (Luke 8:19-21)

Lord, grant me the faith to act when I hear your Word.

The liturgical calendar may say ordinary time, but this is no ordinary time in the United States. Pope Francis arrives late this afternoon at Joint Base Andrews. Over the next five days, he’ll have a dizzying schedule of events from Washington to New York to Philadelphia. Don’t have a ticket/unable to wait outside for hours in hopes of catching a glimpse during a parade or procession? No worries. The U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops has put together a list of ways you can participate from the comfort of your own home or special prayer place. There is no reason to stand outside of all the excitement… and love and joy and hope.

Could there be a more perfect Gospel reading for this day, for this world, at this time? Sometimes we feel isolated by our sins and insecurities, despairing that the things we have said or done will always leave us spiritually standing outside of God’s family with no hope of being invited in. Jesus’s message is simple: everyone is invited to be part of the family, one of the cool kids, among those who sit at the big table in the meeting room. All any of us has to do is listen, and obey. Obey by loving the Lord. Obey by loving your neighbor. Obey by loving yourself for the beautiful son or daughter you are. Love. That’s all it takes to come inside. There’s always room for one (or one billion) more.

Invite a non-practicing Catholic to participate with you in one of the items on the USCCB list. Spread the mercy and the joy.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Go and Learn

But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Ephesians 4:7

“Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”  Matthew 9:13

Caravaggio, The Call of St. Matthew
The light basking on the hand of Jesus reminds some of the hand of God on the Sistine Chapel.  Jesus reaches out to call St. Matthew away from his family, his work, his friends, his co-workers and his possessions.  Matthew cannot even make eye contact with Jesus at this critical moment he is lost in introspection.  Will he stay or will he go?

Matthew can see clearly…now.  Maybe not always.  However, the change is what Jesus emphasizes with the disciples.  Whether it is Peter leaving behind his boats or Matthew leaving the tax rolls, they and all the other disciples did indeed “follow” Jesus. 

The learned Pharisees and scribes do not fully grasp the person of Jesus.  Their words convey that limit when they ask, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  They see Jesus ONLY as a teacher, not as the Son of Man.  They use traditional Mosaic Law to evaluate Jesus and his actions.   Eating with sinners and tax collectors would require a ritual cleansing at temple. 

Just as people change, the law is changing, too.  The Hebrew Bible stressed sacrifice.  Jesus stresses love and mercy.

With whom have you had dinner lately?  Anyone scandalous?  Any hookers?  Anyone working at the Department of the Treasury?  Maybe one of those Catholic priests or radical feminist nuns? 

Break out of your routine and invite an unusual guest to dinner.  

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Cultivate Peace

By Diane Bayne

This past Wednesday night I was faced with a choice:  either to attend my weekly Wednesday night Centering Prayer Group or skip it to watch the Presidential debate.  As I debated my options, at first I was sorely tempted to watch the debate.  On the one hand, was it not my civic duty to make myself available to hear what these candidates have to say?   But on the other hand, there was the Palanca to finish for the candidates and team on this Cursillo weekend.  And then I remembered the meditation I needed to write for today’s Daily Tripod meditation.  Looking over the readings for this Sunday, the words of James in today’s second reading jumped right out of the page at me:

The wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.  (James 3:16-18)

I long to grow and to immerse myself in these virtues–these fruits of the Spirit–and am only too aware that so often I choose their opposites.  So where, on this past Wednesday night, would I find evidence of these virtues–might even experience one or more of them?

When Henry Nouwen wrote the following words in Bread for the Journey, he was looking into his own soul. But he could just as easily have been looking into mine when he said: 
“When we look critically at the many thoughts and feelings that fill our minds and hearts, we may come to the horrifying discovery that we often choose death instead of life, curse instead of blessing, Jealousy, envy, anger, resentment, greed, lust, vindictiveness, revenge, hatred. . . they all float in that large reservoir of our inner life.  Often we take them for granted and allow them to be there and do their destructive work.”   

Amen to all the above!  I need all the help I can get!!!  My Wednesday choice became crystal clear.  Need I say which option I needed to choose?  What options similar to mine last Wednesday are you facing now?

Bear Fruit

I charge you before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession, to keep the commandment without stain or reproach.  1 Timothy 6:13-14

“…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

Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit. (John 15:5) 

Have you ever seen a wild grapevine?  In our backyard, there are no wild grapevines but plenty of other wild vines. 

Left to its own growth path, these Virginia Creepers and Kudzu in the back of 9505 Babson Court ramble through underbrush and cling to everything in their pathways.  They wrap themselves around deck railings, fences, trees and shrubbery.  It is very interesting to see the intersection of a wild vine and a chain link fence.  This “mawwage” results in a barber pole of twisted metal and branch.  Wild grapevines are the same.    

A well-tended vine—something I have seen growing on the hills of Tuscany and Northern Virginia and New Hampshire and New York—tell another story entirely. These vines are carefully cultivated to produce tall, sturdy, and productive plants. Thanks to careful pruning, these yield large clusters of healthy, sweet-tasting grapes that result in wines that many enjoy.

The vine grower must be totally dedicated to the vineyard if there is any hope of making it a “wineyard.”  Timothy exhorts the people to assume practices that demand total dedication to God and faultless witness to Christ throughout their lives if we have any hope of becoming authentic members of the family.  He asks us to live our Fourth Day with an awareness and respect/fear of the Lord, through faith, until Christ returns.  This is not a position we assume during a retreat or for one hour on Sunday.  This is a 24/7/365 occupation.

Luke recognizes that everyone will not assume these practices.  When we succeed in these practices, we become like the seed that falls on rich soil. The focus is on hearing the word through our piety and study and then acting upon it.  Thus, we are welcomed into the family of God in two stages.  First by our birth, we are all children of God.  Secondly, by our actions. Some family members fall away from that relationship when they fall on rocks or sandy soil.  Other persevere.  They embrace the word with a generous and good heart, and they “bear fruit” by acting on the Word.

“The small ways you live your life every day are what matter.”  Maybe you need more than just scripture and the exhortations of Timothy and Peter and Paul.  Here is the story of Abby Shapiro, a 16-year-old from Bethesda who died last week of bone cancer.  I think you can say that Abby Shapiro embraced life fully with a generous and good heart.  Her example bears fruit through perseverance. 

She died only months after a mundane nagging knee pain was diagnosed as osteosarcoma — a type of bone cancer — that quickly spread from her knee to her spine, throughout her central nervous system, to her lungs and to her brain.

In April, she started getting calls from college recruiters interested in having such a strong breastroker join their swim teams. About a month later, she was paralyzed and bed-ridden.

Her parents, Trudy Vincent and Rick Shapiro, went from making college plans for their only child to funeral plans in just five months.

As columnist Petula Dvorak writes in The Washington Post:  “But this? What can anyone learn from the cruelty of this kind of rapacious, random and merciless cancer?  Abby’s own way of living. That’s what there is to learn here.”

Thursday, September 17, 2015

You Can’t Take It With You

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Indeed, religion with contentment is a great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it.  If we have food and clothing, we shall be content with that.  Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains. (I Timothy 6:6-10)

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, (among them) Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out.  (Luke 8:1-2)

Yet in no way can a man redeem himself,
or pay his own ransom to God;
Too high is the price to redeem one’s life; he would never have enough
to remain alive always and not see destruction.
(Psalm 49:8-10)

How true it is that we leave the world just as we entered it – with nothing in the way of money or material goods.  My mother has been gone for almost four years and my father is entering hospice tomorrow.  He will never live in his home of 58 years in Delaware again.  My sister, along with her children and friends, took upon herself the project of cleaning the house out over the summer so it can be put on the market.  My mother always kept it looking like something out of a magazine – nothing out of place, no extraneous items sitting around here or there.  So it was somewhat surprising to discover how much stuff my parents managed to squirrel away out of sight.  There were even maintenance manuals to every car they’d owned over 60 years of marriage as well as old J.C. Penney Co. catalogs dated prior to 2000 neatly stored in the basement!

All of a sudden I’ve been looking at myself and all the things I own in a different light.  Do I really need all of it?  As we read in the first Scripture, our needs are fairly basic – food and clothing.  I would add shelter and employment to the list.  But when I look around, especially when I imagine someone having to clean out my possessions at the end of my life, I’m afraid that person might say, “She really didn’t know the difference between needs and wants!”   

We can’t take our money or anything our money has purchased with us when we depart this life.  But there is one thing that stays with us, our relationship with Jesus.  Mary Magdelene could tell us something about that.  Worth more than all the gold and silver in the world is what Jesus offers us – release from the burden of our sins, forgiveness and mercy, a chance for a new life with him.  Mary will never forget or cease to be grateful for what Jesus has done for her.  The close relationship she enjoyed with the Lord in this life I’m sure continued as she was received into the arms of Christ for all eternity.  That kind of inner peace and joy cannot be had for any sum of money.

So why not give up the worship of money and worldly goods and give our loyalty instead to the One whose gift is everlasting?

In an address in Bolivia in July, Pope Frances stated:  And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea – one of the first theologians of the Church – called “the dung of the devil”. An unfettered pursuit of money rules. This is the “dung of the devil.”  Pope Francis was talking specifically in reference to the world’s ecosystem, but that phrase, “the unfettered pursuit of money,” could be applied to many facets of our lives, including our personal wealth and accumulation of material goods.

Take a few minutes to imagine someone cleaning out your house and wrapping up your finances and legal affairs after your death.  It might make you squirm, because not many of us want to think about dying, but the bottom line is it will happen to all of us.  What impression would that person walk away with?  Who would they say is our God – the modern version of the golden calf, money, or our Lord Jesus Christ?