Monday, November 30, 2015

Your Gracious Will

By Melanie Rigney

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. (Isaiah 11:6)

Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.  (Psalm 72:7)

Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I give you praise, Father, Lord of
Carl Heinrich Bloch
[Public domain], via
Wikimedia Commons.
heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.”
(Luke 10:21)

Jesus, help me to follow Your example of joy.

You know those moments, where everything, and I mean everything, is so right with the world, specifically your world, that you can’t help but be joyful? And however you show it—belly laugh, chuckle, big grin, quiet smile—everyone around you can’t help but see it and feel happy too. Or maybe you’re down about something, and you see someone being that full and you can’t help but be perked up a little yourself.

Imagine Jesus rejoicing as we are told today in Luke 10… not meditative, not teaching, not parrying with the authorities, but rejoicing. His immediate response is not to congratulate himself or hug everyone around him but rather, to give thanks. I suspect the hugs came quickly thereafter, for it was the return of the seventy-two disciples and his reminder that their success came from their names being written in heaven that revealed the joy. But thanks came first for Jesus… in joy and in sorrow, in pain and in triumph. May we learn from the way he obeyed the Father’s gracious will at all times.

Today is World AIDS Day. Attend an event in your area, or check out the prayers and fact sheets available at U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ site. Is there a way, through action or prayer, that you can show joy today to someone suffering from HIV/AIDS or one of their loved ones or caregivers?

Come After Me

But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring [the] good news!”  Romans 10:14-15

“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.  Matthew 4:19-20

The first rule is simply this: 

live this life
and do whatever is done,
in a spirit of Thanksgiving. 

Abandon attempts to achieve security,
they are futile,

give up the search for wealth,
it is demeaning,

quit the search for salvation,
it is selfish,

and come to comfortable rest
in the certainty that those who
participate in this life
with an attitude of Thanksgiving
will receive its full promise.

(From Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living by John McQuiston II)

Our readings contrast two kinds of people – those who hear and believe and those who hear and ignore.  The first group is the smallest of the two.  On this Feast of St. Andrew, we focus on the success of his calling (and that of his brother) as an example for us to imitate. The brothers immediately left their life behind and followed Jesus. 

But why?  We have no hint of what was so compelling about the words and deeds of this Jewish son of a carpenter.  They just did.  On this the first weekday of the first week in Advent, we get a prime example of disciples who were willing to change when they encountered the Word of God. 

Change.  Like St. Andrew, we are asked to do nothing less.  We are asked to change when we are in the presence of God.  We are asked to respond when we are put to the test of St. Andrew. As we learned in life and in the reading from Romans, many more do not accept the call to conversion, repentance and change.   As often in the past, many people in Israel did not accept the prophetic message delivered in their midst.  Have we a better record?

We celebrate both those who bring Good News and those whose ears are open. The parts of the body that bring the messenger with welcome news are praised.  “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring [the] good news!”  Also, remember Luke 11:27 (“While he was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.”)

Do what you can to open your ears and heart this season as we begin again our feeble, human attempts. We do not always want to be in the majority.  Sometimes, being in the minority is just right.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Get Busy Living, Or Get Busy Dying.

The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah. Jeremiah 33:14

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.  Thessalonians 3:12-13

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise...Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”
 Luke 21:34, 36


Maybe there is a court jester among the Magisterium who wanted to see if we would notice that the Good News for the last day of the liturgical year was the same selection as for the First Sunday of Advent?

Today and every day is about change.  Yes, the green liturgical garments are hung up while the purple ones are put to use.  But this season, this year, this faith is about more than just a change of clothes.  It is about a change in outlook, a change in “inlook,” and a change in action. 

If we are not changing, we are dying. I guess, as Andy Dufresne says in the Shawshank Redemption, it comes down to a simple choice: either you get busy living or get busy dying.

Advent is about how we get busy living.  Sure there is the busy-ness of the holiday.  Decorating. Travelling. Celebrating.  Giving.  More than that is the business of loving, the business of making the Lord increase in your life.  In your piety.  In your study.  In your action. 

Like the paragraph with the You Tube clips says, many people get “institutionalized” in the routines of their jobs or circumstances. Some feel a false sense of security but they are not truly free. Andy Dufresne would not allow a life sentence for two murders that he did not commit to keep him from the freedom of hope, from the freedom of following his dreams to live on the Pacific coast of Mexico. The Shawshank Redemption is a wonderful lesson on reaching your full potential by casting your vision and overcoming life's obstacles. Focus on your vision, don't give up hope. Get busy living or get busy dying.

The Jerusalem Redemption also is a wonderful life lesson.  We cannot expect to redeem our sadness and sorrow and pain for something better if we are not willing to change as well. What is your Zinhuatanejo?  How will you get busy living and changing this new liturgical year? This new day? This Advent which promises us paradise everyday?  

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Truth in All This

I approached one of those present and asked him the truth of all this; in answer, he made known to me its meaningBut the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingship, to possess it forever and ever.”  Daniel 7:16, 18

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise...Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Luke 21:34, 36

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On old long syne. (Robert Burns and/or or an old traditional song)

On this last day of the year, the Good News from Luke is a fairly dire warning probably more appropriate for the readings on December 31.  File it away and read it then, too. And keep the phone number of your designated driver handy. 

Yet what does all this mean?  What is the truth in all that we do?  As Catholics? As Christians? As Americans?  As Cursillistas?  As Knights of Columbus?  As Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts?  As the Rosary Altar Society?  As the Salvation Army Red Kettle Ringers? 

We are finishing a 365 day cycle and will enter into a new one tomorrow on the first Sunday of Advent.  We may not know the meaning (truth) but we persist in faith with our practices of piety, study and action.  Hopeful that the season will result in the vision of Daniel.   

No matter the evil that bears down on Sandy Hook Elementary School, a movie theatre in Colorado, a concert hall in Paris, an open air market in Beirut or a hotel in Mali, we have hope that “the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingship, to possess it forever and ever.”  We have faith that the beasts who are fighting for power and control right now will lose out in the long run.

Our hope does not mean we can escape any of the pain of life today.  But...we have a choice. We can give in to the pain of inescapable suffering or we can surrender to the joy of hope. 

Maybe what this all means, cycle after cycle, is that we are to revel in the joy of hope.  Rather than drown ourselves in the pain of the past (for the sake of old times), we can instead focus on the life that emerges.

Amanda Petrusich is the author of “Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records.”  As a music subject matter expert, she just wrote an essay for the New Yorker magazine on the life and art of jazz pianist and songwriter Alan Toussaint who died last month. Born in 1938, he lived through a world war, segregation, civil rights riots, Hurricane Katrina and more. She writes:

There is a pervasive, odious myth about art-making—and I’ve certainly been complicit in its dissemination—that has to do with anguish as fuel for a particular kind of emoting. The idea is that the real work comes from suffering: when we are denied whatever it is that we want or require, we take that hurt and turn it into something else. It becomes grist for a mill. This is a religious idea as much as a cultural one—self-flagellation as a road to transcendence.

It’s easy—nearly satisfying—to think of pain as transformative. But Toussaint’s work suggests a different way. Joy can change us, too—that’s evident in his songs. See something miraculous, and watch yourself reappear on the other side, different, better. There is so much gratitude in this music: a true gladness. What a thing to hold in mind. What a thing to let yourself follow, all the way down to the grave.[i]

Maybe like Daniel, it is about the joy of discovering that hope wins, faith wins, no matter what.  

“Joy, and discovery, dude.”  How will joy change you in the closing and opening of a new liturgical year? 


Thursday, November 26, 2015

An Everlasting Dominion

By Colleen O’Sullivan

As the visions during the night continued, I saw 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 people 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)

Jesus told his disciples a parable.  “Consider the fig tree and all the other trees.  When their buds burst open, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near; in the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near.”  (Luke 21:29-31)

For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  (Romans 13:11)

“My husband wants to go out to eat and to a movie tomorrow night, but I don’t know...What if something happens?” 

“My daughter is expecting her first child, but what kind of world is this to bring a child into?”

“Do you think these are the end times?”

These are just a sampling of the comments I’ve heard from friends and acquaintances in the last week or so. In the midst of turbulent times, when we feel threatened and afraid, our instinct is to circle the wagons or close the shutters and hunker down. 

Daniel must have been frightened by the ferocity of the beasts in the vision he recounts in the beginning of today’s first reading. The beasts represented the kingdoms which had threatened and overcome God’s people. Maybe they were his equivalent of the bloody images we’ve seen from Paris and Mali, or the other unspeakable acts perpetrated by ISIS that have been in the news over the past year. Just as the forces of chaos and disruption seem at their strongest, Daniel has another vision. He sees God on his throne in heaven and he sees the son of man presented to the Ancient One. This is the one we know as Christ our King. His reign shall be from everlasting to everlasting.  Nothing will prevail against him. This King was born into our world in the shadow of the Roman Empire. From the moment the angels announced the good news and shepherds came to adore their Savior, Jesus’ life was threatened. He was persecuted, and ultimately seized and put to death.  But he rose from the dead and reigns eternal in heaven. His power is mightier than any evil Daniel, you or I could ever have to contend with.

In the Gospel reading, the disciples are feeling uneasy. Jesus has talked about the coming destruction of the Temple. He mentions the likelihood of persecution before the end of time as we know it. The disciples want to know how they will know when the end is imminent. In today’s verses, Jesus points to a fig tree and says they know that when the buds open, summer is upon them. In the same manner, the Lord tells them, they will know when he is about to return in glory. There will be no mistaking the signs. Don’t worry about it.

This is the last chapter in Luke’s Gospel before Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem. He must have been full of fear and foreboding himself. Yet several verses after our reading ends, Luke says Jesus went on teaching day after day in the Temple. In the evenings, he would retire to the Mount of Olives to seek his Father in prayer. Perhaps the way Jesus conducts himself is the most important sign he gives us. He’s about to lose his life, but he doesn’t go into hiding. He seeks the counsel of God.

When the works of darkness weigh us down, look around for signs of God’s presence. Juxtaposed with the images of broken glass, wounded people being transported to hospitals, and bodies being removed from scenes of carnage were accounts of Parisians opening their doors to strangers in need of safety and shelter, brave souls carrying bleeding men and women to ambulances and taxis so that they could get to emergency rooms, and a man explaining to his young, very frightened son that the flower memorials were there to fight against the guns, that he shouldn’t be afraid. God is always at work. We simply have to look for the Light.

Yesterday, we gathered with family and friends to give thanks for our blessings. Why not continue the thanks-giving today by looking around and noting all the places and people in whom we see the Lord’s presence. Most of what we find will never be broadcast on the news, but the assurance of God’s presence in our midst is the best news of all.

God Has Done Great Things for Us

By Beth DeCristofaro

And now, bless the God of all, who has done wondrous things on earth (Sirach 50:22)

… one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”  Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” (Luke 17:15-19)

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:  the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.

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

He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.
        Canticle of Mary (Magnificat)

We celebrate with family and friends on our official national Day of Thanksgiving.  We can celebrate Thanksgiving 365 days and nights a year with the many blessings our God gives us.  Living in Jerusalem Son of Sira (Ben Sira) loved the tradition of his forefathers in faith during the second century BC.  He wrote to spread the love, instruct others and to give thanks.  Mary’s beautiful prayer is from the lips of a young woman facing an uncertain future in a land occupied by soldiers but whose faith prompted giving thanks to her God.  Jesus recognized the faith proclaimed by an unbeliever.  God looks with favor on his lowly servants.

Today and every day, how can we proclaim our thanksgiving for the many favors God has bestowed?  When we are most irritated, afraid or uncertain, what are the blessings with which God surrounds us?  When we are most joyful, how do we share that joy?  Benedictine Br. David Steindl-Rast said:  “The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving. In giving gifts, we give what we can spare, but in giving thanks we give ourselves.”   

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Kingdom That Shall Never Be Destroyed

By Melanie Rigney

“… the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these (other) kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever.” (Daniel 2:44)

Give glory and eternal praise to him.  (Daniel 3:59b)

Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” (Luke 21:10-11)

Lord, may I have the faith and courage to follow You through the worst of times.

We had a couple incidents last week where I work; nothing along the lines of Paris or Mali or Beirut, but a bit unsettling all the same. In one case, a coworker saw a package deposited on a major thoroughfare; an investigation turned up nothing dangerous. In the other, a less than focused security guard phoned me to help an unidentified member of the public who entered our building, even though the person would have been turned away at the door if procedures had been followed.

Strange times. But are they stranger than any other times? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Daniel interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's dream.  By W. A. Spicer [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons. It's 
In today’s first reading, King Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled and died more than five hundred years before Christ’s birth, has an unsettling dream. Daniel is among those called to interpret the dream and shares with the king a vision in which the Lord’s kingdom trumps all others and lasts forever.

And today, despite terrorist threats and disputes about what our stance on accepting refugees should be and our concerns, justified or not, about our own safety and those we love, that vision remains real. Cults and cells and sects and, yes, even countries may be destroyed. None of them can keep us from God’s promise of the kingdom if we refuse to let fear and hatred creep into our souls. None of them can keep us from God’s promise of the kingdom if we love as He loves, regardless of how unsettling our times may be.

Read the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration’s statement on Syrian refugees. Discuss it with your prayer group.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

More Than All the Rest

But Daniel was resolved not to defile himself with the king’s food or wine; so he begged the chief chamberlain to spare him this defilement. Daniel 1:8

When Jesus looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.” Luke 21:1-4

Led Zeppelin IV
There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven.
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for.
Ooh, ooh, and she's buying a stairway to heaven.
There's a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure
'Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.
In a tree by the brook, there's a songbird who sings,
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven.

(“Stairway to Heaven” performed by Led Zeppelin.  Writers: Robert Plant, James Patrick, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff; Copyright: Flames Of Albion Music Inc., Warner-tamerlane Publishing Corp.)

As we wind up the last week of our liturgical year, we see power and wealth put into their proper place and perspective. It makes me wonder.

When I was in high school, our Catholic Youth Organization sponsored monthly dances with either a live local band or a disk jockey spinning black platters from his record collection.  The chaperons at St. Mary’s in New Monmouth, NJ, use to consider the song “Stairway to Heaven” a ten-minute hug and would limit it to being played only once per dance.  The late Fr. Leon Kaspryzk, our moderator, was a good sport about it but you could see the concern on his face as couples paired off and the first riffs of Page-Plante filled Memorial Hall. 

"Stairway to Heaven" is a song by the English rock band Led Zeppelin. It was composed by guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant for the band's fourth unnamed studio album, (Led Zeppelin IV 1971). The song was voted #3 in 2000 by VH1 on their list of the 100 Greatest Rock Songs.[1] It was the most requested song on FM radio stations in the United States in the 1970s, despite never having been released as a single.

Back in the early 1970’s, we did not concern ourselves with the lyrics – but these might be the best that Page-Plante ever penned.  The lady of this song is clearly misguided about heaven.  She has none of the wisdom of the poor widow from Luke’s Good News who knows that you get into heaven by giving away your time, talents and treasures.  Yet, the lyrics speak of a person who thinks she can buy her way in with money or charm.  With a word she thinks she can get what she came for…NOT.

Yes…sometimes all of our human thoughts are misgiven.  We must turn over our thoughts to those that would go through the mind of Jesus and be guided by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit not the wisdom of Fidelity Investments or Bank of America or Wells Fargo.

Just like the poor widow passed the money test, the men in the Hebrew Bible passed the food test.  The bread, meat, and wine offered by Ashpenaz, the chief chamberlain of King of the Gentiles, were unclean because they might have been offered to idols; and the meat may not have been drained of blood, as Jewish dietary law required.  But Daniel and his companions refused to be forced to eat forbidden foods in contempt of their religion.

On Thursday, we all face the beginning of our annual food test.  Then Friday, open season on credit limits begins with the proverbial Black Friday ritual of shopping for Christmas gifts. 

Do not let the false gods of Safeway and Giant or Butterball or Nabisco force you to defile yourself on Thanksgiving.  Cook enough to share with others you invite to your table.  Give away a portion of what you have for Thanksgiving. 

As the “shopping season” begins, resolve to mark the beginning of the new Liturgical Year with good works and almsgiving rather than lust, gluttony, greed and envy. It makes me wonder if we are up to the test of Daniel and the poor widow. It makes me wonder. 

There are two paths we can go by…but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road we are on. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Yes. Amen.

By Philip Russell

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. All the peoples of the earth will lament him. Yes. Amen.  Revelation 1:5B-7

So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  John 18:37

"The Lord is King, he is robed in majesty." Psalm 93:1

Jesus Christ, Our Lord, King of The Universe ... The Messiah crucified and now resurrected began God's age of salvation.   The Book of Revelation was written at a time in history when refusal to worship the Roman Emperor as divine, meant persecution and even death.  Back in the Passion Narrative we hear the crowds crying out, "We have no King but Caesar.  Crucify Him!"

We live in a nation and are a people that is not subject to authority of a king or queen. So sometimes it's hard to "wrap our heads around" the concept of any King.  In our human nature, all too often we are not inclined to look to Jesus as King.  Oh, it's easy to see him as friend, or even brother, but King...!!???

The essence of our Piety and our Study should, in fact bring us to the Action of…falling on our face in worship!  While we would never worship "the Emperor," can we fall to our face at the feet of Our Lord JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE?

Step back out of self, today, at yet another Liturgical year end and maybe today be "a kingdom, priests for HIS GOD and FATHER."

Can we declare, "YES AMEN"?


They No Longer Dared To Ask Him Anything

So he called in all his Friends and said to them: "Sleep has departed from my eyes, for my heart is sinking with anxiety. I said to myself: 'Into what tribulation have I come, and in what floods of sorrow am I now! Yet I was kindly and beloved in my rule.' But I now recall the evils I did in Jerusalem, when I carried away all the vessels of gold and silver that were in it, and for no cause gave orders that the inhabitants of Judah be destroyed. 1 Maccabees 6:10-12

And they no longer dared to ask him anything. Luke 20:40

From the beginning of “The Canticle of Mary”

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
My Spirit rejoices in God my Savior
For He has looked with favor on His lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
The Almighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His Name.

He has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation.

He has shown the strength of His arm,
He has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
And has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.

(From www.AmericanCatholic.Org):  “It is sometimes difficult for modern Westerners to appreciate a feast like this [Presentation of Mary in the temple by her parents]. The Eastern Church, however, was quite open to this feast and even somewhat insistent about celebrating it. Even though the feast has no basis in history, it stresses an important truth about Mary: From the beginning of her life, she was dedicated to God. She herself became a greater temple than any made by hands. God came to dwell in her in a marvelous manner and sanctified her for her unique role in God's saving work. At the same time, the magnificence of Mary enriches her children. They, too, are temples of God and sanctified in order that they might enjoy and share in God's saving work.”

Mary – who is the epitome of the powerless – a teenage Jewish girl who is pregnant out of wedlock – is contrasted with stories of the rich and powerful kings and rulers of the temple.  The handmaid of the Lord will turn her life over to the power of God – yet the earthly and religious rulers do not want to give up power.

In the first reading from the Hebrew Bible, we come across King Antiochus not liking the tables of war turned on him. As long as he was winning his military campaigns against Egypt and sacking Jerusalem, he never expressed sorrow for his actions. Now he finds his armies and his power on a losing streak. His armies were losing and he is losing sleep over what he has done to the Jewish people.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees also did not like having their power in the temple challenged by this itinerant preacher from Nazareth. They were constantly trying to trap Jesus with tough questions. Just as the Maccabees challenged King Antiochus, Jesus answered the temple challenge with a strong defense of the truth that it ended his “inquisition” by the temple authorities. “Teacher, you have answered well.”

Some of the people are beginning to realize through experience what Peter, John and James learned on the top of the mountain when the voice of God proclaimed, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him."

As we mark the Presentation of Mary, are we prepared for the tables to be turned on what we think is important?

What is keeping you up at night or bothering your conscience? We have an answer to our anxiety. Seek forgiveness from the Lord through the sacrament of reconciliation.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Sacred Spaces: Keeping Them Sacred

By Colleen O’Sullivan
Judas and his brothers said, “Now that our enemies have been crushed, let us go up to purify the sanctuary and rededicate it.”  So the whole army assembled, and went up to Mount Zion…  On the third anniversary of the day on which the Gentiles had defiled (the altar), on that very day it was reconsecrated with songs, harps, flutes, and cymbals.  All the people prostrated themselves and adored and praised Heaven, who had given them success.  (1 Maccabees 4:36-37, 54-55)

Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, “It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” 
(Luke 19:45-46)

Lord, clear away whatever keeps my heart from being a truly sacred place for prayer.

Our Scripture readings today are about sacred space.  In a sense we could say that all space is sacred, because God is found in all things, but these verses invite us to be more specific.   Space is sacred when it is where we meet God.  For the Jewish people, the temple, whether in the second century B.C. or in Jesus’ day, was the holiest place to gather for prayer and sacrifice.

The first reading today comes from the second century B.C., a turbulent time for the Jews.  Judea had come under the control of the king of Syria in about 200 B.C.  This king allowed God’s people to continue to observe the practices of their faith.  However, when he died and his son came to power, all that changed.  This king ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods and even erected an altar to Zeus in the Temple.  Moreover, he encouraged the sacrifice of pigs within the Temple.   At the instigation of the Maccabees, the people rebelled against these Syrians and finally defeated them by resorting to guerilla tactics.

What we read about today is the lengths the Jews went to purify and cleanse their sacred space of the desecration and damage it had suffered.  The joyous celebrations went on for eight days and the feast became an annual observance known as the feast of Dedication or Hanukkah.

In his day Jesus finds the Temple being desecrated again, this time by money changers and those selling animals for sacrifice.  There was nothing intrinsically wrong with running a money exchange or selling animals.  People came from all over, bringing either Roman coins or a variety of other currencies.  They needed a means to exchange it for shekels.  They also needed to purchase animals to offer in sacrifice to God.  What Jesus objects to is the thievery involved.  Exorbitant exchange rates.  Inflated prices for livestock.  Exploitation of the poor.  All of it taking place under the noses of and, most likely, with the collusion and maybe profit-taking of the priests.  No wonder Jesus drives the thieves out.  As he says, this is a house of prayer.  It’s sacred space and they’re defiling it.

What about our own sacred spaces where we go to pray?  What needs cleaning out?  Is it the distraction of all those electronic devices?  That irresistible ping signaling a text message?  The desire to take just a peek in the midst of praying? 

Is it the attitude we bring to prayer?  Are we treating God like the great vending machine in the sky?  Are we so full of requests that we never give God a chance to get a word in edgewise?

Take time today to ponder what you can do to make your sacred space a more hospitable place for conversation with the Lord.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Jesus Mediates Peace

By Beth DeCristofaro

(Mattathias said) yet I and my sons and my kindred will keep to the covenant of our ancestors. Heaven forbid that we should forsake the law and the commandments. We will not obey the words of the king by departing from our religion in the slightest degree.” As he finished saying these words, a certain Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice on the altar in Modein according to the king’s order. When Mattathias saw him, he was filled with zeal; his heart was moved and his just fury was aroused; he sprang forward and killed him upon the altar. At the same time, he also killed the messenger of the king who was forcing them to sacrifice and he tore down the altar. Thus he showed his zeal for the law (1 Maccabees 2: 20-26)

As Jesus drew near Jerusalem he saw the city and wept over it, saying,
“If this day you only knew what makes for peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes.
(Luke 19:41-42)

Lord, God of Abraham, God of the Prophets, God of Love, you created us and you call us to live as brothers and sisters.  Give us the strength daily to be instruments of peace; enable us to see everyone who crosses our path as our brother or sister.  Make us sensitive to the plea of our citizens who entreat us to turn our weapons of war into implements of peace, our trepidation into confident trust, and our quarreling into forgiveness.  Keep alive within us the flame of hope, so that with patience and perseverance we may opt for dialogue and reconciliation.  In this way may peace triumph at last, and may the words “division”, “hatred” and “war” be banished from the heart of every man and woman.  Lord, defuse the violence of our tongues and our hands.  Renew our hearts and minds, so that the word which always brings us together will be “brother”, and our way of life will always be that of: Shalom, Peace, Salaam!  Amen.

Thus he showed his zeal for the law.  Mattathias, Eleazar, the seven brothers and their mother who refused to follow the despot’s decree to forsake God were extraordinarily brave and loyal to the God of the Covenant.  However, Mattathias mistook his zeal rather than steadfast confidence in God as suitable motivating factor to act.  Mattathias murdered two people in the name of God.  Eleazar and the others chose to witness through their prayers and their deaths.

The notes to Luke’s Gospel tell us “The lament for Jerusalem is found only in Luke. By not accepting Jesus (the one who mediates peace), Jerusalem will not find peace but will become the victim of devastation.”  Jesus mediates peace.  God created life.  Have we not seen too much “zeal” in the past days?  Zeal in the name of racial hatred.  Zeal in the name of fear of strangers.  Zeal in the name of purifying the infidel.  Zeal in the name of protecting the populace.  Zeal wields machetes, blasts machine guns, discharges tasers, erects walls and fences, launches leaking boats to remove strangers from home shores.  Would Jesus today weep, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace?”


Using God's name to justify violence and murder is "blasphemy," Pope Francis said. Today is a day for prayer and striving at all levels of our lives for peace. Peace in every action, however small, resonates with the love of God.  In every major world religion there is a similar statement to our Golden Rule which seeks respect and care for every human brother and sister.  How can I make peace today?

More Will Be Given

“He replied, ‘I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me.’”  Luke 19:26-27

"For I was a stranger... - And you welcomed me." Matthew 25:35

What do we do for God?  How do we use our talents for others? 

Choices and temptations are at the heart of our two readings.  The seven sons are given a stark choice of either obeying God’s law or following a corrupt king.  Each one of them rejects the false hope of the corrupt king including the youngest following his mother’s comments.

She had scarcely finished speaking when the youth said: “What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king’s command. I obey the command of the law given to our fathers through Moses. But you, who have contrived every kind of affliction for the Hebrews, will not escape the hands of God.” 2 Maccabees 7:30-31

We will not escape the hands of God, either.  We cannot retreat from the world like the servant who buried the coins provided by the king.  This parable is not about economics but about social justice.  If we have blessings, we should use them for good. The sons in the story from Maccabees did not worry about their own fate like the servant who stored his gold coin away.

Pope Francis reminds us “The Gospel calls us, asks us to be ‘neighbors’ of the smallest and most abandoned.”

When I came out of college, my first job was resettling refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (the “boat people”) who fled to refugee camps in Malaysia after the end of the war in Vietnam.  I was working for Catholic Charities in Charlotte.  Yesterday, after the North Carolina governor called for a ban on Syrian refugees coming into his state, the Diocese of Charlotte reiterated its support of refugee resettlement.

David Haines, the spokesman for the diocese said that over the last 40 years Charlotte Catholics have welcomed more than 15,000 refugees from all countries, and they all had to pass through security checks first.  Haines said the church has confidence in the system used by the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department to examine the backgrounds of each refugee before they are resettled.

"Obviously, there has been no problem from any of these 15,000 people and I think this is because of the very stringent process that the State Department has in place.

"We would not be accepting refugees if we felt they presented a danger to people in the community," Haines said.

CRS has an action alert to contact the President and members of Congress to provide leadership to help Syrian refugees.  Even if you cannot house a refugee or family, you can contact national leaders and urge them to support the vulnerable with this action alert:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I Must Stay at Your House

By Melanie Rigney

When he was about to die under the blows, (Eleazar) groaned and said: “The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that, although I could have escaped death, I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging, but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.” (2 Maccabees 6:30)

The Lord upholds me.  (Psalm 3:6b)

When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When (the crowd) saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” (Luke 19:5-7)
By William Hole [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons. 

Jesus, I open my home, humble as it may be, and heart and soul, soiled as they may be, to You.

Imagine it: Someone you respect greatly, a humanitarian, perhaps, or an esteemed educator or innovator. Maybe it’s even a politician. And there you are in the crowd, just trying to catch a glimpse of this person when he or she not only calls you by name… but invites himself or herself into your home at that very moment.

What do you do? Demur because you know there are newspapers and magazines scattered about? Ask if the person can meet you there in a few hours so you can stop at the store and pick up a few groceries? Offer to take the person to a restaurant instead?

These options appear to have never crossed the mind of Zacchaeus. Maybe it was because he was a chief tax collector and a wealthy man and knew his home would be in order. Or maybe, just maybe, it was because he knew not of that mattered. He was simply delighted to have the opportunity to spend time with Jesus. May our response be the same when the Lord says He must have time with us.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual fall general assembly continues through Thursday in Baltimore. Please pray for the Holy Spirit to guide their discernments.