Saturday, April 30, 2016

Proclaim the Good News

During the night, Paul had a vision. A Macedonian stood before him and implored him with these words, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we sought passage to Macedonia at once, concluding that God had called us to proclaim the Good News to them.  Acts 16:9-10

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

Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life. This, then, is the good zeal which members must foster with fervent love: "They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10)." supporting with the greatest patience one another's weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No monastics are to pursue what they judge better for themselves, but instead, what they judge better for someone else. Among themselves they show the pure love of sisters and brothers; to God, reverent love; to their prioress or abbot, unfeigned and humble love. Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may Christ bring us all together to everlasting life. (Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 72, The Good Zeal of Monastics)

Slavery.  Persecution.  Jesus liked to use analogies that were understood by his followers.  They were used to being treated like slaves to the belligerent Roman army and would understand the place of the slave in the context of today’s Good News.  This new way of life was not a walk in the park.  Jesus never promised us a rose garden. However, vision or not, all were called to proclaim the Good News as “apostolos” (Greek for messenger). 

Rejection of the messenger by the world is the central tenet Jesus lays out.  As much as he preaches love and healing, this is not recruiting campaign in a capitalist tradition.  There is no nice salary or perks.  There are no fringe benefits unless you consider nails and crucifixion such. The message is love but the response is rejection.  

How will we ever embrace the good zeal of the monastics in a pool of rejection?

People are so used to what makes them comfortable in life that it is hard to get them to come off their lily pad and into the rough waters of the Sea of Galilee or the Sea of Virginia when faced with the promise of persecution and slavery.  Is it any wonder that surveys reveal the rapidly increasing percentage of Americans who say they don’t identify with any religion whatsoever?  How did they ever get to be called the “Nones,” a homonym not to be confused with our loveable Nuns?  Maybe the Nones see the hypocrisy.  Maybe they see the scandal.  Maybe they reject sacrifice.  Whatever the reason, it is getting easier to find a seat in the pews.

It was not like this 15 years ago.  When the planes started dropping out of the sky on September 11, 2001, people flocked to the comfort of the sanctuary.  We know that our God loves us like the Good Shepherd.  However, we seem to take that love for granted in a way that today is no different than it was 2,016 years ago as the church tried to break through the dry, cracked ground of the desert.    

The Church also has been here before.  The desert monastics rejected life in the cities in order to move to a place where they could live an authentic Christian life.  As radio host Krista Tippet explains, maybe the likes of St. Benedict were the Nones of their generation.[i] 

Another way to look at the trend today is through the lens provided by Sister Joan Chittister, OSB.  She writes that “[T]he spirituality which emerged is about caring for the people you live with and loving the people you don't and loving God more than yourself. Benedictine spirituality depends on listening for the voice of God everywhere in life, especially in one another and here.”

Today is the last day of the cycle when Benedictine brothers and sisters read the Rule passage by passage, from start to finish.  We always begin again at the prologue on January 1, May 1 and September 1.  Perhaps it is fitting that the Rule reminds us what we must do to proclaim the Good News like the first apostles.  Like the first word of the prologue, St. Benedict leaves us with the reminder:  We must learn to listen, listen.  Love, love. As Sr. Joan puts it in her book The Rule of St. Benedict:

We must learn to listen to what God is saying in our simple, sometimes insane and always uncertain daily lives. Bitter zeal is that kind of religious fanaticism that makes a god out of religious devotion itself. Bitter zeal walks over the poor on the way to the altar. Bitter zeal renders the useless invisible and makes devotion more sacred than community. Bitter zeal wraps us up in ourselves and makes us feel holy about it. Bitter zeal renders us blind to others, deaf to those around us, struck dumb in the face of the demands of “dailiness.” Good zeal, monastic zeal, commits us to the happiness of human community and immerses us in Christ and surrenders us to God, minute by minute, person by person, day after day after day. Good zeal provides the foundation for the spirituality of the long haul. It keeps us going when days are dull and holiness seems to be the stuff of more glamorous lives, of martyrdom and dramatic differences. But it is then, just then, when Benedict of Nursia reminds us from the dark of the sixth century that sanctity is the stuff of community in Christ and that any other zeal, no matter how dazzling it looks, is false. Completely false.

Listen, listen. Love, love.  Person-by-person. Day-by-day.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Love One Another

By Colleen O’Sullivan

“It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage.  If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.”  (Acts 15:28-29)

Jesus said to his disciples:  “This is my commandment:  love one another as I love you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.”  (John 15:12-14)

Lord, as I call to mind your great love for me, may I be filled with gratitude and the desire to share your love with others.

In the Book of Acts, we read how the fledgling church struggled to put together a blended family.  Some of the early Christians were Jewish and some were Gentiles.  One of the greatest points of contention was circumcision.  Many who were Jewish believed that Gentile men needed to be circumcised before they could be considered followers of Christ.  There was so much confusion that the Apostles and presbyters, along with the whole Church, decided to write a letter and have it hand delivered to the churches made up primarily of Gentiles.  The final decision was that circumcision was not required and it would be enough if followers of the Way observed certain dietary laws and refrained from unlawful marriages.  Today, even the dietary laws have long gone by the wayside.

What hasn’t changed, though, is what Jesus told his closest friends as they were gathered around the table after the Last Supper.  To be one of Jesus’ friends, we need to love each other as Jesus loves us.  (Following dietary laws might be much easier.)

Most of us would be quick to say we know Jesus loves us.  But, when pressed to articulate exactly how Jesus shows us his love, we may not have so ready an answer. Many of us don’t spend much time reflecting on our lives and where in our lives we have seen and felt Jesus’ presence.  It’s a whole lot easier to be a person for others and to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters if our own hearts are bursting with gratitude for all that Jesus has done for us than it is to try and summon up the energy from within without that awareness of being blessed.

Spend some time today looking back over your life and identifying times when you have experienced Jesus’ unbounded love for you.  Remember it’s not necessarily only the good times that count. Even hurts you’ve suffered, sins you’ve committed, or disappointments you’ve felt may have been the opportunities Jesus has used to show you how much he loves you. 

Praying each day with gratitude for one blessing you have experienced in the past 24 hours, and doing so day after day, is another way to become more mindful of Jesus’ infinite love for us.

A grateful heart disposes us to more readily love one another. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

God Chose You

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter
By Beth DeCristofaro
Peter got up and said to the Apostles and the presbyters, “My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the Gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit just as he did us. He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts. (Acts 15:7-9)
Jesus said to his disciples: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.  (John 15:9)
God of all Creation, thank you for life.  Help me to cherish and nurture the divine spark of your nature deep within myself and all your children.  
This chapter of Acts shows us discussions from the very early Council of Jerusalem.  The passionately debated question was whether Gentile believers needed to become Jews before baptized as Christians.  Even then, the need to identify the worthy, the real believers, the chosen, raged.  And so it does today.  Later in this chapter, the notes to the USCCB readings explain:  “In support of Paul, Peter formulates the fundamental meaning of the gospel: that all are invited to be saved through faith in the power of Christ.”[i]
Today, couched in political terms, the worth of refugees, disabled, homeless, impoverished, imprisoned peoples and more are debated.  Their worth as children of God becomes hidden beneath speeches of economics, security, nationalism.  Mother Theresa of Calcutta humbly and humanely pointed out: “This is where we are most unjust to our poor – we don’t know them.  We don’t know how great they are, how lovable, how hungry for that understanding love.  Today God loves the world through you and through me.  Are we that love and compassion?  God proves that Christ loves us- that he has come to be his Father’s compassion.  Today God is loving the world through you and through me and through all those who are his love and compassion in the world.”[ii]  Substitute for “poor” the word “radical” or “drug addict” or “single mother on welfare” “LGBT” or any number of other identifiers of people who are deemed to be frightening or leeching off society and the Word remains the same.  The Word is love.
Was it not humbling and amazing to meet the other people at your Cursillo table, or perhaps Team members with whom you served?  The stories of struggle, perseverance, tragedy and rebirth allow you to know each other in astoundingly deep ways.  Introduce yourself to someone new – the homeless man who lives near the parkway exit, the janitor in your workplace.  Tell them something of yourself then ask about her/him.  Have you ever met someone who does this?  She/he is a delight to be around.  Love spills from her/him.

[ii] “Total Surrender” quoted in “Give us this Day:  Daily Prayers for Today’s Catholic”, Liturgical Press, April 2016, pp. 254-255.

Monday, April 25, 2016

What God Had Done With Them

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

By Melanie Rigney

In those days, some Jews from Antioch and Iconium arrived and won over the crowds. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered around him, he got up and entered the city. On the following day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.  After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” They appointed presbyters for them in each Church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith. Then they traveled through Pisidia and reached Pamphylia. After proclaiming the word at Perga they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now accomplished. And when they arrived, they called the Church together and reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. Then they spent no little time with the disciples. (Acts 14:19-28)

Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom. (Psalm 145:12)

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

Lord, thank You for the gentle reminders of who is truly in charge.


Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
They are heady stories, the stuff of action movies and thrillers, the Acts of the Apostles. They are the tales of people in prison and people persecuted, of people fearlessly sharing the Good News and making converts among Jews and Gentiles wherever they go as they travel and travel and travel.

How did they do it? How did they establish a Church that has withstood nearly relentless persecution, internal scandal, and more than the occasional bout of apathy among the faithful? We find the answer in a short passage from Acts 14, after Paul and Barnabas arrived in Antioch: “They called the church together and reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (emphasis added).

You see, Paul and Barnabas knew it wasn’t them. It was the Lord. They were privileged and humbled to be His vessels. And after their time with the disciples and at the Council of Jerusalem, they and others were back at it again, telling the world about Christ.
Spend “no little time” today with someone with whom you are privileged to share a belief in the Lord. Consider what God has done with each of you… and how you will open yourselves up further to His work.

Go Into the World

Feast of Saint Mark, Evangelist

Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  Mark 16:15-18

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.  The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.  We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. 

Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

This is what we are about.  We plant the seeds that one day will grow.  We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

(Selections from “Prayer in Memory of Archbishop Romero: A Step along the Way” by the late Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw)

How did the Holy See and the Magisterium know what readings to select for today?  For this day is the first sunrise of the Fourth Day for the men who began to experience their Cursillo (coor-see-yo) at Missionhurst over the past weekend?  How did they know fifty years ago to send them out to proclaim the Good News on the Feast of St. Mark with their piety (those who believe), study (proclaim the Gospel), and actions (baptizing, driving out demons, healing the sick)? 

You could sense this mission building by the work of the hands that made this weekend possible.  This small Christian community of 21 men – supported by apostles far and wide doing prayer, sacrifice, service, cooking and more to meet their needs – celebrated Mass four times.  At each Mass, we had the work of our hands symbolized by the unleavened bread baked by Joe one of our team members.  The work of our hands was the whole weekend but it came to its height when Fr. Paul lifted up the unleavened bread to consecrate it into the Body of Christ.

You could also see this mission building by the work of our hands that allowed the team of friends to bind themselves together with the candidates whom we met on Thursday night.  After a second full day of laboring in the fields of the Lord, right before bed, a surprise party is celebrated for the candidates.  While in deep prayer over a soliloquy on John at Patmos, the community room was transformed into a celebration of the love of the Lord.  On the table along with other donated food and beverages, also was the work of another Joseph.  A winemaker, this candidate brought and shared his own personal “vintage” with all on Saturday night.

The transformation happened again as we raised a toast to friendship.  The community consecrated the agape of sharing. As the sign in the Missionhurst chapel proclaims, “We came as strangers.  We leave as family.”

The person of Jesus came alive in so many ways over the weekend.  At its height, the symbolism and actuality of the sharing of bread and wine by these two “Josephs” and all others came to fruition at our Masses and our closing ceremony with the community which could only be celebrated where else but at St. Joseph’s Church in Alexandria, VA. 

The start of a Fourth Day is a great time to reflect on the eternal question posed to us by the late Cursillo Spiritual Director Fr. Joe McCloskey, SJ.  Fr. Joe may be on the cloud of witnesses now, but his piety, study, and action resonate with us so many ways but this question is at the heart of his Ignatian-Cursillo-Benedictine-Augustinian-Thomastic-Franciscan-Dominican spirituality:  Am I really willing to be who Christ would have been if he had been lucky enough to be me?  They’ll know we are Christians by the love we share when we say “Yes.  Yes.  Yes. Yes. YES!” to this question.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Allowing Mercy to Blossom

By Lisa Helene Bacalski

“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22b

I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God. Psalm 145:1

The One who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Revelations 21:5A

‘I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ John 13:33-34

Let this classic song be your prayer:

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
And together we'll spread the news that God is in our land
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love.

When we listen to today’s reading from Acts, it can be easy to take for granted the hard work Paul and Barnabus undertook to proclaim and live Jesus Christ, crucified, died, buried and, most importantly, resurrected. “With prayer and fasting,” yes, along with hours of walking or riding long roads, then hours of conversation and preaching, and then often an almost inevitable conflict with the powers that be in any given city.

In our own time, much energy and conversation within the church revolves around making disciples and re-converting those who have fallen away through the new evangelization. But our understanding of the phrase “to make” is often limited to the intellectual because so few of us are involved in manual labor or in making anything more complicated than a meal. When our King and our God says, “Behold, I make all things new,” do we really understand the immensity of that merciful undertaking? Do dare to imitate it?

Jesus shows us exactly how to do that when he says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” And how does he love us so radically? By being present with us, fully present, for our good, not His. When he called his disciples and began teaching them, it wasn’t merely with words but also friendship. They knew and trusted him, and thus believed in him.

Today we know and love Jesus through others sharing our journey. This is what makes a Cursillo weekend so powerful; loving one another as we have been loved. This Love is what makes the church triumphant and eternal. This Love is what makes disciples. There is no recipe or instruction manual, just that powerful verb that dares us to always choose another’s good over our own, to offer ourselves as sacrifice, to walk the narrow road together.

Spend time with someone you love, and listen to them with the heart of Jesus. 


Doing His Works

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

“For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.’” The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this and glorified the word of the Lord. All who were destined for eternal life came to believe, and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region. Acts 13:47-49

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. John 14:10-13

Take from me, Father, all that keeps me from you.
Give to me, Jesus, all that leads me to you.
Set me free, Holy Spirit, that I might live my life for you.

Seeing is believing.

The reputation of “doubting” Thomas has endured a pretty harsh PR ding throughout history because he was not in the Upper Room when Jesus appeared after the Resurrection. Why was Philip not branded with the same moniker?

Philip’s lack of faith prompts Jesus present us with another wrinkle in the timeless debate over faith and work. Jesus challenges Philip and us to believe (have faith) because he has told them that the Father and he are one. However, he goes on to challenge them that if such faith is not enough, he wants them to believe because of the good works he (Jesus) has been doing on his Father’s behalf.

The debate is not over faith against works. Jesus frames the debate as one in which faith precedes good works.  Good works follows from faith is a requirement. If you have faith, then imitate Christ and do the works that he does.

Major Catholic religious traditions (like the Benedictines) were founded centuries ago and based on prayer and work. Our Cursillo tripod may have been borne out of John 14 where faith and action are merged. However, being Catholic Christians is not just about praying and studying our religious traditions.

Being a Catholic Christian also means putting into practice the works of Jesus by imitating the life of Christ. Just consider one of the prayers we say at the end of the Rosary: “Let us pray. O GOD, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant that by meditating upon the mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

We prayer that we might imitate what it contains. Each mystery of the Rosary contains an active story about the life of Jesus.  
How can your life imitate Jesus through sharing in his pain, through doing good works, and through making life easier for others?

Please offer a Rosary or pray the Angelus this weekend for the candidate on the Men’s 132nd Cursillo. 

A Forever Home

By Colleen O’Sullivan

We ourselves are proclaiming this good news to you that what God promised our fathers he has brought to fulfillment for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.  (Acts 13:32-33a)

Jesus said to his disciples:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You have faith in God; have faith also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”  (John 14:1-3)

Lord, I pray that you will always be the way I choose to go, the truth which illumines every nook and cranny of my being, and the life I seek to share.

Last Friday, almost four months to the day since my father’s death, my sister and I met at our family home of 59 years for the last time.  She had worked tirelessly all last summer and fall to empty the house.  Over the winter, repairs and renovations had been made.   The house had been on the market for just one day when there were two offers, one of which we accepted.  We were making this stop on the way to the settlement.

My sister wanted to walk through the rooms one more time and she insisted that I accompany her.  I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go in, but it was the last chance to do so before the new owner took possession.  It didn’t feel one bit like the home I grew up in.  Wallpaper had been removed and the odor of new paint permeated every room.  The colors were changed.  New hardwood floors.  New light fixtures.  It all looked very nice, but it didn’t feel like home.

“House” and “home” are not interchangeable words.  A foundation, four walls, and a roof do not add up to a home.  A home is more about the people who live in the house and their relationships with one another than the structure in which they reside.  My parents’ house did not feel like home last Friday.  It was empty.  Truth be told, it had never felt quite like home once my mother died 4½ years ago.

I pondered this as I read today’s Gospel, part of Jesus’ farewell discourse after the Last Supper.  I think we have a difficult time coming up with the precise word(s) to translate/describe what Jesus is promising.  (Once, in a hotel in Switzerland, my sister and I were looking for something to do while her small children slept.  We picked up the Bible, which was in German, and happened to read the very passage we’re looking at today.  The word used to describe the place Jesus is preparing for us was the exact same word used in everyday vernacular for an apartment.  We laughed at the mental image of high rises in heaven.  Yet that is so not what I think this passage is about.)  Jesus is offering us much more than merely a new address on the other side of death.  Jesus is inviting us to share God’s home, made a home by the love God has for us and the love we share with God and all God’s children.  Jesus is inviting us to be his forever family.  St. Augustine, in his Confessions, says our hearts are restless until they find rest in God, and Jesus is offering us eternal peace and rest with him and the other persons of the Trinity.

Jesus is extending an offer and an invitation, not anything that will ever be forced on us.  As Jesus explains to Thomas, who protests that no one knows the way to get wherever the Lord is going, he himself is the way to this life.   So, how wrapped up is your life in Jesus’ way?  How is your prayer life?   What are you doing on earth to extend God’s love to others, especially the poor and the poor in spirit?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Washed in God’s Blessings

By Beth DeCristofaro

John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel; and as John was completing his course, he would say, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.’” (Acts 13:24-25)

When Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, he said to them: “Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.  (John 13:16-17)

Dear Lord, soak me in your holiness.  Rinse out the eyes of my heart to see and
Jesus Washing the Disciple’s Feet
rejoice in the holiness of others.  Deluge me with resolution to stand up for holiness against sinfulness in this world you have graciously created.  In kneeling to wash the feet of others may I find myself kneeling at your feet, my Jesus.

My teacher, Sr. Lucy, was one of the first holy people I met.  Of course at the time I just thought of her as kind, gentle and pretty.  Repeatedly in my life holy people have brought me many blessings.  A thoughtful woman gave food and companionship to me, a lonely stranger.  A social worker remained focused on the needs of very desperate people she served despite personal adversity. A peace activist lives in poverty to serve homeless and teach about non-violence.  An 80+ year old Buddhist nun from Hiroshima, Japan, walked across the US to physically be in solidarity with the victims of 9-11. They all practiced humility, were openly focused on the greater good and saw the presence of God within life.  And in their presence I felt an inner peace.

Not that all holy ones are serene, tender and quiet!  My great-uncle, a Benedictine monk, dispensed raucous jokes and bad puns.  Kathy, Catholic Worker friend, is a devout but strident, in-your-face anti-war resister.  A gadfly parishioner directs a parish fundraiser and it is largely due to her doggedness that donations pour in.  John the Baptist was characterized as charismatic and forceful but he knows his place as Messenger not Messiah.  And even the Messiah, even the Son of God, Son of Man, knelt and humbly washed feet, including the feet of his betrayer.

In prayer, raise up in your mind before God someone who just drives you nuts!  Someone who is so far from holy!  Spend some quiet time with God, bringing that person in front of your heart’s eye.  Consider what it is that is so annoying, pray for a softening of her/his heart before God.  Look also deeply within yourself and be open to recognizing what within you might mirror the same unenviable quality you find in her/him.  Pray for yourself for forgiveness and softening of your own heart.  Then look again at the irritating person.  In prayer image, wash her/his feet.  Find within her/him a trait of goodness, holiness or at least marginally positive.  Give thanks to God for that person.  Find within yourself a holy place which you have not yet recognized or have neglected.  Thank God!  Thank God that Holiness will not be overtaken by evil.

Sent Them Off

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said,
“Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, completing their fasting and prayer, they laid hands on them and sent them off.
  Acts 13:2-3

I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness. And if anyone hears my words and does not observe them, I do not condemn him, for I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world.  John 12:46-47

"Whenever we do something together, something good, something beautiful, everyone changes. All of us change in some way and this does us good." — Pope Francis

John helps to underline the mission of Jesus by connecting what is said in this chapter with references to other readings in his own book.  While in many cases, the Gospel writers reference the well-known words and works of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, John, through repetition, reminds us of common themes in his own book.  Overcoming darkness with light.  Connecting the relationship of the divine mission of the Son to the Father. 

All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.  What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:3-5

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (3:17)

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”  (13:20)

 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. (14:1)

But this is not poetry alone.  Unless these words are put to the test of faith and lived as the Good News, it is just a book.  Thus the Acts of the Apostles follows to remind us that these words must be lived to reach new people whether in Jerusalem, Turkey, or elsewhere.  “The word of God continued to spread and grow.” 

The impulse for the first missionary effort in Asia Minor is ascribed to the prophets of the community in Antioch, under the inspiration of the holy Spirit. Just as the Jerusalem community had earlier been the center of missionary activity, so too Antioch becomes the center from which the missionaries Barnabas and Saul are sent out. 

Where are you being sent off?

Missionary work continues to define the Church.  Medical missions.  Relief missions.  Teaching missions.  Development missions.  Our modern missionaries – through the work of Catholic Relief Services ( help spread the love of the Gospel where it is needed most.

On April 16, 2016, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Ecuador, killing at least 350 people, a number that is expected to rise as first responders reach the affected area. This is the strongest earthquake Ecuador has experienced since 1979.

Hundreds more have been injured, and there are reports of widespread damage to buildings, roads and other infrastructure. Communications are down or intermittent, further complicating damage assessment and need.

Given the widespread impact, Catholic Relief Services is coordinating with other humanitarian organizations and our partners to determine priorities.

Water, food and emergency shelter will be the biggest needs in the coming days. The people of Ecuador urgently need your help. Your donation will help CRS respond immediately. Please donate by filling out the form below. Visit the web page and give what you can.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Proclaiming the Lord Jesus

By Melanie Rigney

Those who had been scattered by the persecution that arose because of Stephen went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but Jews. There were some Cypriots and Cyrenians among them, however, who came to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks as well, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:19-21)

All you nations, praise the Lord. (Psalm 117:1a)

So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.” (John 10:24-28)

Lord, help me to follow Your voice wherever it leads, into familiar places and those that give me pause.

Keith Weller, USDA
Agricultural Resource Service.
Sheep get a bad rap. They’re smelly. They’re stupid. They’re herd animals who blindly follow the shepherd or leader anywhere, even if it’s into a hole or into traffic on a country road.

In short, sheep are annoying.

So are Christians. Annoying, that is.

In today’s Gospel reading from John, Jesus almost boasts about His power over His true followers: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. … No one can take them out of my hand.”

And sometimes, that voice takes us to surprising, uncomfortable places. Early Church leaders saw their ministry as preaching to the Jews. But a funny thing happened. At Antioch, Gentiles began believing as well. It seemed odd to some, odd and inappropriate and outside the core ministry. How annoying.

And yet, it was where Christ’s voice was leading. And so, like sheep, they followed… as we are called to do today, outside our prayer group, outside our family, outside our neighborhood, outside our parish, outside our comfort zone. We follow because we are His sheep. We celebrate being annoying.

Be annoying today. Talk about your faith with someone outside your usual circle. Pray first that You might hear His voice.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Holy Spirit Fell Upon Them

As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them as it had upon us at the beginning, and I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?”  Acts

But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.  John 10:2-4

As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When can I enter and see the face of God?  My tears have been my bread day and night, as they ask me every day, “Where is your God?”  Psalm 42:2-4

He calls his own sheep by name.   Jesus does not just say, “Come here.”  He does not just ask everyone to walk with him.  He calls each of us by name. Just like the Lord called Moses.  Abraham.  Isaac.  David.  Mary.  Joseph. 

Sam, hear my voice.
Jenny, walk with me.
Kurt, stay with me.
Mary, lead me on.
Tim, send forth your light.
Sarah, bring me to your holy mountain
Rick, go in to the altar of God.
Paul, lead my people.
Stephen, be the ideal.
Randy, trust in me.
Evan and Cheryl, sing joyfully.
Phil, be the gate.
Esther, please speak.
Brad, listen with the ear of your heart.
Mary Anne, carry out my every wish.
Mike, blessed are you.
Barbara, I have chosen you.
Regina, receive me.
John, let my people go.
Katherine, the Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Mark, he has anointed you. 
Monica, bring glad tidings to the poor.
Joe, proclaim liberty to captives.
Anna, deliver recovery of sight to the blind.
Michael, let the oppressed go free.
Mal, proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

My soul longs for a God who knows my name and calls it out.  Listen for him to answer you when you call out to God.

Every sheep in the flock is equally important to the shepherd.  We know that if any one of us were lost, the Good Shepherd would come to find us. Starting yesterday with Good Shepherd Sunday and continuing this week, we are reminded that regardless of our state in life, regardless of whether we are called to either the sacrament of Marriage or Holy Orders or other consecrated religious life or single life or whatever, we are all equal members of the flock, each sheep known personally by the shepherd.  We are called to our vocation with a small “v” to do the work which Jesus asks.

After all, Christ is counting on you.  And…

Saturday, April 16, 2016

My Sheep Hear My Voice

By Jim Bayne

For so the Lord has commanded us, I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 13:47)

The LORD is good: his kindness endures forever, and his faithfulness, to all generations. (Psalm 100: 5)

I, John, had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.  They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. (REV 7:9)

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. (John 10:27-28)

I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD in the land of the living.  Wait for the LORD with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD. (Psalm 27:13-14)

This week’s Gospel speaks to the relationship between Jesus and the Father. Jesus identifies so closely with the Father that he tells us that they are one—not just close, but actually one. To know Jesus is to know the Father. Jesus doesn't just bring us closer to the Father, Jesus puts us directly into contact with God the Father, removing all distance between us. Our relationship with Jesus is an invitation to share in the life of God.
– From Sunday Connection for April 17, 2016

Relationships are essential part of living a healthy and happy life.  A study that began in 1938 called The Grant study proposed to unearth the secrets to a happy and purposeful life. It began with a cadre of 238 men at Harvard in1938. In 1940, a cadre of men who grew up in the tenements of Boston was added to the mix.

George Vaillant, Harvard psychiatrist and director of the study from 1972 to 2004 wrote a book about it. The study found that Love Is Really All That Matters and maintains that  regardless of how we begin life, we can all become happier by establishing deep personal relationships at home, at the office, at church and in all our social settings.

The most powerful relationship we can have is our personal relationship with God through Jesus.  It is the one relationship that remains constant. While we may walk away from God at different times in our lives, God never walks away from us.

A relationship with God does not just happen. It requires us to develop a deep life of prayer. It calls on us to study the Word of God; to get to know who God is and what He requires of us. Finally, a relationship with God calls on us to reach out in love to our brothers and sisters “across the street and around the world,” as Fr. Dick Martin used to say.

Make some time this week to sit in the quiet with God’s word.  Follow that up with some time just being in God’s presence.  Finally, experience the Kingdom of God right here on earth by doing one of the actions Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:34-36 will lead us there.