Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Gone Fishing

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God. 1 COR 3:18-19

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him. Luke 5:8-11


Every heart needs to be set free,
from possessions that hold it so tight
'Cause freedom's not found in the things that we own,
It's the power to do what is right
Jesus, our only possession,
giving becomes our delight
We can't imagine the freedom we find
from the things we leave behind

We show a love for the world in our lives by worshipping goods we possess
Jesus has laid all our treasures aside "love God above all the rest"

'Cause when we say 'no' to the things of the world
we open our hearts to the love of the Lord and
it's hard to imagine the freedom we find from the things we leave behind.

Today’s passage from Luke has parallels in different parts of the other Gospels.  The Story of the Calling of the First Disciples is related in Mark 1 and Matthew 4.  However, the story of the First Miraculous Catch is similar to the post-Resurrection episode in John 21. 

The placement of the Miraculous Catch has an important meaning as both an initial calling and as a recommitment story.  One key difference is that in Luke, Jesus is in the boat, using it as a pulpit to preach to the crowds before instructing Simon Peter to “put out” for the catch. In John’s telling, the fishermen are on their own and Jesus is on the beach. 

Jesus has no doubt that the fishermen will be successful despite the futile efforts overnight. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4).

Although there is no reason the fishermen should be afraid of the Miraculous Catch, the very next words Jesus tells them are key: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” (Luke 5:10B) “Do not be afraid” is a message we will hear over and over and over again from the lips of Jesus as he gets us ready to learn his true nature and our true mission.

Michael Card (writing in Luke: The Gospel of Astonishment) reminds us that the real Miraculous Catch belongs to Jesus.  “…[Jesus] is the fisherman here.  He casts his net and – behold! – catches four men who will become key leaders among the Twelve.” To succeed, nothing can come in the way of the mission.  Let on one deceive themselves. They leave everything to follow Jesus.  

Only a few times in my life have I really “gone fishin.”  I have found that – like Simon Peter learned – it really pays to have a Captain who knows his craft – not just the boat but the trade of fishing. A few years ago while visiting Prince Edward Island, Canada, I went on an afternoon fishing boat – not to catch fish or men but to photograph the fishermen. 

Our Captain took us to our first spot where the other passengers hauled in plentiful amounts of small mackerel.  When we picked up anchor and put out to the second spot, we then used the mackerel as bait and caught dozens of cod.  Everyone went home with fresh fish to grill that night – including the photographer.    

What are you being asked to fish for?  Who is your captain, your guide? How can you approach the task not with fear but with confidence that gives you a strong chance of success?

Going fishing is not a comfort zone to retreat to like Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby.  Instead, it is the hard work we must do.  Oh, yeah.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

We Are God’s Co-Workers

I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor. For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corinthians 3:6-9

After Jesus left the synagogue, he entered the house of Simon. Simon’s mother-in-law was afflicted with a severe fever, and they interceded with him about her. He stood over her, rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up immediately and waited on them. Luke 4:38-39


From "A Step Along the Way" By Bishop Ken Untener (Saginaw)

…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.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

With our feet firmly planted on Luke 4, Jesus is just setting out on his ministry.  The people in Nazareth go from being childish followers to traitors within less than 30 verses.  At first, they do not see Jesus as one with authority.  “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”

But Jesus admonishes them that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him out of childishness and into mature spirituality.” 

Jesus and Paul recognize that we do not immediately ascend to the top rung of the ladder of ministry.  We get there by passing through childhood stages (chronological childhood as well as emotional childhood which may defy our years).  At an immature level, we are only concerned with me, myself and I.  Babies need parents for food, clothing and shelter and emotional well-being.  Once we know who will be our provider, we then want to hold onto that person or persons.  We have to learn to let go and know that they will still be there when we need the providers.

The disciples want to hold onto Jesus and they do not accept his prediction of the passion even though Jesus warns them three times about what is to come. 

We see in Luke how Jesus keeps moving on.  Jesus starts small…healing Peter’s mother-in-law.  Then he moves on to healing those small groups who come to him.  Yet Jesus cannot stop there.  Jesus sets the example for our development when he tells his followers that he has to leave Capernaum.  They were still childish and holding on.  But Jesus reminded them: “To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God because for this purpose I have been sent.”  Just like Jesus has to leave his hometown, we have to leave our comfort zone.

Jesus tied up his entire identity in God.  He lost his human identity as Jesus of Nazareth as he accepted his responsibility as the Son of God.  The disciples, too, went through stages until they recognized Jesus as Messiah, not as the carpenter’s son.

As we turn the calendar page to September, it is hard to imagine planting in the fields as we approach the time of harvest. But planting in God’s field is a year-long occupation.  Jesus is not looking for seasonal, sometimes workers except as that is a stage to mature ministry, mature Christianity.

With all the focus on floods recently and water in today’s first reading, here is an action idea.

Brian DeRouen and his wife Kathleen run Alderson Hospitality House, a Catholic Worker (nonprofit) B&B in Alderson, West Virginia (  They offer food and comfort to friends & family visiting women incarcerated at a nearby prison. On June 23, water began flooding into their home, giving Brian just enough time to get his family, their pets, and a handful of belongings to safety. They’re raising money to repair their home and get back on their feet after this devastating flood. They have a little more than $20,000 of the $40,000 they predict will be needed to rebuild.  Won’t you help them? #WVfloodrelief #WVstrong

Monday, August 29, 2016

“Have You Come to Destroy Us?”

By Melanie Rigney

Now the natural man does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it because it is judged spiritually. The one who is spiritual, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone. (1 Corinthians 2:14-15)

The Lord is just in all his ways. (Psalm 145:17)

In the synagogue, there was a man with the spirit of an unclean demon, and
Francisco Goya [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
he cried out in a loud voice, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down in front of them and came out of him without doing any harm.
(Luke 4:33-35)

Lord, fill me with faith to replace the demons You are exorcising.

“You can’t get to the resurrection without the crucifixion.” I don’t know who coined the phrase, but I’ve heard it so often. I’ve prayed over it so often. Probably you have too.

Today’s Gospel reading reminds us that we all face our own little crucifixions. Most of us won’t experience demonic possession in the most literal way. But if we let them, those seven deadly sins—pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth—can take up great spaces in our brains, hearts, and souls.

Is that highly prized new car, home, or job a demon? Maybe, if it takes priority over God’s desires. Are the anger and sorrow over the loss of a loved one demons? Maybe, if they take priority over God’s desires. Is your favorite television show or that second daily cup of specialty coffee a demon? Maybe, if it takes priority over God’s desires.

And so, may we have the courage to throw down our demons, filled with the faith and confidence that ridding ourselves of them does us no harm and in the long term will bring resurrection and great joy.

Quiet your demons today by turning up your faith volume—in prayer, with Christian music, in reading the Bible or with another spiritual work, or in the confessional.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

No One Greater

I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. 1 COR 2:3-5

When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.  Mark 6:29

“I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John” (Luke 7:28). 

In our first reading, we hear St. Paul experience the contrast of human wisdom with the power of God (i.e. the wisdom of the Cross). He has little of the former and much of the later.  If St. John had more of the former, he might not have stuck his neck out so far criticizing the king who had control over John’s freedom and mortal life.

However, John was not to be deterred by the apparent power that Herod thought he had.  In fact, John becomes the final prophet to foreshadow the death of the Messiah. St, Mark, in this reading, makes those similarities between the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist and that of the passion of Jesus explicit:
  • Herod and Pilate acknowledge the holiness of life of one over whom he unjustly exercises the power of condemnation and death.
  •  The hatred of Herodias toward John parallels that of the Jewish leaders toward Jesus.
  •  After the deaths of John and of Jesus, well-disposed persons request the bodies of the victims of Herod and of Pilate in turn to give them a respectful burial.[i]
John was so significant in salvation history that his birth was actually also foretold in the Hebrew Bible twice -- once by the Prophet Malachi and then by Isaiah: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, he will prepare your way before you.” (Isaiah 40:3)

When John bursts on the adult scene, he shows us how to stand firm in our faith no matter what the circumstances.

Paul reminded Timothy that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” [F]or many of us who live in freedom, persecution takes on a very mild form. As [John] lived in an occupied country, he had to be aware that anything contrary to utter devotion to the king or emperor was asking for trouble. Yet his message was unchanging, bold and strong. It was John’s belief, his message, and his continual rebuke of King Herod that landed him in prison. While it is hard to know for sure what John was feeling as he sat in prison, we can be sure that he might have had some doubts about the Lord who tested his faith. In fact, John gets a message out to Jesus asking, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" As Christians, we all will have our faith put to the test, and we will either falter in our faith or, like John, cling to Christ and stand firm in our faith to the end.[ii]

John provides the pre-Christ lesson in humility.  Humility stems from understanding who God is and who we are.  To better understand how to be grounded in God and in good, it might help to understand the origin of the word humility/humble.  The Latin word “humus” means ground.  “Humilis” is low or lowly.  When we remain close to the ground – and do not think too highly of ourselves -- we can remember that our station in life is lower than that of God. St. John stayed so close to the ground he admitted that he was not fit to reach up and tie the sandals Jesus wore.

What does the model of John the Baptist say to our action?  Just like Jesus asked the people then, “What did you go out to the desert to see—a reed swayed by the wind?”

St. John has no problem taking on radical humility.  Can we consider doing the same as we try to advance our careers, our status in the community, our retirement savings, our seemingly endless appetite for sports, entertainment and other indulgences or more selfish pursuits?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

With Humility

My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God. Sirach:3:17-18

“You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them. No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…”  Hebrews 12:18-19, 22B

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor.  A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him…Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:8, 13-14

Father, we ask you to give us a peaceful end to the conflicts at the root of this refugee crisis.  Jesus, as Prince of Peace, you know that the only sustainable solution to this crisis is a peaceful Syria near your homeland.  Send us peacemakers who will wage peace in this troubled country.  Holy Spirit, send your gift of wisdom for our governmental leaders and ourselves who face decisions about how to respond to these conflicts and how to overcome our own bias and inaction. Amen.

There are many rules that govern our ethical behavior between each other.  Jesus turns some of those overboard. 

Once, I went to an All-Star basketball game pitting NBA players against the best players who graduated from universities in the state of Indiana. Landon Montel Turner is a former American college basketball player. He was a star player on the 1981 Indiana University squad that won the NCAA Championship. His basketball career was cut short by an automobile accident in 1981 that left him paralyzed from the chest down. The game was to raise money for Turner rehab and there was “open seating.”  That meant first come-first served.”  When the gates opened, there was a mad dash for the center court seats to see the likes of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, George “Ice Man” Gervin and others play for Turner.

No one entering Market Square Arena that night was going to run to the upper deck.  But that is what Jesus is asking us to do.  Leave the best seats in the house for others to enjoy. 

Jesus does not stop there with new rules for those attending the dinner.  He also lays down a new law for the host.  Humans are uniquely able to apply the principle of reciprocity to our behavior.  Some might use the term “quid pro quo” to describe this method of returning one favor for another.  If I buy you lunch this week, then you buy me lunch next week. If I invite you to my daughter’s wedding, you invite me to your daughter’s wedding. Or, as Yogi Berra would say, “Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise, they won't come to yours.”

Jesus says enough of that.  If you want to be generous, do actions for people who cannot pay you back.  Jesus should know.  He asks us to carry our cross, yet Jesus knows we cannot do for him what he has done for us.  He has no sins to redeem.

Maybe it takes the worst refugee crisis since Viet Nam’s boat people and since World War II to help us realize what giving to those who can not pay us back really means.

First, check out the essay by World Relief president Scott Arbeiter: Syria’s Children Are the World’s Responsibility.  We cannot look away.  We should not look away.  

Five-year-old Syrian Omran Daqneesh sits in the back of the ambulance after he got injured during an airstrike in Aleppo, Syria, on August 17, 2016. (Mahmud Rslan—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Mr. Arbeiter writes, “We’ve seen the news and forgotten, heard the stories and moved on.”  

We moved on to the Italian Earthquake.  The Rio Olympics.  The Election.  The Pennant Race. NFL Pre-Season.  Zika.  We did not think we would be here after hearts were broken seeing the lifeless body of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on a beach last year. But here we are…again.  What can you do?
  1. Speak on behalf of the most vulnerable.  Urge your political leaders to support refugees.
  2. Provide a welcome kit.  Welcome Kits are a collection of basic household goods given to newly arriving refugees by the World Relief volunteers introducing them to their new home. These kits help refugees start building a new life here in the United States, and are a great way for individuals and churches to help meet a practical need for refugees. When you sign up to provide a Welcome Kit, you’ll get an email with the all the resources you need to get started.
  3. Pray.  Download a prayer guide to pray for refugees. (
  4. Give.  NOW. Support your favorite international relief and development organization.  CARE.  CRS.  Doctors Without Borders/MSF. World Vision. World Relief.  Save the Children.

God Is the Fire My Feet Are Held To

Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. 1 Corinthians 1:27-29

Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. Matthew 25:28-29

Ars Poetica II
by Charles Wright
I find, after all these years, I am a believer—
I believe what the thunder and lightning have to say;
I believe that dreams are real,
                                                       and that death has two reprisals;
I believe that dead leaves and black water fill my heart.
I shall die like a cloud, beautiful, white, full of nothingness.
The night sky is an ideogram,
                                                       a code card punched with holes.
It thinks it’s the word of what’s-to-come.
It thinks this, but it’s only The Library of Last Resort,
The reflected light of The Great Misunderstanding.
God is the fire my feet are held to.

“Ars Poetica II” by Charles Wright from Appalachia. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.

Sometimes, when I read from Corinthians, I feel pretty lucky.  God chose the foolish.  That means there is hope for the rest of us. However, I am not sure that the foolish would ever be caught boasting.  Or maybe they are foolish because they wrongly boast…about their money, their power, their intelligence, or other temporal talents.  

“Boasting (especially about oneself)” is an expression St. Paul uses to describe the worst sin.  Like Lucifer, the person who boasts in themselves claims self-sufficiency from God.  This is a fantasy if we think that we live and are saved by our own resources alone. Self-indulgence is set apart from “boasting in the Lord” which is the acknowledgment that our lives come from God and must be devoted to God’s purpose.  As Charles Wright put it in the poem above, “God is the fire my feet are held to.”

We have to be careful not to be too literal and economic as we read Matthew’s Good News.  This has NOTHING to do with the theology of abundance.  Rather, faithful use of one’s God-given talents leads to participation in the fullness of the kingdom.  However, lazy inactivity may result in exclusion from it.

With the approaching anniversary of Mother Theresa and her canonization next month, there is again a renewed media focus on some of her comments.  Once, when asked “What can we do to promote world peace?”  She answered, “Go home and love your family.” 

Start using your talents close to home and then branch out. Use your talents to serve your own family.  What fire is God holding to your feet?  Whose feet are you being asked to wash?  

Thursday, August 25, 2016

What Do You See in the Cross?

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Brothers and sisters: Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…(W)e proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.  (1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 23-25)

Oh, that old rugged Cross so despised by the world
  has a wondrous attraction for me
For the dear Lamb of God, left his Glory above
  to bear it to dark Calvary.
The Old Rugged Cross, George Bennard, 1913

Nikolay Ge, Crucifixion (1892)
As I write this, I am surrounded by piles upon piles of boxes, all waiting for me to unpack them and turn my new house into a home filled with peace and love. I had a great deal of help from family and friends getting those cartons packed up and moved, for which I am very grateful.  But for a long time to come, I think one particular moment will stand out in my memory. One of my youngest friends, a 10-year old who considers me one of his “aunts,” was bubble-wrapping and packing all my framed pictures and decorations. I thought every wall was empty and every tabletop bare, when he said, “Aunt Colleen, what about these?” In a little corner next to my bedroom I had a picture of St. Clare of Assisi and my Crucifix. I said, yes, we have to pack them. They’re very important! So, a few more feet of bubble wrap were dispatched to take care of St. Clare. 

Then, while holding the Crucifix, he asked, “What’s this?  It’s shaped like a cross.” For a second I thought he must be joking, but when I glanced up, I saw that he was dead serious. “And why is there a person attached to it? Who is it?” That he truly had no idea took my breath away, but I tried to hide my shock and simply answered his question. He’s an inquisitive child, and he had a lot of questions about Jesus and why he ended his life on a Cross. It’s difficult to impart the Gospel in one morning’s packing session, but I gave it my best shot!

St. Paul, there may very well be people in the world who find it impossible to accept the notion that the Son of God would give his life on a Cross.  There may be people who consider themselves too worldly and sophisticated to put any stock in such “religious nonsense.” If you were writing today, you would have to add another group of people as well, people who know a lot about “Pokemon Go!” and texting but nothing at all about the Lord or the Cross or what any of it means for their lives. 

I can’t imagine my life without faith, and at the core of my faith lies the Cross of Christ. When I look at the Cross, I see many things. I see what seems to me to be the greatest injustice ever perpetrated against another human being. I see the result of sin and betrayal. I see innocent suffering in its purest form. (I’ve always found it interesting that in My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok, the main character, a Hasidic Jewish artist, can find no other way to portray his mother’s great suffering than by painting a crucifixion scene, which results in his being asked to leave his community.) I see the ultimate gift of love, Jesus’ outpouring of his very life blood so that you and I can have life and have it abundantly. I see someone without sin who is willing to take my sin upon himself. I see the glory of God hidden in what appears to be the degradation and humiliation of a death reserved for only the foulest of criminals.

I see the Jesus who sits at the bedside of the sick and dying, the Jesus who walks beside the world’s endless streams of refugees seeking a place to call home, the Jesus who comforts the sorrowing in every time and place. I see the Jesus who asks me to live as he died – for others.

Maybe an honorary aunt’s “job description” includes sharing her faith and introducing Jesus as our forever friend. It seems like that’s what God asks all of us to do.  With whom could you share the Good News today?

For Grace and Courage to Stay Awake!

By Beth DeCristofaro

Jesus said to his disciples: “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. (Matthew 24:42-44)

I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Corinthians 1:4-9)

Last night the news coming from the earthquake that wrenched Italy kept me up again.  Other, recent wakeful nights have brought details of horrors facing families and heath care workers in Aleppo, Syria.  As a health care chaplain, I am all too well aware that Jesus’ words from the Gospel are still very true today even with modern medical miracles.  Our lives are preciously unique yet fragile in so many ways. 

Paul’s words are thrillingly hopeful and promising.  The radio broadcast “On Being” last week featured people reflecting on how being a runner enhanced their spiritual lives.  A Muslim woman told how she prayed as she ran, appreciating the beauty of the outdoors as gift from Allah.  At times, she said, she just had to run with hands in the air in tribute to Allah’s generosity.  Another runner, a Sikh man, felt that running gave him the chance to blend in and enjoy being one with other runners.  His experiences every day included meeting people who immediately judge and often fear him because of how he looked and assumptions of who he was.[i]  Neither of these people is Christian but their appreciation of the sanctity of life is compatible with Paul’s appreciation of our fellowship with Jesus.

Cursillstas can share words like Paul’s which will drown out words of disunity, hatred and fear heard too often in our towns and in our country.  To soon each one of us will have to face personal tragedy whether it be an earthquake, war, cancer, homelessness, accident or other.  Divisiveness and racism are human-made tragedies we can resolve.   Stay awake, Jesus says!  Stay awake not in grief or dread but awake, alert to God’s presence and our part in building his kingdom.  Stay awake, sure that you are kept firm in Him until the end.

On September 9, join Catholics around the country praying and acting for peace, unity, and racial justice.  In the words of a prayer of the faithful for the day: “For the grace to see every human being as a child of God, regardless of race, language or culture, let us pray to the Lord.  For the courage to have difficult conversations about racism, and for a better appreciation of how our words and actions – or even our silence – can impact our communities, let us pray to the Lord.” 

[i]Billy Mills, Christina Torres, Ashley Hicks, Et Al. — Running as Spiritual Practice,

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Under the Fig Tree

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

"Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God." Matthew 5:8.
The purity of Bartholomew allowed him to immediately see and recognize the Lord when introduced by Philip.  Lord, allow us to see you more clearly and love you unconditionally like you love us.   

“Here is a true child of Israel.
There is no duplicity in him.”

With such a strong characterization and pronouncement by Jesus, it is hard to believe that we do not have more content about Nathaniel/Bartholomew in the New Testament.  If he was incapable of deceit, Jesus did not dwell on St. Bartholomew’s virtues but rather focused on the flaws of the Pharisees and scribes who needed to change their evil (or at least selfish) ways.

Beyond the scene in today’s reading from John Chapter 1, we meet up with Nathanael of Cana one more time in John 21 (the last book) when Jesus grills fresh fish for the “last breakfast.”  After being hidden away in the Upper Room, six disciples went out with Peter to literally go fishing.  None of this “fisher of men” symbolism.  They went back to their comfort zone –- fishing -- even this man from Cana who had “no duplicity in him.”

But Nathaniel was lacking "duplicity" - that is, his heart was undivided, his intentions pure - his openness to reality was always ready to recognize and surrender to the truth when he encountered it. He remained open to his friend Phillip's invitation to "Come and see (1:46)."[i]

Nathanael did indeed see great things that morning when the disciples recognized the risen Christ on the shore. The first Epiphany may have come to the Magi.  The second Epiphany came to Nathanael in the scene of today’s reading.  The last one came to the seven fishermen.

Who was there:  Bartholomew or Nathanael? 

We are confronted again with the fact that we know almost nothing about most of the apostles. Yet the unknown ones were also foundation stones, the 12 pillars of the new Israel whose 12 tribes now encompass the whole earth. Their personalities were secondary (without thereby being demeaned) to their great office of bearing tradition from their firsthand experience, speaking in the name of Jesus, putting the Word made flesh into human words for the enlightenment of the world. Their holiness was not an introverted contemplation of their status before God. It was a gift that they had to share with others. The Good News was that all are called to the holiness of being Christ’s members, by the gracious gift of God.

The simple fact is that humanity is totally meaningless unless God is its total concern. Then humanity, made holy with God’s own holiness, becomes the most precious creation of God.[ii]

Bartholomew/Nathanael sets himself apart from the Pharisees and scribes with his authenticity and honesty that allows nothing to come between his eyes and the Lord. 

When have you been face-to-face with the Truth like Bartholomew/Nathanael?  How did you react? 

There are some who might deny the truth.  Pope Francis addressed this in his Encyclical on the environment called Laudato Si’ (“Be praised” or “Praise be to you”)—a line from the Canticle of the Sun by St. Francis of Assisi.

The letter is addressed to all people who share our common home and specifically addresses Care for creation -- something that is close to his heart.  Pope Francis believes that there are significant ecological problems today that need to be addressed. They include not only problems in the natural environment but also in the human sphere, particularly among the poorest. The issues include:
  1. Pollution and climate change
  2. The issue of water
  3. Loss of biodiversity (i.e., the extinction of plants, animals, etc.)
  4. Decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society
  5. Global inequality
However, some people would like to deny the truth about what is happening – a cause for more evangelization, not less. 

Concerning the idea that the climate is getting warmer, in general, the pope writes:

A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes in lifestyle, production, and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it [LS 23].

The pope thus sees there as being “a very solid scientific consensus” regarding the idea of global warming.  Human activity, however, is only one factor in causing this.

"Nature" is giving us some graphic lessons in this just recently. There are devastating floods in Louisiana and rampaging fires in California, burning much more extensively because of a multi-year drought. And although I'm well aware that we cannot definitely link specific weather events to climate change, the extent of these disasters suggests that climate change is indeed playing a role -- at least in their size and scope. A wake-up call perhaps?[iii]

How did you react to reading Laudato Si’?   

Monday, August 22, 2016

Encourage Your Hearts

James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

By Melanie Rigney

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

Say among the nations: The Lord is king. (Psalm 96:10)

“Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup so that the outside also may be clean.” (Matthew 23:26)

Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love; in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions. Thoroughly wash away my guilt; and from my sin cleanse me. (Psalm 51:3-4)

Who doesn’t love a fun flirt, a sweet crush, a mild infatuation? We stand straighter, dress better, and perhaps are wittier in hopes of capturing the other person’s attention. We try to appear to be more than we know we are.

And then life goes on. Nothing materializes, and we return to being ourselves. Or something does materialize. And the more time we spend with the other person, we realize that we idealized him or her, and start to learn about habits that annoy us. And we go back to being ourselves because being that person we were during the flirtation simply takes too much effort. Slowly, we reveal the inside of the cup, clean or otherwise… and hope we’ll be loved anyway. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. But we delude ourselves into thinking the more attractive we are on the outside, the longer it will take for the other person to find out about some of the dregs within.

With God, it’s a different story. He knows all about us, inside and out… and loves us as we are. It’s real love, love built to last if we’re willing to embrace it. That said, we know loving God isn’t effortless, anymore than loving a family member or friend or complete stranger is. It takes patience and sacrifice. It takes striving to become what the Lord knows we can be, whether we’re in the midst of tragedy and sorrow, amazing joy, or, as we often find ourselves, somewhere in between. It is made easier by the gifts described in today’s first reading, the grace that encourages our hearts and strengthens them as we find the courage and faith to cleanse the inside of the cup.

Pray for the awareness today of the ways in which the Lord is encouraging and strengthening your heart.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Trying to Enter

We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, as is fitting, because your faith flourishes ever more, and the love of every one of you for one another grows ever greater. Accordingly, we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God regarding your endurance and faith in all your persecutions and the afflictions you endure. 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.  Matthew 23:13


From A Prayer For The Queenship Of The Blessed Virgin Mary
O Mary Immaculate Queen, look down upon this distressed and suffering world. Thou knows our misery and our weakness. O Thou who art our Mother, saving us in the hour of peril, have compassion on us in these days of great and heavy trial. Amen. 


The Church fathers offer up a study in contrasts today for the Feast of the Queenship of Mary. The chosen Gospel reading strikes me (IMHO) as an odd choice indeed by the Magisterium. 

The seven “woes” are directed against the scribes and Pharisees accusing them of the hypocrisy in the difference between their speech and action (Mt 23:3) and in demonstrations of piety that have no other purpose than to enhance their reputation as religious persons.

From the Assumption on August 15 through the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15, we have a chance to focus on what we can learn from Mary about how to form our lives.  We mark the memorial of the fifth Glorious Mystery within the octave of the Assumption.  The memorial gives us pause to reflect instead on the different role that Mary of Nazareth plays in Sacred Scripture and in our faith life from that of the scribes and Pharisees.  The evangelists presented Mary as the Most Holy Virgin Mary – a model of perfection in each quality for the whole Church to follow:
  • Humble (Luke 1:48)
  • Obedient (Luke 1:38; 2:21-2, 27)
  • Pure (Mt. 1:18, 20, 23; Luke 1:27,34)
  • Prudent (Luke 2:19, 51)
  • Faithful (Luke 1:45; Jn 2:5)
  • Devout (Luke 1:46-7; Acts 1:14)
  • Poor (Luke 2:7)
  • Patient (John 19:25)
  • Merciful (Luke 1:39, 56)
  • Sorrowful (Luke 2:35)

During his Sunday homily for the 9 am Mass at the Church of the Nativity, Fr. Bill Korpi reminded many of us older Catholics about one of the first lessons we memorized in the Baltimore Catechism.  Technically, it was question 6.  The answer we recall foreshadowed the Cursillo tripod we would learn much later in life: “God made me to know Him (study), to love Him (piety), and to serve Him in this world (action), and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.” God was so committed to this path that God sent his only son to do exactly that.  Mary was the perfect disciple.  However, the Pharisees were the exact opposite of perfect disciples and this brought down the woes of the world on their own shoulders. Jesus existed to show us the way through the narrow gate.  The Pharisees instead, blocked us.  “Nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.” 

Humble and obedient Mary opens the narrow gate for our piety, study, and
action.  She wants to help us through.  How?  Well, Fr. Bill’s other enduringly memorable image of the Church recalls those amusement park signs about who could get on this best rides.  You had to be taller than a certain metric to get on.  Jesus, however, reminds us that we have to be like children to get into heaven.  Rather than waiting to grow up, Fr. Bill reminds us that to be like a child, most of us will have to get down on our knees to get through the narrow gate that Jesus and Mary are holding open for us.


Are you trying to enter?  If so, consider how (like Mary) you will help those who do not have the means to get through – like the children of Syria who are being terrorized, maimed and killed by their own leaders.

According to CRS, as Syria marks five years since the beginning of its brutal civil war, Catholic Relief Services has supported over one million people affected by the conflict.

“The scale of the suffering is devastating,” said Kevin Hartigan, CRS Regional Director for Europe and the Middle East, who has overseen the response for the past four years “but as Pope Francis reminds us, there are human faces behind the staggering statistics.  Each of the millions of displaced Syrians is an individual uprooted from a full life, a family member, a loved one.”
The war has led to the displacement of more than 11 million people. That’s more than half the country’s pre-war population. And that number continues to grow every day.

Syria’s neighboring countries—JordanLebanon, Turkey and Egypt—have reached a breaking point, with some 4.1 million refugees crossing their borders. Lebanon alone has more than 1.2 million refugees, the highest number per capita in the world.

The needs of Syrian refugees are basic: food, shelter, and medical care.  You can help with a gift through CRS and also by speaking up on behalf of these war refugees.