Monday, February 29, 2016

Athirst Is My Soul


But his servants came up and reasoned with him. “My father,” they said, “if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, ‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.” So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.  1 Kings 5:13-14

Athirst is my soul for God, the living God. When shall I go and behold the face of God? Psalm 42:3

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.  Luke 4:28-30

Piety

For all that has been — thanks. For all that will be — yes. (Dag Hammarskj√∂ld)

Study
When and where shall we go to behold the face of God?

The people in Nazareth were expecting Elijah to return in splendor.  Maybe he would come back on a chariot down from the skies.  They did not want the simple son of the local carpenter to assume the mantle of prophet.  Yet Luke invokes the image of Elijah curing Naaman by ordinarily washing in the ordinary waters of the Jordan River. While Elijah performed miracles, he was not a flashy prophet.  Jesus is warning the people of Nazareth that he will not be either.  Yet the people are not ready to accept Jesus as their savior. 

The references to Elijah and Elisha serve several purposes in this episode: they emphasize Luke’s portrait of Jesus as a prophet like Elijah and Elisha; they help to explain why the initial admiration of the people turns to rejection; and they provide the scriptural justification for the future Christian mission to the Gentiles.[i]

Just as the people are not ready to accept Jesus, Jesus is not ready to confront his death at their hands (yet).  While they are trying to kill him, Jesus did something miraculous.  He just walked through them and calmly escaped. 

Action
We do not need to climb a mountain and experience the Transfiguration to behold the face of God.  The face of God is right here in the faces of our family, our neighbors, and all who we encounter in the daily work.  Maybe the face of God is in the bus driver or the person talking loudly on a mobile phone in the next seat.  Maybe the face of God is the person singing off-key in the pew next to you.  Maybe the face of God is in the neighborhood bully. 

We expect to encounter the face of God in church.  Yet think of all the famous saints who experienced the “dark night of the soul.”  They prayed and prayed to encounter God.  Yet they did not think they did.  However, they kept working…anyway. 

For Naaman, it was hard to follow through and expect miraculous results.  For the people of Nazareth, it was hard to accept the message from the carpenter’s son.  We want the extraordinary.  Yet God is right there in the ordinary world of all that has been and all that will be.

[i] http://www.usccb.org/bible/luke/4:24#50004025-1

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Allowing Mercy to Blossom


By Lisa Helene Bacalski

Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. Exodus 3:5b

Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. Psalm 103:8

Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall. 1 Corinthians 10:12

“‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’” Luke 13:8-9

Piety
Choose a line of Psalm 103 to repeat in your heart throughout the week.

Study
In our first reading, we hear God tell Moses that he is standing on holy ground, not by any work or merit of his own, but simply because God wills it. God then sends him on his great task of rescuing his people. It is an act of mercy and intimacy that God allows Moses, a known murderer, to come close to him, to know him by name, and to undertake a journey for him.

We are called by our baptism to do the same, to undertake a pilgrimage to the Lord through our witness and to invite all his people to join us. Yet we often let ourselves become distracted by our fears, by worldly things, by our desires, by our need to control everything or have all the answers. As Paul warns in the letter to Corinthians, we must not let ourselves feel so secure that we forget all goodness comes from God. Our repentance and humility are required.

Often, we stand alone in a crowd, like the barren fig tree in today’s Gospel. The orchard owner wants to cut it down - it may look beautiful but it is useless without fruit. A merciful gardener intervenes and secures another chance. Does the tree submit to the gardener’s ministrations?

What about me and you? Are we aware of how many chances we’ve been given? Do we soak up all the resources of our lives and hold these riches inside, or do we submit to the covenant of loving attention from our merciful, heavenly Father and bloom with a fruitful faith?

Action
Allow someone to do something for you that you normally would refuse or insist on doing yourself. Imagine that it is God taking care of you. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Welcome


Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance, that dwells apart in a woodland, in the midst of Carmel. Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old; As in the days when you came from the land of Egypt, show us wonderful signs.  Micah 7:14-15

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Luke 15:1-3

Piety
Take from me, Father, all that keeps me from you.
I let go of my desire for security and survival.
I let go of my desire for esteem and affection.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire to change the situation.

Give to me, Jesus, all that leads me to your welcoming mercy.

Set me free, Holy Spirit, so that I might freely say “Here I am, Lord. I come to do your will, not mine.”

Study
Rembrandt's The Prodigal
In selecting the reading for today, it is interesting that the Powers That Be skipped over two parables (the lost sheep and the lost coin) in order to focus on the Prodigal Son. Beyond the Christmas and Easter stories, the two scripture passages which I remember from my earliest days in CCD are the Garden of Eden, the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.

Living in a family with two sons (and one daughter) always made me wonder – which son would I be?  The son that got lost or the son who never lost his way?  The son who moved out or the son who stayed close? 

But, really, the Parable of the Prodigal Son is not really about either son.  The connecting tissue between all three parables in Luke 15 is the Seeker.  The shepherd seeking out the lost sheep.  The woman seeking out the lost coin.  The father seeking out the lost son.  The father seeking out the generous spirit of the older son who is lost in his own self-pity, bitterness and envy.  The lost son seeking his freedom.  The lost son seeking a reconciliation with the father.  The older son seeking the favor of his father.  

The son who moves away wants to come back as a hired hand but the father will not abide in that thought for even a nanosecond.  The son who stays resents the way the father welcomes home his brother.  Even though he has been physically (or geographically) closer to the father, none of the father’s character or mercy has yet to rub off on him.

The reality presents itself when both sons seek a better relationship with their merciful father.

Welcome is the operative word in this story.  When the son sought his inheritance, the father welcomed the request.  When the son sought to return, the father welcomed him home in order to develop a closer relationship with him.  When the other son was angry, the father welcomed the expression of those emotions in order to overcome the bitterness and jealousy and get past those obstacles in order to develop a closer relationship with him, as well.

Action
The generous shepherd who feeds his flock in the Hebrew Bible makes his way into the heart of Jesus’ preaching-teaching.  In doing so, he seeks his way forward into our hearts.

For two people to find each other, BOTH have to be looking for the other one.  At first, the two sons are looking after their own interests.  One is a slave to his ambition.  The other is a slave to his obligation.  Neither are looking for a relationship with the generous father who is always seeking the best for both his sons.

The Seeking Father shows us the wonderful power of welcoming mercy to melt the selfish hearts of both of his sons and draw them closer to dwell with him AGAIN.  As they dwell with him in the future after this story, the story reveals that they have both learned a powerful lesson by seeking a better relationship with the father who was eternally seeking to be closer to both of them.

How is the Seeking Father welcoming you this season? 

Where are YOU in the parable of the Prodigal Seeker?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Rejected, Betrayed, But Never Forgotten by God


By Colleen O’Sullivan

Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him a long tunic.  When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons, they hated him so much that they would not even greet him… (His brothers) sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.  (Genesis 37:3-4, 28a)

Jesus said to them, (the chief priests and the elders of the people), “Did you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes?’”  (Matthew 21:42)

Piety
A clean heart create for me, God;
renew within me a steadfast spirit.
(Psalm 51:12)

Study
Today, the Scripture readings present us with juxtaposed tales of rejection and betrayal, the first seemingly a foreshadowing of the second.

In the first reading, from Genesis, we have the beginning of the long saga of Joseph’s life.  I can picture him, a gawky teenager on the cusp of manhood.  His father does him no favors by doting on him in full sight of his brothers, but Joseph, like many of us at that age, is oblivious to the effect on his siblings.  He happily wears his special tunic, basks in his father’s love, does his father’s bidding and tattles on the older brothers from time to time.  Not included in today’s verses is his artless recounting of a dream where his brothers were sheaves of wheat encircling him and bowing in submission to him. He probably should have kept that to himself.

When he went to be with his brothers in the pasture, I bet Joseph had no inkling that his charmed life was about to change.  In just a few minutes he went from being the cherished son of his father’s old age to an almost-victim of murder.  Fortunately, his brothers didn’t carry through on their plan to kill him, but they betrayed him, nevertheless, and sold him into slavery.  We know from our vantage point that God would take this tragic moment in Joseph’s life and work it into a story of saving grace, forgiveness and redemption, but all the young man knew at that moment was that he was being forcibly taken away from everyone and everything he had ever known.

Jesus, on the other hand, was very mindful of the effect his preaching, teaching and healing had on others.  Certainly he had many followers, but at this point, he knew any popularity only served to instill more fear and hatred into the chief priests and elders of his day.  They were out to get him and he knew eventually they would seize him.  Like Joseph’s brothers, they were jealous and threatened by his very existence. 

Jesus tells a parable/allegory about a vineyard.  God planted this vineyard and furnished it with everything one could need for living happily and making wine.  But somehow the inhabitants of the vineyard forgot that everything around them was a gift.  They began to act like they made the rules and ruled the roost.  They rejected anyone who came to claim any of the wine, including the prophets.  Finally, God sent his only Son, but they killed him, too.  These reckless vintners thought they had succeeded, but we know that God rolled away the stone from the tomb and revealed his glory in the Risen Christ.

Action
Just as the people in Jesus’ parable did, we, too, live in a sort of vineyard of God’s making.   Everything I am and all that I have comes from God.  But when I use Lent as an opportunity to look at the quality of my Christian discipleship, I wonder if I’m really that much different from the tenants Jesus describes.  It’s so easy to slip into being the lord of my own little universe, to throw gratitude to the roadside and to take credit for all that God gives me and does for me.  I’m supposed to be laboring for God, but sometimes I forget that and work for myself.

Reading about young Joseph causes me to ask myself how mindful and caring am I when it comes to the people around me?  Joseph wasn’t a bad sort; he was simply oblivious to everyone but himself.  He never noticed how angry and jealous his brothers were becoming.  He took their brotherly love for granted, all the while continuing to fuel the fires of their hatred.  Am I going through life with blinders on, or am I loving and compassionate toward others?

What questions come to your mind when you read these two Scripture passages?  How is your Lent going so far?

Turn My Heart to You, Lord

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent


February 25, 2016

By Beth DeCristofaro

Thus says the LORD: Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth. … I, the LORD, alone probe the mind and test the heart, to reward everyone according to his ways, according to the merit of his deeds. (Jeremiah 17:5-6, 10)

Jesus said to the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. … (After he died the rich man) said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment. ’Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-21, 27-28, 31)

Piety
Lord Jesus, May I see your brother and your sister at my door.  May I rest my heart in you and be drenched your life-giving presence so that those who you send to me might experience your living grace.  Help me to listen to you and resist seeking my strength in flesh.  May I follow your call to the Cross today. 

Study
Isn’t it very difficult to feel anything but disdain and superiority for the unnamed rich man?  Who would actually ignore a starving man on their doorstep?  I like to think I’d at least give Lazarus a sandwich and bus fare to the nearest shelter.

But if I try to put myself into his very comfortable Ferragamo loafers and ask the Holy Spirit for inspiration it isn’t hard to see distinct relatedness.  Not that I wear Jimmy Choo.  Of course not, that’s extravagant I applaud myself.  However my closet has a selection of comfortable shoes to choose from depending on my outfit which most homeless people do not.  For that matter I have a closet in a house with heat, walls and a floor which most refugees do not.  My family has two cars that get us to our jobs and vacations which migrants do not.  I have an incredibly supportive husband who is a wonderful father; single mothers do not.  We have insurance for our health concerns which still millions of Americans do not.

In the Gospel yesterday, Jesus reminded his disciples that their choice should be service not status or power.  He tells them that to be His friends they must choose His cross.  Lazarus’ story gives them a stark picture of what their requests for glory would result in.  Jesus helps them realize their relatedness to each other, that they are part of His community not individuals whose wants and needs trump everything else.

Action
We are not called on to save the whole world because Jesus saved it for us.  However we are called to be His brothers, sisters and friends and also to be friends of those he loves.  We cannot do so if we will not see the needy around us and in our communities.  Without seeing those in need as brothers and sisters in Christ we  can grow insensitive, self-absorbed and distrustful that our purple garments, fine linen, comfortable shoes and homes are threatened.  Ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with the generosity and expansiveness of the beatitudes in our daily activities as well as our civic vision during this election season.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Handed Over


Heed me, O LORD, and listen to what my adversaries say. Must good be repaid with evil that they should dig a pit to take my life? Remember that I stood before you to speak in their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them.  Jeremiah 18:19-20

As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the Twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”  Matthew 20:17-19

Piety
Study
Why are we surprised at what happened to Jesus?  People have been rejecting the prophets for millennia. Today, we not only get Jesus foreboding his demise but also the foreboding of the people repaying the good of Jeremiah with evil. 

Look at the prophets of the Old Testament.  They were regularly rejected and criticized for their true words from the Lord.  That hasn’t changed today.  Prophecy is not for personal popularity. Prophecy is for the Lord’s glory, the Lord’s purposes.

Prophets are not seers of the future with some kind of crystal ball or Magic 8 Ball.  The word “prophet” comes from the Hebrew word “nabiy’” and means “spokesman” or “speaker.” A prophet is more like God’s PR agent or Ad Men/Mad Men on earth.  In the Greek, sources explain that the word for prophet means several things; it is a “forth” (pro) “telling” or teaching and an interpreter of the oracles of God.  Thus, when God’s Spirit solemnly declares to men what he has received by inspiration, especially concerning future events and he either speaks them or writes them down. From Abel to Zechariah, prophets met their demise.  For example:
  • Daniel was taken into captivity.
  • Ezekiel revealed prophecies regarding the destruction of Jerusalem but also the restoration of Israel in his “Temple Visions” while in exile in Babylon.
  • John the Baptist was the last of the Hebrew Bible prophets to lose his life before Jesus took center stage.
  • Jonah ended up in the belly of the whale before he accepted the mantle of prophecy.
  • Moses might have been the “lawgiver” but he also did his best work in exile and as a refugee migrating through the desert to the Promised Land. 

Your list might have been based upon studying other prophets but rejection is part of the character of both the Major and Minor Prophets.

Therefore, the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles; some of them they will kill and persecute in order that this generation might be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who died between the altar and the temple building. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be charged with their blood!  Luke 11:49-51

Why were the disciples not prepared when Jesus predicted his Passion, not once, not twice, but three times? Why were the apostles not prepared that they too would be asked to drink the same cup? Why should we be surprised that Jesus may face the same fate? 

This is not an election, primary or caucus.  Jesus delivered a socio—economic-political manifesto about the Gospel work.  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)

People did not vote against this platform in favor of another one.  They voted God entirely off the proverbial island. Mocked.  Scourged. Crucified.

And Risen! Alleluia!

Action
We must be willing to suffer humiliation.  If you are rejected for your faith, you are in good company.  If it is any consolation, people are not rejecting the individual prophet or worker in the vineyard.  They are rejecting the message sent from the Lord. 

Focus on accepting the mission Jesus has for you this Lenten season and hand over your rejected spirit for an anointed spirit.    

Performed to Be Seen


By Melanie Rigney

Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord; though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool.  (Isaiah 1:18)

James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
“Why do you recite my statutes, and profess my covenant with your mouth, though you hate discipline and cast my words behind you?” (Psalm 50:16-17)

“The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen.” (Matthew 23:2-4)

Piety
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

Study
About ten years ago, I went to a penance service with a good friend. We cracked wise and giggled a bit during the goings-on, but grew quieter and quieter in line as we drew nearer to the priest, someone we both knew.

“I told him I feel like a Pharisee,” she shared later, just before we parted ways for the evening. “He told me I was no Pharisee, that I was a good person.”

I didn’t probe; after all, it was her confession to share or not share. But I was definitely in the priest’s camp; everything I knew of her was Christlike. And yet… these days, I get her point, and share her concern about my own intentions.

Here’s the thing: We can do all the right stuff: check off every single one of those corporal and spiritual works of mercy publicly each and every day. We can be regarded as living saints for our sacrifices. And yet… if we do it all to be seen, we are no better than the Pharisees. If we set ourselves up as paragons of virtue that people find it impossible to conceive of emulating, we are no better than the Pharisees. If we do it all, and judge those who aren’t carrying their burdens the way we have, do, or would, we are no better than the Pharisees.

In short, we can be good people on the outside, and still not only feel like Pharisees, but also be Pharisees. May we have the insight and strength to discern those instances where we are headed down that path… and set things aright.

Action
What burden are you laying on another’s shoulders? Pray for ways you can lift off the load.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Tend the Flock of God in Your Midst

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle

Tend the flock of God in your midst,
overseeing not by constraint but willingly,
as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly.
Do not lord it over those assigned to you,
but be examples to the flock.
1 Peter 5:2-3

Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.
You set a table before me in front of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of the LORD for endless days.

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:15-18

Piety
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, leading the ewes with care.  Jesus, feed us as members of your flock.  (Isaiah 40:11)

Good shepherd Jesus, gather us in your warm, strong arms.  Lead us with care so that none of us are lost or afraid. 

Study
The familiar shepherd and flock figures express the care, vigilance, and love of God for his people in the Old Testament; and of Jesus for all humanity in the New Testament.  From the first star light of the New Testament, the body and blood of the lamb have been ever present in the story. 

The first visitors to the manger-crib of the Nativity were shepherds.  Is it any wonder that the image of these caring, hard-working servants made a strong imprint upon the Baby Jesu?  Growing up, I imagine Mary might have shared the birth story with her son.  In his humble heart, is it any wonder that the carpenters and shepherds were among the chosen professions?  He exalted these humble workers higher than the scribes, Pharisees and tax collectors.

Action
Who needs your shepherd-like care?  Who has Jesus left under your watchful eye? These people are already in your midst. 


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Listen to Him


By Jim Bayne

Abram put his faith in the LORD   (GN 15:5)

The Lord is my light and my salvation.  (Ps 27:1)

We also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.  Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord. (PHIL 3:20- 4:1)

Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
(Luke 9:35)
          
Piety
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

Study
The readings today center on Faith:
    ∙   Abram is witness to a miracle in order to strengthen his Faith for the journey. 
    ∙   David the psalmist’s Faith was strengthened by his success in battle with both man and beast.
    ∙   Paul’s Faith began by being knocked off his horse and left blind for awhile. 
    ∙   The Faith of Peter, James and John is strengthened by witnessing the Transfiguration.

We are asked to have Faith without seeing Jesus directly: ”blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:29) How do we develop such Faith?

“We have talked much of salvation by faith, but there has been little realization that all real faith involves discipline.  Faith is not a blithe ‘turning it all over to Jesus,’ Faith is such confidence in Jesus that it takes seriously his summons, ‘if any man or woman will come after me, let them deny themselves, and take up their cross, and follow me.’

“We have loudly proclaimed our dependence upon the grace of God, never guessing that the grace of God is given only to those who practice the grace of self-mastery. ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for God is at work in you both to will and to work his good pleasure.’ People working out, God working in – that is the New Testament synthesis.’”  – from Discipline and Discovery by Albert Edward Day

Lent is a perfect time to put some extra effort into strengthening your Faith.  Notice some of the words in the above quote: take up your cross, self-mastery, work out, working out.

Action
The Gospel for this past Monday was taken from Matthew 25:31-46: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me....” Now there is a work out that requires taking up your cross and exercising some self-mastery!! But the results of such an effort are transforming and will do wonders to strengthen your faith. 

For example, if just one man from each parish in the Arlington Diocese were to volunteer to serve on a KAIROS Prison Ministry team, two of the five prisons now waiting for a program could be served.  That equates to about 160 men being given the opportunity for a Cursillo like experience each year.  Wow!!  Imagine what we could accomplish with just one person per parish taking up any one of the Matthew 25 admonitions.!!  Our Faith would really come alive.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Mercy on the Just and the Unjust


Today you are making this agreement with the LORD: he is to be your God and you are to walk in his ways and observe his statutes, commandments and decrees, and to hearken to his voice. And today the LORD is making this agreement with you: you are to be a people peculiarly his own, as he promised you; and provided you keep all his commandments, he will then raise you high in praise and renown and glory above all other nations he has made, and you will be a people sacred to the LORD, your God, as he promised.”  Deuteronomy 26:17-19

But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  Matthew 5:44-45

Piety
How special does this make you feel?  To be chosen -- you -- from all the peoples on the face of the earth.  Forever.  By the Lord who will be ever present in your midst. No matter what. 

He asks of us in return so little.  He wants to go for a walk with us every now and again.  He would like us to listen to the messages passed down from angels and prophets, priests and kings, the people who are lepers and blind. He would like us to live a life, not of perfection but of perfect mercy.

Study
Whether we read Deuteronomy or Ezekiel, Hosea or Jeremiah.  Samuel or Exodus.  Leviticus or Matthew, the covenant never changes. 

Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus)
is a 1954 oil-on-canvas painting
by Salvador Dal√≠ 
He promises to raise us up.  Raised up…just not like we raised him up…on the cross. Once we made him carry it up the hill.  Once we nailed him to it.   Once he died on it.

He promises no matter what to raise us up high in praise and renown and glory above all others. 

Action
Pope Francis chose the Lucan parallel for this Jubilee Year.  He sensed that if the church asked us for a Year of Perfection, that people might fall down on the standard. A Jubilee Year of Perfection from imperfect, human people and an imperfect, human church.  Ah.  But mercy.  Mercy, mercy me.  We can do mercy. 

We can easily do mercy for our friends and family.  But today, we are asked to step it up a giant step. We are asked to do mercy for our enemies.  For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the people who cut you off on the Beltway do the same?  And if you greet your only those you consider your sisters and brothers only, what is unusual about that? But the challenge is welcoming the stranger who comes to our strange land from Mexico or Honduras or Guatemala or El Salvador or Palestine or the Gaza Strip. 

If we are set apart from the stars in the sky thanks to this covenant, then we are challenged to a higher standard…a standard that is harder to attain that just waking up and putting your feet on the floor.  Anyone can do that.  To live in the spirit and actuality of mercy.  Mercy is the challenge of Christianity.  Mercy is the contradiction our faith asks us to make with our political-economic-social lives.  

Now is as good time to start as any other time that is lent to us. 

40 Days of Rehab for the Heart


By Colleen O’Sullivan

Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? says the Lord God.  Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live?  (Ezekiel 18:23)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication. For with the Lord is kindness and with him is plenteous redemption; And he will redeem Israel From all their iniquities. (Psalm 130:1-2, 7bc-8)

Jesus said to his disciples:  “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:20)

Piety
Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, says the Lord, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.  (Ezekiel 18:31)

Study
Some days it would be so much easier to be a Pharisee!  Just follow the script, check off the right things and our obligations would be fulfilled.  But Jesus and Lent call us to something more.  Jesus isn’t all that interested in the bright, shiny exteriors we often present to the world.  Jesus goes deeper.  He’s more concerned with the disposition of our hearts.

After reading through the Gospels many times, I have difficulty imagining many Pharisees raising their voices to God in the words of Psalm 130.  Those are the words of someone crying out in humility, God, hear my call.  I know I am a sinner, but I trust that you have the power to forgive me and redeem me from my sins.  No, the Pharisees didn’t, as a general rule, seem to see themselves as sinners in need of repentance.  After all, on the outside they were doing everything right.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says that may be so, but he’s more interested in how we are on the inside, in our hearts.  He uses the commandment You shall not kill as an example.  I remember hearing a homily five or six years ago where the priest talked about someone coming to confession and proclaiming themselves not so bad, because they hadn’t killed anyone.  Commendable to abstain from murder, to be sure, but Jesus takes this a whole lot further.  What about the anger in our hearts?  We may succeed in hiding this from our fellow human beings but never from God.  God knows us to the very core of our beings.

We all experience anger from time to time, but what do we do with it?  Do we yell and scream, say hurtful things, punch holes in walls, maybe hit the next available person?  Do we throw things and act out?  Do we allow our anger to feed on itself, working ourselves up into an uncontrollable rage? 

Maybe, on the other hand, we look calm, cool and collected on the outside while we store our anger on the inside.  There it festers, lovingly caressed each day.  Maybe it just seems like a coolness between you and the other person, but one day down the line you’ll aim a zinger at the object of your anger and they’ll be left wondering where that came from.

We may not literally take the life of another, but Jesus says our anger kills a little bit at a time, so let go of it and give it up.

Action
What dwells in your heart that you are trying to hide from the rest of the world?  Be assured that although you may fool your brothers and sisters, God sees the real you.  Use Lent as a time to trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Echo the words of the psalmist:  Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!

It’s true that with the Lord is kindness and plenteous redemption.  God wants to create in us new hearts and new spirits.  Let God work on your heart during these 40 days.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

God Has Good Things to Give You


By Beth DeCristofaro

(Queen Esther) lay prostrate upon the ground, together with her handmaids, from morning until evening, and said: “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you.  Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand...Save us from the hand of our enemies; turn our mourning into gladness and our sorrows into wholeness.” (Esther C:14-15, 10)

Jesus said to his disciples: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you…If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. (Matthew 7:7, 11)

Piety



Study
Unfortunately we humans know only too well how to give gifts to our children and each other that are far from good.  Even those of us who try to do our best can be derailed by our own interior longings, insecurities, disillusionments and inferiorities which rise up to govern our actions.    It becomes simple to expect disappointment and believe that life is threatening.

How difficult it is then to comprehend a loving parent whose love for us is without bounds.  God’s love is not mean spirited, frustrated, manipulative, or even has strings attached.  Queen Esther believed wholeheartedly that as alone and frightened as she was, God could and would save and also fill her with gladness and healing.  God answers our knocks and our seeking.  It is God’s grace that helps us recognize how our prayers are always answered although perhaps not as requested nor as expected. 

Action
Knock.  Ask for your heart’s desire and trust that God knows what it is even better than you do.  Give thanks for what you have and give thanks in advance for what you will receive.  If heartache persists reach out to someone else hurting and offer the love God offers you to her/him.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Before You Ask Him


By Melanie Rigney

So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not be returned to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

From all their distress God rescues the just. (Psalm 34:18b)

By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions],
via Wikimedia Commons.
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7-8)

Piety
Lord, comfort me in my discomfort. Show me Your light in my darkness.

Study
I find as time goes on, the less I talk and the more I listen when it comes to my friends… and God.

It’s not that I don’t have anything to share with the folks I care for; there’s plenty I could say about work and love and education and research and fears and joys and health scares and physical triumphs. But for this particular time, I feel called to listen… not to give advice, solicited or unsolicited, in most cases or to withhold information in a passive-aggressive way, but to listen. There just isn’t as much need for verbal processing as there once was.

Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, I’m also listening to the Lord more. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown in faith; months of some intentional prayers have worked out in the main as I had hoped. But I also had arrived at a place where if the Father’s wisdom of what was best for me had been different than my own view, I could have accepted it, and in a much more serene state than I would have thought just a few months ago.

Babbling like pagans has its short-term benefits. If you do it, you don’t have to listen to the real hurts and agonies of others… or to the gentle direction of the Lord. But it takes a lot of energy, and doesn’t get us any closer to heaven. In this Lenten season, let’s remember the Lord has it under control… and is delighted to share His plans for us if we give Him the chance to get a word or two into the conversation.

Action
Spend five minutes in your evening prayer time in silence. Listen.