Monday, October 31, 2016

White in the Blood of the Lamb


By Melanie Rigney

Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.” He said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”  (Revelation 7:13-14)

Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? or who may stand in his holy place? One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain. (Psalm 24:3-4)

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)

“Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

Piety
All you holy angels and archangels… all you holy patriarchs and prophets… all you holy apostles and evangelists… all you holy disciples of the Lord… all you holy innocents… all you holy martyrs… all you holy bishops and confessors… all you holy doctors… all you holy priests and Levites… all you holy monks and hermits… all you holy virgins and widows… all you holy saints of God, pray for us.

Study
We don’t know how many of them there are, all those holy, formally canonized saints of God. More than ten thousand, surely. They came from all walks of life… those ordained or called to the consecrated life; teachers; mothers and fathers; caregivers; the chronically ill; musicians; farmers; one-time heretics, prostitutes, adulterers, and murderers. They came from all over the world, hundreds of countries and every continent save Antarctica. Some died before they reached their teens; others lived beyond ninety. Every Catholic schoolchild knows some of their names; others have passed into obscurity.

For all their differences, they had much in common. They loved the Lord, and their faith was so strong that they were willing to die for Him, whether that death came on a guillotine or in front of a firing squad or in the small indignities of everyday life, of not being understood by their friends or families, of being judged for not focusing on a better job, a bigger house, a nicer car, fame, and recognition… but on Him.

We also don’t know how many of them there are who haven’t been canonized and may never be, people who finished their time on earth centuries ago or earlier today. They are the fathers who read to us as children, the mothers who figured out a way to make Christmas so memorable with only a few dollars, the spouse who cradled us and listened without trying to solve our problems; the neighbors who picked us for kickball even though we weren’t very good, the friends who understood when we shouted and stamped our feet that it really wasn’t anger at them but fear and self-loathing. They helped us to become better people, better sons and daughters of the King.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “All are called to holiness.” We may not achieve it every moment of our lives, but those who have gone before can teach us much about finding the courage and faith to follow, confident that if we love the Lord and our neighbors as ourselves, we will find ourselves moving closer and closer to holiness.

All you holy saints of God, pray for us.

Action
Break bread with someone who inspires you to live the Lord’s call to holiness.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Re-Paid at the Resurrection of the Righteous


Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also everyone for those of others. Philippians 2:3-4

“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 14:13-14

Piety
Most merciful mother, you came to tell us of your compassion through St. Juan Diego, whom you called the littlest and dearest of your sons.  Give your strength and protection to all who live in poverty today, especially the people who are young, elderly and most vulnerable.  Plead for them to the Father, that they might experience the Divine Love tangibly in their daily lives, and that all who work for justice on behalf of the poor might grow in fortitude and humility.  In these ways, manifest your charity and concern in our lives, that the weeping of humanity may be heard, and all our suffering, pain, and misfortune may be filled with divine comfort and healing.   May we always know the peace of being in the cradle of your arms and bring us safely home to your son, Jesus.  Amen. (From a prayer card for CCHD)

Study
Think of a time when you had trouble coordinating a date for dinner out with friends.  You carefully considered whom should be invited and went to great lengths to find a convenient time, place and guest list.  Take it to a higher level, and consider planning a banquet – like a wedding reception.  In three short years, Jesus did a lot of work at such banquets.

Today, the reading from Luke and its companion message from Paul’s letter sent to Philippi revolve around two themes we have explored repeatedly this year: wealth and food. Around these two themes, Jesus weaves another lesson in humility.

Wealth can sometimes be a troubling word.  For many, wealth equates with happiness.  Yet it only implies "prosperity in abundance of possessions or riches." Wealth comes into our vocabulary from the Middle English wele for "well-being” and is paired often with health (physical well-being).  There are many wealthy people who are not happy and many poor people who are very happy. 

We have both a sense of the individual well-being and the common well-being.  The readings today direct our focus to the common-weal.  “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves.” As Sr. Joan Chittister reminds us: “It is community that enables us both to live the Christian life and to learn from it.” The community (family, parish, classroom, workgroup, team, etc.) is the source of our growth, not the selfish ego.

Over and over, St. Luke tells us stories of Jesus upsetting the world order that people know: As for you, do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not worry anymore. All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides.  (Luke 12:29-31)

Jesus did not come to comfort the rich.  From the very outset of his public ministry, he laid out his manifesto for the powerless and the vulnerable: “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) That Spirit makes all the difference in the eternal happiness of the poor and the torment of the rich.

Action
What do you seek INSTEAD? Perhaps greater wealth equality as opposed to the wealth inequality that we have now?

The most visible indicator of wealth inequality in America today may be the Forbes magazine list of the nation’s 400 richest. In 1982, the “poorest” American listed on the first annual Forbes magazine list of America’s richest 400 had a net worth of $80 million. The average member of that first list had a net worth of $230 million. In 2015, rich Americans needed a net worth of $1.7 billion to enter the Forbes 400, and the average member held a net $5.8 billion, over 10 times the 1982 average after adjusting for inflation.[i]

The same site goes on to explain that the billionaires who make up the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans now have as much wealth as all African-American households, plus one-third of America’s Latino population, combined. In other words, just 400 extremely wealthy individuals have as much wealth as 16 million African-American households and 5 million Latino households.

Numerous sources show how the Great Recession (2008-2009) deepened the longstanding racial and ethnic wealth divide in the United States. The typical white family held a net worth six times greater than the typical black family at the end of the 20th century. That gap has now doubled. The wealth gap between white and Hispanic households has widened as well.

Supporting charities which address this inequity is one way we can show a preferential option for the poor.  In less than three weeks, parishes across the U.S. will take up the collection for the Campaign for Human Development (http://www.usccb.org/about/catholic-campaign-for-human-development/index.cfm). The weekend of November 19-20, also is the Solemnity of Christ the King and the close of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. 

"The Year of Mercy, a time of extraordinary grace, is also a fitting time for the annual CCHD collection. The Mercy of Jesus is abiding and always urgent. CCHD sustains the Holy Father's initiative to bring the joy of the gospel to our brothers and sisters living on the margins of American life," said Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, chair of the CCHD Subcommittee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

According to the USCCB, an estimated 43 million people live in poverty in the United States. This collection supports the work of groups that empower low-income people to participate in decisions that affect their lives and break the cycle of poverty. Many of the projects supported by CCHD embody the corporal works of mercy, including the protection of worker rights, expanding access to health care and reforming the criminal justice system.

The bishops’ website also explains that this national collection is the primary source of funding for the CCHD's anti-poverty grants and education programs aimed at providing fostering a culture of life and hope in communities across the nation. Twenty-five percent of funds collected remain in each diocese to support local projects.

Express your solidarity with the poor and support CCHD and its annual appeal.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

I Must Stay at Your House


Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”   Luke 19:2-5

Piety
We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith, that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.  2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

Study
God has mercy on all, even the tax collector. Last week, we heard Jesus reflect on the simple prayer of the tax collector from the back of the church. He stood off and confessed while praying for mercy.  Perhaps that tax collector knew Zacchaeus -- who was possibly his boss as the “chief tax collector.”  Today, action shifts outside the temple where the chief tax collector wants a better view of Jesus walking past.

We have already well-established that Jesus did not care what people say about the company he keeps.  Jesus dines with the traitorous, combative Pharisees.  Jesus commands that the prayers of the belligerent Roman centurions to be fulfilled.  Jesus touches the untouchable lepers.  Jesus converses in the light of day with a Samaritan woman at the well. Now, Jesus heads off to stay at the house of the cheating chief tax collector. 

Zacchaeus is different from other rich men encountered in Luke’s stories.  In Luke 18, the rich man could not consider life without material possessions. Jesus tells him: “There is still one thing left for you: sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when he heard this he became quite sad, for he was very rich. (Luke 18:22-23)

Then there is the rich man who ignored the needs of Lazarus at his gate until he died and was condemned to the netherworld where he was in torment.”

In Zacchaeus, we see that Jesus’ message does not always fall on deaf ears.  Zacchaeus is the celebration of conversion.  Jesus’ call to change is everything.  It is the only thing. 

You cannot say we were not warned from the outset about the evils of money.  Right there in chapter one Luke magnificently sings:  The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty (Luke 1:53).  Wealth is not a ticket to success in the Kingdom. Jesus warned the crowd: “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” (Luke 12:15) and followed that up with the Parable of the Rich Fool.  Wealth can have a place in life if we trust its limits and give God what is due.

Zacchaeus becomes the exemplar of a new value system where God and others are at the center replacing self and money.  Like in so many other topics, Jesus reverses the contemporary power structure to set down a new way to thrive.  God made Zacchaeus worthy of his calling and powerfully brought to fulfillment His good purpose and effort in that change of heart.  How ironic that Zacchaeus comes down from a tree to exemplify the new order while Jesus has to be nailed to one before he is lifted up.

Yet, even with this gratifying success, Jesus still does not hold up Zacchaeus as
a model of a generous life.  That is reserved for the poor woman who gives over her last two coins: “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.” (Luke 21:3-4) They prove that the Spirit of the Lord can fall upon the rich and the poor though it takes personal conversion in both cases. 

Action
The Bible is filled with stories of people wrestling with their personal financial condition. They were not inundated with ads from the investment firms who use their wealth to tilt election outcomes and business profits and stock options. They did not have to deal with the daily financial report of the Dow, S&P or NASDAQ indices and each of their gyrations. Like poor Tevia in Fiddler on the Roof, many of the lowly dreamed of riches – not winning the Mega-Million Lottery, but just of having enough to survive.

The poor widow and Bartimeus lived the harsh economic realities on a daily basis. They knew little of the comfort experienced by Zacchaeus.  Yet, after one glance, a personal invitation was all it took. Jesus did not want to visit, Jesus wanted to STAY in Zacchaeus’ house. Jesus DEMANDED to stay at his house.

What will it take for Jesus to conquer modern economic realities in order to STAY in our house? Not that we visit his house for an hour each week.  But that Jesus moves into our guest room and takes up residence close by so the ear of our hearts remains open to hearing His word?

No one is called to do everything, but each of us can do something. And we can strive not to stand against each other when the protection and the promotion of life are at stake. (Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, A Consistent Ethic of Life: Continuing the Dialogue, March 11, 1984)

Take the Lowest Place

Saturday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

“Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Luke 14:10-11

Piety
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?  Psalm 42:2-3

Study
Luke serves up another lesson at mealtime about mealtime – a banquet within a banquet.  Today, we join them dining at the home of a leading Pharisee and Jesus relates another story of a wedding banquet. 

First, despite the fact that the Pharisees were plotting against Jesus, we see the Christ frequently spending time with the Pharisees – continuing to try to break through to them just as He does with us every day. Jesus does not surround himself with only his friends and those who think just like he does.  He does not sort his company by political opinions, religious beliefs, poverty or health condition.  Jesus keeps a very diverse company but never changes his message no matter with whom he is spending time.

Be they the rich and powerful or the lowly, he continues to stress the primacy of humility in prayer, in social settings, to military leaders like the Centurion and to everyone.  “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.”  (Matthew 11:29AB)

Action
Jesus cautions about taking our own yoke.  He wants us to offer up our burdens and accept his.  He wants us to give up thirsting for what society, Main Street, Wall Street, Hollywood, or K Street has to offer.  He wants us to eschew cultural victory (sorry Cub fans) and accept defeat – defeat in this world which is a victory in his kingdom.  What victory and worldly power do you offer up? What can you give up so you thirst ONLY for God?

This morning I was listening to a long story on the radio about how the death penalty is applied to adults who commit murder but who are declared mentally incapacitated.  There is a test about whether someone with an IQ below 70 is capable of committing murder?  Then, there is the question about when to check that level?  Are tests of teenagers valid?  Are tests taken before the murder better?  What about tests that the defendant takes years later while in prison awaiting execution?

Wait just a minute!  If we abolish the death penalty in favor a life (without parole), this question goes away.  Let us learn from Jesus who forgave the repentant thief hanging on the cross next to him.  

Friday, October 28, 2016

No Longer Strangers


By Colleen O’Sullivan

Brothers and sisters:  You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.  Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him, you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.  (Ephesians 2:19-22)

Jesus went up to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God.  When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them, he chose Twelve, whom he also names Apostles.
(Luke 6:12-13)

Piety
The heavens are telling the glory of God,
And all creation is shouting for joy!
Come, dance in the forest, come, play in the field,
And sing, sing to the glory of the Lord!
(Canticle of the Sun, Marty Haugen)

Study

No one likes to feel left out or ostracized.  We want to belong, to be part of things.  Think back to elementary school days when teams for everything from spelling bees to athletic games were formed.  Didn’t you sit there practically vibrating with anxiety until your name was called?  No one wanted to be the last person sitting at their desk.

Maybe that’s how the Gentiles in Ephesus felt, like the last people who would ever be welcomed into the Body of Christ.  Certainly, there was enough controversy in the early church over what it took to be a Christian.  Did a person have to follow Jewish dietary laws?  Did a man have to be circumcised?  We know how it turned out in the end, but for a while, I bet there were some Gentile Christians with hurt feelings pushed aside here and there.

However, the Gentiles in Ephesus were reassured by this letter.  You are absolutely not on the outside looking in.  You are just as much a part of God’s family as any other believer.  God loves you, and you are an integral part of this sacred temple, this dwelling place of God’s Spirit built on the foundations of the apostles and the prophets.  Join in singing and dancing for joy at the glory of our Lord!

12th c. altar frontal from La Seu d'Urgell or of the Apostles, CataloniaAnonymous, in the public domain, Wikimedia Commons

In today’s Gospel reading, we have Luke’s account of Jesus praying over who would be sent out in his name.  He had many disciples or followers.  But he also wanted to appoint apostles, the Twelve who would carry the Gospel to the rest of the world.   Today the Lord is still asking us to follow him and, at the same time, to spread his Word throughout our world.

Action
The underpinning of the Good News we carry to others is that God loves each and every one of his children, and none of God’s sons and daughters should be on the outside looking in.  The Gospel is full of joy. 

The sad truth is the world is full of people on the outside – millions of refugees with nowhere to call home, homeless people on our streets as winter is approaching, lonely elderly people in nursing homes, men and women in prison.  Do something this week to make God’s love tangible to someone in need of it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

May I Be Full of Your Love Each Day Lord

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

By Beth DeCristofaro

Brothers and sisters:  Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. … So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the Gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the Evil One. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.   (Ephesians 6:10, 14-18,)

(Jesus) replied, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I accomplish my purpose. (Luke 13:32)

Piety
Be beside me O Lord
My advisor and my friend.
Be behind me O Lord
My protector and shield.
Be beneath me O Lord
My helper and strength.
Be ahead of me O Lord
My inspirer and guide.
I am your servant O Lord
May I be full of your love Each day.
Amen.[i]

Study
St. Patrick’s beautiful “Breastplate” prayer and Pope Leo XIII’s prayer we know as the St. Michael the Archangel prayer are rooted in Paul’s imagery of a Roman soldier’s gear.  Paul was a Roman citizen and clearly knew how oppressive were these legions. But he also knew God’s work for him to be an apostle to the Gentiles and that would have included these fearsome soldiers. 

His imagery, borrowed from state of the art warfare at the time, describes the overwhelming protection God gives.  Paul also clearly throws away violence against other humans.  Paul describes the ultimate war as with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. (verse 12)  His imagery is an incomplete, human perspective trying to describe Jesus’ power in a dark, dangerous world.   We need not put on chain mail or hoist a rifle.  Instead, we say “yes” to salvation which Jesus obtained for us and clothe ourselves in the protection of truth, righteousness, the Gospel of peace, faith, and the Word of God.

Prayer becomes might. Instead of the historical battlefield, Jesus has become the field of life because spoken by God, the Word accomplishes his purpose.  Jesus does not back down in the face of his detractors or those who want Him dead.  Our answer to all that is evil and fearful is Jesus and our answer is living in prayer.

Action
Called by name, we respond by living Jesus’ words which the Spirit gives us in prayer.  Make today mindful, full of prayer at each action. At each stoplight, when you pour your coffee, when you brush your teeth, kiss family, greet co-workers, avoid annoying people, hear a stress-inducing newscast, bite into a sandwich, turn on your computer, get off the bus at your stop, see a lovely cloud, wait for the metro again….  Say a prayer which can be brief and spontaneous such as:  “Bless me.”  "Bless her.”  “Thank you.”  “Protect and heal me / her / them, Lord.”  “Soften their hearts and mine, O God.”  “Thank You.”  “Oh Jesus, My Jesus.” Or stop and focus on the Lord’s Prayer, St. Patrick’s Breastplate or other familiar words.  Wrap yourself in prayer and Listen, Listen for the Holy Spirit who will show you the way of Love.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Some Who Are First Will Be Last


Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother. This is the first commandment with a promise, that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life on earth. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger but bring them up with the training and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:1-4

“And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Luke 13:29-30

Piety
Father, feed us at your Holy Table.  When we knock on your door, we implore you to answer it and let in the sinners on the other side to participate in your Son’s Paschal Feast.  Holy Spirit, nourish us with your gifts so we can go out to build the Kingdom.

Let's ask God to make us channels of his loving mercy: Lord, help us to receive your mercy and turn to you each moment. And please guide us in extending your mercy to others today. Now is the time for mercy. Amen.[i]

Study
“When God closes a door, he opens a window.”  Thus, spoke the Mother Superior to the young novice Fraulein Maria in The Sound of Music.  I guess Mother Superior missed Luke 13.  When God closes a door, he locks it and does not open it for anyone.

Pity those who thought they would be saved merely by their “Jewishness” as Michael Card puts it.  If they do not repent and follow the Word, then will find themselves outside the locked door looking in as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob recline at table with the Lord and people from all corners of the globe – both Jews and Gentiles. Jews, who thought they would always be first as the “chosen people” may find themselves last.

Fortunately, this is not the FINAL judgment.  This is another story that Jesus tells as a parable warning to repent.  Even though Jesus is already on the road to Jerusalem, there is still time to change the direction in which you are looking for happiness.

Eating together was a common theme this year as we broke open the Gospel of Luke.  The dinner parties in Luke are many and are the source of blessings and strength for the work ahead. 
  • Levi (5:27)
  • Simon the Pharisee (7:36)
  • Feeding the Crowd (9:10)
  • Dinner with Martha and Mary (10:38)
  • Dinner with Zacchaeus (19:1)
  • The Last Supper (22:14)
  • The Meal at Emmaus (24:13)

That is why being excluded from this dinner is so critical.

Action
Cardinal Dolan’s letter for Respect Life Month reminds us of consistent ethic of life that is at the heart of our faith:

God made each of us in his own image and likeness.  He desires to be united with us forever in a loving relationship.  God loves us, treats us with respect, and asks us to do the same with others.  Every person is sacred and must be treated with the dignity they deserve.  No one should ever be treated callously or carelessly—everyone should be cherished and protected!

If we turn away from our selfish sinful ways, the door to the banquet will be opened to us. If we want to be invited, we must change.  What change will you work on this month?

[i] From "Moved by Mercy" Letter for Respect Life Month, October 2016 by Cardinal Timothy Dolan  http://www.usccb.org/about/pro-life-activities/respect-life-program/2016/2016-respect-life-statement.cfm

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Fruit of Your Handiwork

(c) synchR (https://www.shutterstock.com/g/synchR)

By Melanie Rigney

This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church. In any case, each of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.  (Ephesians 5:32-33)

Blessed are you who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways! For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork; blessed shall you be, and favored. (Psalm 128:1-2)

Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? To what can I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that a man took and planted in the garden. When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches.”Again he said, “To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened.” (Luke 13:18-21)

Piety
Lord, sprout the mustard seed that lies within me.

Study
Sometimes, it starts small, like a mustard seed or bit of wheat flour.

Jeanne Jugan was forty-seven, with physical ailments and working as a catechism teacher and caregiver, when she saw Anne Chauvin, an elderly, poverty-stricken blind woman with partial paralysis who was alone in the world. Jugan carried Chauvin home to the apartment she rented with two other women and put her in her own bed. From this small beginning, the Little Sisters of the Poor were born, and today help those in need in more than thirty countries.

Vicki Thorn ministered to a friend who was in great emotional and spiritual pain after an abortion. From this small beginning, Thorn in her mid-thirties founded Project Rachel, an effort to help all those affected by an abortion loss know that the Lord loves them and forgives them for any role they may have played in the abortion when they come to him with a contrite spirit. Since then, the ministry has assisted millions of people around the world.

Lisa Brenninkmeyer was in her mid-thirties, a wife, mother, and convert who was leading women’s Bible study groups but dissatisfied with the materials available because she didn’t feel they tied women closely enough to a personal relationship with Christ and growing their faith. So, she created her own study materials. From this small beginning, Walking with Purpose was born, a women’s Bible study program now in use in hundreds of parishes in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

Sometimes, it starts small. Whether it blossoms into national or international ministry is up to the Lord. But the starting is up to us.

Action
Say yes to one small request from the Lord today.

Set Free


For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.  Ephesians 5:8

“Does not each one of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger and lead it out for watering? This daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years now, ought she not to have been set free on the sabbath day from this bondage?”  Luke 13:15B-16

Piety
Blessed is the man who does not walk
in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the way of sinners,
nor sit in company with scoffers.
Rather, the law of the LORD* is his joy;
and on his law, he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted near streams of water,
that yields its fruit in season;
Its leaves never wither;
whatever he does prospers. Psalm 1:1-3

Study
In diplomacy, there is a concept called “saving face.”  While one might prevail in battle, negotiations or another conflict with another party or country, at the end of the day, the “losing” party is offered some concession so they do not go away empty handed. To save face means to keep your reputation and the respect of other people.

Jesus gives no face-saving leeway in the total defeat of the Pharisees on this Sabbath.  He so roundly beats them based upon customs and law, that they are humiliated and begin in earnest to plot against Jesus.

People like the Pharisees who are involved in a conflict and secretly know they are wrong will often not admit that they are wrong because they don’t want to admit they made a mistake. They, therefore, continue the conflict, just to avoid the embarrassment of looking bad.  To avoid this problem, we sometimes allow our opponents to make concessions gracefully, without having to admit that they made a mistake or backed down. Not Jesus.

Jesus has just witnessed the selfish prayer of the Pharisee in the temple who gloated, “God, I am so much better than these other people.  Look at all the good I do with my fasting and prayer.”  From this egotistical center, Jesus had to teach a strong lesson that God is the center, not the self.  Maybe that is one reason why Jesus felt it was so important to knock the Pharisees down a peg or three.

However, this is not an episode of Madam Secretary or The West Wing.  Jesus teaches that if the tradition and law allowed the untying of bound animals on the Sabbath.  Therefore, how much more important it should be that this woman who has been bound by Satan’s power be freed – even on the Sabbath -- from her affliction.  Furthermore, if she was indeed “bound by Satan,” then Jesus had an even greater reason for having a resounding victory in public – not just to teach the hypocritical Pharisees a lesson but to loosen the grip Satan had on the people.  The notes in the NAB point out: “The healing ministry of Jesus reveals the gradual wresting from Satan of control over humanity and the establishment of God’s kingdom.”

Action
Rather than being imitators of Satan and the Hypocrites, St. Paul calls upon us to be imitators of Jesus in forgiving the sins of the crippled woman and in letting love in action conquer all.  Let no hypocritical Pharisees or advertiser or politician or entertainer deceive you with empty arguments.  

Sunday, October 23, 2016

No Favorites


By Rev. Paul Berghout

The LORD is a God of justice, who knows no favorites. Though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint. The one who serves God willingly is heard; his petition reaches the heavens. Sirach 35:15-17,20-21

But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:13-14

Piety
Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.

Study
Today's gospel says that Jesus told this parable about those who are righteous and despise the other. One of our most common sins is to think that we are better than others, a sickening trait that destroys any trait of humility that we can have.

C.S. Lewis wrote a story that speaks of Satan advising his/her nephew - another demon - on how to tempt anyone.

Satan wrote: "My dear nephew: Try to infect the person with a false sense of pride, telling him: ‘You have become humble. All the virtues are less formidable for us as demons once the man is aware of the fact that he has this particular trait of humility. You reel it in at the moment of being really poor in spirit, and smuggle into his head the gratification thought: "Wow, I'm being humble!"

Almost immediately the pride - the pride of his humility - will be shown. If you become aware of this danger and try to drown this new form of pride, make him feel proud of his attempt, and so, as many times as you please.  These are the wiles of the devil.

The Gospel tells us that two men went up to the temple to pray: one was a Pharisee and the other, publican.

There's a saying, “It is better to travel with hope to get to the destination.”  But, what if the person thinks that he or she is already at the destination?

The Pharisee in his career for the world thought he had already reached the goal. Then, he kept an attitude that made him think himself superior to those who had not progressed as far in their relationship with God.

The Pharisee fasted and paid their tithes, which is very good, but the only intended to do and praised God the beneficiary of their works instead of realizing that he was the one who was benefiting from the divine mercy. The prayer of the Pharisee is a prayer of "I": I'm fasting... I pay the tithe. Here is an illustration related to an attitude that is not humble.

There were three knocks on the door of the crypt of the Capuchin Church of Santa MarĂ­a de Los Angeles in Vienna: "Who are you?" asks a brother Capuchin.

"I am Elizabeth, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary," came the answer.

"I don't know you," replied the brother.

The visitor knocks a second time: "Who are you?"

"I am Elizabeth, Empress of Austria."

"I don't know you."

She knocks a third time. "Who are you?"

"I am Elizabeth, a poor sinner."

"You can enter," is now the answer.

Before God and death, all people are equal.

The publican feels sorry for the wrong he has done and the damage it has caused to others and for this he throws himself at the feet of God implores his grace saying: "My God, have mercy on me, that I am a sinner."

Collecting taxes was a profession deplorable for the Jews. This publican acknowledged himself as a sinner, and this was presented before God with humility.

It must indeed have been shocking for Jesus to hear that the publican had been justified, but our first reading tells us that the prayers of the needy are cared for. The Publican was forgiven and not the Pharisee because even he needed forgiveness.

Action
None of us recognize our helplessness and gets humility by our own strength. We are taken there. It's sad to say, but it is the sin, the humiliation, the failure and several other forms of addiction which lead us to God. Many times, after having a ruined marriage, estranged children, lost a job or integrity and rid the bright picture we had of ourselves is what leads us to say: "The way that I am not working. Maybe there is another way, a different way and maybe I need to really change." That is often the moment when we are ready to embark on a spiritual path. At this point, 'religion' transforms into a spirituality alive and living.

Jesus said to Saint Sister Faustina, "On the outside your sacrifice must be: Hidden, silent, impregnated with love, saturated with prayer. I demand of you, my child, that your sacrifice is pure and full of humility so that you can please me in him..." (Diary, 1767).

In the last quarter of the last century, the church in the United Kingdom was blessed with a very good leader in the person of Cardinal Basil Hume, a Benedictine monk who had been abbot of the community before being appointed Archbishop of Westminster in 1976.

Cardinal Hume died in June 1999 after having been diagnosed, only two months before, abdominal cancer. He took good advantage of those two months and even prepared his funeral: the people who would be invited, the music that he liked, the place where he wanted to be buried in his cathedral, the prayers and readings for his requiem mass. Also, he chose the preacher, his dear friend the Bishop John Crowley, and asked him in particular to explain the choice of the gospel text for the mass, a text that could be considered unusual for a funeral: the parable of the Pharisee and the publican of Lk 18, 9-14.

"When I became the Abbot-Cardinal, he said to his friend-and even more so when I got to be Archbishop Cardinal, and asked to God: 'Make me a good abbot, make me to be a good bishop, make me a good cardinal.'  But now that I know very soon I'll be meeting with the father face-to-face, I realize that this prayer, though in their own way sincere and beautiful, it is not the prayer that he will want to hear from me. No; prayer that is music to the ears of the father is this: ' God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'  These, concluded the cardinal, are the words that I want on my lips now that I'm going to the father."

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Living Truth in Love


Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole Body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the Body’s growth and builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16

‘‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So, cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘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 13:7-9

Piety
God, help us to live Your truth in love, not in anger, hatred or division.  Through the gifts freely given by Jesus, lead us away from the winds of false teaching into the work of building your Kingdom.  Through the Holy Spirit, lead us to the priorities which will accomplish our part of this important work.  Amen.

Study
While the emphasis in the first reading is on ascension and gift-giving by Christ,
http://www.pravmir.com/
the-barren-fig-tree-as-icon/ 
maybe it is also encouraging us to reach for a higher purpose as we are called as priests, prophets, and kings to equip the whole people of God for their work of ministry.

The image of the barren fig tree could be a symbol of our ministry, our life or Jesus’ work.  On one hand, the notes in the NAB teach us that image evokes the continuing patience of God with those who have not yet given evidence of their repentance. “Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance.” (Luke 3:8)

We may not be the fig tree.  We may be the gardener inheriting our role from Christ.  As the gardener, have we neglected the fig tree? God’s patience and mercy allow us time to focus on the priorities of the Mission rather than the distractions that make us “tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming.”

As Michael Card explains in Luke: The Gospel of Amazement:
For three years, roughly the same period of time as Jesus’ ministry, the owner had been looking for fruit from the tree but finding none.  So, he tells the worker to cut the tree down.  The worker becomes an advocate for the fruitless tree.  He asks if he might cultivate it for one more year as best he can.

Action
What happens to the fruitless fig tree?  We do not know. 

What fruit will our ministry bear?  Are we the tree or the gardener?  If the tree, will we come around next year and bear fruit for Jesus?  If the gardener, will we tend to the “tree” with loving patience and make others bear fruit to build the Kingdom of God?

Luke leaves the story open-ended.  Right now, our lives too are open ended.  But there will be a conclusion when we least expect it. When Jesus looks upon us, will he see a barren tree or many figs?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Present Moment


By Colleen O'Sullivan

Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.  (Psalm 24:6, adapted for psalm response)

Jesus said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain - and so it does; and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot - and so it is.  You hypocrites!  You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time? (Luke 12:54-56)

Piety
Seek the Lord while He may be found;
Call to Him while He is still near.
Today is the day and now the proper hour
to forsake our sinful lives and turn to the Lord.
(Seek the Lord, Roc O’Connor, SJ, based on Isaiah 55:6-9)

Study
About five or six years ago I was visiting friends in Arizona.  We were driving back toward the Phoenix area from the Grand Canyon, when suddenly the friend driving said, “I think a haboob (dust storm) is forming.”  I looked around and everything looked okay to me.  So I asked, “How can you tell?”  I was directed to look at the horizon slightly to the left of some landmark.  I still couldn’t see the change he was pointing to.  But then I’d never seen a dust storm, and I don’t live in an area where there’s much call for that kind of knowledge.  Just a few seconds later the haboob warnings were posted!

Jesus, in talking to the crowds, mentions this ability to look around and predict the weather.  Many people in his day were farmers or shepherds.  Their livelihoods depended on being able to look at the color of the sky; the shape, color and movement of the clouds, the smell of the air or the direction of the wind and know what the day would bring weather-wise.

So, why, he asks us, are you so able to do that and so undiscerning about the present time?  Think about what it takes to predict the weather (without the help of the Weather Channel).  It takes attentiveness.  It takes practice and experience.   I looked at exactly the same sky my friend was observing.  Because he knew what to look for, he saw what I missed. 

Maybe part of the answer to Jesus’ question is that we’re not very attentive to the moment in which we find ourselves.  We’ve got our heads down, texting, tweeting, posting on Facebook and attending to our emails.  We’ve got our days and nights crammed full of activities.   The ears and eyes of our hearts are not open.  We are plain too preoccupied with things that, ultimately, don’t hold much importance.

Farmers in Jesus’ time were skilled at knowing what the weather would hold because they had a great deal of practice and experience in reading the signs in the sky, the clouds, and the breezes.  Maybe the rest of the answer to Jesus’ question is that we don’t practice discerning the present moment very often.  We lack experience and so we’re often not very good at it.

The present moment is what Roc O’Connor’s song lyrics are about.  Today, this very second, Jesus is near, just waiting for us to open our hearts to his love, mercy, and forgiveness.  The present moment offers the chance to put everything else aside and to turn to the Lord.

How frustrated Jesus must have felt at times!  He came to be one of us, to share in our good and bad times, to experience life as we know it, with the exception of sin.  The crowd he addresses in today’s Gospel reading seems oblivious to the presence of the Son of God in their midst.  The miracles Jesus has performed, the forgiving of sins, the healing of the sick have not made much of a dent in their sensibilities.  This was their chance.  This is our chance…to seize the moment and turn to the Lord!                                                                                                       
Action
How do we become more attentive?  How do we gain practice and experience?  The best way I know is through prayer.  Carve out a time and space every single day to talk and listen to Jesus.  Put yourself in his presence.  Review your day with the Lord.  For what were you grateful?  What seemed like a blessing?  Did something happen that hurt you?  Did you regret something you said or did?  Share it all with the Lord.  Then pick one aspect of your day to pray from.  Open the eyes and ears of your heart to what Jesus might be saying to you or doing in your life.

If you do this day after day, month after month, and year after year, you will be as practiced at discerning the present moment as any first-century farmer was at forecasting the weather.  And you will be much more aware of the Lord’s presence in your life.