Monday, January 30, 2017

Cured of Your Affliction

By Melanie Rigney

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

They will praise you, Lord, who long for you. (Psalm 22:27b)

(Having touched Jesus, the woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years) felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who has touched my clothes?" But his disciples said to him, "You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, Who touched me?" And he looked around to see who had done it. The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction." (Mark 5:29-34)

Lord, help me to reply quickly and with conviction when you call me to publicly proclaim Your greatness.

The bleeding had stopped. She felt in her body, we are told, that she was healed. She could have gone on her way, anonymously. There was a crowd; the others needn’t have known how she was healed, or even that she was healed.

But would the woman who had suffered from hemorrhages have been cured?

Psychology Today tells us healing is “becoming whole” while curing means “eliminating all evidence of disease.” The woman’s story so beautifully illustrates the difference. Just touching his clothes made her whole. She could tell, in the way we all can when a bone finally heals or we’re finally over the flu or a cold or a sinus infection. We’re whole again.

But when the woman knew Jesus was looking for her, she became clean in a different way. You might say she went to confession. She shared her story, about how she had suffered and secretly touched him in hopes of the hemorrhages ending once and for all, and knew she had been healed physically. Maybe she was afraid she’d get in trouble. Maybe she was afraid she’d be mocked. But still, when she summoned up the courage and faith to testify as to what happened, Jesus cured her of all those other concerns that separated her from her community and God during those years, of her shame and her self-disgust and her feeling she would never be “normal” again and perhaps a sense that God was “punishing” her. But when she was cured, the inner darkness was gone. She was whole again in every way, freed of more than the bleeding. She was cured… as we can be when we go to the Lord and ask for the gift of a clean and upright spirit, the gift only He can give.

Go to confession. Or, talk with someone about a time the Lord both healed and cured you. It may encourage that person to seek the same gift from Him.

What Have You to Do with Me, Jesus?

The world was not worthy of them. They wandered about in deserts and on mountains, in caves and in crevices in the earth.  Yet all these, though approved because of their faith, did not receive what had been promised. God had foreseen something better for us so that without us they should not be made perfect.  Hebrews 11:38-40

Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran up and prostrated himself before him, crying out in a loud voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!" Mark 5:6-7

What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?

What indeed does Jesus have to do with the man possessed?  We have already seen Jesus calm the turbulent seas, cure the man with the withered hand, fight off the Pharisees and his family. Yet the passions around Jesus do not seem to lessen. As we enter Mark 5, we will encounter three people – each one held captive by differing forces.  The first is the man in the tombs controlled by demons. 

After having just weathered the terrible storm at sea, Jesus and the disciples disembark in pagan territory only to be immediately confronted by the tormented man and his demons, ironically named Legion.  (Legion is a Roman term describing a fighting force of two to six thousand men.  Perhaps the demon is implying that if Jesus wants to engage in a fight on this day, he is outnumbered.)

The man was an outcast from society, dominated by unclean spirits, living among the tombs. The prostration before Jesus indicates Jesus’ power over evil spirits and authority over all on earth.  In no time, the demons are banished into the nearby pigs who plunge off a cliff into the sea.  We are left with a man who is completely within his senses and ready to follow Jesus.  Instead, Jesus tells the man to stay behind and tell others what has happened. “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.”

After all this, Jesus calmly gets back into his boat, leaving the man and the amazed witnesses behind.

What have you to do with me, Jesus? Whatever we are to do, we must first be called by Jesus and respond to his call. What call will you hear today?  How will you answer it?  How will you, like the man who used to be possessed by demons, spread the Good News?

“Ordinary time?”  Indeed!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Seek Humility

By the late Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ*

Seek the LORD, all you humble of the earth, who have observed his law; Seek justice, seek humility; perhaps you may be sheltered on the day of the LORD'S anger. Zephaniah 2:3

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

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Matthew 5:12a

Piety brings closeness to Christ in our own lives. Christ calls the little people of the world. The Beatitudes express their littleness of his disciples. They also express the very personhood of Christ. He opens the scroll of Isaiah to chapter 61 when he comes back to his hometown and claims its meaning for himself. He has chosen the Messianic vision of the Suffering Servant as the truth of himself. The happiness from suffering in one’s life belongs to the realization of how close it brings one to Christ. Christ calls the little people of our world to be his disciples. The Disciples of Christ radiate a peacefulness t hat speaks volumes about the closeness of Christ in one’s life. God sent his only son into our world that by his suffering for us God would have the reason to love us because our piety allows us to claim the suffering of Christ for our own forgiveness. Our piety brings us to a genuine love of the Christ of the Cross. Our hearts love for Christ hears the call of discipleship as the call to take up our crosses of life and to follow Christ.

Paul says it as it is. We are neither wise by human standards nor powerful nor of noble birth. God chose the weak of the world to confound the strong. We learn not to boast on what we have done. We boast in the Lord who gives us his life as the forgiveness for what we have failed in by our weaknesses. We study Christ because Christ is the Wisdom of God. We learn how Christ is our righteousness by looking at how his life influences our lives. Christ is what makes our lives special in the closeness we have to him.

Our call to follow the Lord does not come from good looks, brains or wealth. It comes from the love of the Lord for us as we are. It is a great realization the day we discover the Lord loves us as we are. We do not have to do something to deserve his love. Love is a free gift that belongs to the one who opens their heart to love even as Christ has loved.Christ says it wonderfully. Love one another as I have loved you. Even as the Father has loved me, I have loved you. We are called to God’s love by the awareness that God is the perfect lover in his Son Jesus Christ.

No one can boast before the Lord. It is not for our merits that call God’s attention to us.  God chose the foolish of the world to shame those who would appear wise. The Blessed ones of our world are those who have nothing. God’s love shows through their weakness. It is hard to see God at work in our strength. We are able to live in his love when we love one another. God loved us so much that he sent his only Son to be one of us. God loved us so much that he was willing to be one of us and one with us.

The beatitudes reveal the bias of God for the Poor. The happiness in the Beatitudes belongs to those who reach out to one another with the love of Christ. Any Beatitude reveals something of the mind and the heart of Christ. He came for those who need him.He is speaking to us through his happiness at the plan of the Father. We follow Christ in living out those Beatitudes to the best of our ability. When we can say which one fits our happiness best, we know how we best belong to the Lord.

We shall not let the fear of poverty make us fear because we know in our poverty of Spirit that the kingdom of heaven belongs to us. We do not protect ourselves from the sorrows of those who suffer around us because we know we can be their comfort in the “worthwhileness” of what they suffer. We make friends of the meek because they will inherit the land. We search out what we can do for those that hunger and thirst for righteousness so that we can be satisfied with them. We show mercy to all that we might have mercy, What we put up with for the sake of Christ will be our claim to fame in heaven and we can rejoice and be glad at what might seem a dumb choice to others because we know that what we do for the sake of Christ will be rewarded in heaven by our closeness to Christ in this life. We might be a people humble and without great comfort in the eyes of the world, but we know by the beatitudes that the hundredfold from following Christ in all was just a beginning of happiness when we see what is waiting for us in heaven. The Lord sets us free in the peace that goes with the beatitudes as we follow Christ to his Cross.

Piety, study, and action all have to do with a closer walk with Christ. Our Christ life does not just happen in our lives. Our piety is the plan we have to walk more closely with the Lord by a real, down-to-earth living out of what we see in Christ. We need to study his life through the saints that make him real to us. In all ways, they are an update of how Christ would be alive today if he lived with us. We study how to best put into practice what we see in him. Our actions are in all the ways we are his hands and his feet. He had to die and rise so we could find him living in our goodness and growing in all the ways we are trying to imitate him by the good we do for one another. We gaze at Christ that we might become like him. We work out our lives so that we can say we no longer live, but Christ lives in us and we find our being in who He is in us.

* Based on reflections by Fr. Joe from this Sunday in the cycle. Requiescat in pace.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Asleep on a Cushion

Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.  Hebrews 11:1

A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" Mark 4:37-38

St. Thomas Aquinas, open our minds to God's truth, our hearts to God's love, our lips to God's praise and our hands to serve God's people. (Maryknoll Missioners)

The whole book of Hebrews is written to establish the hope that is the foundation of a life of radical, risk-taking, sacrificial love.  Hope is not dangling in the universe.  Our faith helps us to realize what we hope for.

To put this in perspective, consider what was happening to the Hebrews who were reading Paul’s letter. In the previous chapter, Paul explains that he knows what they have endured:  At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and affliction; at other times you associated yourselves with those so treated. You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you had a better and lasting possession. (10:33-34)

In that condition, the Hebrews could be excused if they threw their hands up in the air in defeat.  They did not and thus, forever provide an example of faith in the face of adversity.  Imagine Joan of Arc denouncing her faith to escape the flames.  Imagine William Wallace relenting to the authority of the King of England and betraying Scotland.

Centuries before Jesus, Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, his only son.  God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life. (John 3:16) 

Tests continue in the Gospel.  Jesus is consistently surrounded by physical, emotional and spiritual passion and actions.  He faces challenges from the Pharisees, from his family, from various demons, and now even from Nature.  As the tempest tosses the little boat, the disciple's quake in fear.  Remember, these men were seasoned fishermen who grew up on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  Yet, they had never experienced any storm this intense (or any preacher this intense who could sleep through this while resting on a boat cushion).  Jesus cares not about the wind, the rains, or the waves.  All he cares about is the faith of his companions on the journey. As in the case of silencing a demon (Mk 1:25), Jesus rebukes the wind and subdues the turbulence of the sea by a mere word (or two).

“He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Quiet! Be still!" The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, "Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?"  (Mark 4:39-40)

To this day, people continue to endure tests over their faith.

An Executive Order issued Friday in the United States addressed the refugee admissions program and migration. The executive order virtually shuts down the refugee admissions program for 120 days, reduces the number of refugees to be admitted to the United States by more than half, and indefinitely suspends the resettlement of Syrian refugees – even for people with approved visas who have sold everything and were at the airport. In addition, it prioritizes religious minorities suffering from religious persecution, thereby deprioritizing all other persons fleeing persecution; calls for a temporary bar on admission to the United States from a number of countries of particular concern (all Muslim majority); and imposes a yet-to-be-determined new vetting process for all persons seeking entry to the United States.

Regarding the Executive Order to halt and reduction of admissions, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, stated:
"We strongly disagree with the Executive Order's halting refugee admissions. We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope. We will continue to engage the new administration, as we have all administrations for the duration of the current refugee program, now almost forty years. We will work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed in collaboration with Catholic Charities without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans, and to ensure that families may be reunified with their loved ones."

Regarding the Executive Order's ban on Syrian refugees, the prioritization of religious minorities suffering from religious persecution, Bishop Vásquez added:
"The United States has long provided leadership in resettling refugees. We believe in assisting all those who are vulnerable and fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion. This includes Christians, as well as Yazidis and Shia Muslims from Syria, Rohingyas from Burma, and other religious minorities. However, we need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country. They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity. We believe that by helping to resettle the most vulnerable, we are living out our Christian faith as Jesus has challenged us to do."

Moving forward after the announcement, Bishop Vásquez concluded:
"Today, more than 65 million people around the world are forcibly displaced from their homes. Given this extraordinary level of suffering, the U.S. Catholic Bishops will redouble their support for, and efforts to protect, all who flee persecution and violence, as just one part of the perennial and global work of the Church in this area of concern."

As Archbishop Cordileone wrote in July of 2015 when confronted by tragedy in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, "Over the long-term, and in conjunction with my fellow bishops, I call upon Congress and the Administration to work together to comprehensively repair our nation's flawed immigration system, a system that divides families and undermines human dignity. Such reform, long overdue, should preserve family unity, ensure the due process of law, protect those fleeing persecution, and ensure the integrity of our nation's borders."

Please call your lawmakers and ask them to support a policy consistent with the Gospel call to welcome the stranger and a one that also is consistent with Catholic Social Teaching and American values.  We can not be asleep on a cushion at times like these. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Persevering with the Help of Friends

By Colleen O’Sullivan

You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised.   (Hebrews 10:36)

Commit to the Lord your way;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will make justice dawn for you like the light;
bright as the noonday shall be your vindication.  (Psalm 37:3-4)

Lord, as we follow in your footsteps, help us to be friends to our fellow pilgrims, encouraging and supporting one another along the way.

We all need encouragement in our faith at times.  The Jewish Christians addressed in the Letter to the Hebrews had experienced many trials and tribulations.  As a result of following Jesus’ way, many of them were shunned by their families.   The Jewish community shut them out.  On top of that, some of them experienced great financial losses.  Beaten down, I’m sure they must have wondered at times if it was all worth it.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds them that it is, in fact, worth it, that Jesus will return.  Being with the Lord for all eternity will more than make up for anything suffered in this life.  “You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised,” he writes.

The Christian life is far more a marathon than a sprint, although you’d never know it in some circles.  On Sunday mornings I am frequently up and ready for the day long before it’s time to leave for Mass.  Sometimes I channel surf.  I almost always come across one preacher or another promising wealth in this life if we just have enough faith.   As I read the Gospels, our Lord cares about us having what we need, but Jesus spends way more time talking about sharing what we have with the poor than extolling the virtues of amassing wealth.   The reward for faithfulness isn’t generally money or possessions or an easy life.  The promise of God in return for faithfulness is a place in God’s Kingdom.  We do people a disservice when we aren’t honest with them about the Christian journey.  It isn’t always easy.  It wasn’t easy for Jesus, being ridiculed and the subject of entrapment schemes every step of the way.  Being faithful to his Father led Jesus to the Cross before he ever came to the Resurrection.  Why should we expect anything different? 

Being conformed to the image of Christ is the work of a lifetime.  It isn’t always easy.  It does take endurance to persevere and do God’s will.  But when we think of the reward at the end, it’s all worth it to be with Christ.

In Cursillo, we talk about making a friend, being a friend and bringing a friend to Christ.  What kind of friends do we envision ourselves being?  Are we the kind of friends who are there for the long haul?  Whether we’re reading about the first century Jewish Christians or looking around today, it’s clear to me that being a follower of Jesus isn’t always easy, and every one of us could use friends along the way.  I always feel bad for people I meet who’ve gone on a Weekend and then never joined a Group Reunion.  They are missing out on some wonderful friendships!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


By Beth DeCristofaro

For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:6-7)

Jesus said to his disciples, "Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand? (Mark 4:21)

I am only a spark,
Make me a fire.
I'm only a string,
Make me a lyre.

I'm only an ant-hill
Make me a mountain.
I'm only a drop,
Make me a fountain.

I'm only a feather,
Make me a wing.
I'm only a beggar,
Make me a king.
        Amado Nervo[i]

Sts. Timothy and Titus let their light shine.  They were both disciples of another shining Christ-light, St Paul.  Both founded churches and Paul wrote letters to them and their congregations which enlighten us today.  Both men faced persecution, Timothy was martyred.  Their lights were bright enough that Titus is known as the saint of Catholic prayer.

Recently, I watched the inspiring moving, “Hidden Figures.” It was well-crafted, entertaining and so very educational.  Having grown up in Virginia it was hard to watch much less admit to the scenes of “colored only” water fountains and restrooms and so-very-overt attitudes of condescending racism that were (and are) powerful and pervasive in my lifetime.  The lights of the three protagonists burned so brightly and fueled with such moral potency that despite impediments they persevered and became leaders and models.  What also touched me was that their efforts and principle – lights – showed the way for others.  They brought along friends and families as they overcame.  They did not forge ahead alone leaving others behind.  Shine! Christ says! Shine with the grace and blessings which I bestowed upon you in my life, death, and resurrection.   

As St. Therese said “we are the hands and feet of God” here on earth.  We are also the light of Christ here on earth.  To whom have you been a bushel basket?  How can you listen to Christ’s bidding to bear witness to Him?  He will help you and help them shine.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Kindness and Truth in the Vast Assembly

By Melanie Rigney

Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of them, it can never make perfect those who come to worship by the same sacrifices that they offer continually each year. Otherwise, would not the sacrifices have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, once cleansed, would no longer have had any consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices, there is only a yearly remembrance of sins, for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1-4)

Your justice I kept not hid within my heart; your faithfulness and your salvation I have spoken of; I have made no secret of your kindness and your truth in the vast assembly. (Psalm 40:11)

And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister.” (Mark 3:34-35)

Lord, deliver me from the same old, same old. Instill in me the faith and courage to advocate for You in the vast assemblies in my life.

It can be a shock to the system when we find out our friends, coworkers, or others we generally enjoy being around have an entirely different view on a major issue of the day than we do. Recently, an acquaintance said women who favored an end to abortion didn’t belong at an event because they couldn’t be real feminists. I started to explain why I felt otherwise; after a look of disbelief, the acquaintance nodded. “Oh, right,” she said. “You’re Catholic.” End of discussion.

I kicked myself later for not taking the conversation back to the topic. My views on abortion and many other hot-button issues did not change the second I started checking the Catholic box on forms. They evolved, as I studied Church teachings and their origins. I was forced to actually think about my positions rather than be for or against stuff because that’s what all the cool kids thought. And in many cases, I found that my true beliefs were very different from the opinions I had spouted off for years.

My point here is not to imply or say that people with opinions counter to mine are wrong or uninformed or that those opinions were not formed after much consideration. The point of this is a mea culpa to God because I failed to speak of His kindness and truth in a very small assembly. And if I am fearful of speaking to one person whose view is different, what will I do in a group of a half-dozen or more? What will I do if the day comes that I am faced with the choice of earthly life… or denying him? And so, I resolve anew to speak up for the Lord, since I desire nothing more than a place in His circle.

We are in the midst of the 9 Days for Life annual period of prayer and action, centered on efforts to end abortion. What can you do? Check out the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ site to learn more about what’s going on nationally, with links to local efforts.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

By His Sacrifice

For Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself, that he might now appear before God on our behalf. Not that he might offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary with blood that is not his own; if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly from the foundation of the world. But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice.  Hebrews 9:24-26

If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man's house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house.  Mark 3:24-27

Jesus, help us to follow you in your “craziness.”

Two realities collide in Mark’s Gospel – the family reality of Jesus’ relationship with his mother and brothers along with the church relationship of Jesus with the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus seems to have alienated both sides.

Not only does his family consider Jesus to be out of his mind, but also do the Pharisees.  The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” For a man allegedly possessed, Jesus seems pretty level-headed in this exchange. 

When faced with the accusation, Jesus presents a coherent defense refuting the charge and turning the tables (once again) on the accusing Pharisees. Jesus presents the idea that he is here to tie up the “strong man” in order to conquer him (plunder Satan’s house).

The Galilean ministry manifests the power of Jesus to draw people to himself through his teaching and deeds of power.  Some of those deeds are healing the sick and others are forgiving sin.  All facets of that ministry require Jesus to be victorious over Satan in little ways now so that he can be victorious on Easter Sunday when his resurrection presents the ultimate victory over the strong man.  Yet, the skillful debater in chapter three goes silent when brought before Herod. There is a stronger foe he faces.  

Many people read his books or follow his reflections on Facebook and Twitter.  However, recently some have accused Jesuit Fr. James Martin as being in favor of abortion. He took to the electrons and posted this personal manifesto of his whole-hearted commitment to a consistent ethic of life.

Dear friends: Today on this Facebook page, on Twitter and on Instagram, I've read a few people trying to paint me as pro-abortion. This is false.

I am pro-life.

That means that I'm also pro-social justice.

That means that I am not only for the dignity of the human being from the moment of conception, but also for the dignity of the human being until the natural end of life. For life does not end with birth. A person who is truly pro-life is pro all life, pro every stage of life, pro every stage of life for every person. For all life is sacred, because all life is created by God.

That means that I support anything that helps a person live a full, healthy and satisfying life, in every part of the world. So I am for care for the poor, for a living wage, for affordable health care, for adequate housing, for a humane work environment, for equal pay for women, for generous child care, for the support of the aged and the infirm.

That means I support caring for the marginalized among us: the refugee, the migrant, the displaced person, the homeless, the unemployed, the person with disabilities, the single mother, women who are abused, minorities of every kind who are persecuted, and all those who feel left out, mocked, lonely, ignored or frightened.

That means that I am against torture because it is an affront to human dignity. I am against the death penalty, the most serious affront to an adult life. I am against abuse and mistreatment in prisons. I am against war as a way to solve problems.

That means I respect the lives of all creatures, and am therefore for the care of the world in which we live, for the environment in the broadest sense.
That means I am pro-peace, pro-justice, and pro-reconciliation.

The longer I am a Jesuit, the longer I am a priest, the longer I live, and the more I pray and listen and observe, the more convinced I am of the sanctity and beauty of life.

So, yes, I am pro-life. Pro all life.

I hope you are too.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Is Christ Divided?

Albrecht Dürer [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

By Melanie Rigney

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. (Isaiah 9:1)

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

For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? For 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. (1 Corinthians 1:11-13, 17)

As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed them. (Matthew 4:18-22)

Lord, help me to keep my eyes on You at all times.

It’s easy to get caught up in joy and jubilation—or darkness and despair.

It’s easy to get comfortable and think politicians will lead us into the land of milk and honey—or think they will take us to Armageddon.

It’s easy to believe we can rest now because order has been restored to our country—or believe that a dangerous time is descending upon us.

The hard part, regardless of where your thoughts fall, is keeping focused on Christ. That is not to say that we should not be advocating our neighbors and for religious freedom. Many have died for the Lord and doubtless, many more will in the time humanity has left on the earth. Christians are not passive. We are activists, rabble rousers, those who comfort the afflicted and at times afflict the comfortable. But above all else, we are united in faith. We may be registered with a political party (or not) or we may have taken a million social media quizzes so we know that this is the ‘70s song that summarizes our life or this literary classic is our theme or this color defines us. But above all, we are His. Some of those we find most difficult to love, whether or not we have ever met them, also are His.

In today’s first reading, Paul notes that the community to which he is writing has begun to divide itself by boasting of whom conducted their baptisms. “Is Christ divided?” he asks. That is no mere rhetorical question. For if our answer is the obvious—no, of course, He isn’t—then it becomes part of our spiritual journey to treat all those we encounter as brothers and sisters, rather than as others.

Where are you allowing divisiveness to color a relationship with someone you know? Pray for ways to let the injury heal, even if the other person would prefer to keep the wound open.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Cleanse Our Conscience

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer's ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the Blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.  Hebrews 9:13-14

Jesus came with his disciples into the house. Again, the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, "He is out of his mind."   Mark 3:20-21

Place your hope in God alone. If you notice something good in yourself, give credit to God, not to yourself, but be certain that the evil you commit is always your own and yours to acknowledge. (Rule of St. Benedict)

Grace and goodness come from God, the Rule insists. We are not the sole authors of our own story. What does come from us, though, are the decisions we make in the face of the graces we receive. We can either respond to each life grace and become what we might be in every situation, whatever the effort, or we can reject the impulses that the magnate in us called goodness brings in favor of being less than we ought to be.

It is those decisions that we must bend our lives to better.

The Jesus we are encountering in Mark this year is far from the level-headed, calm Messiah we meet in John or Luke’s narratives.  Mark fills Jesus with passion as he describes his march through Galilee.  Today, those closest family members think Jesus is “out of his mind.” They refer not to some astral projection of Jesus around them but actions which do not seem logical or in synch with the social norms of ancient Roman-occupied Palestine.

Clearly, Jesus’ family has gotten reports of what has been happening – the multiple conflicts with the Pharisees about healing on the Sabbath, eating with the tax collector and sinners, and forgiving the sin of the paralytic man.  The family makes the trip from Nazareth to Capernaum to bring Jesus home.   However, the crowds are so large, Jesus skips eating and turns to healing them all.  None of this seems normal by human standards and they attempt to bring Jesus back with them.  When they are unsuccessful, they conclude that Jesus must be out of his mind.

We are now set up to expect more conflicts between Jesus and authorities, between Jesus and his family, and between Jesus and the normal social order as He breaks from the past and sets up a New Jerusalem. 

These conflicts that are popping up are all centered around making sure that the institutions of the day – the church, the state, and the society – provided for the needs of the people.  When these failed, Jesus stepped in on the Sabbath or any other day a need arose, to lend a hand to bring about either social justice or charity for the afflicted person.

In addition to the example of Jesus, we have inspirational words from Dorothy Day:

"One of the greatest evils of the day among those outside the proximity of the suffering poor is their sense of futility. Young people say, 'What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?' They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the action of the present moment but we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.

The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us? When we begin to take the lowest place, to wash the feet of others, to love our brothers with that burning love, that passion, which led to the cross, then we can truly say, ‘Now I have begun.'" —Dorothy Day, from Loaves and Fishes

What brick will you lay today in the wall of social justice?  What step will you take toward charity for all and malice toward none?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

God Never Gives Up

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Brothers and sisters:  Now our high priest has obtained so much more excellent a ministry as he is mediator of a better covenant, enacted on better promises…  I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them upon their hearts.  I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And they shall not teach, each one his fellow citizen and kin, saying, “Know the Lord,” for all shall know me, from least to greatest.  For I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sins no more.   (Hebrews:  8:6, 10b-12)

Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him.  He appointed Twelve, whom he also named Apostles, that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.  (Mark 3:13-15)

My name is carved on the palm of your hand.  Your word, your law, and your covenant promises are etched upon my heart.  You have never forsaken me, and I pray for the grace always to be faithful to you.

Lord, when it comes to loving us, your tenacity never ceases to amaze me.  You gathered us and rescued us from the bonds of slavery.  You said you would be our God and we would be your people.  You led us far from the clutches of Pharaoh, holding before us the promise of a land to call our own.

Were we grateful?  Not particularly.  Had I been in your shoes, I would have thrown in the towel.  We complained about the food.  We grumbled about the rigors of the journey.  We even said we wished we could return to Egypt.  We turned our backs on you and worshiped an idol of our own making.

Did you wash your hands of us?  No.  Did you give up, conclude the whole covenant thing was a bust?  No, you said you were going to make a new covenant with your people.  You said this covenant would be engraved upon our hearts and that we would know from the inside out that you are forever and always our God and that you love us beyond all measure.  You said we would know that we are your precious sons and daughters, members of your family.

You sent your Son to be one of us.  Jesus took upon himself all our ingratitude, our every disordered desire for possessions and power over one another.  As he was nailed to the Cross, Jesus carried on his shoulders the weight of all the times we’ve run far from you, all the times we’ve pretended to belong to some other family with different values.

Your love for us knows no bounds.  You search high and low when we depart to a far country.  However long it takes, when we come to our senses, you are waiting, arms outstretched, to welcome us home.  And then you never bring up our misdeeds again.  Our sins are forgotten when they are forgiven.

Just as you called the Apostles to the ministry of preaching and casting out evil, so you call each of us to some special role within your family.  In spite of our fickle natures and our propensity to sin, you believe we each have something of value to contribute to the family.

There is no love that can rival yours for your children.

Today Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th President of the United States.  If the election results are any indication, about half of us are happy and the other half upset.  For today, however, let us seek to put aside our divisions and unite as Christians in prayer for our new leader and the well-being of our country.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Called and Healed

By Beth DeCristofaro

Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him since he lives forever to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)

Jesus withdrew toward the sea with his disciples. A large number of people followed from Galilee and from Judea. … And whenever unclean spirits saw him they would fall down before him and shout, "You are the Son of God." He warned them sternly not to make him known.   (Mark 3:7, 11-12)

In the written scroll, it is prescribed for me, to do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart! “Here I am, Lord, I come to do your Will.”  (Psalm 40:8-9)

Picking the name of a new baby is a wonderful duty.  Traditions abound:  babies born in Ghana are often named for the day of the week on which he/she is born.  Jewish tradition names after a relative.  The naming is sacred because a name illustrates the baby’s character, how unique she is, and her path in life.  Of course, some babies are named for the celebrity of the day or to avoid duplicating another, oft used, family name.  How many Anthony’s or Alex’s are in our family!

In today’s Gospel, Jesus has tried to withdraw to a quiet place but the crowds who seek to be healed increasingly press in on him.  As he cured, demons shouted in defiance but Jesus silenced them.  Jesus not only did not want his identity proclaimed by evil but also, he was sternly proving that shouting his true name – thought to be a way to exert power over someone – had no sway over him.  The insistent crowds wanted healing which he provided but he deeply wanted them to hear and accept his Word within their hearts.  He sought conversion.

How potent, then, that we are each called by name by our own God!  This Lord of abundant life calls us to him not to exert power but to welcome us to himself.  He lives forever and wants the power of the Word to live through us in the Word.  He calls us to Good though His use of our name. 

My daughters are queen and princess, Regina and Sarah, ancient names which resonate with us as sons and daughters of Abraham.  Today in our country, each day we meet people with strange sounding names who also belong to ancient traditions as deep as ours.  God calls them by name as well.  Can you hear his healing voice speaking in love to you through the voice of a stranger today?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

To Save Life

It is even more obvious if another priest is raised up after the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become so, not by a law expressed in a commandment concerning physical descent but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. For it is testified: You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.  Hebrews 7:15-17

"Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?" But they remained silent. Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, Jesus said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out and his hand was restored. Mark 3:4-5

Firefighter's Prayer

When I am called to duty, God, wherever flames may rage,
Give me strength to save a life, whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child before it is too late,
Or save an older person from the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert, and hear the weakest shout,
Quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling, to give the best in me,
To guard my friend and neighbor, and protect his property.
And if according to Your will I must answer death's call,
Bless with your protecting hand, my family one and all.

Jesus, like me, has a tendency to wears his emotions on his sleeve (or face in my case). Today, we witness Jesus, “…looking around at (the Pharisees) with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart.”  This scene plays out as another in a series of confrontations that St. Mark related within the first three chapters of his Good (?) News. 

Jesus has already forgiven the person who the Pharisees may see as the unforgivable (the paralytic man). Jesus has already accepted the persons whom the Pharisees see as the unacceptable (the tax collector and the sinners). How inappropriate! Compounding the offense at Mosaic Law, Jesus now goes to work on the Sabbath! For shame!

The healing is the most important action in today’s Gospel from the perspective of the man with the withered hand. However, something still deeper is happening here in addition to that powerful example.

In making his decision for action, Jesus uses a traditional rabbinical test: What is necessary “to save a life?” In the Hebrew Bible Book of Maccabees, the Jews were gearing up to fight the Gentiles. They decided to act (fight) on the Sabbath in order to preserve life (by not getting slaughtered by the invading Gentiles).  On that day they came to this decision: “Let us fight against anyone who attacks us on the sabbath, so that we may not all die as our kindred died in their secret refuges.” (1 Maccabees 2:41). 

Knowing that his audience would be familiar with this test, Jesus uses it as his basis for action and for setting up a New Order/Orthodoxy.  However, once again, the Pharisees are silent in the face of the question posed by Jesus.  Ironically, Jesus will not take on such silence until he stands before Herod on Good Friday.

The plot thickens.

Many people among us have professions which do not allow for Sabbath Rest.  Nurses. Firefighters. Doctors. Police officers. First Aid Squads.  These and many others have chosen professions which require work on the Sabbath.  Others have jobs which they have no choice but to work on the Sabbath. 

There used to be so-called Blue Laws that required business like shopping centers and car dealers to close on Sunday.  Challenges in the courts have made those obsolete. Sometimes, those are hardly considered life-or-death businesses.  When I worked as a car salesman in Lynn, Massachusetts, those blue laws were still in effect in 1979.  However, our boss required us to walk the lot for Sunday shoppers who come by because they thought they would not be badgered by a salesman. They were probably as surprised as the Pharisees watching Jesus cure the man with the withered hand in the temple on the Sabbath.

Keep these Sunday workers in your prayers and support them at every corner – like when your firefighter knocks for a contribution to buy a new truck or walks the hot street corners on Labor Day Weekend offering up his or her time to collect funds – not for fighting fires – but for fighting muscular dystrophy.