Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Return to Me with Your Whole Heart

Yet even now—oracle of the LORD—return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God, For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment.  Joel 2:12-13

We are ambassadors for Christ as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake, he made him to be sin who did not know sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. 2 Corinthians 5:20-21

But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. Matthew 6:6

Father, we know that we are not here to do everything on our own.  Working together, with you and each other, may our words and work find favor in you.  “Behold now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 COR 6:2D)

If all of salvation history can be explained in one sentence, then a strong competitor would be this one: “Then the LORD was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his people.”  I am sure there will be a spirited debate put forth by the John 3:16 crowd.  However, from Eden to Bethlehem, from Nazareth to Jerusalem, from Rome to Thessalonica, God was moved to help us out of pure, raw, human emotion. 

Whether that is pity or love, the question we must ponder every day – but especially over Lent – is what are we going to do about God’s love for us?  St. Paul, in the second reading, provides one suggestion.  St. Paul suggests that we should be ambassadors.  As Christ became our righteousness (1 Cor 1:30), we become God’s righteousness and carry that message out into the world.[i]

If we are to represent God to the world, let’s first make sure that our credentials are in order. For when a new ambassador first goes to a strange land, she or he first presents his portfolio to the others.  While the modern language may lead you to think that an ambassador is a diplomat with a fancy car, embassy office and more, the word comes from the Latin root “ambactus” for a servant. St. Paul is challenging us to consider ourselves servants of Christ.  That is, after all, one of the top titles of the Pope: (Latin: 'servus servorum Dei') Servant of the Servants of God.  How is that for a lesson in humility?

On this “Ask” Wednesday, how are you going to respond to your appointment?  What are you planning to do over Lent to act out your duties, Sir or Madam Ambassador as you represent God to the people of Virginia, or New Jersey, or North Carolina, or to whatever strange land you are sent?

Long after the ashes wear off your forehead, God’s “ask” remains. God wants us to be God’s own righteous representative asking all people to return as if they were the Prodigal offspring.  

[i] From the notes in the New American Bible.

We Have Given Up Everything

By Melanie Rigney

To keep the law is a great oblation, and he who observes the commandments sacrifices a peace offering. (Sirach 35:1-2)

To the upright, I will show the saving power of God. (Psalm 50:23b)

James Tissot [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Peter began to say to Jesus, 'We have given up everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. But many that are first will be last, and the last will be first." (Mark 10:28-31)

Lord, shine Your light on the parts of my life I attempt to shroud in darkness and secrecy. Help me to be willing to give them up to follow.

The sacrifice must have seemed great indeed to Peter. He had abandoned his fishing business, and it may be that his wife and family were less than supportive of the time he was spending with this Jesus who wandered about their countryside, challenging the pronouncements of authorities and talking in what sometimes seemed to be riddles. Peter and the some of the others had sacrificed their standing in the community, the respect of some of their neighbors, and not a little of their own pride, self-reliance, and disbelief.

The reward? It must have seemed unclear, other than that stirring in the disciples’ souls that they were being called to follow. While today’s Gospel reading is challenging, it is also comforting. If we follow, we will be rewarded, rewarded eternally in ways we cannot even image. We don’t have to walk away from people or possessions entirely. We do have to love the Lord first, last and always, and ensure that the people and things we love don’t get in the way of that.

Journal about the people or things in your life that take precedence over your relationship with the Lord. Talk with a priest or spiritual adviser about how ways you can rebalance your priorities. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Way Back

To the penitent God provides a way back, he encourages those who are losing hope and has chosen for them the lot of truth. Return to him and give up sin, pray to the LORD and make your offenses few. Sirach 17:24-25

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement, his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Mark 10:21-22

Growing up, there was a song by Ray Stevens entitled, “Everything is Beautiful.”  Some recordings of it started with a children’s choir singing:

“Jesus loved the little children, all the little children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in His sight.
Jesus loved the little children of the world.”

The “ordinary” Jesus, this “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” portrayed in this song and in some versions of popular culture is like the loving brother, doing what is best for those around him.  Instead of this persona, encounter the Challenging Jesus of Mark’s portrayal filled with emotion and passion.

The first words of Jesus’ public ministry in Mark are echoed in the wisdom and words of Ben Sirach and John the Baptist: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is hand.”  This extraordinary ministry is about to branch out onto a new path.  In just 48 hours, it will be Lent.  So, before looking ahead, let’s look back and consider the way St. Mark has described Jesus over these first eight weeks in Ordinary Time since that auspicious beginning. 

The challenging Jesus in today’s eighth ordinary Monday is one which calls upon us to eschew the life we think we are meant to lead and instead take up the life the Lord calls us to lead.  If possessions get in the way, throw them out. What a great way to get ready for the fasting, almsgiving, and penance of Lent.  Here in chapter ten, Jesus willingly brings sadness upon the young man with many possessions. Jesus is never afraid to exercise the emotions of his followers or himself.

Chapter 1: The early stage is set by a voice crying out in the wilderness.  Time-after-time, in the first two months of this liturgical year, Jesus’ voice was crying out to the ears of the deaf who would not listen and follow him.  Jesus begins right away with a “new teaching with authority” that amazes his followers.  Jesus performs miracles from the outset but tries to stay below the radar screen of the Pharisees early in his ministry.  Despite his attempts to keep his early messianic work a secret, who can keep from spreading the good news when cured of leprosy? The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere. Mark 1:45

Chapter 2: Jesus wastes no time in setting up conflict with the church leaders who are becoming his adversaries.  As they challenge his words and deeds, Jesus figuratively turns his back on those alleged church leaders and refuses to cow-tow to their authority and judgment.  “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Mark 2:17B

Chapter 3: Jesus had already so upset the status quo that the plots against his life began to hatch.  Even his family and friends thought he was out of his mind.  Instead, Jesus challenges us to expand our definition of family.  “[For] whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:35 

Chapter 4: After setting up a series of parables about understanding, Jesus realizes that words alone will not convince the disciples.  In the first miracle of the boat, Jesus calms the winds and the seas before a fearful group of disciples.  [Jesus] 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

Chapter 5: After Jesus cures the possessed man and the demons and pigs plunge off a cliff, in their fear, the people plead with Jesus – not to stay and do additional miracles among them – but rather to leave their area.  He has put the literal fear of God in them – not the gift of the Spirit.  They continue to be afraid of what they do not know nor understand.  Except for one man – the man who was cured who wants to come along when Jesus leaves.  But he would not permit him but told him instead, “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.” Mark 5:19

Chapter 6:  The disciples still did not understand nor did some want to accept how Jesus revealed himself by the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish or by walking on water.  Their hearts were hardened.  Jesus retreats to silent prayer…alone.  Here we encounter the solitary Jesus in prayer to recharge his miracle-working batteries.  And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray. Mark 6:46

Chapter 7: As Jesus’ teaching veers off from that of the Pharisees, the disciples are further confused.  Jesus tries to get people to correct their course from following blind tradition rather than the living God. He went on to say, “How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition! Mark 7:9

Chapter 8: The meaning of feeding of the five thousand mystifies the followers.  How did he do this?  The “how” is not as important as the why.  Jesus did it because he was emotionally moved.  “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. Mark 8:2

Chapter 9: The transfiguration terrifies Peter, James, and John. Then we encounter the exasperated Jesus: “O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him to me.” Mark 9:19

How are you getting ready for Lent to re-charge your batteries?  How are you getting ready for the challenge of Lent to do more piety, study, and action?  How are you prepared for the prayer, fasting, and almsgiving of the next 40 days?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Trust in Him at All Times!

By Sam Miller

I will never forget you. (Isaiah 49:15b)

Brothers and Sisters: Thus, should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. (1 Corinthians 4:1) …being found trustworthy (4:2b)…the One who judges me is the Lord (4:4b)…He will bring to light what is hidden and will manifest the motives of our hearts. (4:5b)

Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life (Matthew 6:25a) …Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? (6:27) …Your Heavenly Father knows that you need them all (6:32b) …what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear (6:25b) …Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. (6:34a)

With God is my safety and my glory,
He is the rock of my strength; my refuge is in God.
Trust in Him at all times, O my people!
Pour out your hearts before Him.  AMEN! (Psalms 62:8-9)

So often, I find myself wondering about the scholars, theologians or appointed council of Holy men whose task it was to figure out the Scripture readings for Mass.  I’ll be ever thankful I wasn’t part of it because then I wouldn’t be able to question the decision of where to start and stop the reading!!!

Take, for instance, our first reading today from Isaiah, why only verses 14 and 15 of chapter 49?  Why couldn’t it have included verse 13 (“Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth, break forth into song, you mountains.  For the Lord comforts His people and shows mercy to His afflicted.”) and verse 16 (“See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name; your walls are ever before me.”)?  After all, those verses are also under the heading, “The Liberation and Restoration of Zion”.  Doesn’t seem too hopeful and trusting to believe the Lord has abandoned or forsaken you, O Zion!

The second reading, from 1 Corinthians 4 should be written on the inside of my eyelids as a daily challenge prayer.  Oh, that I could close my eyes and read that message to not judge others or myself but to focus on staying on the right path.  When Jesus, my Lord, judges me, I pray to be found a trusted keeper of God’s mysteries and servant of Christ.

As for the Gospel reading from Matthew, under the heading of “Dependence on God”, the message to me is all about that, relying on God.  To trust in God means to let the worrying go, right?  Do I believe God knows everything I need before I know to ask Him about or for it?  Of course, I do!!  This trust and belief, to me, echoes the Piety prayer from Psalms, to trust in God AT ALL TIMES!!

Knowing God IS in control, I’m going to practice trying to not even pick up the remote.  Staying tuned into God’s channel and trusting Him through the day is my goal.  Can I get an AMEN!?!

He Became Indignant

He has set before them knowledge, a law of life as their inheritance; An everlasting covenant he has made with them, his justice and his judgments he has revealed to them. His majestic glory their eyes beheld, his glorious voice their ears heard. Sirach 17:11-13

When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." Mark 10:14-15

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next. Amen.
(Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971)

The wisdom of Ben Sirach reminds us of the glory of our own creation – and how that is mirrored in every other living creature.  However, despite these divine origins, we continue to err in our ways and have to constantly be brought back to the right path. Take the mistake that the disciples make in today’s Good News…

Certainly, the disciples meant well by trying to get the children to stop bothering Jesus. Jesus had more important tasks such as debating the Pharisees about points of Mosaic Law. Jesus had just finished setting them straight on marriage and divorce and adultery. Fresh from that debate, the disciples thought that Jesus did not need to be bothered any further.  Children, after all, were the most powerless group in all the land. They had less power than the poor, the widows, the orphans and the sick. There was no advocate for them.

Jesus does not react to these situations in “serenity.” This image of powerless children is another one that Jesus turns upside-down – and he did not do it gently. “He became indignant.” Remember, indignancy is not just anger or annoyance. That emotion has to be connected with or directed to what is perceived as unfair treatment of another person.

After all, God chose the form of a powerless child as the vehicle to come into the world. If the body of a child was good enough for God, who could keep these children from Jesus?

The basis of the covenant “with every living creature” is to accept all people – strangers and those with the least money, power and influence -- and serve them in the spirit of Matthew 25:40. Our relationships with them must be marked by love, solidarity, and hope. Embracing the powerless children, widows, and lepers is the ultimate example Jesus gives to us – even embracing the thief on the cross. 

What hardships suffered in the world would make you indignant?  What unfair treatment of another will spur you to action?  

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Be a Friend

By Colleen O’Sullivan

A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure.  A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth.  A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as he who fears God finds; For he who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself.  (Sirach 6:14-17)

But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.  For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  (Mark 10:6-8a))

He’s my forever friend,
My leave-me-never friend,
From darkest night, to rainbow’s end,
He’s my forever friend.
Even when I turn away He cares for me,
His love no one can shake,
Even as I walk away He’s by my side,
With every breath I take.
And sometimes I forget Him,
My halo fails to shine.
Sometimes I’m not His friend,
But He is always mine.
 (My Forever Friend, Charlie Landsborough)

Today, we have an interesting set of Scripture readings, the first about friendship and the second about the special love between a husband and wife.  Interesting, because we find ourselves in the last few days before we enter the season of Lent, which begins next week with Ash Wednesday.  In a sense, Lent is all about love and friendship - the love with which Jesus laid down his life for us, his friends, and our chance to examine the depth of the friendship and fidelity we offer the Lord in return.

Nowadays the word “friend” is bandied about with abandon.  We have hundreds (or even thousands) of Facebook friends.  We know they aren’t really all our friends.  Then there are people who consider the people who owe them favors or can do something for them, friends.  But that’s not friendship; that’s using people for your own gain.

In the first reading, Sirach points out that we can have a multitude of acquaintances, but that we should be much more selective when it comes to confidants, people we trust.  As most of us know from life itself, among our acquaintances are people who are only fair-weather friends.  Don’t look for them to hang in there with us when times are tough.  When we are laid low and can’t be what others want, some of them will turn against us and avoid us.  Seeing how others are willing to hurt us, trample on our trust and turn their backs on us in days of adversity is an impetus for considering how we are friends to others.

Sirach speaks of friendship in ways that could only help Cursillstas to make friends, to be true friends and to bring our friends to the Lord.  Be to others as Jesus is to us: a place of refuge and trust.  Extend a listening ear.  Keep confidences.  Be faithful and steadfast.  Don’t turn away from those you befriend no matter how difficult the circumstances.


When you are praying today, take a few minutes to reflect on ways in which Jesus has been and is your Friend.  Offer a prayer of gratitude and ask for the grace to be that same kind of friend to someone else.  Pray that those immigrants torn from family and friends will find friends to offer them places of safety and refuge.

Called to Conversion Today

By Beth DeCristofaro

Delay not your conversion to the LORD, put it not off from day to day.  (Sirach 5:7)

Jesus said to his disciples: "Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward. (Mark 9:41)

“Saint Polycarp, sometimes Christ seems so far away from us. Centuries have passed since you and the apostles walked the earth. Help us to see that he is close to us always and that we can keep him nearby imitating his life as you did.”[i] Venerable Henriette, pray for us.  Amen. 

We are preparing to celebrate a sacred milestone in our family next month, our daughter’s wedding.  Not only do we love our soon-to-be Son, but we also look forward to celebrating in that most celebratory of cities, New Orleans.  It’s never hard to find God present on such occasions but I am also reminded of God’s presence over the centuries which have shaped New Orleans, shaped our Church, shaped my faith. 

New Orleans is a city known for music, hospitality, and lagniappe but it also has a rich and deep history of faith particularly Roman Catholic.  Today’s city is a tapestry of colors, flavors, lifestyles and worship thanks in part to the many who “gave a cup of water to drink” to those in need.

One New Orleanais might be on the way to sainthood herself.  Venerable Henriette Delille (1813-1862), a Creole woman, founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family.  Unlike St. Polycarp who was martyred, Henriette faced less lethal but still severe obstacles.  Civil and Church leaders resisted and obstructed the idea of a black religious congregation.  Poverty and unkindness within the public curbed her mission.  Her health constrained her.[ii]  St. Polycarp was called an atheist by the Roman pagans before they murdered him.  Henriette was confronted by those who thought she was overstepping her place.  Neither Polycarp nor Henriette was dissuaded from their call.  Neither delayed their conversion.  Both lived true to life in Jesus.

We might like to think that we live in days where people will not be burned or ostracized because of color, belief, country of origin, or their way of life.  We know, however, that cruelty, ignorance, lust for power, control, fear, and prejudice still hold sway in our world.  What can I do today within my Cursillo community and my environment to be converted again to live in Jesus, defeating my own prejudices and promoting the holy lives of others?  Read “on the road to sainthood” from the USCCB website (link below) for inspiration.

(Photo credit: The Faces of Delille, http://www.sistersoftheholyfamily.com/FACES-OF-DELILLE.html

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Tend the Flock of God in Your Midst

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

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

Psalm 23 Antithesis (author: anonymous)
The clock is my dictator, I shall not rest.
It makes me lie down only when exhausted.
It leads me into a deep depression.
It hounds my soul.
It leads me in circles of frenzy, for activities sake.
Even though I run frantically from task to task,
I will never get it all done,
For my ideal is with me
Deadlines and my need for approval, they drive me.
They demand performance from me, beyond the limits of my schedule.
They anoint my head with migraines
My in-basket overflows.
Surely fatigue and time pressures shall follow me
All the days of my life.
And I will dwell in the bonds of frustration forever.

Peter provides quite an example for us.  In imitation of Christ, the chief shepherd, those entrusted with a pastoral office are to tend the flock by their care and example.  Peter comes to his faith, as we know now, the hard way.  He denies Jesus.  After the Crucifixion, he retreats into the locked upper room.  When he finally emerges, he comes out not to preach but to go back to what he knew best – the comfort of the uncontested fishing boat.

However, before all that goes down, the Gospel attributes this confession to a divine revelation granted to Peter alone and makes him the SOLE rock on which Jesus will build his church.  Furthermore, Peter’s authority in the church on earth will be confirmed in heaven by God.  However, for an example to the flock, Peter is far from perfection.  Maybe that is exactly why I can identify with him so well.  I see in Peter a little of my own unbelief and my own tendency to remain in my comfort zone before being prodded to go out in the world and disrupt the status quo.

In a speech this week, Pope Francis has again emphasized the urgent need for “a coordinated and effective response” by the political community, civil society and the church to the challenges arising from the massive wave of migration across the world that has created the greatest humanitarian crisis of the 21st century.
Addressing participants at the Sixth International Forum on Migration and Peace that took place in Rome Feb. 21 to 22, the pope said it is a “moral imperative” to protect migrant workers “and among these particularly men and women in irregular situations” as well as those “exiled and seeking asylum” or “victims of trafficking.”
Moreover, he said, “defending their inalienable rights, ensuring their fundamental freedoms and respecting their dignity are duties from which no one can be exempted.”  “We have a duty toward our brothers and sisters who, for various reasons, have been forced to leave their homeland: a duty of justice, of civility and of solidarity.”
How can we offer hospitality to the stranger – the stranger who is in the person of Jesus Christ? How can we be the rock upon the next wing of the Kingdom is constructed?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Discussing Who Was the Greatest

By Melanie Rigney

My son, when you come to serve the LORD, stand in justice and fear, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, incline your ear and receive the word of understanding, undisturbed in time of adversity. Wait on God, with patience, cling to him, forsake him not; thus will you be wise in all your ways. (Sirach 2:1-3)

Commit your life to the Lord, and he will help you. (Psalm 37:5)

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, "What were you arguing about on the way?"  But they remained silent. For they had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.  Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." (Mark 9:33-35)

Lord, bless the people who annoy me and help me change to love them in Your name.

It was a joke, I guess.  Or maybe a misguided attempt to be helpful. Or maybe I was overly sensitive. Most likely, it was a combination of all three.

An acquaintance, who is quite sure her vocation as a wife and mother is the most difficult and most favored of all the vocations the Lord instills in us, sent to a group of us an email. Intended for single women, the subject line was a bastardization of Luke 9:23: “If any man would come after me, let him.”  Because, apparently, every single woman desires that a man, any man, will crook his finger and because any woman who finds herself single at any stage of her life regardless of experience or history is incomplete in the Lord’s eyes.

With prayer, I resisted the temptation to respond to the group, or to her privately. Attempts to engage with her in person with similar comments have not borne visual fruit. Maybe her lens on this is cloudy, but maybe mine is when it comes to her challenges. Maybe, like the apostles on the way to Capernaum, this is a discussion about greatness that simply doesn’t need to be had… or acknowledged. After all, the Lord loves her as much as He loves me. And so, as a friend would put it, I picked up my cross of judgment and self-defensiveness, swallowed it, and followed.

Resolve not to over-react today when you feel persecuted. 

(Image credit: Published before 1923 and public domain in the U.S.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

"I Do Believe, Help My Unbelief!"

All wisdom comes from the LORD and with him, it remains forever, and is before all time the sand of the seashore, the drops of rain, the days of eternity: who can number these? Heaven's height, earth's breadth, the depths of the abyss: who can explore these? Before all things else wisdom was created; and prudent understanding, from eternity. Sirach 1:1-4

Then he questioned his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" He replied, "Since childhood. It has often thrown him into the fire and into the water to kill him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." Jesus said to him, "'If you can!' Everything is possible to one who has faith." Mark 9:21-23

Father, help my unbelief. Send to me your son, Jesus, to have compassion on me and my sins. Holy Spirit, give me the prudence, sense of social justice, fortitude, and temperance to do what is right.

St. Mark again makes profuse use of the exclamation “mark” with words coming from our Exasperated Jesus today. Jesus, Peter, James and John have just descended directly from the Mystery of the Transfiguration on Mount Sinai only to be confronted by the man with the possessed son. They man answers some of the questions posed by Jesus until he slips up – like the wanna-be tent-builder Simon Peter slipped up on the mountain – searching for the right words. If I was in a direct encounter with Jesus, I certainly would not know exactly what to say either.

Jesus disrupts the crowd who expect a miracle without paying the price. The price of disruption is faith. The man’s comment sparks Jesus’ passions (again) with the declared solution, “Everything is possible to one who has faith.” This line also alludes back to the passage from Hebrews in our reading Saturday: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”

The father hopes for a cure for his son. He rightly turns to Jesus but does not find the right words. However, the Father does find the right prayer. The wisdom the father needed eventually comes to him through the Lord. His faith is the realization of the cure hoped for and the things not seen until the boy is cured.

"I do believe, help my unbelief!"

Jesus answers and his actions disrupt the affliction of the son possessed by a mute spirit. And Jesus challenges him to live in faith now that the father has received what was hoped for and has tangible evidence of the love of God for all of us.

Belief. Unbelief. Each disrupts the other.

Jesus continues to try to rouse the people out of their complacency. It is not unlike what our modern church leaders are trying to do with us. Consider these comments from San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy as quoted in the media recently.

“We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our streets to deport the undocumented, to rip mothers and fathers from their families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies, rather than our brothers and sisters in terrible need. We must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men and women and children as sources of fear rather than as children of God. We must disrupt those who seek to rob our medical care, especially from the poor. We must disrupt those who would take even food stamps and nutrition assistance from the mouths of children,” the bishop said.

The same sentiment was echoed by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles:

“I do not like the harsh tone, the sense of indifference and cruelty…They are playing with our emotions, with people’s emotions, toying with their lives and futures, and that’s not right,” Gomez said, later adding “A person is still a person even though he is without papers.”

And this from Pope Francis challenges our belief and unbelief: “Migrants are our brothers and sisters.” And this statement also from the Pope during a 2015 meeting in Bolivia: “When we look into the eyes of the suffering, when they see the faces of the endangered Campesino, the poor laborer, the downtrodden native, the homeless family, the persecuted migrant, the unemployed young person, the exploited child, we have seen and heard not a cold statistic, but the pain of a suffering humanity, our own pain, our own flesh.”

How do these statements challenge you to live out your faith-in-action differently on behalf of those who are persecuted not only in their home country but here as well?

Ironically, the current cultural tone against immigrants and refugees is happening as survivors commemorate the 75th anniversary of the executive order that authorized the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Roughly 120,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans were sent to desolate camps that dotted the West because the Federal government claimed they might plot against the U.S. Thousands were elderly, disabled, children or infants too young to know the meaning of treason. Two-thirds were citizens.

The Catholic Church is the church of the refugee Holy Family who fled to Egypt to escape the killing spree of Herod. We have been at the forefront of resettling refugees from around the globe including thousands from Southeast Asia who settled here after the Vietnam War.

How does our faith call us to speak out to make sure that what happened to Japanese Americans doesn't happen to Muslims, Latinos or other groups? How does our faith call us to stay involved and stay aware of what's going on around us?

FILE - In this April 27, 2002, file photo, a copy of a poster from 1942 is posted in front of an antique Greyhound bus in downtown Watsonville, Calif., as participants reenact what happened to their relatives exactly 60 years earlier during their internment in 1942. Roughly 120,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans were sent to desolate camps that dotted the West because the government claimed they might plot against the U.S. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Agape Love

By Mary Beth Harney

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD."
Leviticus 19:18

"You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.

But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."
(Matthew 5:43-48)

Author Unknown,
(Attributed to a battle-weary C.S.A soldier near the end of the war)

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed

In today’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t mince words. He challenges his disciples to love not only those who love them, but to also love their enemies. He challenges them to turn the other cheek and to go the extra mile. He challenges them to love the just and the unjust, and to love and even pray for their persecutors.  

What Jesus is teaching is radical or “agape” love. Agape love is committed to the highest good of the one loved. It is unconditional and voluntary love, with no preconditions. In his podcast homily for today (available on iTunes), Bishop Robert Barron speaks of loving with a divine indifference, that is, choosing to love and accept the other person as they are rather than measuring out our love based on merit or emotion. This is agape love.

Of course, this is easier said than done. And Jesus reminds us that holiness attained through such agape love is hard; it takes work. Jesus challenges us to love and show kindness to our family friends, to our trusted colleagues, and to our favorite neighbor or teacher. But Jesus also challenges us to show agape love towards the difficult persons in our life: the obnoxious co-worker, the bully, or the rude patron on the Metro.  

Lent is right around the corner. Now is the perfect time for us to ponder how we may show agape love to those around us. Are we willing to forgive those who mistreat us? Do we patiently lend an ear and listen to those in need? Are we willing to leave our comfort zone to help someone in need?

Pray for the courage to practice agape love towards someone who has hurt you in the past.  

What is Hoped For

Brothers and sisters: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Because of it the ancients were well attested. By faith, we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God so that what is visible came into being through the invisible.  Hebrews 11:1-2

And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Mark 9:2B-6

The heavens were opened and the voice of the Father thundered:
This is my beloved Son. Listen to him. Mark 9:6

Tucked into the middle of the mild winter of our discontented ordinary time, is the Bible’s most extraordinary (IMHO) definitions of faith – one verbal in the Epistle and the other experiential in the Good News.  St. Paul explains to the Hebrews that we “must believe not only that God exists but that he is concerned about human conduct; the Old Testament defines folly as the denial of this truth.”  When that behavior does not seem to lead in the right direction, God will take extraordinary steps to get up back on track.  He sent his Son.  When that did not seem to work, he delivered the message directly.

Why does the Magisterium pair this passage from Hebrews with the Transfiguration?  The Transfiguration – as the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the Rosary – is the evidence. The Transfiguration is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen (by anyone else). Because of it, Peter, James, and John were well attested.

Well-attested indeed!  Peter, James, and John were incredulous. They were filled with shock and awe. They did not know what to do or say or feel.  First, Peter reacted to the situation by thinking, well, this is good that we are here. He wanted to do something – yet building tents, when they were enveloped by the cloud of the unknowing, was most unnecessary.  Yet, standing before Moses and Elijah, they probably also thought that this was the hour of their death.  Thus, the emotion of the moment shifted almost immediately to astonishment.    

Over the past few weeks, we have seen a particularly busy but at many times, frustrated Jesus.  Despite performing sign after sign (healing, feeding thousands, and even raising a little girl from the dead), the Pharisees have been badgering him for more evidence.  The frustration on Earth may even be mirrored in Heaven.  So, as a stimulus to direct the growth of the Apostle’s faith, the Lord God and Jesus have devised a plan for their inner circle. 

“Let’s give them a taste of the Kingdom.”  So, up the mountain they go, and their eyes and ears and hearts are opened.  The secret plan is to deliver the secret of the universe to them. And the secret is as simple as eight simple words: 


We do not need to build tents.  Or sacrifice little lambs.  Or run off to a monastery in the desert. We just need to pay attention to what was and is revealed. We just need to Listen to Jesus.

As quickly as the revelation was revealed, Peter, James and John opened their eyes and the physical world back to “normal.” However, their minds and hearts and spirits were changed forever.  Not until the Resurrection when Mary Magdalene and others encounter the Risen Christ – an image foreshadowed by the Transfigured Jesus in clothes of sizzling white: “On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. (Mark 16:5). 

Gone, now is the shock and terror. In its place are amazement and love! Make Mark 9:6 part of your meditation.  Close your eyes as you run this through your mind.  When you open your eyes, what do you see? If we listen to him, we will be transfigured, too!  That is what God is hoping for in all of salvation history.

Jesus and You.  Perfectly Transfigured Together!