Monday, July 24, 2017

Given Up to Death for the Sake of Jesus by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

Paolo Veronese [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:11)

Those who sow in tears shall reap rejoicing. (Psalm 126:5)

“Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)

Lord, help me to put to death the ways in which I jockey for position, eager to win the praise and admiration of others. Your Love is enough.

Oh, that wife of Zebedee, the mother of James and John. How she advocated for her sons. How sure she was that they were entitled to sit at Jesus’s right and left hands in His kingdom, whatever that kingdom might look like. Because you see, they were her sons. They deserved nothing but the best that Jesus had to offer, something a little better than what the others were going to get.

One wonders about the unrecorded reactions of James and John. Were they amused by Mom’s politicking? Did it please them? Did they count on her to say what they felt they could not? At some level, one has to think they were embarrassed by her campaigning on their behalf.

Jesus draws the group up short by explaining what being great means. It is the antithesis of what James’ and John’s mother has in mind. Rather than being acclaimed and admired, greatness in the Kingdom means service. It means putting oneself last, not first. It means self-sacrifice and emptying ourselves of ego and pride. It means putting the get-ahead, competitive parts to death—so that we may help others live. True greatness, Jesus tells us, isn’t about sitting at the right and left hand. It’s about using our own hands to help others find their way to Him.

Wherever possible today, put the interests of someone else ahead of your own—at home and at work. Be a servant leader.

Hear His Voice

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward. And you, lift up your staff and, with hand outstretched over the sea, split the sea in two, that the children of Israel may pass through it on dry land. But I will make the Egyptians so obstinate that they will go in after them. Exodus 14:15-16

“At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here. At the judgment, the queen of the south will arise with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here." Matthew 12:41-43

For he is our God,
we are the people he shepherds,
the sheep in his hands. 
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah,
as on the day of Massah in the desert.  Psalm 95:7-8

Why cry out “Lord, Lord?” When Moses does so, God reminds him that he has the power to work the “miracle” needed on his own. 

Lift up your staff.

Stretch out your hands.

Split the sea on two.

Pass through dry land.

Ironically, after traveling through the parched desert, the obstacle to escape for the children of Israel to overcome was WATER!  After not having enough of it, they had more than they needed. Yet, the power to get over and through that was not in God’s hands but was in their hearts.  If they believed in their own potential, then they could and would continue their escape route.

Long before “The Shawshank Redemption,” one of the greatest escape movies ever made was “Papillion.”  (“Cool Hand Luke” was the other.)  Steve McQueen plays Henri "Papillion" Charriere who is sentenced to life in a French penal colony for a murder he didn't commit.  He was imprisoned on the French penal colony called Devil’s Island and tried to imitate his tattoo and change from a prisoner into a free man. 

Whether or not he was guilty of murder may be in doubt, but in a dream, the judge at his trial accused him of a different “crime.” 

Judge (in a dream sequence): I accuse YOU... of a WASTED LIFE!
Papillon: Guilty... guilty... guilty...

For Papillion on his friend, Dega, they knew that they could not stay in that place.  As Dega said at one point in the movie, “If I stay - here in this place -I will die!”  Rather than risk the death of staying in place and not changing (repenting), they try repeatedly to escape.

In each escape “exodus,” they were willing to risk years of solitary confinement when recaptured in order to escape the prison.  They were unwilling to allow the legal system or the prison system to control their very being.  Papillion was cut from the same cloth as Paul Newman’s Luke Jackson, Timothy Robbins’ portrayal of Andy Dufresne and Charleston Heston’s Moses. 

Moses rejected his “false” life as an Egyptian prince to reclaim his identity and lead the Hebrew people out of captivity and to the Promised Land, despite the obstacles they would face.  He is an example of being true to your real self.  Unfaithfulness to the nature of our life in faith is the true sin as Jesus reminds the Pharisees. 

The Ninevites who repented and the queen of the South (Sheba) were pagans who responded to lesser opportunities than have been offered to Israel in the ministry of Jesus, something greater than Jonah or Solomon. At the final judgment, they will condemn the faithless generation that has rejected him.

After traveling through life, the obstacle we have in our path is life.

We have the “power” to control our lives and escape whatever imprison us physically, spiritually or emotionally right in our heads, our hearts, and our hands. If we stay in any one place without risking change, we will end up dying in that same place. 

How can we live out our faith and the voice of God that we hear by not demanding more of the Lord but by fulfilling what the Lord asks of us? 

Christ is counting on you.

And I am counting on Christ. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

“Let Them Grow Together Until Harvest” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

By Félicien Rops (Félicien Rops)
[Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons.

But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us; for power, whenever you will, attends you. (Wisdom 12:18)

Lord, you are good and forgiving.  (Psalm 86:5a)

The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. (Romans 8:26)

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.  When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?' He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' His slaves said to him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' He replied, 'No if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until the harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, "First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn." (Matthew 13:24-30)

Lord, feed my roots, that my belief might grow deeper and deeper, crowding out the weeds of doubt and fear.

God’s grace is great. So is His patience. And so is His trust that, given time, we will put aside those things that threaten our growth in Him.

Consider the parable in today’s Gospel reading. The household slaves are eager, all too eager, really to do what they think will please the master and go out and uproot the weeds in the field. But he instructs them not to do so, lest they uproot the young wheat plants in the process. Better to wait, he advises, until the harvest.

Who among us does not have a few weeds in our field? Weeds of pride, of fear, of doubt, of all the other stuff that threatens to choke out the Lord’s presence. And, alas, who among us does not find it just as easy to see the weeds in another’s field, especially someone we find difficult to love. Ah, how we itch to go into that field.

May we have the faith, courage, and confidence to work on our own weeding, and to know when we are called upon to tenderly and with love help others clear away theirs.

What are the two or three most persistent weeds in your garden? Ask a priest or trusted adviser for a good insecticide that won’t damage the wheat.

Stop Holding on To Me

On my bed at night I sought him whom my heart loves – I sought him but I did not find him. I will rise then and go about the city; in the streets and crossings, I will seek Him whom my heart loves. I sought him but I did not find him. Song of Songs 3:1-2

On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. John 20:1

O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you, my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water. Psalms 63:2

Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw the stone removed. This excursion put in motion a series of actions on Easter Sunday morning – except that no one (yet) knew it was Easter Sunday morning. Like a good disciple and Cursillista, Mary Magdalene did not keep this moment to herself.  Being she had already made a friend with Peter and John, she ran to get them and bring them back to the tomb. But at this point, she still thought the body was stolen by either the Romans or the temple officials.

Although several others witnessed the empty tomb, she was the first to see Christ Risen. Her exclamation, "Rabbouni!" follows the second Epiphany. She saw the light of the world while it was still dark. Once the reality of the Resurrection was a reality in her experience, she passed it on. After being the first who witnessed the Resurrected Jesus, then she became the first who proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection to others. Does this make her the first Christian?  Perhaps. But she is clearly the “Apostle to the Apostles,” the first person in human history to proclaim the good news of the Resurrection.

Equally important to her status as an evangelist is her status as a seeker of the divine – echoed in the first reading from Song of Songs and Psalm 63.  I sought him whom my heart loves. 

The prize of seeking becomes finding.  Yet, seeking and finding are not the end.  Jesus commands her one more action:  "Stop holding on to me.”  Our role is to give away what we find and pass it on.

Pope Francis elevated the commemoration of the feast day for Mary Magdalene.  This puts her feast day on par with the other (male) disciples and marks her as the first evangelist.  God is always seeking us seeking God.  Is not that why you are here on this website or e-mail?  Is that not the whole reason to piety, study, and action – to seek God? And then when you find God, give God away to others?

How were your first female teachers who led you to Christ?  My first teacher was my mother, Ruth DeCristofaro.  Later, Sr. Francis Louise Sheridan, MSBT, became the “apostle” in my life shortly after college. She hired me after my graduation from Belmont Abbey College to help her co-workers resettle hundreds of Southeast Asian refugees after the fall of Saigon and the U.S. pullout from the Viet Nam War. Sr. Francis never stopped seeking God and giving the Spirit of God away to others in her service as director of Refugee Settlement as part of Catholic Social Services in the Diocese of Charlotte. She directed the settlement of more than two thousand refugees.  Sr. Francis helped me realize the role of Jesus as a refugee and to see Jesus in the “gardeners” who came to our airports from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and refugee camps around the world.  After sharing her heart with so many for so long, how fitting is it that she died on St. Valentine's Day in 2015? 

What would have become of our faith tradition if Egypt closed its borders to unwed parents two thousand years ago? 
We are Christians. Sr. Francis taught me that we should welcome refugees just like we would welcome Jesus. These days, for those who did not know Sr. Francis and others like her, the role of Christians in welcoming refugees to our shores is as clouded as the role of St. Mary Magdala. 

Over the years, the role of St. Mary Magdala was confused by the church and male leaders who might have felt threatened by her true role as a leader to the leaders in the community of Jesus.  However, in a homily delivered by Prof. Mary C. Boys, SNJM, for this feast day, she reminded us that we “live in hope.” 
Just as today, we cannot imagine a Boston or New York City or ANY marathon without women, may the day come soon that we can’t imagine the Church’s apostles without women alongside men.  May we let the Apostle Mary of Magdala step into her rightful place in our church and in our world.  Let us celebrate her as wounded healer, as evangelist and witness to the Risen One. May the Apostle to the Apostles continue to bear witness to Christ’s resurrection. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

“How Shall I Make a Return to the Lord?” by Colleen O’Sullivan

Although Moses and Aaron performed various wonders in Pharaoh’s presence, the Lord made Pharaoh obstinate, and he would not let the children of Israel leave his land. (God gives his people instructions for the preparation of the Passover lamb and the marking of their lintels with the blood.)  “This is how you are to eat it:  with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight.  It is the Passover of the Lord.”   (Exodus 11:10, 12:11)

Jesus was going through a field of grain on the Sabbath.  His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them.  When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the Sabbath.”  (Jesus responded:) If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned these innocent men.”  (Matthew 12:1-2, 7)

How shall I make a return to the Lord
for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
and I will call upon the name of the Lord.  (Psalm 116:12-13)

Nine plagues have been visited upon Egypt in an effort to persuade Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people leave.  As awful as each one has been, none of them has persuaded the Egyptian ruler to release these slaves.  In today’s first reading, God is determined, however, that this final plague will mark the passing over of his people from slavery to freedom.

God works relentlessly every day to free us from what enslaves us, namely sin.  Consider how often we find ourselves confessing the same sins over and over.  Despite the best of intentions, we’ve argued with our spouse and said something hurtful again.  We’ve broken our promise once more to spend time with our children, putting in more hours at work instead.  We’ve indulged in another angry outburst against someone or tightened our grip on the grudge we’re holding toward another.  Face-to-face with a hungry, homeless person, we, who’ve been to Starbucks every day all week, think to ourselves, “Why doesn’t he/she get a job?” and turn away.  Enticed by the pleasures of our backyard grill and hammock, another weekend has gone by without us darkening the doors of our church or spending any time in prayer.

God seeks to free us from our sins and hopes we will respond.  Beyond that, as we see in today’s Gospel lesson, God is merciful and compassionate when it comes to human needs. 

So, what is our response to God’s love for us?  The Hebrew people in the first reading, freed from Egyptian captivity, chose to grumble and complain all the way from Egypt to the Promised Land.  What is our response to God’s saving love?  What return will we make to the Lord for all the good he has done for us?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

“Meekly, Humbly Embraced” by Beth DeCristofaro

Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Dear Lord, you have called me by my name.
You have carved me in the palm of your hand.
May I grow in trust and never give in to despair.
Your death on the cross has set me free.
I can live joyously and freely
without fear of death.
Your mercy knows no bounds.
I am surrounded by your loving presence, Lord,
But I am aware of my fragility and weakness.
Thank you that I can face my shortcomings
In your merciful embrace.

Me, I’m working on meek and humble of heart.  These seem to be key for me as I attempt to accept Jesus’ yoke.  He accepted humanness as a yoke with all its frailties, tribulations and dangers.  He carried the burden of my sin as he willingly stumbled under the cross.  Working in healthcare I meet many people who have yokes of disease that are not easy, burdens of incapacity that are far from light.  My dear friend who is a teacher frequently requests prayers for students whose burden of troubled families weigh so heavily that coping and academic skills are severely challenged.  The mothers of Aleppo, Mosul and other besieged cities bear yokes of fear and burdens of pain and abandonment.  Being human is often difficult and Jesus’ does not chastise us for bending under the strain.  Instead, meekly, humbly and with mercy, Jesus helps us bear i.

Humility opens me to declare God’s glory rather than my own.  Being humble implies succumbing to God’s will, God who wants so much more for me than I can ever imagine.    Jesus humbly told the disciples again and again that he came not to do his own will but the will of his father.

Meekness has to do with not being provoked easily.  It does not mean doormat.  A meek person knows how to channel anger into justice, reconciliation, healing and right.  Being meek is “what would Jesus do”.  Jesus meekly put the Word before the self-serving words of the temple leaders.

Without meekness or humility, we struggle unproductively and foist our anger, frustration, hurts onto those around us.  Others fall into helplessness and hopelessness without the reviving potency of Jesus’ meekness and the hope of Jesus’ humility.  What situations cause me to cling to false control or agenda?  What practices might help me build humility and meekness?  What might I forgo in order to yoke myself to Jesus? 

Monday, July 17, 2017

“Turn to the Lord in Your Need, and You Will Live” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

(Pharaoh’s daughter was moved with pity for the baby in the basket and said,) “It is one of the Hebrews' children." Then Moses’) sister asked Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and call one of the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?" "Yes, do so," she answered. So the maiden went and called the child’s own mother. (Exodus 2:6-8)

Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live. (Psalm 69:33)

(Jesus reproached Capernaum, saying:) “For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:23-24)

Lord, may I always turn to You. You are all the refuge I need.

Talk about mercy. The daughter of Pharaoh, the ruler who had ordered the death of all Hebrew male infants, was moved enough by the sight of Moses in the bulrushes that she risked her father’s wrath and saved the baby’s life. It makes us feel warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it, to think that a woman with so odious a father had such tender feelings for someone she was supposed to hate?

Jesus, however, is less than warm and fuzzy when he talks about the unrepentant towns, the very places where he had done so much of his work. It’ll be worse for you at the end than Sodom, he says, and we all know how despicable Sodom was with its ruthless raping and pillaging and lack of regard for the most basic of respect for other human beings.

The difference, perhaps, is in the awareness that something greater than the temple of ourselves is at work here. Pharaoh’s daughter recognized it in rescuing Moses. She recognized the value of a human life, regardless of her father’s edicts, regardless of the fact that the baby was not an Egyptian. The land of Sodom did not and, even worse, Capernaum did not recognize the Lord when He was in their midst.

Do we?

Pray with the Lord today about where you need to reflect His mercy—and live.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

“Cultivating One Hundred-Fold” by Beth DeCristofaro

Sower with Setting Sun, van Gogh

(Thus says the LORD)  … my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. … But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear. (Matthew 13:3, 8-9)

O Holy Spirit, you who first enkindled in our hearts the joy of the Gospel, renew that same joy…for (those who attended) the Convocation of Catholic Leaders. Enflame the hearts of our bishops and their diocesan delegations; leaders of national organizations and movements; clergy, religious and laity; all who made this event possible; and Catholic leaders across the United States.

Move us to welcome the word of life in the depths of our hearts and respond to the call of missionary discipleship.

O Holy Spirit, transform our hearts and enable us to enter into the perfect communion that you share with the Father and the Son.

Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, pray for us.  Amen.

In Jesus’ day, even the richest soil would not produce a harvest a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.  This is only one amazing among many incredible images in this parable.  The crowds must have wondered just what was this seed that provided such abundance.  Two thousand years later we see the ongoing and prolific harvest which God’s Word has produced in our world.  God’s mercy and goodness are seen and heard every day for those who have ears to hear.  In Cursillo, we practice hearing each other’s stories and sharing our own, of the presence and the influence of God’s word in our lives.  We can practice using our ears to hear the Word which is spoken through many modalities beyond words.   

And, of course, our Church is led and cultivated by many as those in Cursillo understand so well.  The recent Convocation of Catholic Leaders, “inspired by Evangelii Gaudium, this Convocation will form leaders who will be equipped and re-energized to share the Gospel as missionary disciples, while offering fresh insights informed by new research, communications strategies, and successful models.” (USCCB)

Take a few minutes and explore the USCCB website regarding the Convocation.  Watch for opportunities to take action and continue to cultivate the Word in the “rich soil” of our hearts, mind, and spirit.  As God cultivates a hundred-fold in the ready soil of our being, sow God’s Word.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Can I Take the Place of God?

"Have no fear. Can I take the place of God? Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve his present end, the survival of many people. Therefore, have no fear. I will provide for you and for your children." By thus speaking kindly to them, he reassured them.  Genesis 50:19-21

“Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.”  Matthew 10:32

See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, take heart! (Psalm 69:33)

In the readings from Friday, Joseph was finally reunited with his dying father.  Now, after his father is buried in the ancestral grounds, Joseph finishes off his amazing journey of mercy with an ultimate act of forgiveness directed toward his always scheming brothers.  Those brothers continued their jealousy right up to the very end in order to save their own necks.   

Joseph’s humble words ring out across the millennia: “Can I take the place of God?”  Jesus might have been thinking about the example set by his ancestor Joseph when he was giving them the instructions for their mission.  “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.”

Just as Joseph was an example of the responsibility he felt to care for his brothers and their children.  Not only did he offer forgiveness of sins, but in the long line of leaders of the Hebrew Bible, he pledged to care for their widows and children. “Therefore, have no fear. I will provide for you and for your children."

In the spirit of expressing our modern responsibility to care for others, Dorothy Day once said, “The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.”  That rings true as we walk through the debate over health care.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, reacted strongly to the revised Senate health reform bill, the "Better Care Reconciliation Act" (BCRA).

"The USCCB is reviewing carefully the health care bill introduced by Senate leadership earlier today. On an initial read, we do not see enough improvement to change our assessment that the proposal is unacceptable. We recognize the incremental improvement in funding the fight against opioid addiction, for instance, but more is needed to honor our moral obligation to our brothers and sisters living in poverty and to ensure that essential protections for the unborn remain in the bill."

Consider how the Good News calls upon us to acknowledge God and care for his children, especially those who are poor. What can you do to help them take heart and be glad?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

“Giving Without Cost” by Beth DeCristofaro

"I am your brother Joseph, whom you once sold into Egypt. But now do not be distressed, and do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here. It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you." (Genesis 45:4-5)

Jesus said to his Apostles: "As you go, make this proclamation: 'The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost, you are to give. (Matthew 10:7-8)

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;
teach me to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to seek reward,

except that of knowing that I do your will. 
  St. Ignatius Loyola

Kat Sigler
An accepted “truism” these days is that one should be charged a nominal fee for a service, a program, a training so that it will be valued.  Do we value God’s free gifts to us less – Creation, breath, humor, sensitivity, artistic ability (and on and on) because they are free?  Joseph’s brothers would undoubtedly have valued grain with or without a cost because it meant life or death.  Joseph gave them grain and gave them back their money with enormous mercy.  Joseph modeled generosity in a magnificent way, not only forgiving his brothers but dispensing life to a famine-struck world when he and Pharaoh might have instead closed the borders to foreign refugees.  Joseph turned betrayal and danger into the living hands of God reaching out to those in need and in loving embrace of family

Jesus sent the Disciples out to touch people’s lives with free, God-given abundance of faith.  We have the opportunity to be in giving, generous relationships every day but first, we need to recognize and cultivate God’s generosity to each of us.  Freely God gives to us.  Nothing is ours without God’s beneficence and thus freely, joyously, we can give away the love gifted to us.  In fact, when I accept God’s bounty with humble joy, I can begin to also see how privileged is my life.  Free grace blesses me.  Sharing my power in order to empower another, not just handing down charity to the less well-off, becomes my challenge:  Without cost (I) have received; without cost (I am) to give

This week the Senate will again put forward legislation on healthcare.  “Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, has provided a more detailed critique of the Senate "discussion draft" health care bill, dubbed the "Better Care Reconciliation Act" (BCRA).  ‘Removing vital coverage for those most in need is not the answer to our nation's health care problems, and doing so will not help us build toward the common good, said Bishop Dewane. ‘For the sake of persons living on the margins of our health care system, we call on the Senate to reject changes intended to fundamentally alter the social safety net for millions of people.’"[i]

Although Bishop Dewane’s comments were specifically written for the bill which was not voted on, his insights are valid for this week’s debate and bill preparation.  Share what is freely given – alert your Representative and Senator that health care for all people, especially the poor and vulnerable, is essential to the mental and spiritual health of America and certainly is of our generous, giving God. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

“Until You Bless Me” by Melanie Rigney

By Alexander Louis Leloir [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

After (he had taken his household) across the stream and had brought over all his possessions, Jacob was left there alone. Then some man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When the man saw that he could not prevail over him, he struck Jacob's hip at its socket, so that the hip socket was wrenched as they wrestled. The man then said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go until you bless me." (Genesis 32:24-27)

In justice, I shall behold your face, O Lord. (Psalm 17:15a)

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38)

Lord, instill in me the faith that You will see me through my struggles.

It’s easy to turn our backs on God—in the short term. Life has a way of buffeting us about, of illness and disasters and disappointments happening to us or those we love for no discernible earthly reason.

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

Things go all right for a while when we turn away. Oh, sure, it seems weird that Sunday mornings come and go with no Mass, that what was our morning or evening prayer time instead becomes consumed with anger and regret and depression. But we’re still getting by, and it can almost feel good at times to tell God that you and He are finished.

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

And then comes that day, months or years or decades down the road, when we realize that truly, there is no substitute for faith when it comes to getting through this life. Things might not make sense with God all the time, but without Him, nothing makes sense.

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

And it is in that moment, the moment that we grudgingly or fearfully ask for forgiveness and seek His renewed blessing that we realize He never did let go, much as we thought He had.

And neither had we.

Where are you wrestling with God or one of His angels? Hold on to Him… and your faith.

Reaching to the Heavens

Then he had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens; and God's messengers were going up and down on it. And there was the LORD standing beside him and saying: "I, the LORD, am the God of your forefather Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants.  Genesis 28:12-13

While Jesus was speaking, an official came forward, knelt down before him, and said, "My daughter has just died. But come, lay your hand on her, and she will live." Jesus rose and followed him, and so did his disciples.  Matthew 9:18-19

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?  (Robert Browning)

Just as Jacob’s ladder reaches back and forth between heaven and earth, the people who encounter Jesus reach between their lives and the heavenly possibilities that await their faith in Jesus. The faith that the official (Mark and Luke tell us his name is Jairus) and the bleeding woman have in Jesus is now the ladder connecting the miracles made possible. Jesus becomes the physical and spiritual ladder that they reach out to touch and to climb.

Today, Jesus brings Jairus’ daughter back down to earth on the stairway that would have carried her to heaven.  This is one of only three times Jesus performs such a miracle.  The other times involve the widow Nain’s son and Lazarus. 

Those who witness this miracle and the parallel cure of the woman who was bleeding are now at a point when Jesus identity is nearly fully revealed.  Last week, we saw Jesus take command over the natural world by calming the stormy seas. Then, Jesus commanded the spiritual world when he ordered the demoniacs to depart and tossed them into the sea.  Now, Jesus also exhibits his control over the physical world of disease and even death. 

Despite the faith that is on display by Jairus and the woman, people who are mourning the death of the girl continue to doubt and mock Jesus. (“When Jesus arrived at the official’s house and saw the flute-players and the crowd who were making a commotion, he said, “Go away! The girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they ridiculed him.”)  However, Jesus silently gets in the last word simply by taking her hand and bringing her back from the sleep of death. Now, who do you say that He is?  

No matter how hectic our lives may be or may become, step back.  All that glitters is not gold and no amount of money will buy us a rung on the stairway to heaven.

Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains. (I Timothy 6:9-10)

Instead of a quest for money or power, we are on a journey in search of meaning in a world filled with ambiguity just like Jairus and the woman who is bleeding.

If we reach out in the right direction, there is still time to change the road we are on.  We can choose the path of faith as exhibited in today’s Gospel.  Or we can choose the path of ridicule and mockery.  The Piper Jesus is calling on us to join him on the spiritual stairway to heaven.

[Verse 4 – Stairway to Heaven by Jimmy Plant and Robert Page]

If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now
It's just a spring clean for the May queen
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on
And it makes me wonder
Your head is humming and it won't go, in case you don't know
The piper's calling you to join him
Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow, and did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind

Sunday, July 09, 2017

My Yoke is Easy

Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass. Zechariah 9:9

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." Matthew 11:28-30

God, sometimes this world is hard to understand.
And even when we trust you, our hearts still ache.
So we come to you today asking for the hope we need.
Hope that sees past the here and now to the then and there.
Hope that believes what we cannot yet glimpse.
Hope that holds our hearts up in the moments
when life brings us to our knees.
You are the only one who can sustain us.
You are the only one who can save us.
Be the rescuer of our souls, the deliverer of our dreams,
the holder of our hearts.
We believe that even the darkest night must lead to dawn.
We wait with expectation.
Give us Courage. Surround us with Comfort.
Love us through to the other side in a way that only you can.
We put our hope and our hope for those we love, in you.
(by Holly Girth)

To every Jewish person who heard Jesus speak, the word “yoke” means only one thing:  the law.  Michael Card, writing in Matthew: The Gospel of Identity, quotes the Mishnah[i]:

He that takes upon himself the yoke of the law,
from him shall be taken away the yoke of the kingdom
and the yoke of worldly care;
but he that throws off the yoke of the law,
upon him shall be laid the yoke of the kingdom
and the yoke of worldly care. 

Card explains that “kingdom” in this context has to do with repressive empires like Rome, not the Kingdom of God.  The duality here is between the dictates of the dictator and the dictates of the Pharisees. 

In opposition to the belligerent Romans and the rule-making and rule-enforcing Pharisees, Jesus offers a viable and very attractive option.  Jesus offers rest to those who make him their rabbi.  Card says that Jesus “throws off the 613 burdensome commands of old orthodoxy” and instead promises rest for their soul. 

Using the image of a yoke is ironic -- almost contradictory -- to the promise Jesus makes.  Who – or what – wears a yoke?  A yoke is a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (such as oxen or horses) are joined at the heads or necks for working together.  That cross-bar “resting” on their necks seems pretty similar to the horizontal bar of the cross.  

How many times – when you are asked about your personal condition – do you respond to the questioner with a comment about how tired you are even after just waking up from a night’s sleep or a nap?

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” 

This is a powerful message for our over-worked lives and society. Our lives are dictated by our commutes.  Our work schedule is hard to escape with e-mails and voice-mails and internet connectedness.

Today, the Good News asks us to connect instead to Jesus and make him our rabbi. What does it mean today to make Jesus our rabbi?  Bishop Robert Barron – auxiliary from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and leader of the Word on Fire ministry – tells us that in today’s Gospel, Jesus is “identifying every person who feels put upon by the world: economic worries, physical suffering, deep injustice, the death of a husband or wife, or the fear of your own death.”

Bishop Barron reminds us that the answer to our woes is to submit to the pastoral promises of the kingship of Christ. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” We are asked to serve his purposes and go where he wants us to go, not where we want to go.  Barron asks:

Is Christ commanding your life in every detail? Is he the Lord of your family life? Of your recreational life? Of your professional life? Of your sexuality? Of your friendships? Are you totally given over to him, under his lordship?

[i] The Mishnah is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions known as the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic literature.