Monday, July 31, 2017

“Come Along in Our Company” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

Then (Moses) said, “If I find favor with you O LORD, do come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and wins, and receive us as your own.” (Exodus 34:9)

The Lord is kind and merciful. (Psalm 103:8a)

“Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.” (Matthew 13:43)

Lord, You are a challenging traveling companion with Your call to love and obey. I ask for the faith to stay by your side.

Road trips.

They always sound like so much fun—until they begin.

Then you find out your companion likes the vehicle five degrees warmer or colder than you do. You find out that she’s really a morning person, up and chirpy and ready to go before the sun’s up. You find out his idea of on time is within thirty minutes of the appointed time for dinner or the museum. You find out that listening to her discuss the deep inner meaning of a Reuben sandwich for mile after mile when all you want to do is appreciate the scenery is, well, challenging.

But you survive the trip and, generally, the little things that annoyed you along the way fade with time, and you remember with fondness the night you were trapped together at the fado place in Lisbon or the day you got lost together looking for the Building Museum or the great meal you had at that Wisconsin biker bar that happened to be the only place in town to get lunch.

Travel with God’s a lot like any other road trip. Sometimes, His timing appears to be really off. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like He’s going to show up at all, and other times, He talks way too much. But faith gives us the confidence to stay on the journey with Him, faith and those little gifts when we look back and see His footprints all over the times we faced roadblocks and detours. And so, we acknowledge His greatness, seek His forgiveness for the times we whined and complained, and invite the best traveling companion of all to come along in our company.

Identify a spot where your neck is particularly stiff when it comes to your relationship with God. Turn over the navigation to Him for a while, and feel the difference.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Lead the People; Leaven the People

He spoke to them another parable.  "The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened."  Matthew 13:33

The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us.  The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience.

The method presented here is adapted from a technique described by Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius thought that the Examen was a gift that came directly from God and that God wanted it to be shared as widely as possible. One of the few rules of prayer that Ignatius made for the Jesuit order was the requirement that Jesuits practice the Examen twice daily—at noon and at the end of the day. It’s a habit that Jesuits, and many other Christians, practice to this day.
  1. Become aware of God’s presence.  Ask God for the light.  I want to look at my day with God’s eyes, not merely my own.
  2. Review the day with gratitude. Give thanks.  This day I have lived is a gift from God.  Be grateful for it. 
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.  Review the day.  I carefully look back on the day just completed, being guided by the Holy Spirit.
  4. Face your shortcomings.  I face up to what is wrong – in my life and in me.
  5. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.  Look forward toward tomorrow. I ask where I need God in the day to come.

We tend to revere our saints today that it is easy to forget that they were not always, well, saintly.  Ignatius was not always a Christian soldier marching out to war on sin.  He started out in life as a soldier in a different army.  In a profile on Franciscan media, they note that he “was on his way to military fame and fortune when a cannon ball shattered his leg. Because there were no books of romance on hand during his convalescence, Ignatius whiled away the time reading a life of Christ and lives of the saints.”

But for the scarce choices in the library, who knows how else he would have turned out?  What is the library was filled with Fiction, Mysteries or Chemistry books?  What if he only had access to a dog-eared copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince? Thanks to those books on the lives of the saints, Ignatius brought about the creation and rise of the Society of Jesus.  Perhaps it is fitting that this former military officer is the patron saint of “retreats.”

The ideas in those books helped transform Ignatius and bring out a new spirituality in his life.  Those books and his subsequent formation were the yeast in his life, leavening his piety, study, and action.

Today, like the woman in the parable, when you bake bread, you typically add yeast to help the dough ferment and rise.  It adds air and lightness to the dough. 

For our Catholic Masses, we do not use the standard bread that we might find in our own pantries. There is no yeast.  We use bread baked without any leavening (rising) ingredient. Bread has to be made ONLY from wheat and water with no additional ingredients.

One of the reasons why Catholics celebrate an unleavened Eucharist is very simple. We just never changed it from the kind of bread used at the Last Supper, the Passover Seder. 

Leaven implies introducing something that enlivens, tempers, or markedly alters the total quality.  It modifies something or transforms it for the better.

However, yeast also is a symbol of corruption.  The notes in the NADRE explain that “yeast, which induces fermentation, is a natural symbol for a source of corruption that becomes all-pervasive.”  The purest bread for Sabbath is made without yeast.  If the woman put yeast in the flour, it would be ruined for use on the Sabbath. Reminders of the bad qualities of yeast permeate the New Testament.

However, yeast also has a positive meaning.  Really, where else do we see fermentation at work in the Bible?  For some reason, we want the bread to be pure but not the grape juice. That we want to be fermented into wine. After crushing the grapes, we have to add wine yeast for the fermentation process to begin.

So, yeast also is symbolic of infusion.  Wine yeast implants a new quality, trait or idea. When the winemaker pours in the yeast, it gives those grapes a new kick. 

Jesus was that leaven.  Jesus, the Bread of Life, could rise up on his own.  He could raise us up with him on the last day.  Jesus instilled those around him with the intellectual curiosity to rise up and complete further study. The woman at the well evangelizing her neighbors.  Zacchaeus climbing the tree.  Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night.  Matthew leaving his tax collection.  Peter leaving his nets. 

Leaven also is something that makes a situation or mood less serious.  Our word “leaven” comes from the Latin levare to raise.   It helps you to raise things up – the mood, the alcohol content, the bread.  It works a bit like the simple machine we called the lever in science class. 

When else did we talk about a lever?  During the “Palanca” talk!  Remember that “Palanca” is the Spanish word for a lever.  Not only is prayer and sacrifice a Palanca or lever.  You are Palanca.  You are leaven.

What will you leaven in your environment this week?  Where do you need God in the day to come?

What Do You “Find” Of Great Value? By Phil Russell

“Solomon answered: “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding Heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” 1Kings 3:5,7-12

“For those he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30

“Do you understand these things?” They answered, “Yes.”  Matthew 13:44-52

All these past few weeks of “Ordinary Time,” Jesus has been teaching the disciples with Parables. 

Today, we are the disciples that Jesus is teaching.

In Bible times, the writers knew that Wisdom from God was a matter of “life or death.” Solomon understood that as did the prophets.

We need to have “an understanding Heart” and know that the “Pearl of great price” is Salvation that He has procured and secured for us.

Do we just answer glibly “Yes, I'm saved.” when asked?

Are we willing to sell or give up all, for the sake of the One who has “saved us”?

Have we really, really answered “Yes” to His call?

Are we willing to even risk the comfort of “self” to take a decided stand for JESUS?

Remember, the bottom line here is...”LOVE!”

Are you willing to?

Michael Card, “The Things We Leave Behind”

There sits Simon,
so foolishly wise
proudly he's tending his nets
Then Jesus calls,
and the boats drift away
all that he owns he forgets
More than the nets
he abandoned that day,
he found that his pride was soon drifting away
It's hard to imagine the freedom we find
from the things, we leave behind

Matthew was mindful
of taking the tax,
pressing the people to pay
Hearing the call,
he responded in faith
followed the Light and the Way
Leaving the people
so puzzled he found,
the greed in his heart
was no longer around and
it's hard to imagine
the freedom we find
from the things we leave behind

Every heart needs to be set free,
from possessions that hold it so tight
'Cause freedom's not found in the things that we own,
It's the power to do what is right
Jesus, our only possession,
giving becomes our delight
We can't imagine the freedom we find
from the things, we leave behind

We show a love for the world in our lives
by worshipping goods we possess
Jesus has laid all our treasures aside
“love God above all the rest”
'Cause when we say 'no'
to the things of the world
we open our hearts
to the love of the Lord and
it’s hard to imagine
the freedom we find
from the things, we leave behind
Oh, and it's hard to imagine
the freedom we find
from the things
we leave behind

Saturday, July 29, 2017

We Will Heed and Do

Taking the book of the covenant, he read it aloud to the people, who answered, "All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do." Exodus 24:7

Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me." The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her." Luke 10:40-42


Another Saturday, another woman saint to lead us by example.  Last week, it was Mary Magdalene.  Today, St. Martha of Bethany, half of the indomitable sister-pair with Mary to provide lessons in servant-leaders, obedience, and priority setting.

Setting priorities to follow the Lord was established as the foundation in the first reading from Exodus.  Not a bad example for a great talk on Ideal for Day One of a Cursillo Weekend experience.  The people pledge that they will follow as commanded.  However, we know, that the people will betray their promise and worship the golden calf. 

Mary and Martha take two authentic yet opposite approaches to serving the Lord.  One is the better path…the path marked by quiet, contemplative listening. Even though Mary has left Martha with all the opus of holy hospitality, Jesus refuses to rebuke Mary for heeding and doing what he commands. Mary embodies the unfulfilled promise of the Israelites. Martha embodies the pressures they and we face in life – pressures that divert us from the path we intend to travel.

Martha atones for her distraction when Jesus returns to Bethany to stand beside the gravesite of her dead brother Lazarus.  Mary sat at home but Martha went to meet him.  She then invites her sister to join them – moving from hospitality to evangelization – bringing companions closer to Christ. It was only after the death of her brother that Martha escaped her preoccupation with other takes and exhibits her faith.

This is not unlike the atonement experienced by Mr. Glenn Holland in his movie epic.  Holland (played masterfully by Richard Dreyfuss) is a frustrated composer who initially finds fulfillment as a music teacher.  However, that fulfillment is threatened by the challenge of raising a deaf son. 

Holland attempts to escape his responsibilities by plunging himself into his teaching, his unfinished symphony and potentially being tempted to have an affair with a talented student. Fulfillment only comes after he returns to his focus on his family after these psychological diversions from obedience to his commitments. 

Among his sins of omission/commission are “seeing and not seeing” and “hearing and not hearing.” Holland was very Martha-like. She saw the Lord but at first did not pay attention to what was happening around her because she was wrapped up in her hospitality.
Holland exhibits an inability (and unwillingness) to see and hear his son until his son confronts him with the reality of his neglect.  Maybe that is partially due to his disappointment – the musician cannot perform for his own son who ironically was named for the great jazz performer John Coltrane.

Mr. Holland also experiences atonement and a resurrection of sorts. It was only in the “death” of Mr. Holland's career that his love of Cole and the unfinished symphony came to life. The touching reconciliation comes when Cole is in the audience “listening” to the performance of “The American Symphony” by Glenn Holland.  (If you are an easy “cry-er, enjoy this scene.  If not, it will make you one. I could watch this forever.)

Martha could be the patron saint of distractions and a key figure in modern life. Despite having the good fortune to be a personal friend of Jesus, at first, she did not realize what gift was placed right before her. According to one essay, Jesus came to their home simply as a welcomed guest, rather than as one celebrating the conversion of a sinner like Zacchaeus or one unceremoniously received by a suspicious Pharisee. The sisters feel free to call on Jesus at the time of their brother’s death, even though a return to Judea at that time seems almost certain death.

Imagine someone knocking on your door with the message Martha bears: “The teacher is here and is asking for you.” What is distracting you from the message until you can say, "All that the LORD has said, I will heed and do."

Martha is actually the patron of Housewives and Domestic workers because she willingly served Jesus.  Ask St. Martha to help you set aside your distractions because “the teacher is here and He is asking for you” to serve somebody. You’re gonna’ have to serve somebody.

Image by Noah Pascua Gutierrez (Philippines):

Thursday, July 27, 2017

“Wisdom for the Simple” by Colleen O’Sullivan

In those days:  God delivered all these commandments:  I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.  You shall not have other gods besides me.  (Exodus 20:1-3)

R.  Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.  (John 6:68c)
The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the Lord is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.  (Psalm 19:8)

Jesus said to his disciples: “Hear the parable of the sower.  The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the Kingdom without understanding it, and the Evil One comes and steals away what was sown in his heart…  The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.”  (Matthew 13:18-19, 22)

Lord, as the Master Tiller, prepare the soil of my heart to be ready and receptive to receive the seeds that are your Word.

“The decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple,” says the psalmist.  If only more people in the world realized that we are the simple ones and that God’s a whole lot better at running the universe than any of us will ever be, hard as we may try.

I was struck by the opening of today’s reading from the Book of Exodus.  These commandments aren’t meant to be onerous burdens.  The God who gives us this gift is the same God who loved the Hebrew people so much he went to great lengths to free them from slavery in Egypt, testing Pharaoh time and again with various plagues, and going so far as to part the waters of the sea so those fleeing could escape from Pharaoh’s army. It’s the same God who sends his Son into the world to be one with us, to die for us, to be raised from the dead that we might share in eternal life with Jesus. 

The commandments are about God’s love for us and God’s desire for us to live with as little pain and suffering as possible.  The first few commandments highlight the difference between being human and being God.  Left to our own devices, we often reverse the order of things and mistakenly behave as though we are in charge of our lives.  Or we get confused and worship things of this world rather than God.  Either way, when we forget to acknowledge the one, true God, we end up making ourselves miserable.  Our efforts are doomed to failure.  God would like to spare us that.

Maybe God would like to save us from the exhaustion of a 24/7 society.  God tells us to observe a Sabbath day, a holy day of rest.  Even God took a day off when creating the universe!   Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could have one day of nothing but worship and renewal every week?  Who knows, we might even put down our iPhones and tablets to reacquaint ourselves with family and friends in the flesh!  Having the chance to recharge our batteries would help the rest of the week go a lot better for many of us.

God’s commandments are not old-fashioned.  On the contrary, they seem very practical and down to earth centuries after being imparted to us.  What if no one told lies, for example?  What if we didn’t look at everything with suspicion as to its verity?  There’d be no fake news.  We could believe politicians as well as everyone else.  What a concept.

What if we gave up killing, stealing, and wishing for things that belong to someone else?  No more murders on our streets or in our homes.  No more late night robberies at convenience stores.  No more road rage shootings.  No more envy and jealousy wrecking relationships. There’d be no need for police, court systems, or prisons.

What if children honored their parents because the parents respected and honored their children?  What if there were no need for Child Protection Services?  What if families stayed intact, not torn apart by lack of fidelity on the parents’ parts?  

I know I’m dreaming.  We’re sinners.  We’re never going to be perfect.  But what if we took another look at God’s commandments and saw their relevance to our lives today?  Would we be any more likely to take them seriously?

Today’s Gospel reading presents us with an interpretation of the Parable of the Sower highlighting the various types of soil God’s word encounters as it sown.   What kind of soil resides in your heart when it comes to God’s commandments? 

“Convert and Heal My Heart” by Beth DeCristofaro

…the LORD added, "Go to the people and have them sanctify themselves today and tomorrow. Make them wash their garments and be ready for the third day; for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai before the eyes of all the people." (Exodus 19:10-11)

You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted and I heal them. (Matthew 15:13)

Open my eyes, Lord
Help me to see your face
Open my eyes, Lord
Help me to see

Open my ears, Lord
Help me to hear your voice
Open my ears, Lord
Help me to hear

Open my heart, Lord
Help me to love like you
Open my heart, Lord
Help me to love

And the last shall be first
And our eyes are opened
And we'll hear like never before
And we'll speak in new ways
And we'll see God's face in places we've never known

I live within you
Deep in your heart, O Love
I live within you
Rest now in me
 “Open My Eyes”[i]

From the dawn of time, God invites humans to be in relationship with divinity and with each other. We are so relational. Time and again more comes from the relationship than just an A + B = C.

Recently our cousin met a new neighbor while moving into a 55+ community. As my cousin’s home was being built this new neighbor invited her for lunch or to sit in comfort while waiting for contractors. They began to trade stories and realized that this was more than nascent friendship. They discovered that they are “long lost” cousins. Grandfathers who were brothers lost touch with each other due to distance. Now, almost one hundred years later, granddaughters will be neighbors, a God caress not only unlooked for but a reunion for those who did not even realize they had “lost” their relatives.

Friends with whom we keep in touch through social media now that their retirement home is far away called us to tell us about another God moment revealed in an ordinary encounter between people. Our friends were making small talk with another couple, passing the time while waiting, only to hear mention of what they recognized as our Alma Mater. Our friends relayed to us the contact information for two former college friends not heard from in over 30 years. New friendships forging, old friendships rekindling. Let those who have eyes see, let those who have ears hear.

Jesus’ graciously welcomes: be converted and I heal them. How can we reach out today to someone, perhaps with whom we do not agree? Listen to her, look at him, allow her/him – child of God – to touch our hearts?

[i] “Open My Eyes”, Jesse Manibusan, Copyright: 1970, 1988, 1998

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Produced Fruit

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Tell the whole Israelite community: Present yourself before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.” Exodus 16:9

“But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear." Matthew 13:8-9

Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.

If you think you are hearing or seeing double with today’s readings, then check back on the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Just ten days ago, we had nearly an identical passage in the Sunday Gospel.

Among the changes, today, we have another installment of the Exodus journey instead of the reading from Isaiah. We are with Moses and the Israelites as they cross the wilderness of Sin. Be careful, this is not a metaphorical use of the term Sin. Sin, for today, is a physical place that existed between Elim and Sinai.

Despite the blessing of freedom, the Hebrews continued on without enough food to eat. Many grumbled that they preferred to have plenty to eat but to live in physical captivity and slavery to Egypt rather than to experience freedom with hunger.

Such deprivation is hard to fathom. Our summer of 2017 is filled with fresh fruit stands and farmer’s markets. We get our tasty Georgia peaches and succulent corn on the cob from Homestead, Florida not to mention salads filled with those meaty Jersey tomatoes. It is hard to image crossing the barren desert let alone the planting season which happened months ago in order to yield such a harvest of plenty to us. Add to this the rains of the past few days, and we cannot imagine the pain of dying from thirst. The experience of wilderness is hard to imagine.

The seeds (for us) have all landed on rich soil and corporate farms that bring the produce produced from the farm to the warehouse, from the warehouse to the store, from the store to the table. 

Think about that famous disciple Andy Dufresne, from The Shawshank Redemption. Despite being in captivity for a crime he said he did not commit, Andy did not concern himself with his personal, selfish needs. He tried to make the community better for all.

Think about the scene when it was a hot summer day and a crew of prisoners was slathering boiling tar on the roof of the prison. Andy overheard one of the prison guards complaining about the tax bite that he would have to pay from a pending inheritance. Breaking the work ranks, he took some wild, undisciplined action. Andy went over to the guard and offered to set up a gift trust for the guard’s wife so he could keep everything. Andy offered himself and his talents to the community. The small fee he requested was three cold beers for each of his fellow prisoners.

Shawshank Redemption - Roof Scene
"I only ask three beers apiece for each of my co-workers. I think a man working outdoors feels more like a man if he can have a bottle of suds," Andy told him. By the second to last day, the men were drinking icy, cold, bohemian-style beer.

“…And that’s how it came to pass that the convict crew that tarred the plate factory roof in the spring of 1949 wound up sitting in a row at 10 o’clock in the morning drinking icy cold bohemia-style beer,” in the words of Red, his prison pal. "We were the lords of all creation. We sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders like free men."

The Shawshank Redemption - Roof Scene
Anyone who thinks the movie scene is about the cold beer should watch it over again. Andy’s selflessness contrasts with the selfishness of the grumbling in the desert. Rather than grumbling on the roof, Andy refused to give in and tried to make everyone feel normal – even if just for a few minutes.

Jesus is our modern-day beer truck delivery driver. He wants us to have our fill and our freedom. He doesn’t have a physical truck so the manna or the beer falls from the sky. The dinner quail land nearby.

Anyone who thinks the scene from Exodus is about the manna or quail should read it over again. That manna in the desert needed no normal corporate farmer. Our heavenly farmer threw seeds on our barren soil and it produced great fruit. Andy threw the seeds of his idea across the roof to see what would come of the idea.

Manna and sowing remind us of things other than famous movie scenes – things like the communion experience. We bring our sin-filled, barren selves to the altar and get our manna. The heavenly farmer shares all he has with us – from the cross to the communicant; from the seminary to the sanctuary; from the sanctuary to the streets. We walk away in an “altared” state. Grace-filled. Satisfied. Altered. Going in peace to serve the world three cold beers apiece.

We may not be asked to take the Good News to the roof of a prison work detail but we are asked nonetheless, to spread it like those inmates spread the hot tar.  

Nativity Parish (Burke, VA) Pastor Fr. Bob Celinski wrote in the church bulletin (ten days ago) that the sower in the parable that Jesus told was a wild, undisciplined farmer.

Instead of plowing the fertile ground and responsibly planting it like a normal farmer, he wanders down an unlikely path and throws seed everywhere in the most random way imaginable. Fistfuls of seed land on the path, and rocks, and thorns. Only by some chance does the seed end up in some rich soil that produces a yield. Surprisingly Jesus doesn't say "Don't be like this careless farmer.” Instead, Jesus compares himself to the sower! It is His will that the gospel be shared not just in Cathedrals but in prisons and rehab centers, in hospitals, the marketplace and in back alleys. What unlikely places have you taken this good news?

What is your manna and quail to share? Where are you sharing manna and quail? What unlikely places have you taken this good news? 

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.