Thursday, August 17, 2017

“Give Credit Where Credit is Due” by Colleen O’Sullivan

“I gave you a land that you had not tilled
and cities that you had not built, to dwell in;
you have eaten of vineyards and olive groves
which you did not plant.”  (Joshua 24:13)

Suscipe, St. Ignatius of Loyola
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

Sometimes I wonder how the Suscipe prayer is prayed around the world.  If we lived in a place where we didn’t have so many material goods at our disposal, would it be easier to give God thanks for what we do have?  If we lived in a country that wasn’t a major player on the world stage, would it be easier to give God the glory due to God?  If we lived under a repressive government, what would we mean when we returned to God our freedom or liberty?  What if every day were a struggle to survive till the next? Would we be willing to return to God the precious gift of food and water that enables us to see another day?

One of my friends works with missionaries in remote areas of the world.  I once asked him if he thought the Gospel sounded like better news to people who have nothing to speak of than it does to those of us who have so much.  Without hesitation, he said, yes.

It seems to me that the danger in having so much is the ease with which we forget where it all comes from.  It’s so easy to say: What I have, I worked for.  I studied hard and went far in school.  I worked hard and won many promotions in my job.  I am the best soccer mom.  I have my family’s life all organized and under control.  I have good kids because I keep the communications channels open.  I…  I…  I…  I…

Joshua, nearing the end of his run as Israel’s leader and about to turn the reins over to the judges, reminds the people that they didn’t make it to the Promised Land on their own steam.  He goes all the way back to Abraham’s day in reciting all that God has done for and given to God’s people.  God says they are living on land they haven’t worked, in cities they never built, and on the fruit of vineyards and olive groves they never planted.  It’s all been gifts from God.

It would be difficult to pray about giving something back if we didn’t acknowledge it as a gift from God in the first place.  Tonight, when you pray, look back over your day.  Look at whatever you feel good about during the day and would ordinarily take credit for.  Could it be that it isn’t just you who was responsible, but God who was behind it all?  

We might find that we’re much more recipients of God’s love and grace than authors of our own triumphs and successes.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

“Freed by Forgiveness” by Beth DeCristofaro

Forgiveness has the power to bring harmony within and with others

The priests carr(ied) the ark of the covenant ahead of them. No sooner had these priestly bearers of the ark waded into the waters at the edge of the Jordan, which overflows all its banks during the entire season of the harvest, than the waters flowing from upstream halted, backing up in a solid mass for a very great distance indeed. (Joshua 3:14-16)

… he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt … His master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?' Then in anger, his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So, will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart." (Matthew 18:30-35)

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil, Amen.

Joshua’s account of God stopping the flow of water in a river is one more miraculous, astounding God-action in Sacred Scripture. Of course, God, who produced water from a rock and gave water from his own body on the cross could perform such actions. But when I consider the flowing force of vindictiveness and anger which I have experienced in moments when forgiveness is called for, I have a new understanding of just how miraculous this action is. And I have a new appreciation that without God’s divine participation, I cannot completely stop that flow and replace it with life-giving mercy.

Jesus’ story is pretty horrific. That the servant, treated with compassion, viciously hurled an associate into jail just does not make sense. Such a cruel action is, of course, to be denounced and not replicated. However, in sacred stillness, listening honestly to Jesus’ guidance, I can identify times when I have “jailed” someone with the silent treatment, or my contempt, or even disparaging her to others or seeking to undermine him. These tortures are too often employed and disregarded for what they truly are: dehumanizing.

Even Neo-Nazis can be forgiven, as the father and mother of Heather Heyer said, as Shirrene Goss said. Tywanza Sanders, Shirrene’s brother, was murdered in “Mother Emanuel” AME Church, Charleston, by a white supremacist. But are we willing to put the effort into living a forgiving life which seeks to see Jesus’ face and offer Jesus’ mercy – humanizing – others? Who needs my forgiveness? Shall I begin with myself?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

In the Midst or Face-to-Face

Since then no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. He had no equal in all the signs and wonders the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh and all his servants and against all his land, and for the might and the terrifying power that Moses exhibited in the sight of all Israel. Deuteronomy 34:10-12

Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Matthew 18:18-20

The Prayer of St. Francis de Sales
Be at Peace
Do not look forward in fear to the changes of life;
rather look to them with full hope as they arise.
God, whose very own you are,
will deliver you from out of them.
He has kept you hitherto,
and He will lead you safely through all things;
and when you cannot stand it,
God will bury you in his arms.

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow;
the same everlasting Father who cares for you today
will take care of you then and every day.
He will either shield you from suffering,
or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace,
and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.
St. Francis de Sales 1567-1622

This is all that Jesus wants: To be in our midst and answer our prayers. To have a relationship with us like He did with Moses: face-to-face! These are the two aspects of the Lord’s sought-after relationship with us. First, the personal. He wants to know us face-to-face. Second, the communal. He wants to know the kind of company we keep.

If we maintain such dual-aspects in our relationship with Jesus, the commandments almost become immaterial. If Jesus is our friend, would we not do whatever our friend wants?  We come to the table as a community gathered around the Divine presence. When it comes time to eat, Jesus comes into our mind, body, and soul individually.

Every scene in Matthew’s book is about Jesus being in the midst of a community or building a relationship with an individual. Matthew even starts off with the file for Jesus. A long line of individuals who make up the community of the family and descendants.

Jesus does not want to be the stranger on a distant shore wondering from afar whether we have caught any fish. If he can’t walk on water to our boat, he invites us to join him on the beach to share the fruits of our labor with him.

That is a relationship in a nutshell. That is Cursillo in a nutshell. That is Christianity in a nutshell.

Make a list of the individuals and communities who have had a relationship with Jesus during Ordinary Time this year.

Communities include Bethlehem, Egypt, Galilee, the town where he had the swine thrown into the sea; and the hillside where he fed the five thousand. What other communities are on your list?

Individual relationships include Mary and by extension her relationship with her cousin Elizabeth, Zechariah, and the baby John; Joseph; the Nativity visitors; the Centurion and others. Who else is on your list?

The list goes on with the individuals and the communities that touch Jesus in his ministry and those who were touched by Jesus. The Gospel of Jesus does not involve “going to church” or “fulfilling our Easter duty” or a “Holy Day of Obligation.” In fact, do you know how many times the actual word “church” appears in the New Testament?

Only twice. Once in today’s Good News. The only other time the word “church” is used is when Jesus commissions Peter. You are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church. (Matthew 16:18) 

Jesus’ church (Greek ekklēsia) means the community that he will gather. It is all about a community of individuals. It is not at all about buildings, capital campaigns, or parking lots. Construction is just a metaphor. Like a building, our first Christian community featured Peter as its solid foundation. That function of Peter consists in his being a personal and community witness to Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Now, it falls to us to cultivate that personal and community witness. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

“In Every Generation” by Melanie Rigney

She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne. The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God. (Revelation 12:5-6)

The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold. (Psalm 45:10bc)

The last enemy to be destroyed is death, for “he subjected everything under his feet.”(1 Corinthians 15:26-27)

And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his Name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.” (Luke 1:46-50)

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, hail, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve: to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears. Turn then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus, O merciful, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary! Amen.

She is perfect, of course, born without the taint of original sin. But she need not be some distant, unreachable figure, some beautiful woman on an icon. Mary is real.

Mary is real in the example of surrender she sets for us. Nearly a child herself, she gives her fiat to God’s plan, and has the wisdom to give honor to Him, and know that this is all about Him, not about the gossip and ridicule to which she will be subjected.

Mary is real in the example of faithfulness she sets for us. She soldiers on, despite what she hears from Simeon at the Presentation, despite her Son’s protest at Cana that it’s not time.

Mary is real in the example of fearlessness she sets for us. She sets aside her own agony and sorrow to be present to her beloved son at the Crucifixion because she knew this is all about Him, not about her.

Mary is real in her Canticle, thanking the Lord for looking upon her with favor and proclaiming His greatness. In her examples of surrender, faithfulness, and fearlessness, may we be guided to find and live our own Canticle.


Pray with Mary today in gratitude for the great things the Almighty has done for you.

Credit on the tapestry image: By Tangopaso (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

No Favorites

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and be no longer stiff-necked. For the LORD, your God is the God of gods, the LORD of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes; who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and befriends the alien, feeding and clothing him. Deuteronomy 10:16-18

As Jesus and his disciples were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day." And they were overwhelmed with grief. Matthew 17:22-23

St. Heather Heyer, presente!  Pray for us!

Catholics celebrate the feast day of St. Maximilian Kolbe today.  His story of active Nazi resistance is indeed a story for our time that is especially relevant in light of the activities in Charlottesville last weekend.   

Fr. Kolbe was a Franciscan who was arrested twice by the Germans.  The first time it was because Kolbe refused to sign a document that would recognize him as a German citizen with his German ancestry and continued to work in his monastery, providing shelter for refugees - including hiding 2,000 Jews from German persecution. After receiving permission to continue his religious publishing, Kolbe's monastery acted as a publishing house again and issued many anti-Nazi German publications.[i]

The Nazis arrested Kolbe a second time for the crime of publishing anti-Nazi propaganda.  They sent him to the concentration camp at Auschwitz.   According to a story written by Matthew Hennessey in the Wall Street Journal last week:

After a small group of prisoners escaped in July 1941, the camp’s notorious disciplinarian, Lagerführer Karl Fritzsch, decided to set an example by starving 10 others to death. Franciszek Gajowniczek, a Polish army sergeant, was among those selected to die. Gajowniczek begged that his life be spared on account of his wife and children. Kolbe volunteered to take his place.

“I want to go instead of the man who was selected,” Kolbe said. “He has a wife and family. I am alone. I am a Catholic priest.” For whatever reason, Fritzch agreed.[ii]

Kolbe was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982.

Who among us could have done what St. Maximilian Kolbe did – voluntarily
accepting martyrdom?  In the spirit of Kolbe, 
the USCCB spoke out over the weekend in very forceful terms about the events in Charlottesville.  Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, called on people of goodwill to join in prayer and unity in response to the violent protest and deadly attack in Charlottesville, Virginia.  The protests lead to an attack that killed Heather Heyer and injured at least 19.  Two other deaths were of Virginia State Police when their helicopter crashed while deployed to the site.

 "As we learn more about the horrible events of yesterday, our prayer turns today, on the Lord's Day, to the people of Charlottesville who offered a counter example to the hate marching in the streets. Let us unite ourselves in the spirit of hope offered by the clergy, people of faith, and all people of good will who peacefully defended their city and country. 
We stand against the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-nazism. We stand with our sisters and brothers united in the sacrifice of Jesus, by which love's victory over every form of evil is assured.  At Mass, let us offer a special prayer of gratitude for the brave souls who sought to protect us from the violent ideology displayed yesterday. Let us especially remember those who lost their lives.  Let us join their witness and stand against every form of oppression."

The first USCCB statement (issued Saturday) invoked the spirit of St. Peter Claver, S.J., the patron of African missions and of interracial justice. However, more immediately relevant on the Roman Liturgical calendar is Monday's Memorial of St. Maximilian.  Fellow (contemporary) Jesuit Fr. James Martin echoed the condemnation with a theological statement in the spirit of the living and loving God.

In the Gospels, Jesus asks us to love one another, to place others’ needs before our own, even to die for one another. The idea of “supremacy" is absurd to Jesus.  Indeed, Jesus tells us explicitly that we are never to “lord” power over others, and that we are to be one another’s “servants” (Mk. 10: 42-43)

The idea that anyone is “less than” because of his or her race is likewise antithetical to Jesus’s message. For example, in his day the Samaritans were avoided, despised and even shunned by the majority of the Jewish people.

Yet Jesus not only speaks to a Samaritan woman, and reveals his divinity to her, but he also makes the hero of one of his most well-known parables the “Good Samaritan.” (John 4; Lk 10)

He even encounters a Roman centurion, someone completely outside of his religion, speaks with him, heals his servant, and praises his faith (Matthew 8:5-13).

So, for Jesus, there is no “us” and them.” No one should be made by the community into an “other,” as white supremacists do to non-whites. There is only us.

More basically, racism goes against everything that Jesus taught. It promotes hatred, not love; anger, not compassion; vengeance not mercy. It is a sin.  So “Christian white supremacist” is an oxymoron. Every time you shout “White Power!” you might as well be shouting “Crucify him!”

And any time you lift your hand in a Nazi salute, you might as well be lifting your hand to nail Jesus to the Cross.

And lest you miss the point, your Savior is Jewish.

If you cannot visit Charlottesville to take part in the counter protests, in the spirit of St. Maximillian Kolbe and St. Peter Claver, share the USCCB statement or Fr. Martin’s statement with your social networks.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

“Out of the Boat” by Diane Bayne

During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.  "It is a ghost," they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid."

Peter said to him in reply, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come."  Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!"

Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, "Truly, you are the Son of God." (Mt. 14:25-33)

When you feel like you’re in the middle of a great storm and feel like you’re sinking into the deep, recall the prayer of Blessed John Henry Newman, known as the Anima Christi:

Soul of Christ, be my sanctification,
Body of Christ, be my salvation,
Blood of Christ, fill all my veins;
Water of Christ’s side, wash out my stains,
Passion of Christ, my comfort be,
O good Jesu, listen to me;
In thy wounds, I fain would hide;
Ne’re to be parted from Thy side;
Guard me, should the foe assail me;
Call me when my life shall fail me;
Bid me come to Thee above,
With Thy saints to sing Thy love,
World without end. Amen.

In “The Gospel of St. Matthew-Volume Two” section of his Daily Bible Study Series, William Barclay notes that, in the hour of the disciples’ need, Jesus came to them.  As Barclay points out: “In life, the wind is often contrary. There are times when we are up against it and life is a desperate struggle with ourselves, our circumstances, with our temptations, with our sorrows, with our decisions.  At such a time, no man need struggle alone, for Jesus comes to him with his calm clear voice bidding us take heart and have no fear. . . this story is the sign and the symbol of what he always does for his people when the wind is contrary and we are in danger of being overwhelmed by the storms of life.”  (p. 106)

Barclay concludes that, wherever Jesus Christ is, the wildest storm becomes calm.

In his letters, St. Francis deSales tells of a custom in his country.  When a farm girl goes to draw water from a well, before lifting the brimming pail, the girl always puts a piece of wood into it.  When he asked the girl why she did that, she replied, “To keep the water from spilling. . . to keep it steady.”  Writing to a friend, Francis told this story and added: “So, when your heart is distressed and agitated, put the Cross into its center to keep it steady.”

As we learn from today’s gospel, we can do nothing better in time of trouble than to focus on the Lord who is always close by and ready to calm the storms of our life.

Bring the Boy Here to Me

Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:6-9

Jesus rebuked him and the demon came out of him, and from that hour the boy was cured. Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and said, "Why could we not drive it out?" He said to them, "Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."  Matthew 17:18-20

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master-builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

*This excerpt is from a full prayer composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, drafted for a homily by Card. John Dearden in Nov. 1979 for a celebration of departed priests. As a reflection on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Romero, Bishop Untener included in a reflection book a passage titled "The mystery of the Romero Prayer." The mystery is that the words of the prayer are attributed to Oscar Romero, but they were never spoken by him.

Today’s passage from the Hebrew Bible starts off with an expansion of the first commandment:

Hear, O Israel!  The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.

This is the cornerstone of the Book of Deuteronomy (words) that laid down Mosaic Law.  Since the Lord alone is God, we must love God with an undivided heart. Jesus cited these words as “the greatest and the first commandment,” embracing in itself the whole law of God.  Luke’s natural extension added one “dependent” clause to express the New Testament’s Greatest Commandment in one sentence. 

He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

If you know these laws, to where does it lead?  If nothing is impossible with God, what else do we need?  The story that Matthew related tells us: Faith. 

If we have faith, then nothing will be impossible for us because God is on our side. Maybe another way to express that commandment is in Jesus’ other words today: “Bring the boy here to me."

Time after time, Jesus tells the disciples to bring to him whatever is the source of the trouble, and he will take care of the rest.

What have you tried to move from here to there?

My mother spent her last five years living in a special care center.  We knew that she was experiencing the early signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia for years.  But it became particularly evident at Mass one night.  It was time for Communion and we were seated only three of four rows back.  As we stood up, she had no idea where to go or what to do with assistance. 

My brother and sister who lived closest took on the task of how to move this mountain of independence from the comfort zone of her apartment to the local care center. Even though we knew we were choosing the right thing, it was not an easy choice to get to completion. She did not want to go.  Then, when she got there, she did not want to stay.  She “rebuked” my siblings at every step along the way.  Eventually, she stopped resisting and lived in comfort and safety. 

What mountains have you tried to move?  Maybe you need to fully rely on God. Bring the mountain to God so God and your faith, working together, can move that mountain.  If you remain on your lily pad with your problem, there is no way for Jesus to help.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Remembering by Colleen O’Sullivan

Moses said to the people: “Ask now of the days of old, before your time, ever since God created man upon earth; ask from one end of the sky to the other:  Did anything so great ever happen before?  Was it ever heard of?...  Out of the heavens, He let you hear his voice to discipline you; on Earth, he let you see his great fire, and you heard him speaking out of the fire.  For love of your fathers, he chose their descendants and personally led you out of Egypt by his great power, driving out of your way nations greater and mightier than you, so as to bring you in and to make their land your heritage, as it is today.  This is why you must now know and fix in your heart, that the Lord is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other.  (Deuteronomy 4:32, 36-39)

I remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I remember your wonders of old.  And I meditate on your works; your exploits I ponder.  (Psalm 77:12-13)

O Lord, God of all in heaven and earth, open my eyes each day to your continuing acts of goodness. 

In today’s first reading, Moses invites the people of Israel to join with him on a journey of remembrance.  “Did anything so great ever happen before?” he asks the people.   He gives them examples – God speaking to them from the fire, God choosing them for God’s own, and God going so far as to confound nations greater than Israel so that Israel could make it to the land promised them. 

At one point in their history, the people of Israel saw their God as the most powerful god among many.  Here, however, Moses declares that there never were any other gods!  There is only this one God, the one who has done so much out of love for God’s people. 

Remembering is a good thing.  Remembering can serve to strengthen the bonds between us.  Think about the times we gather with family to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, holidays, baptisms, and even funerals.  Inevitably, someone will start reminiscing and pretty soon everyone is caught up in “remembering when.”  Those family memories are a sign of all that binds us together.

Moses mentions the wondrous acts of God as ties that bind the people to their God and to each other.  In the wilderness, there were times when all this was forgotten.  When the people were hungry, they didn’t put their trust in God to feed them; they wished to return to slavery in Egypt, where they at least had something to eat.  They forgot God’s faithfulness to them and built themselves a golden calf to worship when Moses wasn’t around.  Remember, Moses says, the amazing, loving acts of our God.  The memories keep us in relationship with God.

The great and wondrous deeds of our God continue to manifest themselves throughout history.  When we think of Jesus, the Son of God, who could have remained with his Father and the Holy Spirit, willingly coming to earth to take on our humanity, Moses’ questions are equally relevant:  Did anything so great ever happen before?  Was it ever heard of?   Or a God whose Son died for us, taking our sins to the Cross that we could be forgiven.  A God who raised his Son from the dead that we could share in eternal life in God’s Kingdom.   Did anything so great ever happen before?  Was it ever heard of?

God continues to work amazing deeds today in your lives and mine.  Looking back and remembering how God has been at work in our lives is time well spent.  The memories bind us forever to this God who loves us and to all of God’s family.   When times of trouble come, and they will to all of us, we have the memories to sustain us in moments of desolation.  If God, who doesn’t change, has been good to us as far back as we can remember, we can be sure that God is still working for our good, even if we can’t see it right then.

When you have some quiet time, look back over your life’s journey and see if you can discern the pattern of God’s great working in you.

Bountiful Fruit by Beth DeCristofaro

Memorial of St Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (2 Corinthians 9:6)

Jesus said to his disciples: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. (John 12:24)

Good Shepherd, Good Gardener, may I sow only mercy and kindness.  And when it is my time to let fall that grain I call life, may I join you in your house forever.  Amen.

My dad and my father-in-law both died young.  Not only sad, their deaths forced our mothers to drop the “wife” grain of wheat because that grain died with Alex and Sal.  Both our moms actually made new, vibrant lives and produced much fruit despite their grief.  Every day people are compelled to drop the grains of wheat which had given them identity or meaning.  A wounded veteran races her wheelchair in the Marine Corps Marathon because her legs were destroyed by a bomb.  An alcoholic, long addicted and loving his beer finally buries that grain and becomes a loyal family man, an ordained minister, and pillar of his small community.  A newlywed buries the grains of “me first” to learn to give of self to a spouse, their union now most central and sacred.

As we age we sag a bit here and ache a bit there, indicators, perhaps
even badges, of our life.  In our faces, we wear the lines of life’s tragedy, illness, joy, doubt, stress, worry, pain, the many moments in which we were called to drop grains no longer relevant and hope, with the companionship of the Good Shepherd, for much fruit. 

The 23rd Psalm consoles us:  “Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the LORD for endless days.” St. Lawrence let fall the grain of his own life rather than turn his back on God.  Asked to produce the riches of the Church, he gathered a crowd of poor, ill, lame and showed them to his accusers.  What grains have we let fall to grow in Christ?  What might we still need to let fall?  What are our treasures?

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

"Lord, Help Me"

How long will this wicked community grumble against me?  I have heard the grumblings of the Israelites against me.  Tell them: “By my life”—oracle of the LORD— “I will do to you just what I have heard you say. Here in the wilderness, your dead bodies shall fall. Numbers 14:27-29A

But the woman came and did him homage, saying, "Lord, help me." He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."  Matthew 15:25-28A

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.      

Another day, another in the variety of ways that Jesus responds to a request.  Although today’s healing does not take place at a meal, Jesus and the woman with the tormented daughter use food imagery. 

Today’s reading once again catches Jesus trying to withdraw from the people…but he could not resist the cry of the poor.  Yet, count on the ever-trusty disciples to usher away people when they flocked to the Good Shepherd. 

In the Hebrew Bible, Canaanites are in a list of nations to exterminate.  Later, they are described as a group annihilated by the Israelites.  Despite this history, the woman appeals to Jesus. 

Jesus hears and answers. The persistent woman appealed on behalf of another (the least of these – her long-suffering, tormented daughter).  Jesus answered her prayers answered despite the historic animosity between Israel and the Canaanites.  No one who appeals to Jesus for mercy is ever turned away – especially those who acknowledge him as Lord – three times. 
  1. "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!”
  2. "Lord, help me."
  3. "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters."
She asks only for the crumbs, the leftovers, that fall from the table of Israel – exactly what Jesus fed to his disciples after the miracle of feeding the five-thousand men and uncounted women and children.  Like with the Roman centurion’s son, the miracle of the healing happens far away from the main dialogue and action. The greater point of this story is the persistent faith of a woman who asks for something that she knows in her heart that she does not deserve. And she gets it anyway.

Jesus’ mercy toward an enemy of his people is instructional for our times as the saber-rattling intensifies between the United States and North Korea. As we contemplate what exactly is meant by a fire and fury “the likes of which this world has never seen before” just provides another model.

The Just War theory, with us since the time of Augustine, attempts to codify how the use of arms might be restrained, made more humane, and ultimately directed towards the aim of establishing lasting peace and justice.  Key among the conditions necessary for a “just war” are:[i]
  • A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent (diplomatic) options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.
  • A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.
  • A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient--see point #4). Further, a just war can only be fought with "right" intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.
  • A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
  • The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
  • The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered.  Nations are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.
  • The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

Jesus extending his healing touch to the Canaanite woman is an apt symbol for this day.  Let us use this to reflect upon how we might be instruments of the healing, peaceful touch of Jesus.

Sometimes Christians are called to turn the world upside down. To bring the exact opposite of what we find in our world. St. Francis' prayer is a bold one, asking for strength to give of ourselves to meet the needs of others. He recognizes that it "is in giving that we receive", that as we give of ourselves, we receive the peace and blessing of our risen Lord Jesus. We cannot earn eternal life, but that we are pardoned from the sins that block our claim on it.  Think about the situations that you are involved in that require peace, consolation, hope, light, and joy.  Then, if you're bold enough, pray the prayer![ii]

Monday, August 07, 2017

“The Presence of the Lord He Beholds” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

(The Lord said to Aaron and Miriam:) “Should there be a prophet among you, in visions will I reveal myself to him, in dreams will I speak to him; not so with my servant Moses! Throughout my house, he bears my trust: face to face I speak to him; plainly and not in riddles. The presence of the LORD he beholds.” (Numbers 12:6-8)

Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned. (Psalm 51:3a)

Peter said to him in reply, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" After they got into the boat, the wind died down. (Matthew 14:28-32)

Lord, I beg for the faith to say a continual, resounding, confident yes to all You ask of me.

He asked for it. He got it. He got scared. He got saved.

In today’s Gospel reading, the disciples are terrified at the sight of a figure—could it be a ghost?—coming toward them, walking on the water. Jesus tells them it’s Him and not to be afraid. Peter—it is always Peter, isn’t it, who rushes in where others fear to tread when it comes talking with Jesus?—says if it’s you, then tell me to come to you on the water.

Jesus gives him a single word of command—“come.” Not, “come on, Peter, I will hold you up on the water regardless of how choppy the waters are or how strange this all may seem to you.” Just “come.” And Peter does, and for a few moments, it’s all glorious. But the wind comes up, and he is sure he’s going to go under. He calls for the Lord to save him. And rather than saying, “Tsk-tsk, Peter, don’t you remember what I said?” (that will come shortly), Jesus does just that, extending his hand.

This is truly one of the most human, most beautiful stories in the Gospels, and we sell Peter short and ourselves long when we laugh at the reaction of the man who will go on to be Jesus’s rock. Because you see, we are Peter. Our own prayers for trust and closeness to the Lord are answered all the time… and then we are tempted to give up the second the wind gets strong, rationalizing that we must not have understood what He wanted after all.

May we learn from Peter: When we ask for it and get it and get scared, may we not abandon the call. Like Peter, may we call out, “Lord, save me!”

Where are your doubts about your vocation? Make “Lord, save me!” your prayer today.

Image credit: Ivan Aivazovsky [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Bring Them Here to Me

“Where can I get meat to give to all this people? For they are crying to me, ‘Give us meat for our food.’ Numbers 11:13

Then he said, “Bring them here to me.” Matthew 14:18

Father, give us this day our daily bread. Jesus, receive us as you received the children, the crowds, and even the thief crucified next to you so that we might be satisfied with the blessings of your hands.  Holy Spirit, give us “enoughness” rather than the longing instilled by a culture that tells us to want more, more, more. Amen.

The people we encounter in today’s readings range from the grumbling crowd of the Hebrew Bible to the satisfied masses of the New Testament.  Not only that, after Jesus satiated five thousand men PLUS uncounted women and children, there were left-overs. The story of the miracle of the desert dinner did not start with the people grumbling like the Hebrews.

Jesus did not ask the crowds to gather around him. He was actually trying to get away from the crowds to mourn the execution of his beloved cousin. The crowds willingly followed him into the king of wilderness that was home to John’s preaching. While the political leadership rejected John’s message, the rank-and-file now follow Jesus and devour his every word.

When the disciples wanted the Jesus to send the crowds away, the Good Shepherd decided to feed his own flock. “Bring them here to me,” says Jesus. He is speaking both about the people as well as of the five barley loaves and the two, dried fish. Lord, it is good that they are there…the people, the fish, and the bread.

“Feed them,” he said, and did, in a miraculous manner. In the end, no one went away grumbling. Not even the disciples who initially were skeptical.  Michael Card (in Matthew: The Gospel of Identity) explains that the word used in Greek for the collection baskets was “kophinois.”  He says these are small baskets, about the size of a lunch pail.  After feeding five thousand people with the loaves and fishes, there was enough left over to fill twelve lunch pails – and to give each of the twelve disciples a share, too.  

Contrast Jesus’ inclusive approach to this banquet with the exclusive banquet given for Herod’s birthday celebration. At that other event, Herod tried to satisfy Herodias (the wife of his brother Philip) and her daughter Salome through the violent of execution of John the Baptist grotesquely served up on a dinner platter at a party.  Jesus, on the other hand, more than satisfied the many with his preaching, his healing and the peaceful blessing from his hand. Any wonder why the people followed Jesus and not these grotesque rulers?

In yesterday’s selection from the rule of St. Benedict, the chapter treats the disposition of letters and gifts.  St Benedict instructs: In no circumstance are monastics allowed, unless the prioress or abbot says they may, to exchange letters, blessed tokens or small gifts of any kind, with their parents or anyone else, or with another monastic. They must not presume to accept gifts sent them even by their parents without previously telling the prioress or abbot.

In her commentary on this passage, Sr. Joan Chittister explains, “The purpose of monastic life was to discover that the possession of God was far more satisfying than anything we could receive from family or friends, that it was freeing, that it was enriching far beyond what we could collect for ourselves.”

We live in a culture that sees having things as the measure of our success. We strive for a life that sees eliminating things as the measure of internal wealth. Enoughness is a value long dead in Western society. Dependence on God is a value long lost. Yet, enoughness and dependence on God may be what is lacking in a society where consumerism and accumulation have become the root diseases of a world in which everything is not enough and nothing satisfies.

The Queen and her daughter already lived in abundance. They were at the king’s birthday party. Yet they wanted more. They did not need more food, clothing or jewelry so they asked for something else. They wanted to be above the law but John refused to acquiesce to their demands. Killing John, sadly, did nothing to change the law that they continued to violate.

By contrast, the people following Jesus out into the desert lived a subsistent life in the ancient Palestine.  Farmers.  Sheep herders.  Fishermen. They were contented with what they had and the gifts they got. They were totally dependent upon Jesus. He gave them what they did not even seek.  

Can we be like these desert people, contented with what we have and turn our backs on what Madison Avenue and Hollywood are trying to sell us?