Thursday, August 31, 2017

“Waiting” by Colleen O’Sullivan

Brothers and sisters, we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that, as you received from us how you should conduct yourselves to please God – and as you are conducting yourselves – you do so even more.  For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.  This is the will of God, your holiness: that you refrain from immorality.  (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3)

“At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him!’  Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.  The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’  But the wise ones replied, ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you.  Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’  While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.  Then the door was locked.”  (Matthew 25:6-10)

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.  May I grow in holiness each day.  May there be no need for worry about the date or time of your return.

Peter von Cornelius, Die klugen und die törichten Jungfrauen (c.1813),
Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Our readings for today share a common theme – be ready for the Lord’s return.  Most scholars think our first reading comes from the oldest book in the New Testament.  It seems likely that Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians was completed by the year 52.  But Matthew’s Gospel, which contains today’s parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids, most likely wasn’t written until later, sometime between the years 80 and 90.  Reading through Paul’s letter, it’s fairly clear that the young church expected the Lord’s return at any moment, most definitely during their lifetime.  But 30 or 40 years later, the community Matthew was addressing had seen an entire generation die and a new one spring up with no sign of Christ’s return.  They were beginning to realize they might be waiting for much longer than they had expected.

I have to admit I have always had trouble relating to this Gospel story about the wise and foolish bridesmaids.  For one thing, you have to forget everything you know about modern wedding customs because it was all done differently.  The marriage contract was drawn up between the groom and the father of the bride before the bride and groom had ever met.  The groom agreed to pay the bride’s parents an amount to cover their expenses in raising her.  Then the bridegroom met his intended and told her he was going to his home to prepare a place for her.  What we see in today’s parable is the bridegroom, having completed his preparations, returning to get his bride to take her to his home for the wedding festivities. Weddings usually took place at night, but in today’s reading, the bridegroom is even later than expected.  The bridesmaids have all fallen asleep.  Half of them prepared beforehand, laying in extra oil for their lights, and the other half didn’t.  You’d think the ones with forethought would have shown a little compassion, but they weren’t operating out of an abundance mentality.  So the foolish girls disappear in a frantic search for more oil.  When they get back, they are locked out of the festivities.

The message is clear:  be prepared because we don’t know when Christ will return.   

I don’t live in first-century Thessalonica, sure that Christ’s return in glory will happen during my lifetime.  I have no way of knowing whether it’s next week or thousands or millions of years in the future. 

The timing just doesn’t seem that crucial if we’re busy in the here and now loving Jesus to the best of our abilities, which vary from day to day.  Daily we can be amazed and humbled at Jesus’ love for us, sins and all.  Paul had the best advice for his Thessalonian friends – however long it is, strive for holiness each day.

The here and now presents many opportunities for Christian love and living.  I’m sure your head is as filled as mine with the images of flooding, wrecked homes and businesses, as well as displaced persons in the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation in Texas.  On our diocesan website, you can make donations that will be forwarded to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Catholic Charities USA for relief efforts.  You will also have the opportunity to give to a special collection to be taken up in all of our Arlington Diocese parishes over the next two Sundays.

1 For more information, see

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

“Stay Awake!” by Beth DeCristofaro

Now may God himself, our Father, and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen. (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13)

Jesus said to his disciples: "Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. (Matthew 24:42)

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for You Jesus or in awe of You be still?
Will I stand in Your presence or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah?
Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine…
When all I will do is forever,
Forever worship you
I can only imagine.
(from “I Can Only Imagine”, MercyMe, The Worship Project album, 1999)[i]

For many years I’ve worked in health care and have often heard people tell me that “Her illness came on so quickly” or “He was so healthy until he fell…” Consequently, there had been no time to prepare. Mudslides, earthquakes, bombing runs, and traffic accidents are as unpredictable as they are tragic. Even an anticipated natural disaster (such as a hurricane) impacts in unanticipated, horrific ways. One would think that the servant put in charge would know that the master is coming back! But humans can be quite in denial, authoring our own narrative, choosing to believe and then acting rather irrationally. Why we act as if we are the masters?  

Paul encouraged the community at Thessalonika that in order to serve Jesus they must companion and serve each other. They were, as we are today, bound to each other by the common good which is founded on the God’s creation. God has given with open hands to each person. We have varied gifts and are asked to complete different tasks. Some of us are more productive and are “larger” than others in influence. But each is beloved of the Master who leaves us in charge of His creation. In today’s world, we are often faced with others with whom we do not agree but God asks us to grant them love, respect, and access to the common good which are God’s gifts to dispense.  

One of my mottos as a healthcare professional has been “no surprises.” By communicating fully with others, by preparing for the next steps or developing needed skills, I and my colleagues hope to be ready when the unexpected happens because the expected has been dealt with to our best abilities. When the unlooked-for hour arrives, we can pivot and handle that.

How ready are we for the Master to say to us “Your hour has come?” Have I dealt with the anticipated? Have I spent time with God in formation? Have I loved the neighbor God has given me to love? Am I ready to pivot and say “Yes, Lord, I am Yours.”

Have I found a way to help those devastated by the disaster who are members of my human community although not my next-door neighbors?

Monday, August 28, 2017

“Entrusted with the Gospel” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

Bernardino Luini [Public domain], via
Wikimedia Commons
You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our reception among you was not without effect. Rather, after we had suffered and been insolently treated, as you know, in Philippi, we drew courage through our God to speak to you the Gospel of God with much struggle. Our exhortation was not from delusion or impure motives, nor did it work through deception. But as we were judged worthy by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, that is how we speak, not as trying to please men, but rather God, who judges our hearts. Nor, indeed, did we ever appear with flattering speech, as you know, or with a pretext for greed–God is witness–nor did we seek praise from men, either from you or from others, although we were able to impose our weight as Apostles of Christ. Rather, we were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children. With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the Gospel of God but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:1-8)

You have searched me and you know me, Lord. (Psalm 139:1)

Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him. (Mark 6:20)

You know me, Lord; like Herod, reluctant to lose face in front of others. I beg you for the strength of John the Baptist to speak the truth.

There was something about John the Baptist. Everyone saw it, his followers and his enemies alike. Even Herod, the king who would have him put today, saw it. He liked to talk with John, even though John was quite straightforward about the inappropriateness of Herod’s marriage to an ex-wife of one of his brothers. (Or, as some scholars posit, John’s potential ability to effect a rebellion.) In any event, charisma notwithstanding, Herod decided the risk of loss of stature—in the eyes of his wife, his stepdaughter, his court, his people—was too great.

From John and from Jesus, we learn that the truth can be costly, no matter how compassionately and gently and kindly it is shared. Being a Christian and attempting to live the Gospel doesn’t guarantee us friends; indeed, it is likely to result in quite the opposite. And yet, it is what we are called to do: when we witness disharmony in family relationships. When we witness injustice at work. When we witness a disregard for corporal or spiritual mercy by those we don’t even know by name. We are called to speak the truth—as gently as a nursing mother, as Paul tells us in today’s first reading—but to speak it. Better to lose our heads, figuratively or as John the Baptist did, then to lose our souls.

Speak the truth today in a situation that you fear will cause you to be ridiculed.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Woe to You

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. Matthew 23:13

"In prayer, God keeps calling us, opening our hearts to charity."
— Pope Francis

Light a candle and say a prayer for your loved ones and our brothers and sisters in need around the world from Sierra Leone to the Texas Gulf Coast. Your intentions will be remembered at Mass offered in St. Stephen's Chapel at Catholic Relief Services world headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.

The 14 Woes of the scribes and Pharisees begin to be enumerated right here.  And it starts with exactly the opposite of what Peter was charged with doing.  Jesus, in the Mass readings for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, charged Peter with keys to the Kingdom and trusted Peter to use these appropriately to open the doors of faith wide to all seekers:

“I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Matthew 16:19

The promise of the keys is given to Peter alone.  Yet, one day later, we encounter Jesus calling woe down upon the scribes and Pharisees for locking up the doors of faith entrusted to Peter. Peter is entrusted to open the doors of faith to those who wish to pass.  Today, Jesus charges that the authority of the scribes and Pharisees is exercised in such a way as to be an obstacle to entrance.

A true spiritual director is not a person who creates walls that you have to scale.  Instead, a true spiritual director points you to the ladders that will help you climb to new spiritual heights.

Today, you can unlock the Kingdom by rebuilding it house-by-house in Texas.  According to a statement from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB:

“Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast in a catastrophic and devastating way this weekend, bringing with it severe flooding and high winds which have taken human life caused countless injuries, and severely damaged homes and property throughout the region. The effects of this storm continue to put people in harm’s way, with horrific scenes playing out all around, such as those of people trapped on their rooftops as water continues to rise around them. Many dioceses of the Church in the United States have been affected; many others will be as the storm continues.

As the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, this crisis hits very close to home. In solidarity with my brother bishops in this area of the country, I call on people of faith to pray for all of those who have been impacted by this Hurricane, and I ask people of good will to stand with the victims and their families. May God, the Lord of mercy and compassion, protect all who are still in danger and bring to safety those who are missing. May He care in a special way for those who were already homeless, or without support and resources, before this disaster. We pray in thanksgiving for the first responders who are risking their lives to save others at this very moment. We include in our intentions the everyday heroes reaching out to help their neighbors in need, those who, like the Good Samaritan, cannot walk by a person in need without offering their hand in aid.

The USCCB is working closely with affected local dioceses, Catholic Charities USA and St. Vincent de Paul, along with other relief organizations, to assess the needs on the ground. In the next couple of days, we will share more about the best ways to assist those in the Gulf region with material needs based on the latest information we can gather. May God bless you and your families this day and always

Find a reputable charity in the area hardest hit by the storm and give funds directly to that organization. Now is not the time to send clothes, food or other gifts in kind.  Do NOT collect stuff for hurricane and flood victims. Give cash to reputable, established organizations you've heard of like these two:

For nearly 75 years, people have helped Catholic Charities provide help and create hope to more than 82,000 people annually as they create better lives for themselves and their families.

With your gift in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Catholic Charities can provide food, clothing, shelter and a network of support services to those dealing with the aftermath of this disaster from all walks of life and religious backgrounds.

To make a gift by mail, send your check made out to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to 2900 Louisiana Street, Houston, Texas 77006. To make a gift by phone call 713-874-6654.

"Whenever we do something together, something good, something beautiful, everyone changes. All of us change in some way and this does us good."
— Pope Francis

Oh, The Depth of the Riches

Thus, says the LORD to Shebna, master of the palace: "I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station. On that day, I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.  Isaiah 22:19-21

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!  Romans 11:33

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

Oh, we have such a rocky faith.
Father, give us the rock to overcome the Goliath of sin that leads us to deny you and retreat back into our comfort zone.
Jesus, take away the rocks on our path so that the seeds of our faith can grow.
Holy Spirit, give us the gift of strength to roll away the stone that blocks us from our journey with you.
The key to unlocking our journey is a firm foundation built upon the rock of faith.  May we always have that key in our pocket to start us on the rocky road to a Fourth Day filled with piety, study, and action. Amen.

Leadership means that someone has to be in charge. Jesus knows that he will not be with us in human form forever so he has to appoint a leader.

The theme of servant-leadership is set up in the first reading from
the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  The Church is Jerusalem. Many thought that the safety of the city was dependent upon military or political power plays. Rather, they would come to find out that its fate was in the hands of the Lord regardless of who was the master of the palace servants. Yet someone was always entrusted with the future of the city. 

In the Hebrew Bible, the master of the palace was like being the treasurer or governor of the king’s palace. It was a position of honor and trust.  First, we learn that this was a role for Shebna.  However, due to his excessive pride, the role of finance minister was shifted over to Eliakim.  For either one of them to succeed, they had to stay connected to the Lord.

As we move to the New Testament, the Church is no longer equated with just one city or one place. Instead, the image of the Church that Jesus builds up is a seed that starts to grow within the heart, mind, and soul of his followers. That seed has to be planted someplace first.  Today, we see Jesus plant it in Peter. He has to cultivate it in all people -- whether they are Jewish or not, whether a friend of Jerusalem or an enemy. Everyone now has the gift of a path to faith. Peter is called to build the Church in everyone’s heart, not just in one chosen race or nationality.

The infinite love and mercy of that gift are impossible for the people to comprehend because they were still tied to the idea of Jerusalem as a protected place and that the Jews were the chosen people. They could not grasp the fact that God was there for others – Samaritans, Syrians, Egyptians, and others. They could not grasp the fact that the savior was not a glorious conquering King but rather a suffering servant-leader.
No one can figure out the wisdom of God in treating all people equally.  “Who has directed the spirit of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor?”  Isaiah 40:13

Why Peter?  We see him waiver when walking on the stormy seas toward Jesus.  We see him deny Jesus three times. We see him retreat into his Comfort Zone in the confines of a fishing boat. Yet, in the end, Peter gets up and gets out of his boat. Despite Peter’s doubts, Jesus saves Peter repeatedly and repeatedly entrusts in him the authority as the “master of the palace” complete with the symbolic keys. 

Who is fit to hold the keys to the Church?

Peter is such a perfect human example with all his foibles.  In his imperfection, he shows us the way.  Peter accepted the faith bestowed upon him by the Father. Peter dared to venture out of the boat and walk across the stormy seas to Jesus. Peter worried about his safety and sadly denied knowing Jesus in order to save himself for a future that ironically still turned his life upside-down on the way to his cross.

The key depicts the power to open and close the doors of faith. The leaders help show us opportunities for sharing and proclaiming the faith.  It is our job to go through those doors.  And when we come to doors that seem locked, we must look around for the open window.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Do Not Follow Their Example

Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.  Matthew 23:3-5

“Racism is an evil which endures in our society and in our Church. Despite apparent advances and even significant changes in the last two decades, the reality of racism remains. In large part, it is only external appearances which have changed.” So, begins Brothers and Sisters to Us, the Catholic Bishops of the United States, the pastoral statement on racism, written in 1979. Almost forty years later, individuals, families, and communities continue to struggle with conversations and challenges that have racial components.

In this May 3, 1982, photo, President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan walk with Barbara and Phillip Butler and their daughter outside the family's home in College Park Woods, a subdivision of Prince George’s County in Maryland. Barbara and Phillip Butler said they never received closure after the cross burning on their front lawn. (Barry Thumma/AP)
Jesus warns us against the false teaching of (some?) Pharisees. He points out that they are “blind fools!” Jesus starts with preaching to us for our fidelity and then veers off…to talk about the proper standards of conduct in His church. Even though calling for our fidelity to authentic teaching, Jesus calls out the hypocrisy reflected in the “spirit of superiority and pride” that is shown by the Pharisees. Jesus warns us. Do this. Don’t do that.  

To the charge of walking the walk and not just talking the talk, Jesus adds the charge of acting in order to earn praise. In this charge, we encounter the term “phylacteries” more familiar to our Jewish friends. The Mosaic law required that during morning prayer, men should wear small boxes containing parchments on which verses of scripture were written.  These were strapped to the left forearm and the forehead.  The “Pharisees & Scribes” who were wearing phylacteries would have looked something like this.  

The widening of phylacteries and the lengthening of tassels made piety more noticeable. Jesus says to pray NOT to be noticed but to pray to connect with the Spirit and then act accordingly – more like the way that Boaz welcomed, respected and loved the foreigner Ruth.

“No one lives in a tax-free world. Life costs. The values and kitsch and superficiality of it takes its toll on all of us. No one walks through life unscathed.”

Those words come from one of our modern spiritual leaders, Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB.  Commenting on chapter 67 of the Rule of St. Benedict, she reminds us that the Gospel calls us to turn over our hearts and our minds and our very souls to the Lord – every day.

“It calls to us to take life consciously, to put each trip, each turn of the motor, each trek to work in God's hands. Then, whatever happens there, we must remember to start over and start over and start over until, someday, we control life more than it controls us.”

The conflict between racism in Christian communities has been called out many times in recent weeks. Christian communities are not a way to wall us off from all of our equal brothers and sisters. 

Remember that scene in The Sound of Music between the Mother Abbess and Fraulein Maria. Maria had been with the von Trapp family but fled back to the convent when she started feeling an attraction to the Captain.  "Maria, these walls were not meant to shut out problems. You have to face them. You have to live the life you were born to live."

Sr. Joan could have replaced Mother Abbess.  Her additional comments on Chapter 67 included these:

The things we ruminate on, the things we insist on carrying in our minds and heart, the things we refuse to put down, the Rule warns us, are really the things that poison us and erode our souls. We dull our senses with television and wonder why we cannot see the beauty that is around us. We hold on to things outside of us instead of concentrating on what is within that keeps us noisy and agitated. We run from experience to experience like children in a candy store and wonder how serenity has eluded us. It is walking through life with a relaxed grasp and a focused eye that gets us to where we're going. Dwelling on "unessentials" and, worse, filling the minds of others with them distracts from the great theme of our lives. We must learn to distinguish between what is real and what is not.

Here's to trimming our phylacteries and shortening our tassels and demanding accountability without anger.  Silence in the face of criminal behavior is one of the reasons the abuse crisis in our Church festered until it exploded into a mushroom cloud of scandal.  Now is not a time for silence either.

We can be somewhat encouraged by the creation of a new ad hoc committee by the Bishops. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops announced the establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. The committee will focus on addressing the sin of racism in our society, and even in our Church, and the urgent need to come together as a society to find solutions.

The USCCB put Bishop George V. Murry, SJ of Youngstown, Ohio in charge of the panel.  Bishop Murray said: "Through Jesus' example of love and mercy, we are called to be a better people than what we have witnessed over the past weeks and months as a nation. Through listening, prayer and meaningful collaboration, I'm hopeful we can find lasting solutions and common ground where racism will no longer find a place in our hearts or in our society."

We have to face the problems in our hearts so all people can live the lives they were born to live without fear. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

“Love Flowing Outward” by Colleen O’Sullivan

But Ruth said, “Do not ask me to abandon or forsake you! For wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16)

…A scholar of the law tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40)

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.
Prayer for Generosity attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola

Jesus had bested the Pharisees on the question about paying taxes to Caesar. Then he had come out on top against the Sadducees on the question of the resurrection, a subject on which they were at odds with the Pharisees. Now, the Pharisees think, rubbing their hands with glee, we’re going to trap him on the issue of the Law. By Jesus’ day, there were over 600 laws, all of equal weight in the Pharisees’ estimation. Jesus will be wrong if he picks anyone of them over the rest.
Jesus doesn’t hesitate a second when the legal scholar asks him which of the commandments in the law is most important. Using his knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus refers back to Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 in his response. If you love God with everything you have and if you love your neighbor the way you love yourself, you’ve got everything covered.
Two things stand out as I ponder Jesus’ response. First, there’s the assumption that we know how to love ourselves. When I look around, I’m sure we know how to indulge ourselves on the one hand and beat up on ourselves on the other, but I’m not convinced that we know much about truly loving ourselves. To love ourselves and treat ourselves with respect takes trusting in God’s love for us. Knowing ourselves as we do with all our imperfections and sinfulness, trusting that God loves us as we are requires a great leap of faith on some days. It’s good to keep in mind that God has expressed great love for us by creating us in God’s own image.
The second thing I noticed is something that Jesus doesn’t say, and sometimes silence speaks louder than words. Jesus talks about a love that moves outward from us: love for God and love for our brothers and sisters. What he doesn’t explicitly say is that if we’re outwardly focused, we can’t, at the same time, be the star of the show. And that is where most of our problems with these two commandments come in. We can’t be the center of attention if our energies are focused in other directions. And quite a few of us like being at the center of our own little universes.
Ruth could have chosen to star in the saga of her widowhood. She could have remained in the land of her people and probably married again. But she saw the greater need of her mother-in-law, Naomi. Naomi had no one to take care of her and she was an outsider in Moab. In a time of famine, Naomi heard that the harvests back home had been more abundant, so she decided to make her way back to Bethlehem. Ruth’s love for her mother-in-law flowed outward from her heart. She told Naomi she would accompany her and she would become a part of Naomi’s people. She would even accept Naomi’s God as her God. That is truly giving of oneself.
What can you do this week to remove yourself from the limelight of your little universe in favor of letting your love flow toward God and all whom God loves?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

“Follow Me, True Child” by Beth DeCristofaro

The angel spoke to me, saying, "Come here. I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." … The wall of (Jerusalem) had twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb.  (Revelations 21:9-14)

Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth." But Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, "Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him."  (John 1:45-48)

God of sizzling suns.  God of quieting moons.  Grant that I may grow into your true child.  May I, too, live without duplicity oriented only to you.  Jesus may your summons capture and guide me.  Holy Spirit may I shine so that the light of your Truth is seen before others.

Like millions of Americans, I was thrilled to watch the eclipse.  For many of us, an eclipse is another sign of God breaking through and sharing with us the immensity of creation.  All day, leading up to the event I felt as if the day was special.  Even the ordinary tasks of my day seemed to be full of special significance as if God was drawing closer through celestial alignment.  My visits to hospice patients that day had an import even if they were not cognizant or interested…God’s face was shining in a unique way upon each of them, upon me, and our human frailties bound us together under God’s grandeur.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hold on to such an awareness of wonder, of God’s immanent presence?

Reading Nathaniel’s (Bartholomew’s) words, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?" made me smile.  My impatience with a badly working laptop and my anxiety over traffic as well as tired frustration because of duties calling soon returned in my day.  “Can anything good come from…” is too often my state of mind rather than gratitude and reverent fear for the presence of God at hand.  But then Jesus’ unexpected words of truth and acceptance captured Nathaniel.  Jesus sees beyond the small-mindedness in Nathaniel’s heart and offers him awe.  God does the same for us with each breath we take.

Tradition has it that Bartholomew is Nathaniel and that before being martyred he brought the Word to many areas of the ancient world.  Each day take the opportunity to recognize a wonder God places in front of you.  If it is a person, lift her/him up.  If a problem, seek a solution.  If a new insight, resolve to be aware.  If merely a moon hiding the face of the sun…Rejoice and be glad!

Illustration:  from Madras, OR

Monday, August 21, 2017

“What Will There Be for Us?” by Melanie Rigney

“God’s grace is free; it’s not cheap.”

The LORD turned to him and said, "Go with the strength you have and save Israel from the power of Midian. It is I who send you." But Gideon answered him, "Please, my lord, how can I save Israel? My family is the lowliest in Manasseh, and I am the most insignificant in my father's house." "I shall be with you," the LORD said to him, "and you will cut down Midian to the last man." (Judges 6:14-16)

The Lord speaks of peace to his people. (Psalm 85:9)

Then Peter said to him in reply, “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27)

I had many friends to help me to fall; but as to rising again, I was so much left to myself that I wonder now I was not always on the ground. I praise God for His mercy; for it was He only Who stretched out His hand to me. May He be praised forever! —St. Teresa of Avila

I take a little notebook with me to Mass. I don’t do it in case I get some bright idea for a column or essay, or to work on my to-do list before things get started. No, it’s because of St. Teresa of Avila. She’s supposed to have said she never heard a homily from which she couldn’t learn something and since I began trying to live that a couple years ago, well, neither have I. Every homily, long or short, has some bit of wisdom, original or otherwise, that’s worth chewing on. And, if I don’t write it down, I’ll forget it.

Last week, the celebrant shared this gem: “God’s grace is free; it’s not cheap.” I thought of that as I sat down to write today’s Tripod. In the Gospel, Jesus has told them how difficult it will be for the wealthy to get into the Kingdom. Peter, it appears, may be feeling a little confident about the disciples’ chances; he notes they’ve given up everything and then has the audacity or innocence to say in essence, “So what do we get?” Jesus responds with what probably seemed to be a bewildering discussion of 12 thrones and more, with the warning, “Many who are first will be last and the last will be first.”

What did they get for following? What do we get for following? Grace. Mercy. Redemption. Not one of them is the type of wealth that shows up in a bank account or in visible trappings such as a big house, fast car, or fine jewelry. Just… grace, mercy, redemption, and their intangible cousins. All of them are free for the asking, but they’re not cheap, as Peter and the others learned. We all know that intellectually, but living it can be an entirely different matter.

Gems of wisdom from a celebrant or from Christ himself are nothing more than pretty words if we don’t write them on our souls, and attempt to live them. May we have the courage and faith to do so.

What sort of bargain or trade are you seeking from the Lord in exchange for your faith? What can you do to put that expectation behind you?

Image credit: By Melanie Rigney

Sunday, August 20, 2017

What Do I Still Lack?

Abandoning the LORD, the God of their fathers, who led them out of the land of Egypt, they followed the other gods of the various nations around them, and by their worship of these gods provoked the LORD. Judges 2:11

The young man said to him, "All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Matthew 19:20-22

The Apostles Creed
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ God’s only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

The Apostle’s Creed is not found in the Bible. It was not even written by any of the original “apostles.” The Creed was written at least 150 years after the last apostles died. Sources explain that it is called the Apostles’ Creed because it is supposed to be a record of what the apostles taught. Yet, these days, there are so many groups using the “Christian” prefix in front of other nouns and adjectives that they claim also identify them, it might help to step back and reconnect with the meaning of the Creed so we do not end up sulking away from like the young man with many conflicting possessions.

Heart-based belief is the cornerstone of our faith and the ticket to admittance. When praying the Credo, we profess what we believe in our hearts. Those beliefs also must be mirrored in action or they are Satan’s empty promises. We believe in God – above anything else or anyone else -- who created everything out of unlimited love. We need to treat that creation and each other with love. God is second-to-none. Check.

In Jesus, we encounter someone in the likeness of the Divine. Jesus instilled his authority over the world through love. Not power. Not wealth. Not possessions.

"Jesus’ favorite way of expressing his faith was by calling God “Abba”, a term of endearment that expresses a child’s trust in a father’s love… “This lordship of love, peace, and justice will inevitably clash with other forms of dominant power and authority in the world. This clash is a distinct danger when we become disciples of love, as we shall see.”[i] When we put something or someone above God, we inevitably see a clash with the values Jesus asked us to embody and incorporate in our daily lives. Check.

God is unwaveringly present with all those who suffer. To emphasize that Jesus “died and was buried” is to indicate that a real, fully human body actually died and was lowered into the ground. It’s also to emphasize that Jesus was eradicated by the power structures he chose to stand up to, once again stressing the dangerous nature of walking this path of God.[ii]

See that perfect mercy and love of Jesus expressed to the Canaanite women with the troubled daughter.

See that perfect mercy and love expressed to the divorced Samaritan woman at the well.

See that perfect mercy and love expressed to the centurion from the belligerent, occupying Roman army with the dying child.

See that perfect mercy and love expressed to the thief hanging on the cross next door.

What do I still lack?

Do I have the capacity to love those who are not like me? Will I abandon God’s plan or will I abandon the old thoughts that conflict with my Credo and the things that anchor me in my comfort zone rather than setting me free?

As the young man with many possessions learned, this invitation into a faith-based relationship with Jesus comes with a price. If I profess this Credo, I must choose to pick up my cross daily and walk with God. It is hard to hold my cross as I stare down at my smartphone or tablet.

The Credo is my way of saying and showing that I have a willingness to change the direction in which I seek happiness. Despite what I witnessed in the pictures and stories from Charlottesville to Boston, from Venezuela to North Korea, from Finland to Spain, the Holy Spirit is God alive in the world. Although Jesus is physically gone, it is up to us, to me – the church – the ecclesia – to implement that manifesto of love to the foreigner be it a person from Samaria, Canaan, Mexico or an Arab nation.

What do I still lack?

If I want to reconcile my personal or social sins, I have to give up whatever alienates me from the God of my professed beliefs and turn to the same Father of the prodigal son to embrace me on the road of return.

As Cardinal Joe Tobin[iii] wrote this week, “This vast Catholic community hopes to stand in prayer and solidarity with all people of goodwill and we witness to our Christian calling to ‘love your enemies…that you may be children of your heavenly Father’ (Mt. 5:44-45).[iv]

I can never fully abandon God because God is waiting for the first inkling of my change of heart. As I return, God will be there to greet me when I give up what alienates me from love.

Today, we remember Pope Pius X, the first pope elected in the last millennia. After he ascended to the throne of St. Peter, Saint Pope Pius X encouraged Catholics to become more politically involved. Yet, he died only a few weeks after World War I began. In a biography from Franciscan Media, we learn that he said, “This [war] is the last affliction the Lord will visit on me. I would gladly give my life to save my poor children from this ghastly scourge.”

This may not be a world war, but it is a battle nonetheless. Cardinal Tobin reminds us that Jesus tells us “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light so that his works might not be exposed” (John 3:20). Dark words and deeds must be met with light and love.”  Based upon this Credo, in all circumstances, but especially in these difficult times, I am called to be an instrument of peace and light through faith-based words and actions. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

From The Table of Their Masters

By Rev. Paul Berghout

The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, ministering to him, loving the name of the LORD, and becoming his servants—all who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.  Isaiah 56:6-7

But the woman came and did Jesus 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." And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.  Matthew 15:25-28

Everything was wrong with that woman in Canaanite-Jewish relations: Wrong gender, wrong religion, wrong nationality.  She was probably a single mom with a special needs child, and she desperately needed Jesus’ help.

Jesus’ reaction to this desperate woman’s request is quite interesting.
The truth is, he didn’t respond at all. His disciples certainly did not want anything to do with the woman, i.e. “Please Don't Speak to Me While I'm Not Listening.”  She didn't qualify for help because Jesus had been sent to minister “only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

To make matters seemingly worse, Jesus repeated a saying of his day that the pagans were nothing but dogs, although he used the word “puppies” to soften it.

Yet, in verse 28, Jesus tells her, “you have Great faith.” In Greek “Mega-Faith.”

These three lessons are contained in these scriptures:

First, the woman spoke up for her convictions because she believed that Jesus Christ could heal her daughter. Sometimes, the voices telling you that you are “wrong” come from within. The lesson is for your Healing: Don't Take "No" For An Answer.

Don’t let the “old voices” come back to haunt you.  They try to tell you that “you’re not good enough, smart enough, and what makes you think you have anything of importance to say?”  

If we just trust that God has our best interests in hand, we can allow new voices to guide us forward.

Her love for her daughter overcame the fear of Jewish-Canaanite problems. She had within her the courage and boldness which nourished and strengthened her faith. St. Teresa Avila said, “To have courage for whatever comes in life — everything lies in that.”

A second lesson:  "Don’t take things personally."  We are often bit-players in other people’s dramas.  To test her, Jesus called her a puppy, the woman was not put off in the least.  She answers, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”

In most cases, people who want to follow Jesus need to be humbled first instead of resenting the Statement of Jesus.  In effect, the woman was able to use this slogan as a tool after she was called a puppy: “Take what you like and leave the rest."  Or, in the country, they say, “Eat the hay and spit out the sticks.”

Charity has no rigid requirements; it does not expect, and even less pretend, that others should adapt themselves to it, but it is always ready to accommodate itself to the neighbor.

God adapted Himself to us when He became a man; yet, we do not know how to come down from the little pedestal of our personality to adapt ourselves to the mentalities, preferences, and needs of our brethren.

A third lesson is toughness for the tender-hearted.  It takes a strong person of faith to stand up to his or her peers, and defend an innocent immigrant without legal papers threatened with deportation, or to say/believe that those with same sex attraction are called to chastity and Christian perfection.

Pope Francis quotes Saint John of the Cross about married couples who are tried and true: “They ‘are outwardly no longer afire with powerful emotions and impulses, but now taste the sweetness of the wine of love, well-aged and stored deep within their hearts’. Such couples have successfully overcome crises and hardships without fleeing from challenges or concealing problems.”

The daughter of the Canaanite woman was immediately “healed from that very hour.”

Jesus does not need to go near her daughter to be healed. This is the SWEETEST REWARD for her faith.