Thursday, March 23, 2017

Return to God


By Colleen O’Sullivan

Thus says the Lord: Return, O Israel, to the Lord, your God; you have collapsed through your guilt… I will heal their defection, says the Lord, I will love them freely; for my wrath is turned away from them. I will be like dew for Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar, and put forth his shoots. His splendor shall be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar. Again they shall dwell in his shade and raise grain; They shall blossom like the vine, and his fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon. (Hosea 14:2, 5-8)

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

Piety
In distress you called, and I rescued you.
(Psalm 81:8a)

Study
The Hand of God,, photo by Molinovski, Wikimedia Commons,
Public Domain

We pray to you, O Lord. We sing your praises. With all our being, we proclaim our love for you, O God.

Then, in the twinkling of an eye, or so it seems, something or someone comes along and diverts our attention. Soon you become a distant memory. We’ve been lured to that far away country. The idols we have come to fancy demand our adoration. And, we confess, we begin to bow down and sing hymns to these, our false gods.

What are their names? you ask. Wealth, power, prestige. The reflection we see as we lean over the pool. We really haven’t changed that much since you created the first man and woman. We still listen to the whisperings of the evil spirit, because we want to be like you. We want to be all knowing, all powerful. Some of us even dare to believe that we are.

Until it all crashes down around us. Our spouse deserts our marriage. Our children go astray. We go to work as usual and come home with a pink slip. We are diagnosed with a serious or even terminal illness. The person we hold dearest dies and leaves us grieving. In any of a myriad of ways, the worlds we have so carefully constructed collapse around us. We are not in control and the illusion that we ever were breaks into a million pieces.

Is it possible that the hand of God is outstretched toward us? No, we hurriedly think. It can’t be. The shame of the distance we have strayed from God weighs us down.

But the Good News is that God is reaching out, calling to us. We may be as unfaithful as the prophet Hosea’s wife, but God still loves us. Come back to me, God pleads. It’s your sin that has you in a state of collapse. Come back to me. I forgive you. I will always be your God and you will always be my people. I will be dew for you that you might blossom once again. It’s not too late, and you haven’t journeyed too far to come back. Let me love you, lift the burden of your guilt and give you a fresh start.

Action
An honest self-examination is good any time of the year, but Lent is the season when we particularly focus on our sins, on what Jesus took upon himself on the Cross. Spend some time letting the light of day shine on even the darkest places in the innermost recesses of your being. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your sins and failings. God is not out to get us. Just as we saw in the first reading, God is begging us to return. God wants our friendship, not our fear. The Lord is ready to forgive us whatever we sincerely confess and to start afresh.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Kingdom of God Has Come Upon You (March 23)


By Beth DeCristofaro

Thus says the LORD: This is what I commanded my people: Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people. (Jeremiah 7:23)

But he knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? … But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:17-18, 20)

Piety


Study
In today’s Gospel Jesus performs a miracle which astounds the witnesses and prompts his disclosure that “the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”  The Gospels do not focus solely on miracles but we – today as in ancient Palestine – are still astounded and pray for miracles when tragedy strikes or sorrow and hardship surround us.  Jesus’ teachings go beyond the surface of miracles.  He continues and deepens God’s promise to the Chosen People “I will be your God and you shall be my people” but with a twist.

Through Jesus who was literally God’s fingers, toes, voice box, blood, knees, integrity, passion, divinity and covenant, the Kingdom has come upon us.  Not only are we tasked, as Jesus’ disciples were tasked, to continue the building of the Kingdom, but we are challenged to recognize and rejoice in it.

How do we interpret the many miracles around us?  Do we see them? The widow carries on, raising five children after the death of her husband, making the best life possible for them after the end of her marriage dream?  Volunteers care for countless shelter animals, clean up stream beds when trash could damage the ecosystem, visit the sick and dying.  Lay leaders manage RCIA, Alcoholics Anonymous, religious education, mentoring programs, and maintain sacristies and administrative needs of parishes around the country.  Civil servants stand firm to bring justice to their country’s citizens.  Random Cursillistas form spiritual communities that serve and evangelize other random Babe Chicks resulting in new friendships and new resolutions for life in Christ. There are countless more examples of God’s fingers at work in small, unnoticed ways that are miraculous, effecting healing and growth of humanity.  And they build the kingdom.

Action
In this Lenten Journey, take a moment of prayer and silence to recognize and rejoice in the miracles around you.  Thank someone for their efforts and pray for them.  What miracle can you perform today?  Keep the Women’s 149th in your prayers.

The Kingdom of God Has Come Upon You


By Beth DeCristofaro

Thus says the LORD: This is what I commanded my people: Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people. (Jeremiah 7:23)

But he knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? … But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:17-18, 20)

Piety


Study
In today’s Gospel Jesus performs a miracle which astounds the witnesses and prompts his disclosure that “the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”  The Gospels do not focus solely on miracles but we – today as in ancient Palestine – are still astounded and pray for miracles when tragedy strikes or sorrow and hardship surround us.  Jesus’ teachings go beyond the surface of miracles.  He continues and deepens God’s promise to the Chosen People “I will be your God and you shall be my people” but with a twist.

Through Jesus who was literally God’s fingers, toes, voice box, blood, knees, integrity, passion, divinity and covenant, the Kingdom has come upon us.  Not only are we tasked, as Jesus’ disciples were tasked, to continue the building of the Kingdom, but we are challenged to recognize and rejoice in it.

How do we interpret the many miracles around us?  Do we see them? The widow carries on, raising five children after the death of her husband, making the best life possible for them after the end of her marriage dream?  Volunteers care for countless shelter animals, clean up stream beds when trash could damage the ecosystem, visit the sick and dying.  Lay leaders manage RCIA, Alcoholics Anonymous, religious education, mentoring programs, and maintain sacristies and administrative needs of parishes around the country.  Civil servants stand firm to bring justice to their country’s citizens.  Random Cursillistas form spiritual communities that serve and evangelize other random Babe Chicks resulting in new friendships and new resolutions for life in Christ. There are countless more examples of God’s fingers at work in small, unnoticed ways that are miraculous, effecting healing and growth of humanity.  And they build the kingdom.

Action
In this Lenten Journey, take a moment of prayer and silence to recognize and rejoice in the miracles around you.  Thank someone for their efforts and pray for them.  What miracle can you perform today?  Keep the Women’s 149th in your prayers.

To Fulfill


"However, take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children's children." Deuteronomy 4:9

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law until all things have taken place. Matthew 5:17-18

Piety
[W]e give thanks to God the Father for the many blessings of creation, and to our Lord Jesus Christ for the gift of salvation. We raise our prayer to the Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide us in carrying out all that the Lord has commanded us. In discerning the signs of the times, we note the greatly increased migration among the peoples of the Americas, and we see in this but one manifestation of a worldwide phenomenon–often called globalization–which brings with it great promises along with multiple challenges. Please enlighten us to recognize that Jesus the Son, who was called out of exile in Egypt to be our Savior.  Help us to recognize the strangers among us and welcome them as commanded. Amen.

Study
Imagine being a disciple of Jesus two thousand years ago.  How in the world would you make any sense of what was happening around you? 

An itinerant Jewish carpenter from Nazareth (where nothing good comes from) is walking around, preaching in parables, sometimes curing the sick, and getting into quite public confrontations with the local authorities (at both the temple and from Rome).  Surely, he must be here to overturn Mosaic law as we know it, right?  However, Jesus tries to clarify how his Word and works fit into the world-view that the people in ancient, Roman-occupied Palestine know.

According to the notes from the New American Bible to explain this passage from Matthew:

The “turning of the ages” comes with the apocalyptic event of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and those to whom this gospel is addressed are living in the new and final age, prophesied by Isaiah as the time of “new heavens and a new earth” (Is 65:17; 66:22). Meanwhile, during Jesus’ ministry when the kingdom is already breaking in, his mission remains within the framework of the law, though with significant anticipation of the age to come.

Jesus is admitting that he is not coming to break the old laws but to fulfill the prophecies which many have preached before him.  He does not want them to forget the things they have learned.  However, he wants them to remember those lessons and pass them on with the new chapter he is about to write with the Easter mystery. In the coming section, Jesus does not break the old laws but he extends their application to new situations.  Jesus goes above and beyond the traditional way of viewing things.

Action
Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich used a nationally televised forum to pledge solidarity with immigrants living in the United States and reinforce that Catholic Social Teaching reminds us all to welcome strangers and have a preferential option for the poor.

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago is pictured after a prayer service
at which he took possession of his titular church of
St. Bartholomew on Tiber Island in Rome Nov. 20.
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)
“The principle that every human being, documented or undocumented, is made in the image of God and deserving of dignity and respect is at the core of our faith,” the Chicago archbishop said in Spanish during a town hall-style event broadcast on Telemundo on March 19.

“Because of that principle,” he continued, “I am here today to assure you that we stand with those made fearful by the hatred expressed and threats made during the past year toward immigrants and refugees.”

“Today, we pledge to carry on the church’s commitment to the dignity of our neighbors. As the church was there for my grandparents in the 1900’s, the church is here for you,” he said. “We will speak out against prejudice and discrimination, provide you the services and comfort we can offer and work for justice until it is achieved.”

Cardinal Cupich’s statement is in following with the letter of the USCCB’s position on immigration. 

The Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, Bishop of Austin and Chair of the USCCB Committee on Migration, says that the latest Executive Order on immigration still puts vulnerable populations around the world at risk. In a statement issued after the announcement of the latest travel suspension, Bishop Vásquez says that while we seek to maintain our values and safety, we must also exercise compassion in assisting and continuing to welcome the stranger. He said, “We remain deeply troubled by the human consequences of the revised executive order on refugee admissions and the travel ban. While we note the Administration’s efforts to modify the Executive Order in light of various legal concerns, the revised Order still leaves many innocent lives at risk.”

The U.S. Catholic Bishops have long recognized the importance of ensuring public safety and would welcome reasonable and necessary steps to accomplish that goal.

However, based on the knowledge that refugees are already subjected to the most vigorous vetting process of anyone who enters the United States, there is no merit to pausing the refugee resettlement program while considering a further improvement to that vetting process.

Use this time to familiarize yourself with Catholic Social Teaching on immigration reform found here: http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/justice-for-immigrants.cfm

Monday, March 20, 2017

With Our Whole Heart

By Scan by NYPL [Public domain], 
via Wikimedia Commons

By Melanie Rigney

So let our sacrifice be in your presence today as we follow you unreservedly; for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame. And now we follow you with our whole heart, we fear you and we pray to you. Do not let us be put to shame, but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy. (Daniel 3:40-42)

Remember your mercies, O Lord. (Psalm 25:6a)

Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

Piety
Jesus, You showed us how to die—and how to live. Hold my hand and guide my way, so that I am afraid of neither.

Study
It was an unusual conversation to have at 5:30 in the morning, which made it all the more of a gift.

I’d been up for an hour, preparing for a weekend getaway, when I received a group email from a friend and business associate. What was she doing up that early? She’d left me a phone message the evening before, so I shot her a note to see if we could chat. And so we did.

One of the topics was our recent diocesan women’s conference at which Imaculee Ilibagiza was the speaker. You likely know her story, even if you don’t remember her name: she’s written and spoken extensively about the Rwandan genocide when she spent three months in a tiny bathroom with seven other women… only to find out when she emerged that all nearly her entire immediate family had been killed. Imaculee eventually found the faith to forgive her family’s murderers.

“Someone told me, ‘I couldn’t do what she did,’” my friend said. “And I told her maybe you’re not called to. Maybe if you’re 90 percent there, that’s enough for right now. Or maybe if you’re 10 percent there, that’s enough for right now.”

It got me to thinking. Could I spend three months in a tiny bathroom with seven other people? I hope I never have to find out. Could I forgive people who destroyed people I love? I hope so. Which is the greater death of self? Maybe that depends on who you are.

It’s been said that few of us are called to martyrdom in the traditional sense. But aren’t we all called to it every day, as we struggle to set aside our reservations about people and situations… and follow with our whole hearts? For in Him, we will always find mercy, regardless of what the world dishes out. Imaculee knows that. She lives it, and so do countless others we know—including those with whom we have deep conversations at 5:30 in the morning—though perhaps not in as public ways.

Action
Journal about an attitude or reaction you desire the Lord’s help in letting die.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

With Great Anxiety

Intricate woodworking from the central
wood screen inside Abu Sarga, the
oldest church in Coptic Cairo where
St. Joseph took Mary and Jesus to stay for
about three weeks during their sojourn in
Egypt to escape King Herod.
2010 Photo from a family trip to Egypt.


“…when your days have been completed and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, sprung from your loins, and I will establish his kingdom.  He it is who shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever.  I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.” 2 Samuel 7:12-14A

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety."  Luke 2:46-48

Piety

Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness
And all these things shall be added unto you
Allelu, alleluia

Man shall not live by bread alone
But by every word
That proceeds from the mouth of God
Allelu, alleluia

Ask and it shall be given unto you
Seek and ye shall find
Knock and the door shall be opened unto you
Allelu, alleluia

Study
Joseph could have quietly broken up with Mary and we would be celebrating a different saint today.  But he did not.  Rather than seeking his own righteousness, Joseph sacrifices his own pride and ego and puts God’s plan above his.  In the end, Joseph overcame his fears about what people might say and accepted the words of the angel which were delivered to him.

In the alternative Gospel reading for today, Jesus gives his Mother another seemingly flippant answer.  I think I for one would have preferred if he answered he more like he answered the disciples in Matthew’s Good News:

Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was clothed like one of them.
(Matthew 6:26-29)

However, Jesus got across the message of the primacy that needed to be devoted to God’s plan.

Action
We are just hours away from the start of the Women’s 149th Cursillo Weekend (with two more weekend experiences to follow in early spring).  Mary’s words on this day are strikingly significant.  She could be a candidate at Missionhurst Friday night. 

“[We] have been looking for [Jesus] with great anxiety."

This might be a comment made Thursday night as the candidates gather with the team for the first time.  Or it might come out in Table/Group discussions Friday morning.  The candidates approach the weekend like Mary seeking Jesus and like we did…with anxiety. 

What will the Lord have planned for them?
How will their families cope with their absence?  And how will they cope with the changed presence after Sunday night’s closing ceremony?
How will their workplace, school or volunteer organization fare without their services for the extended period?

The candidates are coming to the weekend in search of something…hopefully, that includes a closer walk with Jesus.  Yet, they do not know what will be delivered.  Thus, their anxiety over the future.

Let us support these three upcoming teams – especially the weekend starting Thursday night. 


Saturday, March 18, 2017

The One Who Is Speaking to You

Angelica Kauffman [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

By Melanie Rigney

In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with these people?” (Exodus 17:3-4)

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.  (Psalm 95:8)

And hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly. (Romans 5:5-6)

The (Samaritan) woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” (John 4:25-26)

Piety
Lord, help me to stay out of the way as I serve as a vessel for Your work.

Study
We all have them, those special people in our lives who reflect Christ to us on every occasion. They listen when we are in despair, admonish us with love when we are down a bad path, and provide guidance when we are unsure of where the Lord wishes us to go (or we are sure, but are loath to go there). We live with them, work with them, worship with them. And, occasionally, we thank them and God for the special lights they are in our lives.

We are less quick to recognize, perhaps, the way in which the Lord works through us. When we treat the Street Sense salesman with respect and wish him a safe evening, it is Jesus speaking to him. When we listen for the umpteenth time to a young woman’s romantic disappointment instead of quickly assuring her the sorrow will pass, it is Jesus speaking to her. When we share the fits-and-starts story of our own faith journey to a woman looking to find her way back to the Church, it is Jesus speaking to her.

The Samaritan woman was right. The Messiah came and told the people everything. And He continues to do so today, sometimes through the very ungodly people for whom He died at the appointed time.

Action
Be brave. Let the Lord comfort people through you today.

Coming to His Senses



Coming to his senses he thought, 'How many of my father's hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers."' Luke 15:17-19

Piety
Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance; Who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency, And will again have compassion on us,
treading underfoot our guilt? You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins.
Micah 7:18-19

Study
Sometimes, the trap in reading a familiar biblical story is that you think you know it so well after hearing it read at Mass for 50 years, after countless retreats, after a school career of the Baltimore catechism, after eight required classes in theology and philosophy and the "Bible as Literature."  

Yet inside that familiarity is a pearl somewhere.  Your job, in studying this passage, is to find that pearl of great price.  Today, I thought I found it in the foreshadowing of the first reading which portrays a compassionate God, who delights in mercy, and who casts all our sins into the sea.  Yet, reading a level deeper, Micah of Moresheth was a contemporary of Isaiah and they both preached eight hundred years before Jesus was born. 

So, if the story of the Prodigal Son is not of the Merciful Father, it is about us coming to our senses.  Probably the son thinks nothing of asking his Father for what is rightfully his.  The request upsets the natural order by not waiting until the Father dies and he inherits the property and wealth. However, the Father agrees and off goes the son. 

God does not all of a sudden become compassionate.  The Father was always thus.  It is us who have to “come to our senses.”

Action
Keep the Men’s 134th Team in your prayers today as they conduct Talk Day in the Community Room at Missionhurst. Their light must shine before the team before it shines before the candidates. http://www.arlingtoncursillo.org/134th-mens-weekend/

Keep the Women’s 149th Team in your prayers as they get ready to launch into the full weekend experience this coming Thursday night (March 23rd).  They need “different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit” including Palanca, weekend support and more.   http://www.arlingtoncursillo.org/149th-womens-weekend/

Your support of the Women’s 150th Team is also “welcome here” as they are the third team in formation right now.  http://www.arlingtoncursillo.org/150th-womens-weekend/

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Crucifixion is Never God’s Last Word


By Colleen O’Sullivan

Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him a long tunic. When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons, they hated him so much that they would not even greet him… (One day his father sent Joseph out to the pasture where his brothers were watching the flocks.) So Joseph went after his brothers and caught up with them in Dothan. They noticed him from a distance, and before he came up to them, they plotted to kill him. They said to one another: “Here comes that master dreamer! Come on, let us kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns here; we could say that a wild beast devoured him. We shall then see what comes of his dreams.” (Genesis 37:3-4, 17b-20)

“When vintage time drew near, (the landowner) sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.” (Matthew 21:34-39)

Piety
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. (Psalm 118:22)

Study
Several years ago, while on a Triduum retreat, I heard a moving Good Friday meditation, “When Life Comes to Nothing.” As I reflected on our Scripture readings today, that phrase echoed in my mind.

Joseph certainly must have felt like his life had come to nothing before it really even got started. One morning he woke up the adored, over-indulged youngest son of his father’s later years. By day’s end, he had for a short while been the intended victim of his brothers’ murder plot. Yes, he was still alive, but now found himself at the mercy of a caravan of Ishmaelites, who planned to make a profit by selling him into slavery.

Will I ever see my beloved dad again? Joseph wondered. My father will be totally grief-stricken if my brothers tell him I’ve been killed. Will I ever see home again? Why did my brothers do this to me? What have I ever done to make them hate me so? Were they that jealous of my special tunic? Where are these traders taking me? What will happen to me wherever I end up? I’m afraid my life might be over.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells his own story in the guise of a parable. God had sent prophets to his people Israel many times over the years, none of them were well-received. Because God loved Israel, God decided, in a last ditch effort, to send his only Son into the world. But as we know, Jesus was not welcomed by the leaders of the Jews. From the first day of his public ministry, the Pharisees and elders were out to get him. He was hassled at every turn. These learned men tried every which way to entrap Jesus. Even many of his relatives rejected him, declaring him out of his mind.

Even as he told this parable, Jesus’ days were numbered. Betrayal, spiritual anguish, humiliation, torture and ultimately death on the Cross were close at hand.

The Good News is that neither of these stories is the last word. Our God can breathe life into dry bones. God can rekindle new life from the ashes of our defeats. God can take the worst of times and transform them into the best. God helped Joseph evolve from intended murder victim to one of the most powerful men in Egypt, who was then able to save his family from starvation during a famine. God took Joseph’s broken family and made them whole again. Neither was God about to let the Cross be the last word. God raised his Son from death to new life in the Resurrection!

Action
All of us have experienced times when life seemed to have come to nothing. Maybe it was illness or grief or the loss of a job that brought us to our knees. We can fill in the blank on the circumstances for ourselves. In recent weeks I have been pondering how it must feel to an immigrant’s child to come home from school and find Mom or Dad gone, on their way to being deported, their family ripped apart.

Whatever the shape of the crosses you have borne, take time today to look back and reflect on where God has been in your life. I think you will see that God has often, albeit sometimes very slowly, transformed those crucifixion moments into occasions for new life. God truly can take the worst of times and make them into the best of times.

Sit with Jesus and thank him for being a life-giving presence in your life.



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Persuaded by Mercy and Grace



By Beth DeCristofaro

Thus says the LORD: Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, But stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.  Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose hope is the LORD. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit. (Jeremiah 17:5-8)

(The Rich Man) said, 'Then I beg you, father, send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.' But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.' He said, 'Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'" (Luke 16:27-31)

Piety
Be merciful, O Lord, for I have sinned.  (Psalm 51)

Study
We have Abraham, our father in faith.  We have Jesus, the Risen Christ who walked our earth and walks every day with us.  But we also have stock portfolios, entrepreneurial incubators, prosperity theology, Tinder and Instagram, luxury vehicles, botox, abs, extreme adventures, millionaire quarterbacks/goalies/centers,  rival liturgy styles, signature martinis, over-the-counter and street drugs, career ladders, vacation homes and more. Are we so busy, distracted, addicted that we do not see Lazarus?

Our spiritual journey lies in recognizing that a Lazarus lies within us.  Allowing him to inform our lives bridges the chasm between the barrenness of the desert and the greening of God’s grace within. Sr Maria Boulding wrote about the experience of inner poverty: “(God) wants to open us wider to the reality of his salvation … Repentance is an attitude of continual conversion of heart and it is a poverty, because it means always beginning again, never being able to rely on past successes or attained positons after the manner of the rich, but always admitting your need of God’s mercy.”[i]

Action
Read the Gospel several times and put yourself at the bottom of the rich man’s steps with Lazarus.  Just how difficult is imaginary poverty?  Can you feel your soul cry out for God’s waters?  Can you visualize your deep need?  Can you find a relation to those who are truly – not imagined - impoverished but, like you, are children of God?  Repent!  Turn again and convert.

[i] From  The Coming of God” quoted in “Give us this Day: Daily Prayer for Today’s Catholics”, Liturgical Press, March 2017, p. 93.

But to Serve

Art Laffin helps Bishop Gumbleton celebrate
Mass for the 30th anniversary of the Dorothy Day
Catholic Worker House and its service to the poor.

Pay attention to me, O LORD, and listen to what my adversaries say. Must good be repaid with evil that they should dig a pit to take my life? Remember that I stood before you to speak in their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them. Jeremiah 18:19-20

But Jesus summoned them and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. 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 20:25-28

Piety
Because of his anguish, he shall see the light;
because of his knowledge, he shall be content;
My servant, the just one, shall justify the many,
their iniquity he shall bear.
Therefore, I will give him his portion among the many,
and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty,
Because he surrendered himself to death,
was counted among the transgressors,
Bore the sins of many,
and interceded for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:11-12

Study
The prophets do not seem to be very successful…yet we study them anyway. Jeremiah preached and preached but to no avail. The people turned against him and tried to convict him with his very words. (“Let us destroy him by his own tongue.”)

When Jeremiah realized this, he turned to the Lord and asked for help in defeating his adversary. In essence, he was saying, “Save me, Lord, he implores. Remember, I went before them to get them to return to you?”

This prayer of vengeance follows a vision Jeremiah has of a potter at his wheel molding clay. When the clay turns out well, it is set aside and saved. When it turns out badly, it is crushed and the potter starts over again. “Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done? — oracle of the LORD. Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel. (Jeremiah 18:6) The Lord is the potter in Jeremiah’s vision. The prophet has a role in helping the “clay.”

The mistake made by Jeremiah – and again by James and John in the Gospel -- is in viewing their work through the same lens as some other sort of leader – religious, secular, military or otherwise. Even the disciples think that Jesus can reward their devotion with honoraria. James and John plead with Jesus just as Jeremiah pleads with the Lord for a reward for their service. Their reward will be the cup of death. Yet the “ransom” that will come will be the liberation from sin brought by Jesus’ death. It will not be the liberation from the oppression of the Roman army or the oppression of the rules of the Pharisees.

The request made through their mother, for the highest places of honor in the kingdom, and the indignation of the other ten disciples at this request, show that neither the two brothers nor the others have understood that what makes for greatness in the kingdom is not lordly power but humble service. Service matters. Jesus gives the example, and his ministry of service will reach its highest point when he gives his life for the deliverance of the human race from sin.

We know who gets to be on Jesus’ right and left – the two thieves who are crucified with him on Good Friday. But Jesus spares the mother of James and John the full answer.

Service matters. Such a sacrifice is what is envisioned in the Servant Songs of the Prophet Isaiah. Such will be the outcome of the Lenten Journey which again and again takes us to the same place…the foot of the cross where Jesus “bore the punishment that makes us whole.”

Action
What makes for greatness? Only service matters. Maybe we have to change our perspective. Jeremiah was saying “Pay attention to me.” But Jesus is saying, “NO! Pay attention to me.”

Jesus thinks for a moment to let the cup of death pass him by. However, he accepts it and drinks it. Jesus could have submitted to the temptation and brought down a host of angels on his attackers. He did not. It is not about the vengeance of one in power – even if you have the ear of the creator. It is about what we ask when we know we have his undivided attention. When we have his attention, think about service first. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

He That Offers Praise as a Sacrifice Glorifies Me

(By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions],
via Wikimedia Commons

By Melanie Rigney

Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord…. (Isaiah 1:18)

“Why do you recite my statutes, and profess my covenant with your mouth, though you hate discipline and cast my words behind you? When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it? Or do you think that I am like yourself? I will correct you by drawing them up before your eyes. He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me; and to him that goes the right way I will show the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:16-17,21,23)

“The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matthew 23:11-12)

Piety
Lord, I surrender.

Study
So here we are, nearly two weeks past Ash Wednesday. How’s it going so far? Staying away from the wine or chocolate? Still off social media? Setting aside for the Bishop’s Lenten Appeal the money you would have spent on coffee? All laudable things, to be sure. If you’ve been lacking in the discipline department, pray for help in getting back on course. If you haven’t slipped, give thanks and keep on keeping on.

Today’s readings remind us that Lent is about more than stuff, whether it’s doing more or having less. It’s about living our faith, day in and day out, every day, not just for these forty days. It’s about more than holding ourselves up as shining examples of Christianity, not patting ourselves on the back for the quantity or quality of our sacrifice; indeed, exalting ourselves will only lead to being humbled.

Lent is also about setting aside the comments we receive from others who are in awe of anyone who can live without a smartphone or dedicate an hour a week to adoration or be home for dinner with the family every night for six weeks. It’s about the rigor we attempt to find and live past Easter as we contemplate the greatest gift we will ever receive. It’s about setting things and ourselves right—and, when we do, turning any praise over to Him who deserves it all.

Action
Identify a point of praise you are holding onto rather than sacrificing it. How can you find the discipline to change that? 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Directed and Beloved


March 12, 2017  

Transfiguration, St. John's Bible
The LORD said to Abram: "Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father's house to a land that I will show you. … Abram went as the LORD directed him. (Genesis 12:1,4)

…then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and do not be afraid." And when the disciples raised their eyes,  they saw no one else but Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, "Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."  (Matthew 17:5-8)

Piety
R: Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield.
May your kindness, O LORD, be upon us
who have put our hope in you.
R. Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
 (Psalm 33:20-22)

Study
Most of us in the U.S.A. are descended from people who left their homes to come here to a new life, often losing touch with those they loved.  Some of our families came to escape hardships and persecution as did Catholic settlers in Maryland.  An early law, the Maryland Toleration Act, sought to establish religious freedom. Some ancestors came to realize new dreams.  St John Neumann was unable to be ordained in his naïve Bohemia due to the many vocations there.  He came to New York and eventually became bishop and is known as founder of Catholic education in the US. Some of our families had no choice but, like St. Peter, found themselves bound and taken were they did not want to go.  Venerable Pierre Toussaint was born a slave but after being freed he supported the Church for the rest of his life even founding an orphanage.

These people “went as the Lord directed,” not knowing their future but trusting.  The disciples did not understand nor could they fathom their future.  Jesus expressed that they would not know what they had witnessed in His transfiguration until the light of his passion, death and resurrection illuminated it.  It is God’s loving desire for relationship with us which Jesus asks them – and us – to trust in even if we do not wholly understand.  Today, we live without knowing what we face but we are illumined and uplifted by the grace bestowed when Jesus died and rose for us.  In Jesus our life paths are part of building the Kingdom.

Action
Do we have the courage and do we employ our trust as we are directed?  Take a minute in quiet reflection listening to the Spirit wherein our direction and our strength rests.  Let the wings of the Spirit guide you today.