Wednesday, February 28, 2018

“Soften and Enlighten My Heart, O Lord” by Beth DeCristofaro

“Soften and Enlighten My Heart, O Lord” by Beth DeCristofaro
 
Frans Francken the Younger - Lazarus and the Rich Miser
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. … I, the LORD, alone probe the mind and test the heart, To reward everyone according to his ways, according to the merit of his deeds.  (Jeremiah 17:5, 10)

Jesus said to the Pharisees: "There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. (Luke 16:19-21)

Piety
Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God, and our ears to the voice from heaven that every day calls out this charge: “If you hear his voice today, Do not harden your hearts” (Ps 95:8)     Rule of St. Benedict (Prologue 9-10)

Study
It’s pretty simple today to give to charity or good causes.  Click a link, join a walk or bike ride, drop a few coins into the box at the cashier.  We don’t live lives as opulent as the rich man.  We’ve given to those in need.

What is more difficult is to identify the “wealth” we have which causes us to not see the Lazarus’ in our lives.  These “wealths” are not necessarily even negatives.  Some of them might not even seem like “wealth”.  For example:

I live in a good neighborhood with good schools.  Do I look with unease on those who also want to live here because they are different?  I safeguard what is mine.  
My insurance covers my needs but I worked hard for it, I don’t want that to change.  If others don’t have the same insurance they can work harder and earn it.   

My church is full of fellowship-minded caring individuals and has great liturgy but new languages just make it hard for everyone; it sets up groups that don’t mix. 

My family and community, deeply important to me, justify my ownership of guns to protect them and your paranoid desire to take them away is selfish.  (Reverse:  You just don’t understand that guns for self-protection are a myth!  No one needs guns at all these days we have police to protect us.)

My values have gotten me this far why haven’t yours?

This era of political correctness can be exhausting.  #me too, black lives matter, Parkland… especially when we feel we are practicing our Christian faith as best we can.  The myriad of voices present us with fresh opportunities to look again at our Christian lives and practices and see where our own “wealths” are causing us to not see poverty such as those who are disregarded, unbelieved, appraised less industrious, misunderstood thus less capable, people pigeonholed by stereotypes.    Perhaps our Lenten almsgiving can include a new type of coinage – looking and giving with Spirit and heart! 

Action
The Lord, hanging on the cross, had nothing.  However, he gave so generously by forgiving “those who do not know what they do.”  How poor were his tormentors and even worse, how blind?  But the richness of Jesus’ love gives us the hint of where we might most invest for eternal wealth:  kindness, seeing others with the eyes of love, mercy, and forgiveness.  What wealth causes me to stumble over my purple and linen fine garments?  Be aware of it.  Be aware of voices around me and listen, learn, grow in love.

“Fasting of a Different Sort” by Colleen O’Sullivan

“Fasting of a Different Sort” by Colleen O’Sullivan


Michelangelo Buonarroti, c. 1508-1512,
The Prophet Jeremiah, Sistine Chapel,
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Heed 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 on their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them. (Jeremiah 18:20)

As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the Twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day."  Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.  He said to her, "What do you wish?"  She answered him, "Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom."  (Matthew 20:17-21)

Piety
Lord, may we live the way you died – for others.

Study
Once, when one of my nieces was about four years old, she was admiring the amethyst ring her mother was wearing.  “Mommy, can I have that ring?”  “Well, after I die, it will be yours.”  “Mommy, can you hurry up and die so I can have it?”

A four-year-old can be excused for saying something so crass and unfeeling; she has no real concept of death.  But adults do know what it means to die.  And Jesus has just told his closest friends for the third time that he is going to die soon and not peacefully.  He will suffer.  It won’t be pretty.  So, James’ and John’s mother’s question to Jesus seems particularly jarring.  How unfeeling can a person be?   Her sons’ best friend is going to be seized, tortured and put to death and all she (and if the truth be told, probably her sons, too) can think about is whether or not they can have the choicest places in heaven on either side of Jesus.  (Maybe helicopter parenting wasn’t a 20th-century invention.)  No one, not the sons, the mother or the other disciples, get it.  Faithful service to others doesn’t always get rewarded with trophies, blue ribbons or the adulation of friends and family.   For Jesus, the reward will be a horrible death on a cross.

Jeremiah fits right in with the disciples.  He reluctantly agreed to be a prophet, but he’s been faithful to what God asked him to do.  He’s spoken the truth about God’s people, the state of their relationship with their God and the consequences of their choices.  The people, of course, don’t want to hear any of this, so they plot to dig a pit, throw Jeremiah in and leave him to die.  And Jeremiah wants to know what God is going to do about this.  Shouldn’t the good I’ve done be rewarded with protection from my enemies?  Come on, God, don’t you owe me that?

Action
Whether it’s protection from our foes or choice seats in heaven that we desire, most of us seem to believe in a twisted version of the prosperity gospel, which is itself a perversion of the real Gospel.  If we demonstrate enough faith and service, we think we should be rewarded here and now.  We should be written up in the Arlington Herald, be liked and admired by others, and be regarded as pillars of the church, etc.

But the Gospel never promises us any such thing.  Look at Blessed Archbishop Romero.  Or the six Jesuits martyred in El Salvador in 1989.  Or the monks in Algeria, now recognized as martyrs, whose story was told in the movie “Of Gods and Men.”  Or the many Christians whose lives have been taken by ISIS. 

Many times, the only real reward in this life for doing the right thing is the satisfaction of knowing we’re doing the right thing, knowing that we’re following in Jesus’ footsteps, even when the path leads to a cross.

Maybe what we could give up for Lent is the desire for recognition and rewards.  Perhaps we could pray that doing the right thing in God’s eyes would in and of itself be reward enough for us.   It’s fasting of a different sort.

Monday, February 26, 2018

“Let Us Set Things Right” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

“Let Us Set Things Right” by Melanie Rigney


Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow. Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool. If you are willing and obey, you shall eat the good things of the land; but if you refuse and resist, you shall be eaten by the sword: for the mouth of the LORD has spoken! (Isaiah 1:16-20)

To the upright, I will show the saving power of God. (Psalm 50:23)

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. 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. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation 'Rabbi.' As for you, do not be called 'Rabbi.' You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers." (Matthew 23:1-8)

Piety
Lord, Your might and power are endless. Plant a mustard seed in my soul, that I might believe that might and power extend to washing me clean.

Study
Oh, the scribes and the Pharisees.

Jesus acknowledges they were preaching the right things. The problem was they weren’t living them, judging where compassion was needed, polishing their public images instead of getting their hands and robes dirty in service.

The Messiah was right in front of them, day after day after day. But while their works were there to be seen, they couldn’t see what was right in front of them: the promised Messiah. The realization of the prophecies. The earthly culmination of God’s love. Their resistance to the possibility was too strong. To them, things were already set right and would continue to be right if only the itinerant preacher would be quiet.

We, of course, are nothing like the scribes and Pharisees. We don’t judge where compassion is needed. We don’t polish our images instead of getting our hands and robes dirty. And if Jesus was right in front of us, we’d see Him for sure. Right?

Right?

May we be more aware of our errors than the scribes and Pharisees were. May we say yes when the Lord offers to set things right with Him and His people.

Action
Do something for Christ today that you consciously chose not to do yesterday.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Good Measure, Packed Together

A Good Measure, Packed Together

Jesus said to his disciples: "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. "Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you." Luke 6:36-38

Piety
O LORD, we are shamefaced, like our kings, our princes, and our fathers, for having sinned against you. But yours, O Lord, our God, are compassion and forgiveness! Yet we rebelled against you and paid no heed to your command, O LORD, our God, to live by the law you gave us through your servants the prophets."  Deuteronomy 9:8-10

Study
No matter what, you can not say that Sacred Scripture does not provide plenty of warnings and instructions about how merciful we must be. Over the last three days, the Church presented us with readings from Matthew Saturday, Mark Sunday and now Luke.  While Matthew 5 sets the standard as perfection, Luke is slightly more lenient in his choice of goals.  “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

The verb "to be" implies action in the present moment.  Jesus does not say “Aspire to be merciful.”  He says, “Be Merciful.” 

If Hamlet were delivering this soliloquy, he might remark, “To be merciful or not to be merciful, that is the question.”

If Yoda was delivering this instruction to young Jedi, he might teach, “Be merciful or be not merciful. There is no try. There is only BE.” When their training is complete, these Jedi will be more like their teacher. However, that future state does not change the absolute terms of the lesson.

Also, we not only get the absolute terms of this commandment, but we also get a reminder that God is merciful to us because we are God’s children. We want to imitate God because we want to be in a good relationship with Him just like Jesus.

Action
When I was a child, I remember reading on the side of a box a line that said something like, “This product is sold by volume, not by quantity.” I asked my parents what that meant. They explained that sometimes the product in the box settles down and when you open it, it might not appear that the box is full.  You never want to open a box of Cracker Jacks® and find it half-filled, but that is the lesson of weight, not volume. To make up for the volume issue, we not only get candy-coated popcorn and peanuts, but there is always a prize! A little extra.

When we go shopping, we like the little extra.  At Einstein’s, I enjoy knowing that when I buy a dozen bagels, the box will ALWAYS have 13 when I get home. (And I get to choose what the flavor of that extra bagel is.) A good measure. A little extra.

When I go to dinner at Filomena’s in Georgetown, after the dinner dishes are cleared from the table, while the waiter is getting our orders for coffee and dessert, he brings a carafe of Sambuca (anisette) and another of Amoretto.  You can drink as much or as little as you choose.  No charge.  It is part of the hospitality of the family-style Italian cooking. A little extra. If you ever visit New Orleans, you get the French equivalent of such hospitality under the guise of “lagniappe.” A little extra.

We all like getting a little extra. We prefer getting more than just what we deserve based on the price paid.  That is the mercy of God to the Prodigal daughters and sons of this world.  We get more than we deserve.  How much compassion shall we serve out to those around us? A generous measure and then, a little bit extra.

Maybe we can be more generous in our Welcoming the Stranger?

Monday, February 26 is the National Call-In-Day to Protect Dreamers.
The USCCB announced a National Catholic Call-In Day to Protect Dreamers. At masses over the past weekend, the Bishops asked the faithful across the nation to call their Members of Congress Monday, February 26.  The purpose of the calls is to ask Members to protect Dreamers from deportation, to provide them a path to citizenship, and to avoid any damage to existing protections for families and unaccompanied minors in the process.
“Our faith compels us to stand with the vulnerable, including our immigrant brothers and sisters.  We have done so continually, but we must show our support and solidarity now in a special way.  Now is the time for action.”
Contact your Members of Congress by calling 855-589-5698 and visit http://bit.ly/2EMztTX  to learn more.


Make your Poppa proud as you welcome the stranger!

Transfigure Us, Oh Lord by Phil Russell

Transfigure Us, Oh Lord by Phil Russell

Second Sunday Of Lent

Piety
God put Abraham to the test.
He called to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am!” He replied. Genesis 22:1

Study
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Saint Paul to the Romans 8:31

Action
“Peter said to Jesus, “it is good that we are here!” Mark 9:2-10

Another LENT. Another chance to “Reboot!”

Let’s just ponder, “What if?”

What if…God was actually “speaking” to us. Up close and personal!

What if...God was calling us personally by name. Over and over from the beginning, we have seen it happen. To Adam. To Abraham. To Samuel. To Moses. To Jeremiah. To David. To Solomon. Even, Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus.

But really...ME? LENT 2018?

Weren’t we led by the Psalmist to sing out, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your heart (as in the desert, as in rebellion).”   

Or today's Psalm singing out, “I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.” Psalm 116:10

Yet even today, we live in falsehood, deadwood, self, and sinfulness.

Can we stop to LISTEN!
 
Maybe that might even be a form of, “fasting”...from the noise of Life’s cares and concerns and woes.
Take time to “SING” wholeheartedly the words of today’s Psalm: “O Lord, I (am) your servant, the son of your handmaid; YOU HAVE LOOSED MY BONDS. To you, I will offer sacrifice of thanksgiving, and I WILL CALL UPON THE NAME OF THE LORD.”

Just maybe, today, this Second Sunday of Lent 2018, we, TOO, might experience TRANSFIGURATION!

Then we too, might PROCLAIM: “Jesus, it is good they we are here!”

That is one TRIPOD on which to make our STAND! 

What if “God is for US, who will condemn? Christ Jesus, it is who died – or, rather, was raised – who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.” Romans 8:34

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Peculiarly His Own

Peculiarly His Own


“Today you are making this agreement with the LORD: he is to be your God, and you are to walk in his ways and observe his statutes, commandments, and decrees, and to hearken to his voice. And today the LORD is making this agreement with you: you are to be a people peculiarly his own, as he promised you; and provided you keep all his commandments, he will then raise you high in praise and renown and glory above all other nations he has made, and you will be a people sacred to the LORD, your God, as he promised.” Deuteronomy 26:17-19

Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” Matthew 5:43-45

Piety
Peace waits among the hills;
I have drunk peace,
Here, where the blue air fills
The great cup of the hills,
And fills with peace.
Between the earth and sky,
I have seen the earth
Like a dark cloud go by,
And fade out of the sky;
There was no more earth.
Light fills the hills with God,
Wind with his breath,
And here, in his abode,
Light, wind, and air praise God,
And this poor breath.
Arthur Symons

Study
You have heard that it was said…

Jesus turned many of the expectations of the people upside down.  People said (and say) a lot of things that might be popular.  We are not expected to follow the popular path.  Whenever doing so, the aim was always to continue to fulfill the covenant promised in the Hebrew Bible. While Jesus changes the perspective on many things, the one thing he never changed was the Covenant. He was the actual fulfillment of God’s portion.

Christians, however, are not to be common.   We MUST be peculiarly his own.  Abnormal from human standards because we are asked to follow the Lord’s rules.  Those differences will be noticeable in the world for anyone who looks close enough to notice. They should not detect us because of any religious practice or public demonstration of faith. Instead, they should see us because we are markedly different from others in how we behave according to the be-attitudes.

If we love God, God will love us back.  True enough.  But if God loves us, will we love God back?  Maybe not always so true.  If we love our friends, they will love us back.  True enough.  But if we love our enemies, will our enemies love us back?  Maybe not always true. 

Sometimes, the scales of justice tip in our favor.  Sometimes, they might not.  However, the situations still call for our reactions to be based on the perfect love we learn from God, not our own imperfection.

Notice that Jesus did not ask us to be slightly in favor of the covenant.  He asked us to go all in in this conclusion to Matthews (perhaps) most famous chapter.

Action
Jesus does not ask us to behave like everyone else. If he was the counter-revolutionary, he asks the same of us. So, let us turn to Jesus this season and ask him: “Lord, make me peculiarly your own.” 


Friday, February 23, 2018

Be Reconciled

Be Reconciled


Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? says the Lord GOD. Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live? Ezekiel 18:23

Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24

Piety
Father, give us a new heart and a new spirit this Lenten season so that we might return to you with clear eyes and with joyful love in our hearts.


Study
Let us return to return.  Recall those words from Ash Wednesday as the horizontal and vertical limbs of the cross marked your forehead. "Remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return."

Lent is about returning and today we get another reminder about just that.  Jesus does not reject the gift brought to the altar. However, he does put some conditions on it like being in a right relationship with our neighbor. Once we patch up any flaws in our relationships, Jesus welcomes us to return to the altar and make that gift with a clear heart and a clear mind and a clear conscience.

As Coach would say, “Clear eyes!  Strong Heart!  Can’t lose!”  In the movie version of Friday Night Lights, the original team coach, Coach Gaines, delivers the following speech:

"Being perfect is not about that scoreboard out there, it's not about winning.  It's about you, and your relationship to your family, yourself, and your friends.  Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye, and know that you didn't let them down because you told them the truth.  And that truth is that you did everything you could - there wasn't one more thing you could have done.  Can you live in that moment?  As best you can, with clear eyes, and love in your heart.  With joy in your heart.  If you can do that, then you're perfect."

The prophet Ezekiel had another way to refer to such conditions:  We will be judged according to our own behavior – with a new heart and a new spirit.
Therefore, I will judge you, house of Israel, all of you according to your ways—oracle of the Lord GOD. Turn, turn back from all your crimes, that they may not be a cause of sin for you ever again. Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. Why should you die, house of Israel? For I find no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies—oracle of the Lord GOD. Turn back and live!  EZ 18:30-32

Action
How can you use the weeks of Lent to focus on you and repairing any breaches in your relationships with your family, your friends, and your God? “Can you live for that moment?  Can you live in that moment?”

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

“Revealed by the Father” by Beth DeCristofaro

“Revealed by the Father” by Beth DeCristofaro


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. (Matthew 16:15-17)

Piety
Grant, we pray, almighty God, that no tempests may disturb us, for you have set us fast on the rock of the Apostle Peter’s confession of faith.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
        (Collect from the Mass for the Day)

Study
Gratitude has become a prized value to make someone’s day, to counter misfortune, indignities or even frustrations.  We can buy plaques and find on-line gratitude forums to prompt us toward saying thanks.  In fact, the spiritual giant Meister Eckhart said “If the only prayer we ever say in our lives is “Thank You” that will be enough.”  And it certainly works for me.

Jesus’ question to Peter guides my looking deeply into gratitude.  Not only what am I grateful for but who do I say Jesus is in my life and in Life?  Who do I say that I am?  Working in healthcare I meet people who have little to be grateful for.  They might suffer in a body which no longer performs as they expect it to; they might have little or no support; often have lost a job which defined them and activities which they enjoyed.  They struggle with “who am I” now.  And of course, they might wonder “How is God” in my life today? Or “Why does God” let this happen to me.  Peter’s witness gives us the substantial and unending reassurance despite questions, doubts, ruination that the Messiah, Son of the Living God, has walked and does walk with me.  Gratitude is bigger than even the biggest of my dreams, it is rooted in divine generosity.

Jesus, Saviour, gives eternal value to my mortal life.  The Living God lives with me today, tomorrow, and into eternity.  God chose to do this for me and my Neighbor.  Can I say to Jesus that I hear and know you, my Messiah, Son of the Living God?  He will certainly look back at me and say, I know you, beloved, formed in the image of my Father as am I despite your feeble existence full of shortcomings.  Peter glimpsed this and was able to articulate it as no one yet had due to his hearing God’s voice.  Jesus’ Church, with the rock-solid witness of Peter at its core, cannot be overturned by feebleness, shortcomings, tone deafness and is itself witness to the Kingdom building on earth.

Action
How well do I reflect God’s generosity?  How eagerly do I seek Jesus’ face in the Other?  Practice on those you meet today. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

“The Sign of Jonah” by Colleen O’Sullivan

Jonah Preaches to the Ninevites,
DorĂ©’s English Bible, 1866,
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
“The Sign of Jonah” by Colleen O’Sullivan


Jonah began his journey through the city and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,” when the people of Nineveh believed God, they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth… When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.  (Jonah 3:4-5, 10)

“Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the son of Man be to this generation… At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.”   (Luke 11:30, 32)

Piety
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me.  (Psalm 51:3-4)

Study
In some places, the story of Jonah is comically absurd.  Here’s Jonah, totally upset because God wants him to preach repentance to the Ninevites, a people about as evil as this prophet can imagine.  They’re not “his people.”  They’re what he would refer to as “others.”  They’re not believers.  They’ve long been Jonah’s people’s enemies.  What does Jonah do?  He who considers himself one of the faithful disobeys God and runs as far as he can in the other direction!  God prevails, however, and eventually, Jonah does preach repentance in the streets of Nineveh. 

Jonah can’t believe it, but the people take the message to heart.  They put on sackcloth and begin a fast, which, once the king gets involved, extends even to their livestock!  They actually are ready and willing to turn from their sin.  God sees their sincerity and forgives them.  Rather than rejoicing at this display of mercy on the part of God, Jonah stomps off in anger.  What was God thinking in forgiving people like the Ninevites?

Jesus, on the other hand, surrounded by his own people, believers in the God of Israel, meets with a totally different reaction.  No repentance here, no sackcloth garments or fasting.  Instead, he gets demands for more signs, which Jesus refuses.  Standing in the midst of the crowd is the very source of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, but the people don’t want to see it.  They have no desire to change.  They are right, and this upstart, itinerant preacher from Nazareth who says otherwise needs to go.

Action
Things to consider in prayer:  If we are reflecting on the state of our hearts during Lent, perhaps we need to ask ourselves if there are individuals or groups of people whom we, like Jonah, regard as beyond the scope of God’s forgiveness and mercy.  When Jesus offers us forgiveness, do we acknowledge our need of it, or are we like the crowd in the Gospel reading, unable to see our need for repentance?



“The Sign of Jonah” by Colleen O’Sullivan

Jonah Preaches to the Ninevites,
DorĂ©’s English Bible, 1866,
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
“The Sign of Jonah” by Colleen O’Sullivan


Jonah began his journey through the city, and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,” when the people of Nineveh believed God, they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth… When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.  (Jonah 3:4-5, 10)

“Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the son of Man be to this generation… At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.”   (Luke 11:30, 32)

Piety
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me.  (Psalm 51:3-4)

Study
In some places, the story of Jonah is comically absurd.  Here’s Jonah, totally upset because God wants him to preach repentance to the Ninevites, a people about as evil as this prophet can imagine.  They’re not “his people.”  They’re what he would refer to as “others.”  They’re not believers.  They’ve long been Jonah’s people’s enemies.  What does Jonah do?  He who considers himself one of the faithful disobeys God and runs as far as he can in the other direction!  God prevails, however, and eventually, Jonah does preach repentance in the streets of Nineveh. 

Jonah can’t believe it, but the people take the message to heart.  They put on sackcloth and begin a fast, which, once the king gets involved, extends even to their livestock!  They actually are ready and willing to turn from their sin.  God sees their sincerity and forgives them.  Rather than rejoicing at this display of mercy on the part of God, Jonah stomps off in anger.  What was God thinking in forgiving people like the Ninevites?

Jesus, on the other hand, surrounded by his own people, believers in the God of Israel, meets with a totally different reaction.  No repentance here, no sackcloth garments or fasting.  Instead, he gets demands for more signs, which Jesus refuses.  Standing in the midst of the crowd is the very source of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, but the people don’t want to see it.  They have no desire to change.  They are right, and this upstart, itinerant preacher from Nazareth who says otherwise needs to go.

Action
Things to consider in prayer:  If we are reflecting on the state of our hearts during Lent, perhaps we need to ask ourselves if there are individuals or groups of people whom we, like Jonah, regard as beyond the scope of God’s forgiveness and mercy.  When Jesus offers us forgiveness, do we acknowledge our need of it, or are we like the crowd in the Gospel reading, unable to see our need for repentance?



Monday, February 19, 2018

“Before You Ask Him” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

“Before You Ask Him” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)


“(My word) shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it. (James 1:12-14)

From all their distress God rescues the just. (Psalm 34:18)

Jesus said to his disciples: "In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6:7-8)

Piety
“The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you His unwavering strength that you may bear it. Be at peace, then, and set aside all anxious thoughts and worries.” —St. Francis de Sales

Study
Back in the day, Santa was often a disappointment for me.

I asked for a dark-haired, ponytailed Barbie; I got an ash-blonde bubble cut. I asked for an Easy-Bake oven; I got a no-name brand doll-size kitchen sink. But I never ever stopped believing in him, not until the day my mother told me who Santa was.
Why was it easier to believe in Santa, even when he didn’t always deliver as we asked than it is to believe and accept that the Lord isn’t always going to give us what we want? Whether we babble like pagans or like the children God loves so tenderly, our prayers can look like our childhood wish lists did, full of tangible, actionable items: Cure my mother’s stage-four cancer. Find a job for my chronically unemployed husband. Make my children more obedient. Stop the guilt tapes from playing in my head. Punish that drunken driver who killed my best friend.

And when our requests aren’t fulfilled exactly the way we want in the time period we want, too many of us stop praying. He’s not going to give us what we want, so what’s the point, we rationalize. We think we’re grieving and hurting Him, and perhaps we are. But we injure ourselves even further.

God isn’t Santa. We don’t always get what we think we want or deserve; we all know that. Some of us spend swathes of our lives without getting anything we desire, even very real things like food, water, clothing, friends, good health, earthly love. Faith is easy when we’re getting the things on our want lists. Initially, it’s hard to surrender those lists and pray for acceptance, obedience, and surrender to what He knows is best for us. But ultimately, aren’t those prayers for acceptance, obedience, and surrender what Christianity is all about?

Action
Meditate on the quote above from St. Francis de Sales. What thoughts and worries and directives is the Lord calling you to set aside?

Inherit the Kingdom

Inherit the Kingdom

Monday of the First Week of Lent


The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the whole assembly of the children of Israel and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy…You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.  Leviticus 19:1-2, 18BC

“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’” Matthew 25:34-36

Piety

Prophets of a Future Not Our Own[i]

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
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. 

Study
There is a pretty stark contrast between the code of conduct in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.  Mostly, the passage from Leviticus focuses on what NOT to do (which is why I took an excerpt from the beginning and end).  Matthew focuses on what we MUST do. What comes through loud and clear from both books is that LOVE IN ACTION is a critical component if we are to inherit the kingdom.

In the Hebrew Bible, it was the job of the king or ruler to meet the needs of the “anawim.”  Social justice did not trickle down to the people in the pews.
The anawim of the Old Testament were the poor of every sort: the vulnerable, the marginalized, and socio-economically oppressed, those of lowly status without earthly power. In fact, they depended entirely on God for whatever they owned. The Hebrew word anawim (inwetan) means those who are bowed down.[ii]

Individually, these are the widows, orphans, and immigrants who looked to God for everything. For whatever reason (bad luck, bad karma or the accident of birth), they have experienced a life that isn’t fair.  They don’t expect their rights to be respected. The widows and orphans of ancient Middle Eastern societies relied upon the local ruler to provide what the Lord did not.  They are strangers to people who have “made it” in this world. They do not belong to the kingdoms of this world because the nations of this world haven’t accepted them. They are outcasts in the society of power, prestige, and possessions. The world pays no attention to them.  The world cannot exploit them for anything because they have nothing.[iii] 

The anawim live in total poverty. However, that also means that these people live in complete freedom. They are attached to nothing and no one, except God, their family, and a few people with whom they share life. They have eyes to see what is essential. They are not weighed down by the anxiety and hurry that often describes middle-class America.[iv] 

Once we start to pay attention to the teachings of Jesus, the responsibility to care for the anawim shifts from the ruler and God to…us!  As model parents, Mary and Joseph raised Jesus in the spirit of the anawim.  He preached with moral authority instead of with temporal power, and the Sermon on the Mount paired with Matthew 25 make the ultimate counter-cultural statement.

Action
Maybe Lent can be a time to slow down, so we do not miss the opportunity to fulfill Matthew 25.  We tend to be in a hurry going from place to place, task to task.  We tend to love things. We care for our jobs, our cars, our houses, our retirement accounts and our careers more than the invisible homeless and unemployed whom we do not see due to social blindness. Societal values tell us to make something of ourselves in this world. That’s why we go to college and climb a career ladder.  We are always afraid of falling off that ladder, failing off that ladder. 

Getting into the Kingdom is not about filling any of those prescriptions for success.  It’s not about our bank account nor our wardrobe.  Our entry into the Kingdom is all about accepting the moral authority of Jesus on Calvary, not Madison Avenue or Wall Street or K Street or Hollywood Boulevard. Our entry into the Kingdom is about letting God into our hearts, our lives, and becoming our everything through service to others. If we crowd God out with all this other stuff, we will miss seeing God right next to us. 

The Kingdom is not some far away goal.  It is right here.  It is right now.  It is available to us in the present tense.  It is a present and tangible reality if we but feed the hungry, greet the stranger, and care for those who are hurt.  

[i] This prayer was first presented by Cardinal Dearden in 1979 and quoted by Pope Francis in 2015. This reflection is an excerpt from a homily written for Cardinal Dearden by then-Fr. Ken Untener on the occasion of the Mass for Deceased Priests, October 25, 1979. Pope Francis quoted Cardinal Dearden in his remarks to the Roman Curia on December 21, 2015. Fr. Untener was named bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, in 1980.
[iv] Ibid.