Monday, April 30, 2018

“Your Friends Make Known, O Lord” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

“Your Friends Make Known, O Lord” by Melanie Rigney

(When Paul and Barnabas arrived in Antioch), they called the Church together and reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. Then they spent no little time with the disciples. (Acts 14:27-28)

Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom. (Psalm 145:12)

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27)

Lord, I offer gratitude for the friends who make You known to me.

Seleucia. Salamis. Paphos. Perga. Antioch. Iconium. Lystra. Derbe. Attalia. Then back to Antioch.

By Roberto Reggi (sulla base di Yohanan Aharoni, Michael Abi-Yonah,
Atlante della Bibbia, 1987, mappa 245.) (Derivative work of RomanEmpire 117.svg)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
It was a road show for Christ, Paul and Barnabas sharing the Good News to receptive and not so receptive audiences. It ran the gamut, from persecutions to conversions. And now, back in Antioch, they were among friends, new and old, fellow disciples of Christ. What joy! What relief, to be back with people who “got” them… and Him.

We don’t know for sure just how long they spent in Antioch, just that it was “no little time.” Paul and Barnabas would later part ways, not over doctrine, but over whether a companion who had deserted them at one point should accompany them on their next trip. Barnabas and that companion would head for Cyprus; Paul and Silas would go to Syria and Cilicia. But oh, how that time in Antioch in community must have fed and fortified them all for those future journeys.

In some ways, the twenty-first century AD isn’t a lot different from the first century AD. People quarrel. Friendships end. People die. People aren’t there when we most need them… or we aren’t there for them. But those God-filled moments when we can rest in Him and community together must be treasured and stored in our hearts and souls, for they provide us with food we need to evangelize on our own road shows.

Offer a rosary for someone who fed you spiritually during his or her time on earth.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Make Our Dwelling with Him

Make Our Dwelling with Him

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

"Men, why are you doing this? We are of the same nature as you, human beings. We proclaim to you good news that you should turn from these idols to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all Gentiles to go their own ways; yet, in bestowing his goodness, he did not leave himself without witness, for he gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons and filled you with nourishment and gladness for your hearts." Acts 14:15-17

"Master, then what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me. John 14:22-24

Jesus unlocks the door of inclusiveness. Paul and Barnabas hold it open for the Gentiles. For that, the First One gets crucified and the other two almost stoned to death.

The disciples assume that Jesus is revealed only to them and not to the world. Au contraire, says Jesus. Revelation is not the path to savior. Instead, Jesus announces that salvation belongs to “whoever loves me and will keep my word.” Jew. Gentile. Greek. Roman. Nationality does not matter. Race does not matter. Gender does not matter.

Paul picks up on that instruction. When he is chased out of Iconium by an angry mob, he heads over to Lystra and Derbe where he continues preaching and healing. Even the miracle of the lame man walking does little to bring new members into the young Church. First, they want to see Paul as the messenger from Zeus. When he refuses the accolade, Paul faces rejection (again).

The notes to the New American Bible explain that part of the first reading is from Paul’s earliest speech to the Gentiles. “Rather than showing how Christianity is the logical outgrowth of Judaism, as he does in speeches before Jews, Luke says that God excuses past Gentile ignorance and then presents a natural theology arguing for the recognition of God’s existence and presence through his activity in natural phenomena.” Faith, then, does not demand that a person passes through Judaism. It only requires that you love God and keep God’s commandments.

God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now the Lord demands that all people everywhere repent. God established a day on which he will ‘judge the world with justice’ through a man he has appointed, and he has confirmed all by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:30-31

This position also is supported in the Wisdom literature in the Hebrew Bible. “Foolish by nature were all who were in ignorance of God, and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing the one who is, and from studying the works did not discern the artisan.” (Wisdom 13:1). We overcome our ignorance through our piety, study, and action.

A confrontation between people from different backgrounds was not new to Jesus, Paul or Barnabas…and it is not new to us.

In this CNS photo, women from Central America chat after arriving at a migrant shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, April 25. They are part of a caravan of legal migrants from Central American who crossed through Mexico to the border with the U.S., where they will present themselves to U.S. immigration and seek asylum because of increased violence in Central America. (CNS photo/David Maung). These families are fleeing violence in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and elsewhere and are legally seeking entry to the US.

The USCCB website reminds us:
The Catholic Church in the United States is an immigrant Church with a long history of embracing diverse newcomers and providing assistance and pastoral care to immigrants, migrants, refugees, and people on the move. Our Church has responded to Christ’s call for us to “welcome the stranger among us,” for, in this encounter with the immigrant, the migrant, and the refugee in our midst, we encounter Christ.
A rich body of Church teaching, including Papal encyclicals, Bishops’ statements, and pastoral letters, has consistently reinforced our moral obligation to treat the stranger as we would treat Christ himself. In the 2001 pastoral statement, Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity, the Bishops of the United States called upon the Catholic faithful to a conversion of minds and hearts, imploring us to communion and solidarity with diverse newcomers, and entreating us to find new and meaningful ways to welcome our immigrant sisters and brothers into our parishes, schools and communities. In 2003, the Bishops of the United States, together with the Bishops of Mexico, in the pastoral statement,Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope” / “Juntos en el Camino de la Esperanza Ya no Somos Extranjerosacknowledged that the current immigration system is badly in need of reform and offered a comprehensive set of recommendations for changing U.S. laws and policies to bring about a more humane and just immigration system in the United States.

The Catholic Church believes that current immigration laws must be reformed to meet our country's need for low-skilled labor and facilitate the reunification of families.

The Catholic Church believes that immigrants should come to the United States lawfully, but it also understands that the current immigration legal framework does not adequately reunify families and is non-responsive to our country's need for labor. Our country must pass immigration reform laws to ensure the rule of law in the United States, while simultaneously ensuring that the laws that rule are responsive to our economy's demand for labor, rooted in the reunification of the family, and respectful of the humanity of the immigrants in our midst. The Church supports immigration reform that would increase the number of visas available for low-skilled workers and facilitate family reunification.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

“Ask for Whatever You Want” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

“Ask for Whatever You Want” by Melanie Rigney

When Saul arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. Then Barnabas took charge of him and brought him to the apostles, and he reported to them how he had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. (Acts 9:26-27)

I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people.  (Psalm 22:26a)

Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. (1 John 3:23)

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples." (John 15:7-8)
Musei di Strada Nuova [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Lord, open my ears and mind to Your saving grace.

The Pew Research Center recently released a study about Americans’ view of God, with results that might surprise you. Among Christians, Catholics trailed the pack in belief in God “as described in the Bible” at just 69 percent (mainline Protestants followed at 72 percent), and somehow, I don’t think that figure had much to do with a richer belief that encompasses Sacred Tradition. By even wider margins, Catholics were less likely to believe God or a “higher power” is all-loving or all-knowing.

Catholics also were the least likely to say they talk to God, or that God speaks directly to them. At least one noted theologian told America magazine that was a good thing because the Church teaches us to discern His direction through scripture, teachings, and the guidance of others… a community, if you will.

What do you think? I suspect there’s some linkage there. Community in the form of the men and women religious and wise laypeople, including Cursillo friends and the women in my parish’s Bible study group, has challenged my behaviors and views in innumerable ways. I have grown in wisdom and love thanks to them. My interior faith life has been deepened by a banquet of writers, living and dead, “traditional” and “progressive,” Catholic and non-Catholic. And yet, at the times I have been most tortured by decisions, including some that might seem small to you (such as what to do about a ridiculous parking situation) but were taking up way too much space in my soul, yes, God has spoken to me. And His words, even though they might have been similar to my own thoughts or a friend’s counsel, immediately stilled my anxieties as no other could.

When it comes to “GodTalk,” I don’t think I’m special; look at today’s readings. In the Gospel, Jesus encourages us to ask for what we want. Barnabas defends Paul to the skeptics, testifying the Lord has spoken to Paul. If the Lord could find a way to speak to a persecutor of Christians, why do we think He would not speak to believers struggling to grow closer to Him? After all, He’s asked us to do so… and the result just might make us more willing to celebrate his omnipotence.

Try talking to God, whether or not you believe He’s all-loving and all-knowing. Give Him room to surprise you.

And Went On

And Went On

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

The Jews, however, incited the women of prominence who were worshipers and the leading men of the city, stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their territory. So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.  Acts 13:50-52

Jesus said to his disciples: "If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him." Philip said to Jesus, "Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” John 14:7-9


The week of the Good Shepherd ends with a frustrated shepherd.  He has repeatedly told his closest disciples teaching after teaching about what will happen.  However, yesterday it was Thomas questioning what would become evident after the Resurrection.  Today, the puzzled questioner is Philip. 

For all the bewilderment of the disciples, we do see the continuity of the scriptures played out from the Hebrew Bible and Isaiah, to the Gospels, to the Acts of the Apostles. 

Isaiah laid the groundwork for today's proclamation. It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.  Isaiah 49:6

Thus, when faced with the frustration in preaching to a reluctant Israel, the next step in being a light for all nations is to bring the “Way” to others like the Greeks and the Gentiles.

Not only did Isaiah foretell the destiny to preach to all nations, but Jesus also directly instructed the disciples that when the message falls on deaf ears and is rejected, that they should press onward (“Ultreya?”) and find new people to evangelize. Thus, the words originally passed down to us from Luke (“And as for those who do not welcome you, when you leave that town, shake the dust from your feet* in testimony against them.” Luke 9:5), also are echoed in today’s first reading (So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. Acts 13:51). 

Iconium is distinctly a place not populated by a strictly Jewish population.    The name Iconium belonged to a city in central Anatolia (modern Turkey), in the Roman province of Lycaonia and situated on the road from Ephesus to Tarsus.  Today this city is known as Konieh or Konya.

When Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium, they not only preached the “Way” to Jews in the temple, but they also proclaimed the same message to Greeks and other Gentiles who were willing to listen and believe.  After initial success, the people in Iconium drove out Paul and Barnabas.  They shook the dust from their feet once again and went onward to Lystra and Derbe in their quest to be a light for all nations. 

Some years ago, I had the privilege to meet one of the Cursillo leaders of the US movement: Cef Aguillon, the English language coordinator for the USA.  He spoke a phrase that still resonates with me today when I consider action.  We were discussing how many Cursillo weekends we should have in Arlington Diocese and where we were recruiting people in Pre-Cursillo.  Many times, we spoke of other members of the Knights of Columbus, other people already involved in different parish activities, and more.  He told us: “You have to fish outside the bowl.”

Recruiting people who already are busy in ministry is not necessarily going to bring more people into the Church.  As my sponsor Esther Silva reminded me, we are not trying to grow more Cursillistas, we are trying to grow more Christians.

Cef and Esther remind me of what Isaiah, Luke, and Acts are imploring us today. If our efforts are not bearing fruit, then we have to move on to another place where we might have more success.

How is your action in continuity with centuries of sacred scripture and traditions?  To what ends will you go to fulfill your Easter mission with the persistence of Paul and Barnabas?

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Way

The Way

These are now his witnesses before the people. We ourselves are proclaiming this good news to you that what God promised our fathers he has brought to fulfillment for us, their children, by raising up Jesus, as it is written in the second psalm, “You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.”  Acts 13:31C -33

Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going;
how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
  John 14:5-6

Primary Wonder by Denise Levertov (1923–1997)

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; cap and bells.
                                           And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng's clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

At work, we have an expression we use in memos.  BLUF.  Bottom Line Up Front. It basically means, tell your audience what you want them to know right away, without any fluff.  No beating around the bushes.  No long arguments.  Avoid the “Whereas-Whereas-Whereas-Whereas-Therefore” memo. Put the “Therefore” up front.

It might be nice if the Gospel writers used that technique a little more. When the literal disciples try to understand the allegorical Savior, sometimes, they (and we) we lose something in the translation.  Fortunately, Jesus comes back and hits them (and us) between the ears with the bottom line. 

The messages we have today from each era ask us to contemplate and witness the “Sonship” of Jesus in relationship to the Father and where we fit into the family compound (many rooms, a place for us, etc.). Before the Resurrection, when Jesus would speak about topics allegorically, the Apostles would be puzzled as we hear in Thomas’ remark today.  “Master, we do not know where you are going: how can we know the way?”

The weeks after Easter allow our hearts and minds to rest in two different parts of the Good News.  One focus is in the Acts of the Apostles recalling and recounting the early days of the Church.  The other focus is trained on Jesus’ recently concluded mortal life on Earth.  What was puzzling before is understood clearly now.  These are now his witnesses proclaiming the good news.   

Perhaps no other term today is evidence that the disciples understand than the term “the way.”  Thomas in the Gospels does not know the way.  Jesus reminds him over and over again that Jesus is the way.

By the time we get to Acts, the church is now actually called The Way. 

As Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas Diocese explains, Jesus is the “WAY because in his humanity we discover the TRUTH about who we are and who God is; and can thus direct ourselves to our LIVE, the full contemplation of his divinity as WORD eternal of the Father.


Are you a member of The Way? Do you know the Way?

“Membership” impacts WHERE we go, WHAT we say, and HOW we live as this “tweet” by the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers reminds us.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

(Blessed are you Who Understand) by Beth DeCristofaro

(Blessed are you Who Understand) by Beth DeCristofaro

 (Paul said) Then (God) removed him and raised up David as their king; of him he testified, I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will carry out my every wish. From this man's descendants God, according to his promise, has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus. John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel; and as John was completing his course, he would say, 'What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.'"  (Acts 13:22-25)

When Jesus had washed the disciples' feet, he said to them: "Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it. I am not speaking of all of you. I know those whom I have chosen. But so that the Scripture might be fulfilled. The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me. (John 13:16-18)

May God give us the grace to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit in courage and trust, through Christ, who remained faithful unto death and is risen in glory.  Amen.         (Evening Prayer for the Day)

no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him So many Scripture stories reflect Jesus’ words, even though his main message here was about himself, lesser yet obedient and adoring of his Father.  Scripture describes Saul, David and Paul who indeed were lesser and flawed.  In life we have abundant examples including ourselves.  Yet we were called and chosen as were Saul, David and Paul.  Sacred history shows us how they rose to the occasion.  How we will is yet to be completed.  How we are to get there Jesus shows us.  He washes his disciples’ feet.  He serves. 

Would it be theologically challenging to wonder if Judas had not despaired of his sin?  Might he also have been remembered in a different way than despairing betrayer?  After all, Jesus said of him: But so that the Scripture might be fulfilled. The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me. If he had repented as John the Baptist proclaimed might he, too, twisted and aberrant as his actions were, also have found forgiveness?  Might his “service” to God be famous rather than infamous.

The author and poet Alice Walker says “In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they're still beautiful”.  Her words strike me as the way God sees me.  There is still a little (a lot?) of work to do so that I follow Jesus’ path to the light of God rather than my own crooked, aimless wanderings. Yet God loves me, child of God’s creation, in spite of myself.  In serving and accepting that I am lesser yet loved, my crookedness becomes beautiful.  

How am I crooked or twisted as a chosen beloved?  How might I see and radiate the beauty of my life to others?

Wind-distorted tree growing from roadside grass
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Trevor Littlewood -

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

“Good Advice for the Ages” by Colleen O’Sullivan

“Good Advice for the Ages” by Colleen O’Sullivan

Beloved: Clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for: God opposes the proud but bestows favor on the humble.  Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.  Be sober and vigilant.  Your opponent the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your brothers and sisters throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.  (1 Peter 5:5b, 7-9)

Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. (Mark 16:15)

Lord, keep me safe from the love of worldly recognition.  Help me to serve rather than seek to be served.  Hold before me the truth that you are the only Rock worth leaning on and help me always to be vigilant against the evil spirit.

As Peter and Mark write, Jesus is risen.  “So what do we do now?” must have been the question on every one of the apostles’ minds.  In the Gospel reading, we are told to be evangelists wherever we go.  Proclaim the Good News to every person on earth.  That’s the overall mission.  That’s the big picture.

Our first reading focuses more on our day-to-day pursuits.  In his letter Peter has some very particular suggestions:  Be humble.  Turn your worries over to God.  Keep your eyes open for the evil spirit, who is always looking for new prey.  Whatever happens, don’t waver in your faith.  Around the world are people like you undergoing the same sufferings. 

Pope Francis has had much to say on the topic of living a humble life.  The world tells us to seek success, power and money; God tells us to seek humility, service and love.[1]  The Holy Father goes beyond mere words about humility, however.  He is known for his Holy Thursday washing of the feet of prison inmates.  He lives and dresses simply.  His lifestyle gives us something to think about and desire for ourselves, a lifestyle of humble service to others.

We all know that worrying is a waste of time, but that doesn’t keep us from spending countless hours doing so.  Trust in God instead, because God cares about us and has proven trustworthy throughout the ages.  The only rock worth leaning on in good times or bad is the Lord.

Peter tells us to beware of the evil spirit.  I know many people today laugh at the idea of the devil.  We’ve seen too many cartoons of a leering character dressed in red, holding a trident of some sort.  Forget all that.  The evil spirit is too smart for such nonsense and appears to us in guises of good that successfully beckon us down the wrong paths.  Evil is as alive and well as ever.

Finally, Peter says not to lose our faith.  When we feel it wavering, he advises looking around the world to realize that other people suffer the same things you and I do.  Suffering is part of life, not a reason to abandon our trust in the goodness of God.
Peter’s advice is so down to earth, and yet so darn hard to follow.  Who doesn’t want to be a somebody?  But often we’re looking to the wrong audience, the world.  Better to be a loving servant, a real somebody in God’s eyes.

My middle name and many of yours as well could be “worry.”  We specialize in this, although I’ve never known worrying to change a thing.  Better to pray to God about what worries us; often God is the only one who can do anything to remedy our problems, anyway.

The evil spirit hates the name of Jesus and is powerless before it.  So, arm yourself in prayer.  In the Our Father, we pray, “deliver us from evil.”  In the Anima Christi prayer, we pray, “From the wicked foe, defend me.”

Wherever you feel Peter particularly speaking to you, use that as a jumping off point in your prayer today.

[1] (2015, The Spirit of St. Francis: Inspiring Words on Faith, Love and Creation)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

“My Sheep Hear My Voice” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

Credit is Anton Mauve [Public domain or CC0], from Wikimedia Commons
“My Sheep Hear My Voice” by Melanie Rigney

For a whole year they met with the Church and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples first were called Christians. (Acts 11:26)

All you nations, praise the Lord. (Psalm 117:1)

So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father's name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” (John 10:24-28)

Lord, I pray that I may always be counted among Your sheep.

When was the last time you heard His voice?

Was it early this morning, when your children were giggling over breakfast?

Was it in mid-morning, when your boss or a difficult colleague cut you a little slack when you weren’t prepared for a meeting?

Was it at lunchtime, when that guy who’s always panhandling at the Metro stop, instead of asking for spare change, told you to smile because God loves you?

Was it in the afternoon when you got an unexpected, welcome text or email from someone from whom you hadn’t heard for a while?

Was it on the way home, when scripture or another spiritual reading you’ve been struggling with suddenly was clear as clear could be?

Was it when you got home and found dinner ready, flowers, a sweet note in the mail, or some other little virtual (or real-life!) hug?

Was it in the evening, when you were counting your blessings in prayer and felt yourself drowsing off in God’s arms?

God speaks to us all the time… sometimes in that small, quiet voice, sometimes through the kindnesses of others. All we have to do is listen… and follow.

Identify a place where God’s saying something loud and clear… and you’re choosing not to follow for fear, pride or some other barrier you’ve put up. Pray for the faith and courage to surrender your will to His.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Whoever Enters Through Me Will Be Saved

Whoever Enters Through Me Will Be Saved

“If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?"  When they heard this, they stopped objecting and glorified God, saying, "God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too." Acts 11:17-18

So, Jesus said again, "Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly." John 10:7-10

As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When can I enter and see the face of God?  (Psalm 42:2-3)

There is only one gate – but all can go through the gate. “Whoever enters through me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.” 

Taken literally, Jesus does not choose only the Jews.  He welcomes anyone with the desire, the thirst, the hunger for a relationship with God. That was not what the Jews (the chosen people) had felt throughout their history.  It also is not what we witness happening in the first reading from Acts.  According to the explanatory notes in the NABRE:

The Jewish Christians of Jerusalem were scandalized to learn of Peter’s sojourn in the house of the Gentile Cornelius. Nonetheless, they had to accept the divine directions given to both Peter and Cornelius. They concluded that the setting aside of the legal barriers between Jew and Gentile was an exceptional ordinance of God to indicate that the apostolic kerygma was also to be directed to the Gentiles. Only in Acts 15 at the “Council” in Jerusalem does the evangelization of the Gentiles become the official position of the church leadership in Jerusalem.

The early Christians were challenged in many ways.  Religious practices set the Jews apart from the Gentiles.  Jesus did not see the same separation.  Slowly, the same realization washed over the disciples as some of the old practices like circumcision were resolved.

Peter saw a vision that required him to preach to the Gentiles.  Once he recognized the voice of God the shepherd, he realized he could not hinder the vision of the kingdom and he followed what the Lord instructed.    

Culturally, we are still wrestling with this conflict between religion and nationalism today.

But these dualisms are not only the stuff of Biblical history. We have our own cult of the “Either.” Red State or Blue State? Progressive or traditional? Conservative or liberal? Pre-Vatican II v Post-Vatican II? Chant or Folk Music?

Peter confronted and conquered the tyranny of the “Or” in our reading today from Acts. Like Peter, we must dare to decide to embrace all our sisters and brothers in Christ. Like Peter, we have to make a choice. Like Peter, we cannot make our choice in a vacuum. What we have believed in the past is challenged and changed. Sometimes we have to begin anew. Peter was not prepared to condemn the Gentiles because they were physically different and ate different food.

Jesus helps reintroduce us to the reality of our original relationship with God. He is the “new Adam,” the shepherd who opens the gate for ALL OF US to walk with him and ultimately, to restore our relationship with the father. Jesus leads us, like a shepherd leading his sheep, back into this right relationship.
What is the path for your journey forward (onward/Ultreya)? Merton (in Zen and the Birds of Appetite) helps us find the way of the sheep by following the shepherd.

On our Cursillo weekend, we reflect on the archetypal story of the Prodigal Sons/Prodigal Father. By the end of the weekend, we explore our tools for moving forward (onward) from the weekend experience of conversion. The son who was lost attempts to journey forward by going back to his original identity by allowing his Father to purify him from his own will.

If we would return to God, and find ourselves in Him, we must reverse Adam’s journey, we must go back the way we came. The path lies through the center of our own soul. Adam withdrew himself from God and then passed through himself and went forth into creation. We must withdraw ourselves from exterior things, and pass through the center of our souls to find God. We must recover possession of our true selves by liberation from anxiety and fear and inordinate desire.

What is your path forward? Sometimes, you have to hit the backspace key before you can keep going in order for the story to unfold.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

“Laying Down Our Lives” by Beth DeCristofaro

“Laying Down Our Lives” by Beth DeCristofaro

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said “… in (Jesus’) name this man stands before you healed. He is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved." (Acts 8:8, 10-12)

I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father. (John 10:14-18)

Fill me, Holy Spirit that I might always walk in the presence of Jesus.  God help me to be a living sign of the Good Shepherd, both following and leading, that your flock increase and your glory is made known.

Mary Ann was a nursing administrator with whom I had the privilege to work eons ago.  We worked together in the small Midwest hospital where she had night responsibility for patient care and I was an overnight chaplain.  We never had the luxury of a coffee sit-down because our nights were busy and there was no cafeteria after 7 p.m. but we spent many hours together at emergencies, catching up as we made rounds between units and attending to tired, fearful sometimes angry patients and families together.  She was consistently wise, calm, caring, firm and gentle as she dealt with community and staff alike even when repeating for the umpteenth time the necessary protocols or necessary boundaries on good care.  In many ways, she was the face of what I hoped I could be in ministry.

Many years later Judy was my supervisor at a family services organization.  Her personality could not have been more different.  She was abrupt, quick to respond and almost authoritarian, not very patient when she confronted foolish situations or people and yet wise, fair and so very smart.  My role included supervising staff, running a small program for low-income caregivers and also grant writer to keep that program solvent.  My skill set was decidedly not the best for this last duty.  Judy guided me to be a much better manager of people and steward of our non-profit’s core mission and values.  I trusted her to a fault when decisions had to be made.

Both of these remarkable women were shepherds to me and I saw their work as holy work.  Their passion and commitment as well as their devotion to continuing their own growth as good administrators were inspiring.  They lived I know mine and mine know me and worked for the good of their flock. And as women of faith they, I know, are important building blocks in God’s Kingdom, resting securely upon the cornerstone God provided through Jesus the Good Shepherd.

Who are the shepherds of your life?  Give thanks – perhaps let them know the blessings they have bequeathed.  Do I generously shepherd others for the glory of God?  How do I lay down your life for others? 

Illustration credit: Photography by Ali Awais, Artist in Lahore, Pakistan