Thursday, June 28, 2018

Build My Church

Build My Church

Mass during the Day

Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying, “Get up quickly.” The chains fell from his wrists. The angel said to him, “Put on your belt and your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.” So he followed him out, not realizing that what was happening through the angel was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. Acts 12:7-9

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

(Epiphany is over, the kings have set off home another way. But their arrival has triggered an appalling chain of events. Herod, then as now, thinks nothing of killing the innocent for political ends. The Christ-child is a refugee in the world he came to save. But God, who gives Himself for us all also calls us all to give an account to Him of how we have lived and loved in that world.)

Refugee by Malcolm Guite

We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,
Or cozy in a crib beside the font,
But he is with a million displaced people
On the long road of weariness and want.
For even as we sing our final carol
His family is up and on that road,
Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,
Glancing behind and shouldering their load.
Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower
Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,
The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,
And death squads spread their curse across the world.
But every Herod dies, and comes alone
To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.

Peter and Paul are probably the most famous disciples.  We just do not know as much about the lives and writings of the others as we know about Peter and Paul. 

While it is common to refer to Jesus as like us in all things BUT sin, that description does not work for Peter and Paul. They are like us in all things INCLUDING sin. They were both distracted by their careers.  Peter was the reluctant leader.  After Easter, he gave into temptation to fall back on his old career as a fisherman – his comfort zone – rather than bringing the word to the world.

Paul, who was not even among the original disciples, first came to our awareness as a persecutor of Christians until he was knocked off his high horse and brought to earth and the realization that he was to become a leader.

Imagine Peter and Paul on a Cursillo Weekend especially when we get to the Leaders talk. I would imagine both of them slinking into their shells. How many times have you heard people say, “I am not a leader.”

Isn’t that the point of Christianity?  If Jesus can make this humble fisherman, this persecutor, a tax collector, and others into leaders, surely the Lord can do wondrous things with us, no?

When I had a couple of chances to visit Rome and St. Peter’s Basilica, the mere humanity of Peter comes out.  You will encounter mosaics of Peter as a fisherman.  Elsewhere, you might see the black chains that bound him in prison.  You can tour the ancient Roman necropolis (cemetery) where eventually, the Church would find most of the bones of a seventy-year-old man.  Most because in the grave thought to belong to Peter, there were no bones from his feet.  (However, legend has it that Peter was crucified upside down and his feet were cut off to remove him from his cross. 

A day like today gives us reason to pause and think about the legacy handed down from Peter and Paul. 

Peter was an eyewitness to almost everything that happened to Jesus as an adult.  But he was not just a spectator.  He was there for the Sermon on the Mount.  He saw Jesus.  He heard Jesus.  He listed and concentrated on the message and the experience. 

Peter was there for the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.  He saw Jesus.  He heard Jesus.  He listed and concentrated on the message and the experience. 

Peter was there at the Transfiguration, the Last Supper and in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He saw Jesus.  He heard Jesus.  He listed and concentrated on the message and the experience.  He was there around the fire on the dark night of Good Friday, denying that he had been with Jesus.

Peter was there at the Last Breakfast.  But he arrived by swimming to shore from the comfort of his fishing boat.  He saw Jesus as a stranger on the shore.  He heard Jesus call to the men in the boat.  He listed and concentrated on the message and the experience.  And he was changed!  After the sum total of Peter’s experiences with Jesus, he understood the message and put it into action.  Feed my sheep.  

Paul, however, was even more like us because he never encountered the living Christ.  He did not have a personal relationship with the human Jesus.  Yet despite these differences, both Peter and Paul believed that Jesus Christ is the son of the living God. They both gave us living examples to follow.

In some ways, they shared the refugee status of their Lord and Savior.  They gave up everything of their former lives as a fisherman and a soldier.  They marched into the unchartered territory as priests, prophets, and evangelists. They become strangers but not in a strange land. They became strangers right in their homeland. 

How does your life live out the examples of Peter and Paul? Are your ready to emerge from your comfort zone into the mission of sheep feeding? 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Say Not “Lord, Lord.” Say, “Yes, Lord” by Beth DeCristofaro

Say Not “Lord, Lord.”  Say, “Yes, Lord” by Beth DeCristofaro

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three
months in Jerusalem. He did evil in the sight of the LORD, just as his forebears had done. (2 Kings 24:8-9)

Jesus said to his disciples: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)

What is your will, O God? Thy will be done by me today.  Yes, O Lord.

It is most chilling to read the paper day after day and find stories of clergy, religious leaders, civil administrators, not-for-profit CEO’s and more being caught in some sort of wrongdoing.  And, of course, there is the Taliban, Isil, Boko Haram who claim God actually condones their evil work.

Jesus constantly reminds us that he came to do not his own work but the will of his Father.  He also reminds us that the Father, who “Is” always, sent him to be with us always.  Invoking God’s name for our ends is exactly what Jesus tells us dampens the spirit and tears at the walls of the Kingdom.  However, Jesus’ resurrection ultimately overcame and overcomes evil.  We are given the choice for everlasting life with God or invoking our own gods (including ourselves) thus choosing death.

Jehoiachin did not choose to follow God’s will.  He and other kings forgot that God granted them kingship.  They chose to enact their kingship as if they were gods.  Bishop Irenaeus chose God’s will.  He was a brilliant theologian. His teachings clarified and reinforced the goodness of creation and the interconnection between God who creates and God who grants salvation through Jesus Christ. He is credited with the counterintuitive insight that “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.”[i]

In what ways do I say “Lord, Lord” without fully meaning “What is your will, O God, thy will be done by me”? 


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing by Colleen O’Sullivan

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing by Colleen O’Sullivan

The high priest Hilkiah informed the scribe Shaphan, "I have found the book of the law in the temple of the LORD."  …When the king heard the contents of the book of the law, he tore his garments and issued this command to Hilkiah the priest, (and to several others):  "Go, consult the LORD for me, for the people, for all Judah, about the stipulations of this book that has been found, for the anger of the LORD has been set furiously ablaze against us, because our fathers did not obey the stipulations of this book, nor fulfill our written obligations."  (2 Kings 22:8, 11-13)

Jesus said to his disciples:  "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but underneath are ravenous wolves.  By their fruits, you will know them.” (Matthew 7:15-16a)

Give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart. (Psalm 119:34)

Wolves in sheep’s clothing are nothing new.  Look at today’s Old Testament reading.  I doubt the Book of the Law just happened to go missing one day.  It probably “disappeared” during the reign of Manasseh, two kings previous to King Josiah.  Manasseh, a wolf in sheep’s attire, was responsible for restoring the worship of Baal and Asherah (the queen consort of a Sumerian god).  It would have benefited him a great deal to “lose” or “misplace” any reminder of what God expected of God’s people.  King Josiah’s two predecessors on the throne of Judah were supposed to lead God’s people in the ways of the Lord, but history tells us that they used their positions to lead the people astray instead.  It was very fortunate that the people unearthed the Book of the Law during clean-up and repairs to the Temple building.  King Josiah, a good ruler, was able to begin moving the people away from idolatry back to adherence to God’s Law.

Wolves in sheep’s clothing abound in today’s world as well.  Just channel surf some of the religious channels on any Sunday morning.  The wolves are out there, some dressed up, and some dressed down, all telling their audiences that God wants to reward your faith.  God wants you to be materially wealthy.  God wants you to have good health.  God wants you to have everything that God promises to no one.  What God promises us for our faith is a place in heaven for eternity when we complete our lives here on earth.  God also promises the companionship of His Son and the Holy Spirit as we make our trek through life. 

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved is a book published earlier this year.  The author, Kate Bowler, teaches at The Divinity School at Duke University.  She is in her late 30’s, is married and has one child.  She also has Stage IV cancer.  Her illness has led to her re-examine some of the much cherished (in some circles) tenets of the prosperity gospel.  Her own experiences tell her that it just isn’t true that your health is measured out in proportion to your love for and belief in God, just as the poor would tell us that wealth and financial prosperity, or lack thereof, have little to do with our faith in the Lord.  I would highly recommend this candid and thought-provoking book. 

Where have you encountered a wolf in sheep’s clothing?  On the flip side, do you think you’ve ever been the disguised wolf to someone else?

Monday, June 25, 2018

“How Narrow the Gate” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

“How Narrow the Gate” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

An etching by Jan Luyken illustrating Matthew 7:13-14 in the Bowyer Bible, Bolton, England.
“For out of Jerusalem shall come a remnant, and from Mount Zion, survivors. The zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this.” (2 Kings 19:31)

God upholds his city forever. (Psalm 48:9)

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

Yes there are two paths you can go by/But in the long run/There’s still time to change the road you’re on. (“Stairway to Heaven,” Jimmy Page and Robert Plant)

Let’s be honest: The gate is as narrow as we want it to be.

Even when we know that wonderfully broad, nuanced road that beckons with so many charms ends in nothing but spiritual disaster, we still are tempted to check it out… just for a little while. It’s so much easier than constant vigilance, because who among us doesn’t find lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, or pride beckoning us each and every day, sometimes in very, very attractive packages? The road that lies beyond the wide gate invites us to be the lords and masters of ourselves. For example, how about lust? What’s so wrong about flirting, if it doesn’t lead to anything physical? What’s so wrong with watching the walk of someone we find attractive, if it doesn’t lead to an invitation that could embarrass us? What’s so wrong with letting a hug linger just a second too long, if it doesn’t lead to anything other than a fantasy? What’s so wrong with… and so it goes on—except that we are spectacularly bad at honoring our own limits, even worse than at honoring God’s.

Once we commit to that narrow gate, the road beyond it doesn’t magically widen to include all our earthly desires. In fact, often there’s barely room to put one foot in front of the other. It can feel like a tightrope over Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon, something that requires our undivided attention to navigate safely. Yes, the Lord is always there to catch us, always ready to help us back up, if that is our desire. But He doesn’t always seem like the most exciting option.

And so, the choice is ours: prepare ourselves to live with Him forever by entering that narrow gate and all the restrictions we know it involves. Or, wander about the road more traveled, setting our own course for our time on earth.

The choice is easy. Right?

Make a list of the temptations that make the narrow gate unattractive. Pray for the strength to surrender one of them today.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Remove the Wooden Beam from Your Eye First

Remove the Wooden Beam from Your Eye First

And though the LORD warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and seer, "Give up your evil ways and keep my commandments and statutes, in accordance with the entire law which I enjoined on your fathers and which I sent you by my servants the prophets," they did not listen, but were as stiff-necked as their fathers, who had not believed in the LORD, their God. They rejected his statutes, the covenant which he had made with their fathers, and the warnings which he had given them, till, in his great anger against Israel, the LORD put them away out of his sight. Only the tribe of Judah was left. 1 Kings 17:13-15A, 18

“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye.” Matthew 7:3-5

Amid unfolding crisis on the Southern US border and ahead of Wednesday’s World Refugee Day, at today’s Angelus Pope says, “each of us is called to be close to refugees” who are “forced to flee their lands with great anxiety and persecution.”

Actions still speak louder than words. The actions of the children of Israel got them punished.  Specifically, their rejection of the commandments and statutes handed down from their ancestors remained ignored.  The result is that once again, they are exiled from the Promised Land.  Only the tribe of Judah remained.

These lessons are not lost on Jesus or Matthew.  The Good News includes an equally stern warning against hypocrisy. Actions must be congruent with words. 

As I contemplate taking today’s word from the Sanctuary to the Streets, I am struck by how three things I encountered today connect.

Thing 1: Today’s Liturgy of the Word began by recalling how King Shalmaneser deported the children of Israel (not just children in a literal sense but all people of Israel.  Let’s also never forget that Mary and Joseph were a refugee family fleeing violence, too.

Thing 2: On, I came across this quote from Bishop Talley: “When you receive Jesus in the Eucharist, you don’t just receive receive His mission, to be missionary disciples. You cannot stay stuck in closets or alone in your rooms. You must go out and love your brothers and sisters.” (Most Reverend David Prescott Talley, Diocese of Alexandria, LA)

Thing 3: The Catholic Church has a successful integrative model of refugee resettlement as detailed in this article in
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Catholic Church has resettled nearly one-third of all refugees received by the United States since 1980 through a public-private partnership with a high rate of successful integration of refugees into society, according to a report released in June 2018.

The Center for Migration Studies report examines data on 1.1 million of the refugees resettled in the U.S. from 1987 to 2016. These refugees came from more than 30 countries, including Ukraine, Iraq, Vietnam, Somalia, Bosnia, and Burma.

“What we’ve found is that they are integrating, contributing, and accomplishing a lot in the United States after starting from basically nothing. Not surprisingly, we found that refugees with the longest residence have integrated the most fully in the country, and we provide statistics on how that progresses over time,” said Donald Kerwin, the primary author of the report, at a World Refugee Day event at the U.S. Capitol building.

I will be contacting the Migration and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington to see how I can help a refugee family. Instead of cursing the darkness on the border, how can you make “welcoming the stranger” a reality? Go to to see how you can help.  Some of the needs of the Migration and Refugee Services are detailed here:

His Servant from the Womb

His Servant from the Womb

Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the LORD, my recompense is with my God.
For now, the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him;
And I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD, and my God is now my strength! 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 49:4-6

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 13:24-25

When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, "No. He will be called John." Luke 1:57-60

You, My child, shall be called The prophet of the Most High, For you will go before the Lord to prepare His way, To give his people knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins. In the tender compassion of our Lord, The dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness And the shadow of death, And to guide our feet into the way of peace. (From “The Canticle of Zechariah” Luke 1:76-79)

From that infamous leap in the womb, John was set apart from every other boy.  That continued with his name. Zechariah and Elizabeth set tradition aside and followed the will of God as revealed to them mysteriously.  Instead of Zechariah the Baptist, we have John.

John is not just any servant.  He specifically has a mission to “reach the ends of the Earth.”  John is not only opening the ear of the Jews to the word of the Lord, but he is setting forth a path to reach all people.

In an essay on the “Power of Names,” Rabbi Benjamin Blech noted that names represent our identity not simply because they are a convenient way to distinguish us from one another. Names define us. Our names are not accidental. They are to some extent prophetic. They capture our essence. They are the keys to our soul.”  

Most of us have no choice over our name.  We grow into it.  However, when elected Pope, a new name symbolizes how life is changed forever.  This shows that the path taken from the womb has changed.  However, his servanthood has elevated to become the servant of the servants of God.  It's not required, but it's almost surely going to happen.  
  • Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli becomes John XXIII.
  • Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini becomes Paul VI.
  • Albino Luciani becomes John Paul I.
  • Karol Józef Wojtyła becomes John Paul II.
  • Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger becomes Benedict XVI.
  • Jorge Mario Bergoglio becomes Francis. 

In 1978, Cardinal Albino Luciani became the first pope to take a double name.  John Paul I honored his two immediate predecessors -- John XXIII and Paul VI.  He had been elevated to bishop by John XXIII, then to Patriarch of Venice and the College of Cardinals by Paul VI. John Paul I was also the first pope in almost 1,100 years since Lando in 913 to adopt a papal name that had not previously been used. After John Paul I's sudden death, a month later, Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła was elected and, wishing to continue his predecessor's work, became the second Pope to take a double name as John Paul II. In 2013, a new name was introduced into the lineage: on being elected Pope, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio selected the name Francis to emphasize the spirit of poverty and peace embodied by Saint Francis of Assisi.

Some say that it would be a welcome change for popes to be called by their baptismal name. This would be more in line with the famous saying by St. Augustine that underlined the importance of baptism over holy orders: "I am fearful of what I am for you, but I draw strength from what I am with you.  For you, I am a bishop, and with you, I am a Christian. The former designates an office received, the latter the foundation of salvation.” [1]

These names depict both tradition (past), mission (present) and future (legacy).

It remains customary to name children after those whom we deeply admire or
Anthony Rizzo
seek to memorialize. I am named after my maternal grandfather Anthony Rizzo.  Also, my saint namesake is St. Anthony of Padua whose feast we celebrated two weeks ago. 

To link a newborn with someone from the past and a saint is to bring together the past and the present and the future.  However, rather than using traditional naming conventions among the Jews, Zechariah and Elizabeth broke with tradition and obeyed the message of an angel who declared that their baby would be called John.

It was not ONLY what the name “John” meant but more the symbolism of the new and different name that is important to us.  If the baby were Little Zach, he would have followed in his father’s footsteps and likely become a priest. Not a bad thing!

John would not only follow his father’s steps.  He would set out on a different path with different sandals.  First, like Jesus, he would learn to do what his father did. But John would go beyond that role.  It isn’t the meaning of the name “John” which is so essential, then, but the message implied by having any name other than Zacharias which is such an emotional issue.

In fact, John fulfilled the symbolism of his name and the poetic words of the Canticle of Zechariah:  He was a light shining “on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”  The path of peace is the literal and symbolic path that leads to Jesus.

What is your name – and are you living up to it?

What are you called to do?