Friday, August 31, 2018

Where is the Wise One?

Where is the Wise One?

Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? …For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:20, 25

Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Matthew 25:13

The Hasidim tell the story of the disciple who said to the teacher, "Teacher, I have gone completely through the Torah? What must I do now?" 
And the teacher said, "Oh, my friend, the question is not, have you gone through the Torah. The question is, has the Torah gone through you?"

Matthew and Paul flip over the common perceptions of the wise and the foolish.  The world worships the wise, the rich, and beautiful yet the Christian does not elevate those qualities. The world frowns on the foolish in whom the Christian revels. 

Although the standards of the Jews and the Greeks differed, the image of Christ-centered power did not resonate with them.  They only saw Christ defeated and destroyed on the cross. “The world did not come to know God through wisdom…”  Although humanity had a chance to do come to know Jesus through his preaching, teaching, and healing, we passed up that for the chance to hang Jesus from a tree.   

Instead of temporal power and wisdom, “we proclaim Christ crucified.”  However, the cross is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles because it was the sign of the most horrible and ignoble death imaginable. However, to “those who are called,” the cross reveals the real Christ-like power of God and the Christ-like wisdom of God.

Matthew also gives us the contrast between wisdom and foolishness.  However, in the Gospel, the wise prepare for the future with oil in reserve, to keep their lamp lit and shining to recognize Christ (the bridegroom) when he arrives.

Faithful use of one’s gifts leads to full participation in the kingdom. The wise equip themselves for the task ahead by concentrating on piety, study, and action – the oil in our lamps. 

Every major religious tradition calls for us to have a change of heart.  Dorothy Day went so far as to use the expression “a revolution of the heart.”  Such a call demands nothing less than a change of life.  It is not enough to study the Bible.  If we do not grow in our spiritual relationship with the Lord, all the study is foolishness.  If the Bible does not call us to action, we might as well be diagramming sentences in seventh grade or mounting butterflies in biology class. 

Do our piety, study, and action symbolize merely touching the bases on the journey home?  Or does our piety, study, and action symbolize our real presence in making a difference in the world?

Let’s not forget that the world and all its jewelers have turned the cross of Christ into gold, silver, and bejeweled ornaments.  Earrings.  Necklaces.  Cufflinks.  T-shirts.  Bumper stickers.  We can find the cross everywhere.  Does it retain the shock of its original meaning outside of Palm Sunday and Good Friday services?

Perhaps we should start wearing an electric chair around our necks.  Or a symbol of the gurney to which the victims of modern capital punishment are strapped before they are executed.  That might look foolish to the world. Isn’t that what Christ intended?  

On the last day of April, August, and December, Benedictines read Chapter 73, the last chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict.  However, this is not the end of the class in Benedictine spirituality.  The next day, January 1, May 1 and September 1, we start at the beginning and read it all over again. There is no graduation.  There is no silver cross at the end of the class. But there is a lesson. 

The wisdom of the rule demands only one thing: “Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.” No matter what our agenda, may we replace it with this and follow Christ through our love-in-action (service) to each other. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

“Called to be Holy” by Beth DeCristofaro

“Called to be Holy” by Beth DeCristofaro

Paul, called to be an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the Church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. (1 Corinthians 1:1-2)

Jesus said to his disciples: "Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.
(Matthew 24:42-44)

I reflect for a moment on God's presence around me and in me.
Creator of the universe, the sun, the moon, the earth,
every molecule, every atom, everything that is:
God is in every beat of my heart. God is with me, now.
        (from “Presence” for 8/31/2018 )

Sometimes it’s hard to know which it is:  take time for mindfulness or seize the day!  My study habits in school were to plug along, a bit each day. Some of my favorite friends preferred the binge-study-and-caffeine-model at the end of the semester.  To my chagrin, they often did as well or better than I did!  We all accomplished the end task of being successful students.

We are called to be holy.  An awesome and fearful call.  It’s a responsibility and it is such a grace.  The faithful servant knows that he holds what is important to the master in his hands and treats it with duty.  The unfaithful servant not only disregards duty but also respect.  We, as faithful disciples, serve a master who is not gone but living right with us while leaving the upkeep and day-to-day maintenance of his Kingdom in our care.

God is in our present around us, in us, in our heartbeat, in our mindfulness, when we binge, in the chaos swirling in the Church and in the faithful service of His followers.  Jesus is here, do you joyfully acknowledge understand that He calls you to be Holy?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

“Torn: The Right or the Expedient Choice?” by Colleen O’Sullivan

“Torn: The Right or the Expedient Choice?” by Colleen O’Sullivan

We instruct you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to shun any brother who walks in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition they received from us.  For you know how one must imitate us. (2 Thessalonians 3:6-7a)

Blessed are you who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways!  For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork; blessed shall you be, and favored.  (Psalm 128:1-2)

Caravaggio, Beheading of John the Baptist (1608),
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody.  When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him…  Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet for his courtiers, his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee...  (Herodias’ daughter, after being much admired for dancing at the party,) went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask for?"  She replied, "The head of John the Baptist."  The girl hurried back to the king's presence and made her request, "I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist."  The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests, he did not wish to break his word to her. (Mark 6:20, 21b, 24-26)

Lord, every day, a hundred times a day, we have to choose between You and our self-interests.  Give us the courage to choose You.  Send us companions to surround and support us in living life as You did – for others.

As I read the Gospel for today, what came to mind was a caricature of someone with a good angel on one shoulder and a bad one on the other, both trying to sway the person’s behavior.

Herod finds himself in that position, having to make an on-the-spot life and death decision.  What to do?  He’s at his own birthday party, having to choose between what his conscience is screaming at him and what he knows is wrong but will keep him on good terms with family and guests.  He’s kicking himself for backing himself into a corner he can’t easily get out of.  Part of him actually finds his prisoner, John the Baptist, an interesting and thought-provoking person to talk to.  This strange man with even stranger clothes talks about the things that really matter in life.  John is straightforward and honest.  One could even say he speaks of the Truth.  Herod can see something holy about him.  Deep down, Herod has no desire to take his life.  Who else will ever speak of salvation and eternity to him or of this mysterious Savior who, John says, will be much greater than himself?

On the other hand, he has to live with his wife, and she hates John the Baptist with a passion because John rightfully pointed out that Herod’s marrying her wasn’t in keeping with the law.  And look at the guest list – courtiers, military leaders, everyone who is anyone in all of Galilee!  Herod’s the king; he can’t afford to go back on his rashly uttered promise to give Herodius’ daughter anything she wants.  He would lose face, and that just can’t be allowed to happen.

We don’t often hold the fate of another human being in our hands.  But every day we have to make decisions that involve our consciences.  Or, as Melanie Rigney so eloquently reminded us yesterday, we have to decide whether or not to polish the outsides of our cups for all the world to admire or clean their insides for God to see.

In today’s first reading, Paul suggests that our decisions are made easier if we hang out with the right people, people whose lives are lived in imitation of Jesus’ life.  Our Cursillo groups are all about meeting those “right” people, others living authentic, Christian lives.

We begin making choices between right and wrong at a very young age.  Do we ditch a kindergarten friend, because he or she isn’t one of the "in" kids? (And don’t think this doesn’t start as early as kindergarten!)  Do we care more about being popular than we do about hurting another person? 

The stakes get higher as we grow older.  Maybe the choice then becomes do I do drugs because my friends do, and I so badly want them to like me, or do I do the right thing and walk away? 

As adults, do we walk out on our spouses and children because we’ve seen someone or something that appears shinier and more attractive, or do we do the right thing and attempt to work out whatever problems we have at home.

Share with Jesus one situation where you feel torn as to what to do.  See if talking with the Lord clarifies matters for you.  If you are still undecided, you might want to find a spiritual director to help you in your discernment. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

“So That the Outside Also May Be Clean” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

“So That the Outside Also May Be Clean” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

Monica and Augustine
(Ary Scheffer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.  (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

The Lord comes to judge the earth. (Psalm 96:13b)

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean." (Matthew 23:25-26)

Soul of Christ, sanctify me; Body of Christ, save me; Blood of Christ, inebriate me; Water from Chris’s side, wash me; Passion of Chris, strengthen me (opening of the Anima Christi).

He was thirty-one when he converted to Christianity.  He had already fathered a child with a woman, not his wife, and sent her away because he had plans to marry a very young heiress. He was a brilliant scholar and a well-connected teacher. He had a mother who wouldn’t stop talking to him about Jesus and who he often ignored and avoided, and a mentor, St. Ambrose, whose eloquence on the topic ultimately perhaps moved him as much as his mother’s entreaties did.

Augustine’s life up until that was, shall we say, untidy. Disordered. Self-focused. The inside of the cup was grimy and gritty. Afterward… well, it was different. He was baptized, ordained, and named a bishop in the space of eight years. For the rest of his life, Augustine was one of the greatest defenders of the faith, often using his own story as a sign of the Lord’s mercy.

Sometimes, we focus on the outside of our cup… Mass attendance, check. Tithing, check. Time spent in service, check. To the world, we may look like uber-Christians, saintly almost, worthy of imitation. But we know better. We know our lives are like Augustine’s even after his conversion, full of challenges and struggles and temptations to focus on shiny-ing up our exterior. May we be receptive to all the messengers the Lord sends to help us scrub the interior… because unless we do that on a regular basis, the outside doesn’t matter.

Add five minutes of silence to your prayer practice today. Just listen.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Endurance and Faith

Endurance and Faith

We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, as is fitting, because your faith flourishes ever more, and the love of every one of you for one another grows ever greater. Accordingly, we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God regarding your endurance and faith in all your persecutions and the afflictions you endure. This is evidence of the just judgment of God, so that you may be considered worthy of the Kingdom of God for which you are suffering. 2 Thessalonians 1:3-5

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves. Matthew 23:13-15

Where the heart is without fear, and the head held high…
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments…
Where words come out from the depths of truth…
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way…
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let our country awake. Amen.

(Rabindranath Tagore [1861-1941] was considered the greatest writer in modern Indian literature. He was a Bengali poet, novelist, educator, and the Nobel Laureate for Literature [1913]. Tagore was awarded a knighthood in 1915, but he surrendered it in 1919 in protest against the Massacre at Amritsar, where British troops killed around 400 Indian demonstrators.)

Within days of when the Pennsylvania grand jury report came out, the daily scripture reading spoke to us about bringing the children to Jesus.  ( "Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.") 

Now this passage about the Pharisees is offered as the human leadership of the church comes under fire daily from within and without, as if we are all politicians elected to terms of office, rather than baptized into our roles as priests, prophets, and kings.

However, the spirit of Paul’s letter to the people of Thessalonika might as well have been sent to the people of Fairfax, or Buenos Aires, or Rome or Knock. 

I think that a recent commentary by Inés San Martin speaks in the spirit of Paul’s letter.  In reflecting on her coverage of recent stories, she reminds us of the following:
1)   Studies tell us that anywhere between 3 to 7 percent of priests are part of the problem. That’s a huge number.
2)   But the number of priests, bishops, nuns, religious and popes who want to be a part of the solution is even bigger.
3)  Find them. Support them. Be proud of them. Pray for them.

They are suffering as are the laity, upset that the crisis drags on.  However, while steps must continue to be taken to resolve this, there also are needs around us which can not be ignored. 

Fr. Michael Doyle, the pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Camden, NJ, sends a monthly letter from the vantage point of his inner-city parish caught in the crosshairs of gang violence, drugs, and crimes of all sorts.
Fr. Michael and students, May 2009.
While the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People specifically addresses the scourge of children abused by clergy (and the need to report all cases to authorities), all children deserve protection. Yet, month-after-month, I encounter the tragic stories of protection-deficit children killed, maimed, or paralyzed by guns and drugs that are rampant on the streets and sidewalks and homes in and around Camden.

I consider these envelopes to be the Epistles of Michael Doyle to the world. In two pages every moon phase, Fr. Doyle, the proverbial “Poet of Poverty,” relates stories about the lives (and deaths) that he and his parishioners experience.  Some months, he shares with us the stories of growing up in Ireland.  Other times, he brings those stories forward and connects them to his parishioners in Sacred Heart Church and school in Camden, NJ.

Each letter calls me to action.  To open my mind to these stories.  To open my heart in prayer for the protection of these children.  To open my wallet to sponsoring a child in Sacred Heart School. 

Sacred Heart Parish School, in ministry with the parish, is committed to service, justice, and compassion. Together, with its families and Parish, they are dedicated to the pursuit of academic excellence, the achievement of individual potential, and fostering a culture of high expectations and moral values.
This year, Sacred Heart School needs 3,350 sponsors for its children who go back-to-school September 5.  Join me in sponsoring one (or three) students. Please become a Sponsor and keep the red doors open for the children of Camden.  You can become a Sponsor with: a single contribution of $300 or three contributions of $100 or six contributions of $50 or twelve contributions of $25 students.

1739 Ferry Avenue, Camden, NJ 08104

Saturday, August 25, 2018

“We Will Serve The LORD" by Rev. Paul Berghout (@FatherPB )

“We Will Serve The LORD" by Rev. Paul Berghout

Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, summoning their elders, their leaders, their judges, and their officers. When they stood in ranks before God, Joshua addressed all the people: "If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."  Joshua 24:1-2, 15)

Brothers and sisters: Live in love, as Christ loved us.  Ephesians 5:2

As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? 
You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."
John 6:66-69

“In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: "Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist, in turn, confirms our way of thinking." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1327)

I LIKE THAT teaching from the Catechism.  Eucharist “CONFIRMS OR CHECKS OUR WAY OF THINKING!”

THIS IS A GOOD “BACK-TO-SCHOOL” CONCEPT, TOO.  Thinking Eucharistically can help us to match our “I.Q. with our “I do.”  (For example, the Eucharistic language of “to give...will be given since Jesus is poured out for you and for many.”)

Here we learn here the language of vulnerable loving, losing and finding ourselves in the process.

The thought here is that powered by the worship of Jesus in the Eucharist, we don’t have to deliberately keep back for ourselves our gifts and time, but we can pour them on others, and we will experience a deeper Communion with Jesus.

The key point Jesus is modeling for us in the Eucharist is designing your leadership for the sake of others. In reality, everyone is acknowledged as a leader because everyone has influence over others.

Servant leaders see their defining moments as sacred, especially the sacrificial ones. To “pour out” is sacrificial, Eucharistic language.  And, of all acts, sacrifice is perhaps the least retractable; indeed, that it is central to its import (Lambek 2007).

Following Rappaport’s hierarchy of sanctity, sacrifice could be the most profound of ritual acts, serving as the ultimate ground of value (Lambek 2008).

Servant leadership leads sacrificially for the sake of others. His giving himself for our redemption is agape love, which means to choose to seek the best for others. Servant leadership is intentional because it is an action that seeks the good of others. For example, in real life, thinking like the Eucharist, in terms of the financial success of a company would be—we need to be profitable because it is necessary to achieve our real mission- which is making a positive difference in the lives of others, like asking, “what is the effect of our company on the least privileged in society, will they benefit in some way?”

I went to North Carolina recently to give a series of invocations for an annual Summer Sales Event, where all these professional insurance agents learn about the latest insurance products and hear tips and strategies from the best salespeople in the business.  Since the agent works for an insurance broker, only the product which the customer truly needs and can truly afford should be offered, which shows that leadership is can never be morally neutral.

Sales can be redemptive too because it liberates people to take back what is inherently rightfully theirs like complete health care.  If no product fits, and so there is no sale, the agent considers himself or herself a free “insurance-educator” or maybe a “senior citizen advocate” who just wants to help but pointing the person in the direction they need to go. Why? Because the overall mission of the agent is to help others even if it’s a sacrifice of time and talent.

At Communion time, the priest or Extra-Ordinary Minister of Holy Communion says “The Body of Christ.” The communicant replies: “Amen” And “receives” the Eucharist. “To receive”— rather than “I want,” “I need,” “I must have.”

This is a helpful “back-to-school” mindset— to be passive, receive the gift, the teaching being offered to you.

The ones that left said it was “hard saying” because they were reading into it, thinking it was cannibalism or something.  They could have stayed and asked for a tutor or mentor so they could understand.

Thinking Eucharistically impacts and influences the soul in the spiritual and moral order.  For example, St. Paul talks about the Cup of blessing being a Communion with the Blood of Christ—meaning that the Eucharist is real material participation in the real body and blood of Christ.

The morality is explained in 1 Cor. 11:27 "that a person should examine himself lest he eat and drink judgment to himself by failing to distinguish this from ordinary food.”

One last thing—It says “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life no longer accompanied him.” That verse is John 6:66. Satan’s six-pack.

Relapse means going back to your former life before Christ.  Going “back out there” for more “R & D” (research and development) until I fall back into an even bigger hole or SLIP which is what is said in jail ministry = Sobriety Lost Its Priority.

Stick with the winners.  Win with the stickers.  The stickers stick around.
Jesus did not yell at them, “Come back…I was just speaking figuratively or symbolically about the Eucharist; it’s not really my flesh and blood...”

It’s like what Joshua tells them in our First Reading—-they can leave if they want, but he’s already made his decision: he and his household will serve the Lord.

What is non-negotiable for you?  Your health. Family time. Study time. Musical instrument practice time.  Hopefully prayer time and Sunday Eucharist time. Having a valid marriage for a Catholic so one can receive the Eucharist as the highest priority.

The fact that Jesus was not defensive when many of his disciples left is a cue that when setting boundaries, there is no need to defend, debate, or over-explain your feelings. Be firm, gracious and direct. When faced with resistance, repeat your statement or request.

Here’s a back-to-school example as well as an example you can use at home, too:  it’s perfectly reasonable for teacher or parent to withdraw or withhold the desired outcome, like some privilege, until the classroom behavior changes.

This is where the teacher finds him or herself repeating “magic” sentences like, “We’ll try again tomorrow (or next week)” so the teacher can avoid attacking, blaming, or labeling the misbehavior.

Hopefully, the class will presumably have lots of opportunities to refine some of their behaviors until they eventually get it right.



Friday, August 24, 2018

Whoever Humbles Himself by Peter Sonski (@29sonski)

Whoever Humbles Himself by Peter Sonski (@29sonski)

“I fell prone as the glory of the LORD entered the temple” (Ezekiel 43:3-4).

“Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him” (Psalm 85:10).

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

The scribes and the Pharisees were “experts.” Scribes were knowledgeable of the written law and legal matters, while Pharisees were exponents of legal traditions, many of them oral (perhaps the Torah and the Talmud?). They were both opponents of Jesus however because he established himself up as a decisive interpreter of the law that both groups held dear.

In today’s reading from St. Matthew, Jesus pointed out the principal shortcoming of the scribes and Pharisees: pride. Foremost of the Seven Deadly Sins, it is the vice that brought low the angels. The fall of Lucifer (cf. Isaiah 14, and perhaps Ezekiel 28) is the outcome self-importance.

Jesus admonished the crowds and his disciples to shun worldly honors and to be cautious in giving others such honor as well.

“If God prefers humility it is not to debase us: humility is the necessary precondition for being lifted up again by Him, so as to experience the mercy that comes to fill our emptiness. The prayer of the arrogant does not reach God’s heart, but the humility of the wretched opens it up. God has a predilection for the humble and, encountering a humble heart, He opens His own fully.” (Pope Francis, General Audience, June 1, 2016)

We’ve seen many high-placed figures fall from dignity in recent times. Are we apt to place too much admiration in people or positions? Are we inclined to place more worth in human rather than heavenly values?

Moreover, are we humble in our own right, cognizant of being earthly vessels (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7)?

Found the One

Found the One

The angel spoke to me, saying, "Come here. I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." He took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It gleamed with the splendor of God. Revelation 21:9B-11A

Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth." But Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." John 1:45-46
Bright Wings
God's Grandeur 
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Source: Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985)

“We have found the one!”  Our quest is like Philip’s discovery – to find and have a relationship with the Lord.  Sometimes, there is a lot about organized religion and the institutional church that might fail.  Our quest remains to find Jesus.  To count on Jesus.  And for Jesus to count on us.

Faith is about what we do when we leave the sanctuary and take the Gospel into the streets of the modern world. 

Now…how does Revelation fit into all this?

The “bride” is the Church.  According to a post by Fr. Matt Fish, he reminds me:
First Reading today begins: "The angel spoke to me saying, 'Come here. I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.'" (Rev 21) Remember, that Lamb is forever both slain and standing, just as the triumphant Christ forever bears his wounds. How could his bride be any different?

Philip found the standing Christ at this point in his ministry.  Yet, now is when we find the slain Christ in the image of the church.  Now is when we need to stand beside the Church and her wounds as we seek healing and ways to bind her and our wounds. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Not Worthy of the Feast Lord by Beth DeCristofaro

Not Worthy of the Feast Lord by Beth DeCristofaro

Thus says the LORD: I will prove the holiness of my great name, profaned among the nations…I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. (Ezekiel 36:23, 26)

Then the king said to his servants, 'The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.' The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. … Many are invited, but few are chosen.(Matthew 22:8-10, 14)

Turn away your face from my sins;
blot out all my iniquities.
A clean heart create for me, God;
renew within me a steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me from before your face,
nor take from me your holy spirit.
Restore to me the gladness of your salvation;
uphold me with a willing spirit.
I will teach the wicked your ways,
that sinners may return to you.
Rescue me from violent bloodshed, God, my saving God,
and my tongue will sing joyfully of your justice.
        (Psalm 51:11-16, Mass for the Day)

For those of you who have hosted a special event, you know the odds are high that something will go wrong.  A musician cancels out on a wedding ceremony with only days’ notice.  The hotel burns down just before a grand kick-off gathering.  A violent thunderstorm blows away the reception tent.  And, of course, the cliché joke:  what if I throw a party and no one shows up?

In light of last week’s grand jury report on the awful, decades-long crimes and sins in Pennsylvania, today’s Gospel made me want to weep.  Jesus’ parable refers to the divine wedding feast yet I picture also a feast we have all been invited to through our Baptism, the feast of the Kingdom of God begun by the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ.  The response to the invitation?  Just as in the Gospel there are invitees who ignored the invitation or worse, set upon and destroyed sister and brother guests.  Other attendees disrespect our host by refusing to wear the “wedding attire” of caring for vulnerable children beloved by God.

Pope Francis’ letter calls for solidarity with the abused and accountability of perpetrators for which I am grateful.  But to be honest, I feel like a guest, enjoying the bread and wine is nearly impossible because of the violence in the Wedding Hall.  Pope Francis’ words are a beginning.  “Today we are challenged as the People of God to take on the pain of our brothers and sisters wounded in their flesh and in their spirit. If in the past, the response was one of omission, today we want solidarity, in the deepest and most challenging sense, to become our way of forging present and future history. And this in an environment where conflicts, tensions and above all the victims of every type of abuse can encounter an outstretched hand to protect them and rescue them from their pain (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 228). Such solidarity demands that we, in turn, condemn whatever endangers the integrity of any person. A solidarity that summons us to fight all forms of corruption, especially spiritual corruption. The latter is a comfortable and self-satisfied form of blindness. Everything then appears acceptable: deception, slander, egotism and other subtle forms of self-centeredness, for ‘even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light’ (2 Cor 11:14)’ (Gaudete et Exsultate, 165). Saint Paul’s exhortation to suffer with those who suffer is the best antidote against all our attempts to repeat the words of Cain: ‘Am I my brother's keeper?’” (Gen 4:9).[i]

Truthfully, I do not want to forgive perpetrators or the institutional Church!  I do not want to pray and do acts of penance or mortification for victims as the priests of our diocese have been asked by the Bishop to do. This was not my sin.  Those I know who were personally harmed by abuse – and not in Pennsylvania! – deserve more. 

I can, however, accept that I too am a sinner and I too have been invited by Baptism to the Feast of the Kingdom, a gift given to all, not just to me.  My prayers, our prayers, our compassion toward victims, our refraining from naming certain groups as culpable with no evidence, our awareness that even if this has not been our sin, we are sinners too, is essential in sweeping clean the dining hall of the feast.  We can assist in ensuring safety for all within its walls, all who wish to enter the doors.  Our Host, our Lord’s Body and Blood remain the foundation on which even a cracked and weatherworn community builds. 

Our community.  We can be part of rebuilding rather than leaving it to a leading class.  Speak with your pastor and Bishop about your vision for our Church.

Illustration: “And Jesus Wept”, St. Joseph Old Cathedral, Oklahoma City (across from the Edward R Murrow Memorial Site)