Thursday, January 31, 2019

Receive What He Has Promised

Receive What He Has Promised

Therefore, do not throw away your confidence; it will have great recompense. You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised. Hebrews 10:35-36

"This is how it is with the Kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord, the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come." Mark 4:26-29

Study is the second leg of the tripod because Mark reminds us that we know nothing.  In speaking to the many agrarian farmers in Galilee, Jesus basically says that the land yields the crops and the farmer can help them along with planting, watering and more.  However, the bigger question is that the farmer really does not know the mystery of how the land provides this food for us. 

Likewise, we have no idea how the Kingdom will come to pass.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, but it is also even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.[i]

To overcome these issues, Jesus offers all manner of axioms and practical “wisdom.” Despite that, we wallow in our ignorance and hypocrisy. 
Yet through the pairing of Mark and Hebrews, we are pointed in the right direction. The practical consequences from these reflections on the priesthood and the sacrifice of Christ should make it clear that we have direct and confident access to God through the person and teachings of Jesus.[ii]

Will we know why the Kingdom has come any more than we why the harvest comes? By heeding the practical wisdom of Jesus in the spirit in of mercy that it is offered, we are to encourage one another to Christian love and activity.  And, like the reminder yesterday, we are to stop judging others so that we can avoid the sin of hypocrisy.

We must continue to overcome that ignorance by planting the seeds that we have faith will one day grow. We must continue to water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

“Shine” by Beth DeCristofaro

“Shine” by Beth DeCristofaro

Jesus said to his disciples, "Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand? … He also told them, "Take care what you hear. The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still, more will be given to you. To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away." (Mark 4:21, 24-25)

Breath life and illumination into me, Holy Spirit.  Help me measure out mercy, love, hope, and justice.  Measure me with truth and grace.

Lamps, lighting and illuminating truth in my own life are many.  My parents put their Catholicism into action as community volunteers mostly for disadvantaged children.  A childhood friend who influenced me in courage and standing up for right.   Mass with our “base community” at St. Columbkille in Brighton, MA, experiencing some of what the early Christians might have formed. 

Jesus words are also found in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.  They harken back to Wisdom 12:22 Therefore to give us a lesson you punish our enemies with measured deliberation so that we may think earnestly of your goodness when we judge, and, when being judged, we may look for mercy. I take from this that measuring mercy when fair judgment is delivered will return mercy.  And there are times when “judgment” is called for, in righting wrongs, in pointing out (with mercy) the fault of another especially when it hurts themselves or others.  I certainly have trouble with this.  Mercy, however, centers me in God’s arms rather than my own arrogance or obstinate right-ness.

Theologian Carmen M. Nanko-Fernández says “For too long we have domesticated the Holy Spirit, imagining a peaceful white dove as a comforter to support the status quo, or as an advocate without the sharp edge of advocacy. … The Spirit de Dios that breathes la Vida (the life) into each one of us, el espĂ­ritu that breathes upon us, the spirit that encourages us to exhale, is the same spirit that urges us on to cry out basta ya, enough already, to all that stifles its movement for justice en nuestras comunidades y casas (our communities and homes), in our churches, in our countries, y en nuestro mundo (in our world). Pa’lante (onward) in the Spirit de Dios!” The measure which will return to us, individually and communally, will be rooted in that brilliant lamplight of the mercy and grace of God.[i]

John Bosco did not let the status quo stop him from shining brightly to bring education and care to youth in poverty and oppression.  How are we shining our own lights?  In what way do we dim our own lights despite the Spirit’s prompting us to shine? 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

“God’s Plan Will Prevail” by Colleen O’Sullivan

“God’s Plan Will Prevail” by Colleen O’Sullivan

Icon depicting the Sower, Sts. Konstantine and Helen
Orthodox Church, Cluj, Romania,
GNU Free Documentation License, Wikimedia Commons
"Hear this!  A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil.  It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep.  And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots.  Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it and it produced no grain.  And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit.  It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold."  (Mark 4:3-8) 

“All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  (Julian of Norwich)

When I got out of school, one of the things I wanted to do was have a garden, so I was delighted when my first parsonage came with a huge back yard.  I arrived a little too far into the summer to do much the first year, but come spring my next-door neighbor brought his tractor over, dug a decent-size plot and worked up the soil.  Inside, I enthusiastically planted my seeds - yellow squash, zucchini, bell peppers, and tomatoes.  I set all the containers on card tables on my sun porch.  I watered them when needed and anxiously checked them every day.  I was delighted when they sprouted and began to grow.  One day I came home from making hospital visits and noticed that a plate which covered the spot on the wall where an old stove had been vented had been knocked off.  I was annoyed but got up on a chair and put it back up.  I changed my clothes and went to check on my seedlings.  To my horror, they were all uprooted.  Many of them were just plain gone.  Three birds had come in and had had fun snacking while I was out!  I had quite a time catching them with a crab net and getting them out of my house.  I ended up having to start all over again.

The next summer, I was in a different location.  A serious gardener must have lived there before me because there was a huge, ready-made garden with nice, sandy soil in the back.  I planted all sorts of things – 8 tomato plants, 18 pepper plants (I had absolutely no concept how many peppers those plants would yield), bush beans, squash, cucumbers, carrots, and corn.  No carrots ever showed up.  Likewise, with the corn. First thing every single morning, there I was out weeding and hoeing and looking over what was ready to pick that day.   Despite the carrot and corn failure, my garden was so productive I had to buy a freezer and invest in a canner.

The parable Jesus shared with his disciples and the crowd by the sea is so true to life.  We set out to do something for the Lord, but sometimes our efforts just don’t yield the results we hope for.  A bird comes and snatches the seedlings right out of the soil and they die.  You invite your friends and acquaintances to make a Cursillo weekend, and not one of them ends up going.  Despite your example and the many things you’ve said on the subject, your adult children don’t seem interested in going to Mass or having anything to do with the Church.  As a Church, we thought we had a handle on clergy sex abuse only to discover years later that the problem was so much deeper than we knew.

On the other hand, sometimes our efforts meet with success beyond our wildest dreams.  The pepper and tomato harvest turns out to be so bountiful you hardly know what to do with all of it.  One of your friends’ teenage children asks you out of the blue if he can go to Mass with you, and you have an unexpected, in-depth conversation about Jesus’ death on the Cross because you got there early enough for him to look around and ask questions.  And, then, he asks you over dinner if he can go with you again!  Or a Cursillo weekend has so many would-be participants that a waiting list needs to be created.  Your children have children and eventually decide they want their offspring to have faith and receive the sacraments, so they come back to the Church after all. 

There are many ways we could look at this parable, but for me, it’s a story of faith and hope.  God’s plan is for success in the end.  No matter what happens along the way, God’s harvest will be more bountiful than anything you or I could ever imagine.  Because we are God’s beloved children, God invites us to share in sowing the seeds of the Kingdom.  Don’t worry about the ones that don’t seem to sprout or grow.  Be extravagant.  Continue sowing indiscriminately.  God’s overall plan will never be thwarted and God’s Kingdom will come in all its fullness at a future time.  The last word will always be the yield of thirty-, sixty-, and a hundredfold and never the trials and errors along the way.

Where in your life have you encountered pesky birds, rocky soil, shallow roots or thorns?  What discourages you as you toil for the Lord?  Offer it to God in prayer, and rest assured that God is always more interested in our efforts than in the immediate results.  God’s plan over all of time is for success, and God’s plan will prevail.

Monday, January 28, 2019

“He Takes Away the First to Establish the Second” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

“He Takes Away the First to Establish the Second” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

… when he came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings, you took no delight. Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.’” First he says, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in.” These are offered according to the law. Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.” He takes away the first to establish the second. (Hebrews 10:5-9)

Here am I Lord; I come to do your will. (Psalm 40:8a and 9a)

But he said to them in reply, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." (Mark 3:33-35)

Master Chef, I offer my obedience and surrender, the key ingredients You need from me.

I was talking with someone recently about my inability to veer from the directions in any recipe. “Oh,” she said, “you must be a baker.” I wrinkled up my nose a bit and wondered whether I should be offended because, yes, I’m a good baker, but I also am more than competent on the art of cooking in general.

“In baking, it’s important you measure exactly and follow directions,” my friend
explained. “There’s a big difference in the result between a teaspoon of baking powder and a tablespoon, and between self-rising flour and all-purpose flour. But with cooking, there’s not so much difference between a cup of carrots and a cup and a half of carrots in the result, or between walnuts and peanuts other than the taste.”

Maybe that’s why I feel empathy for those who were bewildered by the concept that sacrifices and offerings were not what the Lord desired once His only begotten Son had died for all. They were used to knowing that Sin X required the sacrificing of X number of goats, lambs, or doves. There didn’t have to be a lot of thought given to what wrong had been done and how to turn away from it in the future; those types of sacrifices are more about ritual and process.

Through Jesus, God showed us He’s less of a baker and more of a master chef, maybe along the lines of those on “Chopped,” that reality show where contestants are given a strange list of ingredients to turn into a mouth-watering course in just a few minutes. It doesn’t ruin His recipe for us if we fail more or less often than the person next to us, or if our sins are more or less egregious. Rather, He manages to make something amazing every time with the flawed, confused mess of humanity each of us brings to Him. All we have to do is surrender our will, and be willing to be shaped in the way most pleasing to Him.

Identify a sacrifice you are offering the Lord out of routine, not out of sincere repentance. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Mediator of a New Covenant

Mediator of a New Covenant

Christ is mediator of a new covenant: since a death has taken place for deliverance from transgressions under the first covenant, those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance. Hebrews 9:15

If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man's house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Mark 3:24-27

At Belmont Abbey College, all students, regardless of religious affiliation, were required to take two semesters of theology.  I escaped the details and nuances of The Summa Theologica by taking “Christianity, Culture and Politics” (a prescient honors course offering for Fall 1975 that long pre-dated the rise of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority) and a class in ethics.

A footnote to today’s first reading is what would have been in store had I taken the more normal Theology 201 or 202.  In the small print of the New American Bible, we find the following explanation:

Jesus’ role as a mediator of the new covenant is based upon his sacrificial death (cf. Heb 8:6). His death has affected deliverance from transgressions, i.e., deliverance from sins committed under the old covenant, which the Mosaic sacrifices were incapable of effacing. Until this happened, the eternal inheritance promised by God could not be obtained (Heb 9:15). This effect of his work follows the human pattern by which a last will and testament become effective only with the death of the testator (Heb 9:16–17). The Mosaic covenant was also associated with death, for Moses made use of blood to seal the pact between God and the people (Heb 9:18–21). In Old Testament tradition, guilt could normally not be remitted without the use of blood (Heb 9:22; cf. Leviticus 17:11).

Such an explanation would have been much harder to find in the five volumes of TST without the benefit of hypertext footnotes.

Jesus also much more directly addresses the subject of getting control over our base instincts in today’s confrontation with the scribes.  Unless we tie up the strong man who tempts us with power, money, sex, and easy routes to happiness, we will never get control over the temptations Satan sends our way.

Jesus is very direct in addressing the one sin for which there is no forgiveness.  Thomas also addresses “Whether there be any supreme evil, which is the first cause of all evils?” By the end of that section, I am confused. By the end of Jesus’ address in Mark 3, I just want to avoid blaspheming the Holy Spirit. This sin “attributes to Satan, who is the power of evil, what is actually the work of the Holy Spirit, namely, victory over the demons.”

The scribes were guilty of the “everlasting sin” because they claimed: “"By the prince of demons he drives out demons."  However, Jesus’s victory over demons is the work of God. Satan would have no motive to drive out Satan.  That is solely the mission of the Holy Spirit.

Just think of how furious those scribes were when they realized what sin Jesus was accusing them of committing.  

You do not need a Ph.D. in Sacred Theology to get the concepts right from scripture.  We can be grateful for the guides we have had along the way. Fr. Jerome Dollard was my first.  He taught that course in Christianity, Culture, and Politics. He was my first real adult guide into these “civil religion” topics -- helping to focus the young minds in his class on the Spirit-inspired works of Dorothy Day as they oppose the Satan-inspired works of Chairman Mao and his little red book. 

Who has been your guide? 

“Now You Are Christ’s Body” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney) #CatholicTwitter

Image link is:
“Now You Are Christ’s Body” by Melanie Rigney

Then, Nehemiah, that is, His Excellency, and Ezra the priest-scribe and the Levites who were instructing the people said to all the people: "Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep"—for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. He said further: "Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our LORD. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!" (Nehemiah 8:9-10)

Your works, Lord, are Spirit and life. (John 6:63c)

Now you are Christ's body and individually parts of it. Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work mighty deeds? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:27-30)

He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:16-21)

Lord, my deeds are less than mighty, but they are what You desire of me. Help me to keep my eyes on You, rather than comparing my load with those of another.

I had dinner recently with a couple of friends, and one of them said she doesn’t know where I get the energy to do all I do—a full-time job; writing, editing, and speaking on the side; owning a women’s conference; and, of course, following the Caps.

I had to shake my head in amazement. I don’t know where she gets the energy to do all she does: a demanding more-than-full-time job; a wife, mother, and grandmother; weekly prayer group host; and more. Same goes for our other friend—a full-time job, wife, caregiver to a beloved relative, and a robust service ministry in so many other ways.

That’s the thing, isn’t it? We are many parts in one body. Being those parts is seldom easy, even with the Lord’s love and grace. But when you think about it, really think about it, would you want to take on anyone else’s part? I would doubt it if you knew everything that is involved in what he or she does to bring souls to the Kingdom. Our parts are unique, just as we are. But working together and honoring each other’s parts, we please Him and in ways large and small, we change the world.

Say thank you to someone whose part is done beautifully, but quietly. Few others may be doing so.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Stir into Flame #CatholicTwitter

Stir into Flame #CatholicTwitter

For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So, do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God. 2 Timothy 1:6-8

Jesus came with his disciples into the house. Again, the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this, they set out to seize him, for they said, "He is out of his mind." Mark 3:20-21

Titus & Timothy were companions of St Paul. Let us call & accompany our friends to holiness. Help make us a church that fosters a culture that welcomes, protects, promotes and integrates the strangers in our land.

“…from this community of gathered people will rise a new church: a church that protects the abused and the marginalized, ministering to all in search of healing; a church that strives continually to overcome every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on gender, race, color, social condition, sexual orientation, language or religion, in order to pave the way for a new future of joy and hope . . . we pray to the Lord.” (5 Theses)

Today’s “Palanca” to Timothy is delivered from Nero’s prison in Rome shortly before the Romans beheaded St. Paul.  In the letter, after Paul recalls a previous separation from Timothy, Paul commends him for his faith and expresses the longing to see him again.  However, we now know that shall not happen in his mortal lifetime.

Paul encourages his friend to ignite the faith in others because Timothy does not have only the “regular” gifts from God, but rather he is blessed with the special grace that comes from the conferral of an ecclesiastical office. With such grace, comes special responsibilities to the flock.

Jesus also had that fire but it was misinterpreted.  The preaching, teaching, and healing in Capernaum set Jesus at odds with the scribes and even with his own relatives in such a way as they thought he was “out of his mind.” Such an assessment also is repeated in John’s Gospel: Many of them said, “He is possessed and out of his mind; why listen to him?” (10:20)

However, Jesus was not being seen as insane.  He was trying to stir up the people and ignite their faith. He intentionally incited conflict with the existing powers in the hope of lighting the fire of faith in more people.  Many Jews had learned to peacefully co-exist with the belligerent Romans and the demanding Pharisees. Not Christ. He was not going to go along to get along.  As we heard in earlier readings this week, those who heard and believed were saved. Those who doubted were not. They thought Jesus was committing blasphemy and opted to pick up stones rather than to listen and obey.

The words of Pope Francis might inflame some Catholics this week. According to an article in the National Catholic Reporter,

Pope Francis lamented the "senseless and irresponsible condemnation" of migrants Jan. 25, telling hundreds of thousands of young people here that the Catholic Church should help create societies that welcome and protect those leaving their homelands due to violence or famine.

In a Via Crucis prayer service during World Youth Day marked by a mixture of poignant and pointed prayers, the pontiff asked that the global institution "learn how to welcome and take in all those abandoned and forced to leave or lose their land, their roots, their families, and their work."[i]

Can you embrace the possibility of change in your viewpoints and in your life if you find yourself in conflict with the teachings of the Church?

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Whoever Believes

Whoever Believes

Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that, if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. (Acts 9:1-2)

Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. Mark 16:15-16

What goes around, comes around.  Despite Saul’s conversion, the Romans that he meets up with in Acts are the same ones he was conspiring with during his earlier (pre-conversion) days.  At their hands, Paul meets other Romans who are “still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord.”  At their hands, Paul meets the same fate that he was meting out to the early Christians. Arrest. Prison. Execution.

The Basilica Papale San Paolo Fuori le Mure, or “Saint Paul Outside the Walls,” is one of Rome's most important churches. The church's most important relic is a piece of the chain believed to have been used by (or more appropriately on) Saint Paul when he was imprisoned in Rome. It’s on display on a small altar above his tomb.

Historical accounts explain that Paul arrived in Rome in AD61 for the trial that sentenced him to death for being a Christian. (Would there be enough evidence to convict you?) He was beheaded later after spending four to six years on Emperor Nero’s Death Row. The chains believed to have been used to join Paul to the Roman soldier who guarded him have become an important relic.[i]

It is interesting to note that Paul could not be crucified, as Peter was, because he was a freeman of the city of Rome.[ii]

Do you find it ironic that our church is called the Roman Catholic Church after all this persecution and execution? Today, when you visit Rome, you can still encounter the remnants of this earlier path of persecution in churches and museums and sits like the Coliseum. 

Despite all the rhetoric about equality, there remain hundreds or thousands of divisions in the Christian churches by social class, economic class, nationality, and other divisions between churches in different parts of the world. As late as the 1860’s church documents rejected the term “Roman Catholic.” Instead, the Church takes the position that "there is no other Catholic Church except that which is built on the one man, Peter." Today the Vatican officially still prefers the Catholic Church.  When I was growing up studying via the Baltimore Catechism, we learned that we are called Roman Catholics to show that we are united to the real successor of St. Peter" (Question 118).  However, the term “Roman Catholic” has not appeared again in the Catechism since it was revised in 1992.

The Catholic Church of today is composed of 24 autonomous particular churches: the Latin Church and the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches. The Catholic Church is considered by its members to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded, and which Saint Peter initiated along with the missionary work of Saint Paul and others. As such, the Catholic Church does not consider itself a denomination but rather considers itself pre-denominational, the original Church of Christ. Continuity is claimed based upon apostolic succession with the early church.

Maybe the chains we see at Saint Paul Outside the Walls are the chains of the church, not just the martyr.

Do we still wear the chains of St. Peter and Paul?  What chains chain you today to your views, your dogma, your actions?

The ONLY division Jesus recognized was between belief and non-belief.  Once you are baptized, you are part of the church. How surprised would Jesus, Peter, and Paul be that we are not only named the Roman Church but there also are thousands of other Christian churches around the world?

How are you united with the early church? 

"He Calls, We come to Him" By Beth DeCristofaro

"He Calls, We come to Him" By Beth DeCristofaro
He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself. (Hebrews 7:27)

Jesus withdrew toward the sea with his disciples. A large number of people followed from Galilee and from Judea. Hearing what he was doing, a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon. (Mark 3:7-8)

We thank you, God, for the many colours, cultures, and customs that we share in this world.  In our differences, unite us by your love.
     Enable us to act together to uphold life and to make this world a just and peaceful household for all humanity. Today we ask you: O God, hear our prayer and grant us your peace[i]

Jesus’ presence, his “signs” of healing in Mark’s Gospel brought people from all over.  A flock gathers round the Shepherd.  They come for so many reasons:  curiosity, poverty and oppression, illness, isolation, and of course to catch him up breaking the law in order to stop him.  What brings us to God? 

St Francis de Sales was an astute theologian, known widely for his gentleness and complete trust in the goodness of God in his life.  He spoke to the real presence of God in everyday life and encouraged the laity to be aware of doing God’s business and seeking holiness in mundane tasks.  He wrote: “[true piety] shone its light everywhere and gained entrance to the thrones of kings, the tents of generals, the courts of judges, custom houses, workshops, and even the huts of herdsmen” (cf. Brief, Dives in Misericordia, 16 November 1877).[ii]  Jesus’ flock then and now are welcomed by the Shepherd to a life of God at home, within their lives every day. 

Cursillo as lay-led is uniquely able to work for unity and model the welcome, the succor of our Shepherd. In this week of Prayer for Christian unity, we might spend time, as did Francis, in prayer for unity first within our own divided hearts.  Ask for the breath of the Holy Spirit to enliven us to follow Jesus, trusting in his desire for our goodness.  Pray to end divisions within our own Catholic Church and divisions with Christian Churches and people of faith across the world.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

A Heart Full of Love by Colleen O’Sullivan

A Heart Full of Love by Colleen O’Sullivan

Then he said to the Pharisees, "Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” (Mark 3:4a)  

“Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
The Healing of The Man with the Withered Hand,
c. 1000-1020, Hitda-codex, Fol. 114,
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Picture yourself heading to the village synagogue to worship on the Sabbath.  You enter and take your customary place. You are expecting to hear Scripture read and commented on, as well as to take part in prayer.  Instead, you feel tension in the air as soon as you walk in. There’s that itinerant preacher, Jesus, calling a man with a useless, withered hand up to the front.  Wait, surely he can’t mean to heal him here and now! It’s the Sabbath and, according to the Pharisees, that’s not allowed. The Pharisees haven’t uttered a word, but the scowls on their faces say it all.  Jesus says just one thing to them. “Is it permissible to do good rather than evil on the Sabbath?” The answer seems self-evident, but they don’t say anything, simply scowl all the more. Jesus prays over the man’s outstretched hand, and he is healed!  And, of course, the Pharisees run right out to see if joining up with the Herodians will strengthen their cause against this upstart from Nazareth.
Mark tells us that Jesus is grieved and angry because of the Pharisees’ hardness of heart.  This is one of several places in the Gospels where Jesus is said to be angry. We shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking Jesus’ anger is the sort where he’s going to take his marbles and go home, forever cutting the Pharisees out of his love.  (That’s more in line with what some of us do when we’re angry.)   Jesus is frustrated because he’s shown them how to do good, but they’re more interested in being right by their own measure.  Jesus desperately wants to soften their hearts, and they are equally determined to get rid of this threat to their status as the learned, religious authorities of their day.

Sometimes I like to watch the Dr. Phil show.  Somebody writes in and begs Dr. Phil to help with a problem in their family.  When they get on the show, though, they don’t listen to a word he says. Their hearts are hardened, and they talk and shout over the host until it seems like you’re watching a verbal free-for-all.  More often than not, Dr. Phil asks if they just want to be right (in which case he can just go home) or whether they have any interest in getting help with solving their problem.

The Pharisees in the Gospels are like those guests in a way, so busy defending themselves, they never hear Jesus’ offer to show them what a person with a heart full of love both for God and God’s children looks like.  The Lord is standing right in their midst and, unfortunately, the eyes of their hearts are blind and they see nothing, and the ears of their hearts are closed and they hear nothing.

Where in your life do you think your heart could use some softening?   Turn it over to Jesus in prayer today. Ask the Lord to open the eyes and ears of your hearts to the example he sets before us in the Gospels.  


Monday, January 21, 2019

“The Love You Have Demonstrated for His Name” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

“The Love You Have Demonstrated for His Name” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones. (Hebrews 6:10)

The Lord will remember his covenant forever. (Psalm 111:5)

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)

May the tragic practice of abortion come to an end (intercession for today, the final day of the Catholic Church of the United States’ 9 Days for Life)

And so we pray, today and every day, for the legal protection of unborn children. Many have prayed that prayer daily for forty-six years; for some people, that’s a lifetime.

I know women who had abortions. I can only think of one who, at least publicly at the time, didn’t seem to regard it as her only option, who treated it as nothing more than getting a tooth filled. Every single other woman I know still remembers the day and the place and how she felt, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Most have said they wouldn’t wish those feelings on anyone else. Eleven years after Roe v. Wade, a woman who would later become a friend, Vicki Thorn, started Project Rachel, a ministry to help women find healing after abortions.

I think we’d all agree that legal protection won’t eradicate abortion. But many of us believe it would help. So would not shunning or judging women who become pregnant, and instead of helping them through the pregnancy and beyond. So would encouraging women to believe in the love the Lord has for them and their children, unborn or born.

The U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops’ National Prayer Events for Life webpage has a beautiful quote from Cardinal Timothy Dolan: “Our prayers matter. Every prayer matters, and if you can’t start at the beginning, jump in when you can!” That’s good advice when it comes to praying for legal protection of the unborn—and anything else.

Have you stopped praying about something because it doesn’t seem the Lord is listening? Start up again. Believe that His ways are not always evident to us.