Friday, May 31, 2019

Rejoice in Hope

Rejoice in Hope

Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality.  Romans 12:12-13

When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”  Luke 1:41-45

Mary of the Nativity, woman of faith, be with us as we try to see the light through the darkness.  Help us to be not afraid no matter what happens or where God leads us.

God certainly does not come to us at a convenient time. The clock and the calendar continue moving ahead, month by month, day by day, minute by minute. Tick.  Tick. Tick.  There is too much to do. When we are mired in our own life’s challenges, it is very difficult to think like Matthew 25 and put a priority on everyone else’s needs.  We are far too busy wallowing in our own problems.

What is happening to us is MAJOR!  The 17G bus is late.  I won’t make it home in time for dinner.  What is happening to everyone else is minor. Can’t you see how sick/busy/tired we are? We cannot donate blood today.  We cannot give to your building fund today.  We cannot be concerned with the needs of others now.

But why not?  Don’t we understand Mary of the Visitation? Weighed down with the unexpected seed of God and how her condition threated every fiber of her meager existence in Nazareth, did Mary drop everything to have a pity party for Mary? 

NO!  She dropped everything to run and take care of her aging cousin Elizabeth, also pregnant with an unexpected child by a now unexplainably mute husband Zechariah.  The no-longer barren woman about to have her first child just like her virgin-cousin about to have her first child. Each full of tension. Each full of compassion, giving hope – a cardinal virtue – to the other.

Without the hope of the Visitation, life is as barren as we thought Elizabeth was. It takes hope to carry on in a confused, terrorist-infected world. It takes hope to assume that God is present even when we cannot see the road ahead. It takes hope to trust that if we keep doing what we must do for others – even when chaos surrounds us – that the God who leads us into the desert of darkness is also the God who will lead us to the garden of light. Mary of the Visitation is a model of hope for us when we might be tempted to become totally consumed with ourselves and the pressures of the season. 

A few years ago, I found an out-of-print booklet of reflections by Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, on the Rosary.  When feast days on any of the mysteries come up, her reflections always flashback in my mind.  Today is among the best.  Here is Sr. Joan on Action related to the Joyful Mystery of the Visitation:  

Hope is a cardinal virtue without which life comes up bleak and barren.  It takes hope to carry on in confusion.  It takes hope to assume that God is present even when we cannon see the road ahead.  It takes hope to trust that if we just keep doing what we must do for others, even in the midst of our own emotional chaos, that the God who leads us into darkness will also lead us out of it.  Indeed, Mary of the Visitation is a model of hope for us when we would become totally consumed with ourselves.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

“Lead us from Grief to Joy” by Beth DeCristofaro

“Lead us from Grief to Joy” by Beth DeCristofaro

Paul began to occupy himself totally with preaching the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. When they opposed him and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, "Your blood be on your heads! I am clear of responsibility.  From now on I will go to the Gentiles." (Acts 18:6)

Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, "Are you discussing with one another what I said, 'A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me'? Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy." (John 16:19-20)

Lord, we are so sorry
for what some of us did to your children:
treated them so cruelly,
especially in their hour of need.
We have left them with a lifelong suffering.
This was not your plan for them or us.
Please help us to help them.
Guide us, Lord, Amen.[i]

John’s Gospel puts forward dualisms, thematically portraying that acceptance of Jesus meant rejecting something else.  It was a necessary step in conversion into eternal life. Dualities such as light contrasted to dark, or the world compared with Jesus’ community allowed John to explore what is mostly a mystery. To John, Jesus was knowable, and God knowable through Jesus, for example.  Jesus foresaw the difficulty that his followers, including Paul, would face in evangelization as they explained the essential need to give up people’s world view.  The rejection he experienced must have grieved Paul, but he “shook” off the world, leaving it and them behind to move forward in his acceptance of Jesus and his mission to share the Word.

Did Jesus foresee the grief his community is experiencing today?  The abuse and power scandal rocking his church must indeed be hurtful as it is for many faithful.  How difficult to hold on to truths unseen while the community in which we find our faith center has, in many ways, betrayed us.  We see Jesus’ ministry (actions) and words (study) to be helpful.

Jesus healed, again and again.  He healed those perhaps unsuitable – the Roman centurion’s servant, for example.  He healed the unbeliever – the Samaritan woman.  Jesus gave himself “for his friends,” John’s Gospel tells us.  Jesus forgave again and again.  When He appeared after the resurrection, Jesus bestowed peace upon his disciples rather than chastising them for abandoning him.  Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to them for guidance and courage.  And, importantly, Jesus sent them out to share the Word which would heal a hurting world.  We must, with the disciples, reject the world, which allows abuse and seek the community of God, reforming, and healing.  As Jesus calls us to experience and live joy, we also must help to assuage and answer grief. 

What are we doing to evangelize Jesus’ Word to heal those hurt by the Church and ultimately heal our Church?  Holding on to the old ways has proven not only ineffective but hurtful in many ways.  Raise up in prayer (piety) the opposition of the institutional Church to healing.  Raise also any anger and frustration we feel into our prayer.  Ask the Holy Spirit to give us courage as advocates and healing that we can put our anger and frustration to good and holy use.  Reach out in your parish and diocese as leaders steeped in acceptance of Jesus, not the world to help lead and unite.

[i] prayer sent to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin by a person who suffered abuse so that it could be shared in parishes. This prayer was inscribed on the healing stone which was unveiled at the 50th International Eucharistic Congress 2012 and now has its permanent home at Lough Derg, County Donegal. Donegal.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

“Keep On Keeping On” by Colleen O’Sullivan

“Keep On Keeping On” by Colleen O’Sullivan

For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, 'To an Unknown God.' What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you. (Acts 17:23)

Jesus said to his disciples:  "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.  But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.”  (John 16:12-13a)

O Lord, may I be like St. Paul in refusing to be defeated by disappointment.  Grant me the ability to persevere in difficult times.

Saint Paul Preaching in Athens,
Giovanni Paolo Panini, 1734,
National Gallery of Art,
Creative Commons Lic., Wikimedia Commons
During Paul’s lifetime, the Romans may have been the political rulers, but if a person were looking for culture, then Athens was the place to visit.  Waiting for his friends Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens, Paul spent his time strolling the streets of this great city, taking particular note of the Athenians’ shrines to the various gods.  One in particular that caught his eye was dedicated to an “unknown God.”  That would have piqued my curiosity as well.  We have a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, but an unknown god?  In the Living Space commentary on today’s reading, the author explains it this way:  Polytheists (like the Greeks) used to dedicate altars to ‘unknown gods’, in case they incurred the vengeance of gods whose names they did not know. It was a kind of all-inclusive title. i

Paul took this concept of an unknown god and used it to tell the people about the one, true God who created all that is, the God whose hope is that all human beings will seek God, the God whose offspring we all are.  This God wants everyone to repent because there will come a day of judgment presided over by a man God has appointed, a man God raised from the dead.

Paul’s presentation was well thought out, but the idea of resurrection from the dead proved to be a stumbling block that not even this great evangelizer could surmount.   Some people became Christians, but not as the Apostle had hoped.  
That’s how things go sometimes.  You work to make a friend and be a friend, only to discover that the individual isn’t about to be brought to Christ or maybe they just don’t want to be part of Cursillo.  You invite someone to go on a weekend and they look at you like you have three heads.  Jesus knows that not all our attempts to attract followers will meet with success.  When he sent his first disciples out, he told them that if they received no welcome in any village, they should just shake the dust off their feet and go elsewhere.  The Lord also told the parable of the sower.  Not every seed we sow in the name of the Lord is going to take hold and grow.  But he also tells us that in the end there will be a bountiful harvest.

Paul didn’t let his experience in Athens stop him.  He went from there to Corinth.  This Apostle continued to make journeys in the name of Jesus Christ and met with greater success elsewhere. 

Attempting to bring people to Christ can be disheartening at times.  I’m sure Paul would have agreed after his speech in Athens.   But he didn’t let disappointments defeat him, because the Holy Spirit is often at work unseen and, when we least expect it, our efforts bear fruit for the Kingdom.  Once, out of the blue, I received a note from a friend telling me that my sharing of my faith had been instrumental in her return to the Church.  I never expected that.  And, sometimes when we invite people to go on a weekend, they say yes and have a great faith experience.  What I take away from Paul’s experience is that the best course of action is simply to keep on keeping on and leave the results to God.

When you are praying today, share with Jesus what you are doing to invite others to walk with God.

I  Living Space, Commentary on first reading for Wednesday of week 6 of Easter

Monday, May 27, 2019

“What Must I Do to Be Saved?” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

“What Must I Do to Be Saved?” by Melanie Rigney

Nicolas de Plattemontagne [CC0]
About midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, thinking that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted out in a loud voice, "Do no harm to yourself; we are all here." He asked for a light and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved." (Acts 16:25-31)

Your right hand saves me, O Lord. (Psalm 138:7c)

"Now I am going to the one who sent me, and not one of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' But because I told you this, grief has filled your hearts. But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation…" (John 16:5-8)

Lord, free me from my earthly fears. Illumine for me the path to freedom.

I have been the jailer. I suspect you have too, on an occasion or twenty.

Jailers try to keep God in a cell. Either they don’t believe in Him at all, or they believe His power in their lives is limited. They get angry and bitter about things that happen to them, things they believe He should have prevented. Or, maybe they go to Mass and are active in ministries, but they become convinced that they, not He, are responsible for the many good things they have.

Then, WHAM! comes the earthquake, and all the earthly foundations are lost. Fear and despair roar in. And ultimately, if jailers listen very carefully amid their anguish, God will whisper the way out: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved.”

If we listen and find the faith and courage to believe, we learn that we were the jailed, not the jailers, and that the Almighty was with us all along patiently waiting to free us.

Where are you holding God “hostage” instead of letting Him free you?

(Image from the collection at the Met, under his Studies for "The Conversion of the Jailer before Saint Paul and Silas" from 1666.)

Remember That I Told You

On the Sabbath, we went outside the city gate along the river where we thought there would be a place of prayer. We sat and spoke with the women who had gathered there. One of them, a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying. Acts 16:13-14

“They will expel you from the synagogues; in fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God. They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me. I have told you this so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you.” John 16:2-4

Jesus was especially prudent. Knowing in advance what his fate would bring, Jesus arranged with the Father to send the Holy Spirit to be with the people. Through the Holy Spirit was not the only way that the Word would spring forth through the world. Jesus tells his disciples: “And you also testify because you have been with me from the beginning.”

Beyond that, they also would pass along the fire of faith just as we hear Paul’s preaching reaches the ears of Lydia.

What are you doing to “testify” about your witness and with-ness with the Holy Spirit? The team selection committee is always looking for willing Cursillistas. Your Daily Tripod is always looking for writers, too.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Lord, Teach Me! By Wayne Miller

Lord, Teach Me! By Wayne Miller

Sixth Sunday of Easter 

Grant, Almighty God,
that we may celebrate with heartfelt devotion these days of joy,
which we keep in honor of the risen Lord,
and that what we relive in remembrance
we may always hold to in what we do.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 15:1-2, 22-29
It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities.

Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question.
The apostles and elders, in agreement with the whole church, decided to choose representatives and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. The ones chosen were Judas, who was called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers. This is the letter delivered by them: “The apostles and the elders, your brothers, to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia of Gentile origin: greetings. Since we have heard that some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind, we have with one accord decided to choose representatives and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. So we are sending Judas and Silas who will also convey this same message by word of mouth: ‘It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.’” The word of the Lord.

Only a short time in the life of the new church, and, already, the rule-makers and rule-keepers want to impose their tradition as the source and summit of the new Way. But, already, there were two powerful leaders, both cultural and religious Jews from very different walks of life, who have been irrevocably transformed by their encounter with the Risen Lord. Both realize the necessity of providing consistent formation to their new brothers and sisters. And both support – each in their own unique way – the absolute primacy of living lives dedicated to the new, perfectly-simple commandment given by Jesus: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another!

But as leaders, they knew that all beginners, child, and adult, need simple rules to build a solid foundation and structure for the first half of their new lives. My favorite contemplative, Friar Richard Rohr, stresses that we need good grounding if we are to be living, functioning disciples of the Lord Jesus in our world.  But we must build that solid container so that we can know and understand and forgive when we, and our brothers and sisters, inevitably fail to live up to the rules. Father Rohr calls this “falling upwards” into the second half of our lives.

Can you forgive yourself, or your brother, for transgression with the same enthusiasm and abandon that the Father so readily forgives and loves you?
So, back in Jerusalem, the two greatest leaders of the fledgling church, with a roomful of their most trusted advisors, committed themselves to prayer and discernment trusting that the Holy Spirit gave them the answer. And the cycle began again: setting aside the 613 commandments of the Torah for the ONE Great Commandment – and four “essential” rules of behavior. 

Abstain from: 
  • meat sacrificed to idols, (worship only the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit!)
  • consuming blood, (the only “life-giving liquid” is the Living Water of Jesus)
  • meats of strangled animals, (see Rule 1)
  • unlawful marriage (live Fruitful, Covenant Relationship with one another so that you may know how to live Fruitful, Covenant Relationship with God.)

Actually, it seems a pretty good start for the Rule of The Way.  I pray that the brothers that accompanied Barnabas and Paul back to Antioch provided cogent insights to these four succinct commands in their “word-of-mouth” presentation. It is so important to have a loving homily to “unpack” the proclaimed Word.

Oh, how I love their child-like innocence, believing that a simple checklist would answer the mail. Two millennia later, we have 2857 paragraphs in our Catechism. My Secular Franciscan Order has just 26, but a very comprehensive Constitution. We, humans, are a curious tribe, forever seeking to be circumscribed so that we may KNOW what is GOOD and what isn’t.

Abba Father, please help me to live every moment of my life with the vision and perspective of Your Perfect Commandment. Help me to know and be faithful to all the loving, living guidance you provide through my leaders and brothers and sisters. Sustain in me a living conversation with Your Son, and the Joy of the active presence and gift of Your Holy Spirit. Teach me to be your man in my world.

Give me the wisdom to see each encounter with Your children as Your Gift; another opportunity to fall upwards into Your limitless acceptance and forgiveness. May I always live in covenant relationship with You and all Your children.

De Colores!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

They Will Also Persecute You

They Will Also Persecute You

As they traveled from city to city, they handed on to the people for observance the decisions reached by the Apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem. Day after day the churches grew stronger in faith and increased in number.  Acts 16:4-5

“Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. And they will do all these things to you on account of my name because they do not know the one who sent me.”  John 15:20-21

“May the profound theology of Saint Oscar Romero, molded in the furnace of El Salvador, bring light to our dark times.”[i]

There is a great cultural contradiction in what Jesus commands and what the world expects.  Today’s Gospel points out that when the world realizes this contradiction, it will react with hostility.  The other synoptic gospels expound on the theme of “predicting persecution.” John is not alone in relating these words from Christ.  See Matthew 10:17–25 or 24:9–10.

And the message crosses the millennia.  Landing in my “snail” mailbox this week was The Houston Catholic Worker, the periodical published on paper and online by Casa Juan Diego. Every page is devoted to the cultural and economic conflict between a religion that is commanded to break the shackles of poverty, self-interest, and power.  Every article brings the Gospel vision to life thanks to the inspiration of martyred St. Oscar Romero on the author and her family. St. Oscar lived John 15 not only through the poverty of El Salvador but through the bullets that rang out in church and struck him down.

Jesus and St. Oscar remind us that we have a responsibility to help the people, especially the poor. They are the Image of Christ Today and arrive on our doorsteps seeking recognition.  Louise Zwick, writing about the intersection of Romero’s theological vision and modern culture reminds us:

We need to learn to see again. We need to learn to see Christ’s glory in the families refused entrance to the United States to apply for asylum after a long, terrible journey, in the faces of children separated from their parents, in the suffering parents trying to reclaim their children, in the poor children held in cages, in the children abused in immigration custody in privatized detention centers, in those who are deported to a bleak future in their own countries. And beyond, for example, in the thousands of children dying of hunger in countries like Yemen in a war in which the United States supplies the weapons.[ii]

Where do you see the poor?  When do you hear their cry?  How can you bring light, not persecution, to their lives?
San Oscar Romer, Presente!