Wednesday, October 30, 2019

“Willing, not Separated, from You” by Beth DeCristofaro


“Willing, not Separated, from You” by Beth DeCristofaro


Brothers and sisters: If God is for us, who can be against us? For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling! (Luke 13:34)

Piety
Lord, help my unbelief to surmount my fears, my disinterest, any barriers I erect. Hide me within your wings of mercy and propel me to reach out in love to draw others into your saving haven. Help me not to impede anyone seeking you.

Study
Unwilling! Jesus tells us clearly who can separate us from God’s love – ourselves. We can choose, as did Herod, as Jerusalem chose to refuse the salvific safety of God’s merciful wings. How dejected Jesus must have felt with continued rejection yet it did not cause him to abandon his business: Yet I must continue on my way today, tomorrow, and the following day, for it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem.’ (v33) His business was salvation for all, even those who rejected him should they turn around and desire the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Which means, of course, to follow His will while laying aside ours.

People often read Paul’s words from Romans 8 at funerals. They are comforting and consoling. They remind us that there is a greater good encompassing the loss of a respectable life or mitigating an unscrupulous one. These words also give us the hope that God’s mercy is there, waiting for the one who died but is available to us right now. How do we choose? Are we grateful for the gifts of beauty and community God gives us or are we self-indulgently seeking more for ourselves? Do we seek the greater meaning in the chaotic events of the day or do we sink into anger, dejection, judgment? Do we answer injustice and immoral systems or look away? Do we extend Jesus’ merciful wings through our own hands and arms or leave those in need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps? Are we going along to get along? Are we indifferent?

Jesus chose because he was so sure, so immersed in God’s presence that his human life could not be without God. We can also be as assured! God gifted Paul with sight; God gifts us also. But it takes a leap. When I listen to my inner voice, do I hear love or self-aggrandizement?

Action
How do I respond when someone rejects my overture of care or love? Can I sincerely pray for the other and try, try, try again?


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

“The Spirit Intercedes for Us” by Colleen O’Sullivan


“The Spirit Intercedes for Us” by Colleen O’Sullivan


Brothers and sisters: The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God's will. (Romans 8:26-27)

Though I trusted in your mercy. Let my heart rejoice in your salvation; let me sing of the LORD, "He has been good to me." (Psalm 13:6)

Piety
Lord, may the sighs too deep for words in our hearts lead us to union with you.

Study
The day after I graduated from college, I boarded an Amtrak train to Fayetteville, North Carolina. As part of my seminary training (although I hadn’t yet taken a single class at Duke Divinity School), I would spend the summer in a rural community about five miles north of Fayetteville, working as a student pastor in a local United Methodist church.  As the train traveled south, I remember thinking how strange it was knowing that I would never really return home again. Once I finished seminary, I would get an appointment in a local church, and that church’s parsonage and community would become my home.

About halfway through the summer, the pastor decided to take a long weekend away to play golf. Before he left, he gave me some hurried instructions. Among other things, he said with a laugh, “If anyone dies, remember to say the 23rd Psalm and then bury them.” You guessed it! He hadn’t been gone two hours when I got a call that an older man, who had been in a nursing home, had been transported to the hospital. He was in the ICU, not expected to survive. Those were the days way before cell phones, so I was on my own!

I went to the hospital and met the family in the ICU waiting room. They weren’t total strangers to me, because I had been visiting in the nursing home and had met a few of them. I sat with them for a bit and realized that I could not recall a single word of Psalm 23 and had no Bible with me. What to do? What to do? Finally, I thought, “I may be so scared of messing up that I can’t remember even the Lord’s Prayer, but I still remember how to pray in my own words, so get to it.” I prayed that the Holy Spirit would give me the right words to say. Paul was so right in saying that even when we don’t know how to pray as we ought, the Spirit helps us and intercedes for us. I tried to capture the feelings of the family members present and hold them before the Lord.

I learned two things that day. The important thing is not what Psalms or prayers you can remember on the spot. It’s to be truly present in the moment – before God and the people for whom you are caring. I also learned the truth of what Paul wrote to the Romans – the Holy Spirit does indeed help us to pray with inexpressible groanings. The Spirit intercedes on behalf of God’s children when we call.

Action
In our prayer lives, sometimes words don’t come easily. Reread Paul’s words to the Church at Rome. See if you agree that this is your experience as well, that at a level deeper than words, the Spirit understands our needs and desires and carries these to Jesus and the Father.

The psalmist today sings of trust, mercy, and the goodness of the Lord. I trust that the Holy Spirit carries my deepest yearnings to heaven, even when I find them difficult to articulate. God is merciful in the face of our human weaknesses and I am more grateful than words could say for the goodness of our God.

“Wait with Endurance” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)



“Wait with Endurance” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)


For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance. (Romans 8:24-25)

The Lord has done marvels for us. (Psalm 126:3a)

"To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened. (Luke 13:20-21)

Piety
Jesus, may I be ever mindful and inspired by Your earthly endurance.

Study
Let’s be honest. Waiting with endurance is not very exciting or fun.

“The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self,” St. Padre Pio said. “There is no flowering of the soul to the beauty of its perfection except at the price of pain.”

That is not to discount the many moments of joy and wonder in our lives: the sacraments. A treasured moment with a loved one. Time with a Michelangelo sculpture, a Tissot painting, a Mozart composition. The changing of seasons.

But more time is spent in routine, ordinary, everyday waiting on God. We wait for Him to illumine our way or relieve our distress or answer our prayers in some other way. The waiting can seem interminable. And pain—spiritual, mental, emotional, physical—often is part of that waiting.

The waiting is all the harder because, for most of us, the Lord is not present in ways we can see, hear, touch, or taste, especially in those dark moments. We feel very, very alone.

So we hope. We endure. Because in the final analysis, all we have is our faith, which fuels our hope and endurance. Like the yeast, it may seem small and inadequate. It may not be very exciting or fun. But it provides everything—everything—we need.

Action
What pain is helping your soul-flower, even though it’s difficult to understand or accept? Have a conversation about it with Padre Pio.

Image credt: TambriaPhotography, https://pixabay.com/users/TambiraPhotography-4020130/.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Through Him


Through Him


Piety
You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Ephesians 2:19-20

Jesus went up to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When the day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them, he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles.  Luke 6:12-13

Study
Capstone

Cornerstone

Keystone
Capstone. Cornerstone. Keystone.  

What are we to make of all these images of Jesus in architecture?  Primarily, structures will not stand if Jesus is not there, providing critical support.

What lessons do we learn from Jesus about that support in today’s Gospel?  Perhaps it is this: Jesus never embarks on any crucial task without consulting with his Father in prayer.  As we wind down the readings in our Liturgical year, St. Luke regularly presents Jesus at prayer at essential points in his ministry:
  • At his baptism (Luke 3:21)
  • At the choice of the Twelve (Luke 6:12-16)
  • Before Peter’s confession (Luke 9:18)
  • At the transfiguration (Luke 9:28)
  • Teaching his disciples to pray (Luke 11:1)
  • At the Last Supper (Luke 22:32)
  • On the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:41) and
  • On the cross (Lk 23:46)

Action
Is prayer at the capstone of your every endeavor? Do you build your temple on the cornerstone that is Christ?

“A God of Justice” by Rev. Paul Berghout (@FatherPB)



“A God of Justice” by Rev. Paul Berghout (@FatherPB)


The LORD is a God of justice, who knows no favorites. Though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint. The one who serves God willingly is heard; his petition reaches the heavens. Sirach 35:15-17,20-21

But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:13-14

Piety
Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.

Study
Narada, the Indian sage, was a devotee of God and thought that no one loved God more than he.  His self-righteousness began to lead him towards pride and arrogance.

The Lord read his heart and said, “Narada, go to this town on the banks of the Ganges for a devotee of mine dwells there. Living with him will do you good.”

Narada went and found a farmer who rose early in the morning and prayed, but the farmer pronounced the name of God only once, then lifted his plow and went out to his fields where he worked the whole day. Just before he fell asleep at night, he pronounced the name of God once again.

Narada thought, “How can this farmer be a devotee of God? He only prayed twice a day and then got himself immersed in his worldly occupation.”

When Narada voiced his opinion to God, the Lord said to him, “Fill a bowl to the brim with milk and walk all around the city. Then come back without spilling a single drop.”

Narada did as God told him and returned. Then the Lord asked him, “How many times did you remember me in the course of your walk around the city?” Not once,” replied Narada.  “How could I when you commanded me to watch that bowl of milk?”

The Lord said, “That bowl so absorbed your attention that you forgot me altogether. But look at that farmer who, though burdened with the cares of supporting a family, remembers me twice a day.”

The moral of the story: “A halo has to fall only a few inches to become a noose.”

The tax collector in today’s Gospel has a contrite and humble heart.  Striking his breast is a sign of compunction of heart like we do in the Penitential Rite.

Some of us may have been away from Sunday Mass for a few weeks, or months, or years. Maybe we need to talk to the Lord about our absence. For others, perhaps for most of us, that might mean our absence from practicing the faith in our daily lives.

Sometimes we want to join the Tax Collector and sit in the back and say, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” We all need the mercy of God.

In contrast, the Pharisee is virtually praying to himself. It’s selfish self-talk: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity: greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.”

About 80 percent of our daily communication is self-talk. Good self-talk comes from King David, who said, “Bless the Lord, my soul... and forget none of His benefits. He forgives all your iniquities.”

The Pharisee also took the tax collector’s “moral inventory,” which breaks a primary rule not to do someone else’s examination of conscience. Parents have to use discernment when assessing any sinful behavior in their children, so they focus on the issue at hand.

Since the Pharisee compared himself to the wretched tax collector by saying, “I am not like one of these,” the Pharisee lost his credibility in the eyes of Jesus. He should have said, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

Next, this Pharisee mentions fasting twice during the week. This Pharisee was boasting, in other words, of an asceticism beyond the norm.

The Pharisee had a spirituality of achievement, performance, worthiness. It presents Christianity like, “We have the perfect medicine for what ails you: It’s called grace and mercy. But the only requirement for receiving it is never to need it!”

Action
We genuinely find both moral achievement and repentance linked throughout Jewish and Christian tradition. To take on the yoke of the kingdom of God is to commit to following the commandments.  However, one has also to be aware that no one is without sin (1 Kings 8:46; Proverbs 20:9). The two need to be kept in balance, just as we find God’s attributes of justice and compassion alongside each other.

A closing illustration:

A particular president happened to visit a prison and thus talked with each of the inmates. There were endless tales of innocence, of misunderstood motives, of how they should not be in prison, and of exploitation. Finally, the president stopped at the cell of a convict who remained silent.

"Well," remarked president, "I suppose you are an innocent victim too?"

"No, Sir, I am not," replied the inmate. "I am guilty and deserve my punishment."

Turning to the warden, the president said, "Here, release this rascal before he corrupts all these fine, innocent people here!"

The biblical saying proves true, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (1 Pet 5:5).  Amen.

Friday, October 25, 2019

This God Has Done


This God Has Done


Piety
For what the law, weakened by the flesh was powerless to do, this God has done: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for the sake of sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous decree of the law might be fulfilled in us, who live not according to the flesh but according to the spirit. Romans 8:3-4

He said to him in reply, “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.” Luke 13:8-9

Study
In one breath of today's Gospel, Jesus warns of our destruction.  In the next breath, he is telling us the story of the kind gardener who will nurse the fig tree back to life and productivity. How do we reconcile these messages?

Jesus as the Gardener is there to save the fig tree from destruction. Jesus is living the life of the Spirit.  He is concerned with life and with peace, not with destruction.

St. Paul calls on us to pursue the concerns of the spirit…life and peace. He places these opposite to the concerns of the flesh (life and death). While this is an interesting duality, it also points out that there is another possibility: life without peace. Yet it is only through the combination of life and peace do we pursue spiritual aims.

Psalm 24 gives us a road map to this goal of life and peace. We cannot pursue any means to achieve a just end. The means must be congruent and justify the end we seek. The notes in the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE) point out the deeper meaning of what has changed after Jesus died on the cross:

Through the redemptive work of Christ, Christians have been liberated from the terrible forces of sin and death. Holiness was impossible so long as the flesh (or our "old self"), that is, self-interested hostility toward God, frustrated the divine objectives expressed in the law. What is worse, sin used the law to break forth into all manner of lawlessness. All this is now changed. At the cross, God broke the power of sin and pronounced sentence on it.

According to St. Paul, Christian life is the experience of a constant challenge to set aside the temptations of the body by replacing them with a life of the spirit. However, success can only come through the four keywords in today’s readings: This God has done.

We are powerless to overcome the forces and temptations of evil alone. The parallel emphasis in both Romans 8 and Luke 13 is on the graceful character of God. Like the barren fig tree, we need the gardener to “cultivate” our lives and our environment.  The “gardener” will “fertilize it” with the concerns of the spirit. Only when we recognize that God has done this for us will we bear fruit in the future.

The late Fr. Tom Keating reminds us that the parable of the barren fig tree recalls the theme of the “barren made fruitful by the Lord's direct intervention.” Immediately after telling the disciples this parable, Jesus heals a woman in the temple on the Sabbath. However, Jesus then must defend himself.  The leader of the synagogue reprimanded Jesus.  The image of the barren fig tree evokes the sense that the religion of the day was not producing the desired results of mercy and grace for individuals as well as the overall community.

The religion of that day – as represented by the leader -- was not producing what God intended. As represented by the woman who was crippled for 18 years, despite her attendance at the temple, her faith had borne no fruit in her life and health.

This new sign -- of the resurrected fig tree -- becomes a metaphor of the sign of God’s grace and patience in our lives through the person of Jesus. God gives us – the proverbial the fig tree – one more chance by sending us a gardener in the person of His Son. Through Jesus, God gives us the life-giving nutrients (bread and wine transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ) that we need to produce results.

As the late Fr. Keating reminds us, “it does not matter if we do not succeed in our own estimation or in that of others.” God has done this. Thanks to the patient cultivation and fertilizing by God, we as individuals and members of the community can then witness the concerns of the Spirit – life and peace – rather than death.

What is special about us is God's incredible solidarity with our ordinary lives: with our sense of failure, futility, getting nowhere spiritually, and our lack of inner resources to cope with our particular difficulties. In the parables, daily life is so clearly the place where the kingdom is working that symbols of success are very irrelevant. They are like icing on a cake. We cannot live on icing. We need food that is more substantial. Trust in God disregards the evidence of everyday life that God is absent or forgetful of us and brings us into direct contact with the God of the everyday. The God of pure faith is so close: closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing, closer than consciousness itself.

Action
Today, we may not have a barren fig tree in the back yard but we do have fire engulfing people and property in California.  Not to mention physical and spiritual hunger, diseases affecting our bodies and minds, homelessness, war, greed, and social needs that Jesus never encountered.

Yet the daily readings force us to focus on cultivation and fertilizer. We know that the fallen leaves and the barren fig trees become mulch for spring growth. Despite the cold dormant winter that lies ahead of us, new growth will emerge.

The connecting tissue for me is the line about repentance. Jesus the gardener is telling us -- his branches -- that if we do not change the direction in which we seek happiness, then we shall shrivel up like this fig tree. He is willing to nurse us back to life in the spirit if we are willing to submit our lives (lives now dedicated to the flesh) to Him. Jesus is willing to make us His own if we are willing to make us His.

Such a transformation requires both of us -- our humble surrendering our will and Jesus' generous act of saving our spirits. What shall it be? Surrender and change or grow under your own control and die?

This choice reminds me of Phil Russell's favorite passage from the Bible during our preparation for many Cursillo weekend including the Men's 108th.  "I am the vine. You are the branches." What does it mean to be a branch of Jesus' vine? One might see that a vine grows when the branch nourishes it. A vine does not have a life separate from the branch. If cut off, it will wither and die. That is just a biological fact.

What does it matter? Cut off from Jesus and a life in which He dwells in us, then we might as well not go on. If on the other hand, we dedicate our life to grow in the direction the branch determines, then we will live according to the rules of the branch (the two great commandments?), and will bear much fruit.

I am the vine.  You are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

What is Right?


What is Right?


Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Romans 7:24

You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time? Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? Luke 12:56-57

Piety
Jesus, draw near to us and walk with us. Help us to overcome our sadness and depression the same way that you helped Cleopas. Give us a sense of hospitality to invite you into our lives and to listen to what you have to say to us. Give us a sense of urgency to do whatever you ask. Amen.

Study
Jesus told us yesterday that our house will be divided against itself.  Today, the foreboding news gets bleaker.  Our own nature will also divide us and pull us in competing directions.

St. Paul confronts this head-on as he reflects on the desires of the body and the desires of the soul. However, Paul parts ways with Jesus here. Jesus reminds us that nothing we put into our bodies from outside can defile us. However, evil thoughts – greed, envy, want – come from inside us and cause pain. Evil also may attack us as St. Paul acknowledges, but evil is an external force that weaves its way inside our being.

How do we deal with this evil? How do we get rid of it even when we alone are powerless to stop such a strong man? Perhaps we have to put something else in its way to start crowding out the sinful nature that attacks us.

Open a window or a door and let Christ in. Remember the story about the encounter with Jesus that occurred on the road to Emmaus. Cleopas and a companion were walking to a nearby village when they encountered a man who they did not recognize as Jesus. After they related what happened to Jesus, they opened their ears to hear the word.

“O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:26-27)

After dinner, when Jesus had entered into their lives, they began to see things differently. “…their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" (Luke 24:31-32)

Jesus knows that once we experience Him, our hearts will “burn” and yearn for more. The proverbial devil will not have a chance.

Today again, Jesus poses the rhetorical question. He knows that he has been teaching and preaching effectively. However, people do not “get it.” We need constant reminders, so we do not fall back into our comfort zone and cozy up to our old ways.

Once we let Jesus in, we will not need external guidance. We will have all the tools we need to judge for ourselves.

Action
Think of one of your old habits that obscures your daily pursuit of piety, study, and action. Can you smash one old habit to make way for Jesus? Which one?  Write it down and tie the message to a rock. Throw the rock in the river. Bye-bye!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

“Freed by God’s Will for Me” by Beth DeCristofaro

“Freed by God’s Will for Me” by Beth DeCristofaro


For when you were slaves of sin, you were free from righteousness. But what profit did you get then from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit that you have leads to sanctification, and its end is eternal life. (Romans 6:20-22)

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division." (Luke 12:49-51)



Piety
You move us to delight in praising You, for You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You. (St. Augustine)

Study
It seems ironic that Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel are so divisive, almost violent, and yet we deeply believe, as he said to his disciples, that peace would reign in the hearts of those who believe. Paul helps clarify with his example of slavery and freedom. Slavery to those who conform to God’s will is freedom, he says, from the illusory commitment to mortal things. Slavery – our acquiescence to God – is the only route to holiness. It is true, we know in our hearts, that all on earth is transitory. Much on earth although beautiful and wonderful, is not benign when we indulge too greatly or pin all our hopes on it.

Jesus’ words which follow this passage speaks of enmity between members of our families. But isn’t a commandment to honor our parents? Isn’t it a Christian value to cherish our families? This passage is hard for me. However, I know that Jesus did not want me to put my mother out as she became ill nor to leave her alone, possibly in harm’s way because of dementia, even for social obligations or rituals. My duty as a Christian is to Jesus and, in this case, through my mother, not to rules and regulations.

Jesus' words say to me that God is first and that God will show us how to be in this world. God infuses our relationships, opens our attention to the beauty of creation and guides us in the thorny business of living as flawed and misperceiving humans. With God’s graces, we can love our families, love our lives, love the wonders of the earth as Jesus would have us love – without restrictions, without “owning” them and without recompense. That’s almost impossible for families! It is to easy to be enslaved by our expectations of and for other people rather than letting them be free to be God’s. They and we can blaze with God’s love if we accept God’s will over and above all else.

Action
What expectations do I have either for myself or in others which, being continually unmet, make me restless and unable to free myself to be joyful meeting God’s will?

Illustration: http://www.carmelites.net/blog/gods-garden-august-23-2019/


“Integrity” by Colleen O’Sullivan


Brothers and sisters:  Sin must not reign over your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires.  And do not present the parts of your bodies to sin as weapons for wickedness, but present yourselves to God as raised from the dead to life and the parts of your bodies to God as weapons for righteousness.  For sin is not to have any power over you, since you are not under the law but under grace. (Romans 6:12-14)

Jesus said to his disciples: "Be sure of this:  if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.  You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." (Luke 12:39-40)

Piety
Lord, help us to live as your sons and daughters, no matter what the circumstances.



Study
Somewhere I read that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.  That reminded me of the first time I ever babysat my niece and nephew after they moved to Virginia many years ago.  They were four and two at the time.  As I was cleaning up after dinner, I asked them to get ready to take their baths.  They never moved. They were in the next room, and I heard the older one tell the younger one in a stage whisper, “Be very quiet and she won’t know we’re not doing it!”  I almost burst out laughing.

But how many of us do the same thing on an adult level?  We decide to act with a lack of integrity when we think no one will see us or hear us or find out about it.
Both of our readings today deal with this subject of integrity.  Paul tells the Christians in Rome that because they are in Christ and living under grace, they can no longer allow themselves or any part of themselves to be agents for sin and wickedness (not a word we hear too often today, but it, nevertheless,  still exists).  Their lives need to reflect their life in Christ 24-7.  That’s what integrity is, according to the Apostle Paul.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the story of the manager of a household who has lost sight of the fact that the owner will, at some point, return and demand an accounting of how things have gone in his absence.  This manager is a person who lacks integrity, someone who presents one face to the servants of the household while the owner is gone yet hopes to present a much different fa├žade to his boss whenever that person returns.  Jesus points out how much better and less anxiety-producing it is to be the person the homeowner trusts every single day than to scramble at the last minute to clean up days, months or years of a less than stellar act, or worse, be caught in the act as a Jekyll and Hyde type.

Action
Acting with integrity as a Christian is no easy feat.  Like the Christians in Rome, we are tempted to point fingers at others’ transgressions, forgetting we are sinners ourselves. Or like the manager of the household in the Gospel today, we are tempted to treat people with something less than charity or compassion.  Doing the right thing is often the more difficult path to travel in life.

When we are praying today, perhaps we could ask Jesus for the strength to be people of integrity, to treat others as we would like to be treated, to love our brothers and sisters as God loves us.

Monday, October 21, 2019

“When He Comes and Knocks” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)


“When He Comes and Knocks” by Melanie Rigney


For just as through the disobedience of one man, the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous. Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through justification for eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:19-21)

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

"Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master's return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.” (Luke 12:35-37)

Piety
Lord, help me to focus more on You and less on my schedule and to-do list.

Study
The day job, the speaking, the writing. My life runs on a highly regulated schedule. Yours may as well, with different obligations and responsibilities—spouse, children, grandchildren, work, volunteer activities. It’s not that we dislike a single one of them. It’s just that at times—let’s be honest, a lot more than “at times”—it becomes overwhelming. We can’t do everything, let alone do everything well.

But when the to-do list and the schedule starts to rule our lives, that’s a problem. God, you see, doesn’t come on a schedule. Oh, we can go to Him on a schedule—Mass, private prayer, prayer group, Bible study, and so on—and He’s always happy to see us. But are we happy to see Him other times? You know those times—when a friend needs to talk about something that’s happening, joyful or sad. When the panhandler you see every day and never give a cent to says for the first time, “Have a blessed day.” When a family member needs a ride to a routine medical appointment, and it just isn’t on your docket for the day.

Schedules are important. We need them. But when we set them up as more important than random opportunities to encounter the Lord and His people, we ignore His knock on the door and endanger our salvation.

Action
Be present to someone or something not on your schedule or to-do list.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

“Rich in What Matters to God” by Rev. Paul Berghout (@FatherPB)


“Rich in What Matters to God” by Rev. Paul Berghout (@FatherPB)


Piety
Abraham did not doubt God's promise in unbelief; rather, he was empowered by faith and gave glory to God and was fully convinced that what God had promised he was also able to do. That is why it was credited to him as righteousness. Romans 4:20-21

But God said to him, 'You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?' Thus, will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God."  Luke 12:20-21

Study
God is in complete control of every aspect of our lives.  How could it possibly make sense to put our faith in anything but God?  

True faith means trusting in Him completely, even when things make no sense at all. Things made no sense for the man storing up treasures on earth.  Things made no sense for the powerless widow and the dishonest judge, either.

In considering the judge from Sunday’s Gospel, a scholar said that if he were the judge's therapist, he would resist the temptation to be disgusted or withdraw.  Instead, the scholar would try to become curious.  He hypothesized that the judge (“who neither feared God nor respected any human being”) once felt as this widow does: angry, baffled, and rejected. To put it differently, the judge may, as an adult, just be mimicking the behavior of those upon whom he once depended. As others controlled him and then put him down for resisting that control, he now dominates this woman and blames her for his resulting distress.

Understanding is also crucial for the Militant Church.

In Sunday’s First Reading, Amalek attacked first. Typically, this shows us that sin takes the offensive in the life of a Christian to cause us to regress.  Amalek has chiefly a symbolic function, standing for any person, group, or nation who, by attacking Israel, resists the divine will.

Two passages stress the gratuitous nature of the Amalekite assault: in Exodus 17, they come and fight without any provocation, probably before the Israelites have a chance to assuage their thirst.  In Deuteronomy 25, they snipe, in cowardly fashion, at fatigued stragglers among the Israelites.

The Lord will wage war on Amalek (sin) from generation to generation (Exodus 17:16). That is part of the terms of the spiritual life in this world for the baptized.

But the present moment is never intolerable. What's intolerable is what's going to happen in the next four hours. To have your body here at 8 pm and your mind at 10:30 pm, that's what causes us suffering.

A disciple asked, “What can I do to see reality as it is?"

The spiritual master smiled and said, "I have good news and bad news for you, my friend." "What's the bad news?" "There's nothing you can do but to see it as a gift." "And what's the good news?" "There's nothing you can do but to see it as a gift. 

The fruits of this acceptance are that we will find ourselves with more serenity and fulfillment in daily life, with more gratitude for the simple joys of life, as well as how to appreciate the role we play in the grand scheme of things.

Prayer is the secret of keeping the faith. "Will the faith (that God will vindicate His people) be found on the earth at the coming of the Son of Man?" A delay in his coming does not nullify the certainty.

The faith mentioned here naturally means that faith, which sustains, like the widow in that town, kept going to the judge and say “render a just decision for me against my adversary.” Her adversary was either exacting money from her unjustly or she needed her rightful portion of an inheritance. The powerless widow doesn't have a chance against this powerful and uncompassionate judge.


Likewise, in Sunday’s First Reading, we encountered the inadequacy of Moses.  He cannot keep his hands aloft.  Moses' hands were heavy, yet he prevailed with the support of Aaron and Hur.  The widow also prevailed with Power out of Weakness. 

Action
You can interpret the whole action theologically. When we quit praying, we cut ourselves off from the power of God, and then our cynicism becomes self-fulfilling.  When we cut ourselves off from a supportive community, we also cut ourselves off from the power of God.

Feel like a poor widow? The word for “widow” in Hebrew means “one who is silent.” “To have nothing, vulnerable, no voice.”  What she did have was persistence.

The parable encourages us to tackle difficult issues with confidence. But there will be difficult issues because that is part of life’s terms.  The motto, “Living life on life’s terms,” means to accept the circumstances, environment, and things out of our control.

This message achieves its fullest force in the passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. He seemed helpless in the face of his powerful governmental executioners. Jesus transforms helplessness into the very defeat of the powers of sin and death.

St. Paul teaches us to draw on the power of apparent weakness to overcome death-dealing forces.

The bottom line is a resounding call (can there be any other kind of call?) to persistence in prayer, and not to "become weary, tired" or "lose heart, despair."

The parable cautions us not to expect immediate results. Galatians 6:9 warns us not to become weary in well-doing.  Then, 2 Corinthians 4:1 refers to the ministry of reconciliation. Don’t get tired.

Amen.