Saturday, January 28, 2012

Listening to the Prophets

Reflecting on the Readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary TIme
Deut 18:15-20/1Cor 7:32-35/Mark 1:21-28

 In today’s world we face many challenges living and proclaiming the Gospel message and handing down authentic faith to our children. It seems from every angle we are faced with tests and trials that can either strengthen our conviction or break us. Today’s readings call us to task in knowing how to maneuver through the culture while staying true to Christ.

From the Book of Deuteronomy we hear the words of Moses, saying to his people, “A prophet like me will the Lord raise up from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.” St. Paul warns the people of Corinth they can be easily distracted by the pleasures of this world, so much so can they lose sight of their destiny—which is holiness and the path to eternal life. Mark’s Gospel tells of the healing of a man with unclean spirits that takes place in the synagogue in Capernaum. Jesus recognizes the spirits and calls him out of the man. I always find it interesting that it is the unclean spirits who know Christ’s identity while the people are blind, not being able to easily discern the holy from the sinful. Sounds a lot like today’s society, doesn’t it?

 Who are the prophets of today, put into our world to call us to a life of holiness? Who are the men and women of faith that we can trust to be the voices in the wilderness, calling people to Christ much like John the Baptist?

 We may think there aren’t any. It seems there is no hope. We live in a culture of death and it seems evil and sin are ‘winning.’ Everything is “going to hell in a handbasket.” To think like this denies the existence of the very mercy and love of Jesus.

 Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical letter Spe Salvi, (Saved by Hope), opens the document with the following questions:

 According to the Christian faith, “redemption”—salvation—is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey. Now the question immediately arises: what sort of hope could ever justify the statement that, on the basis of that hope and simply because it exists, we are redeemed? And what sort of certainty is involved here? (SS, #1)

 Later on in the same document Pope Benedict challenges us by asking:

 Is the Christian faith also for us today a life-changing and life-sustaining hope? Is it “performative” for us—is it a message which shapes our life in a new way, or is it just “information” which, in the meantime, we have set aside and which now seems to us to have been superseded by more recent information?  (SS, #10)

 Archbishop Timothy Dolan (soon to be Cardinal), president of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and member of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, has been vocal regarding President Obama’s  Federal Health Care Plan which will, if carried out in full, cause Catholic employers and institutions and those who do not believe in abortion, sterilization, and contraception, to pay for such services in health care plans. He is one such voice crying out in the wilderness for Catholics and people of good conscience to be properly formed and stand against such policies and laws that erode our freedom of religion.

The sad reality is few Catholics are standing with him. Rather, they sheepishly follow the mindset of the culture and publically denounce their Catholic leadership. Rather, they choose to follow what suits them best—or worse yet—think that none of this affects them, so why bother?

Edith Stein, canonized as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was born in Germany. She was raised Jewish, turned atheist, then after study and life experiences, realized the beauty of the truth, which she had sought all her life. That Truth was Christ—to whom she ultimately dedicated her life to as a Carmelite nun.

 Edith lived as an adult in ramping up of the Nazi regime during World War I & II. She was a constant voice crying out. Seeing how people were systematically being desensitized to a whole race of people, her voice was a cry to the conscience of those who knew the truth. She was eventually taken to Auschwitz and killed in a gas chamber. While her voice was silenced, her writings remain. Writing to women in particular, she pleads: “The nation…doesn’t simply need what we have; it needs what we are.”

We are Christians with a message to proclaim. We are believers who know the Truth. We are not made for this world, but are called to transform this world as we grow in holiness on our journey to heaven. Let us never forget it is our vocation as disciples of Christ. We are to be the voice in the wilderness of today’s society, recognizing the unclean spirits and helping people find their way to Christ.

 St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) lived by these mottos—let them become for us guiding words as well:

My longing for truth was a single prayer.
Whoever comes to me, I want to lead to Him!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Conversion of Paul

On January 25 we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. If nothing else, Paul’s story is one of hope for all of us. The Acts of the Apostles recounts the story of Saul, a Roman citizen, and his transformation from a faithful Jew educated at the feet of the Rabbi Gamaliel, one of the most revered teachers of the day, into a dogged persecutor of the Way, to a man struck down and blind who ‘sees the Light’ and becomes known as Paul, one of the most fervent evangelizers and proclaimers of the Christian faith.
Paul admits—he breathed murderous threats against members of this new sect. He was a witness to the stoning of Stephen—the first martyred for his faith in Christ. Saul’s desire was to go to synagogues in Damascus and bring all believers of Jesus Christ—both men and women—back in chains to Jerusalem. He was ruthless. This was a man on a mission. But the Lord had other plans for him!

On the road to Damascus, Saul is struck down by a bright light. A voice calls out to him from the heavens, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” It is the Lord crying out to Saul. Struck blind, he is led to Damascus. For three days he is sightless. Ananias, a disciple of Christ learns in a dream to seek out the one who is blind. Going to where Saul is staying, he lays hands on him.  The scales fall from his eyes and he is baptized. Blind no longer, Saul, now called Paul, knows the Truth that is Jesus Christ and goes on to proclaim the Good News of salvation as revealed through his personal encounter with the risen Lord.
Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul’s missions took him far and wide—through the area around the Mediterranean Sea in the lands of Turkey, Greece, and Italy. St. Paul’s letters to the particular communities of faith he established and his personal letters written to members of said communities make up a major portion of the New Testament. They give us an indication of the struggles of the early Christian communities as they set down roots in cultures contrary to the ways and message of Jesus Christ.

I am always amazed as I read through the letters of St. Paul. The issues of which he writes—divisions among the worshipping communities, sexual immorality, promiscuity, the competition between athletics and practice of faith, the forming of strong families and the raising of children, and the relationships between men and women—are still the struggles of Christian communities around the world. St. Paul’s message is as fresh today as when he preached—and just as necessary.
As we remember St. Paul, let us take time to reflect on the courage, zeal, and conviction held by one whose life was radically transformed by an encounter with Christ. Know that through Christ, who empowers us with the Holy Spirit, we too can be effective voices in a world so desperately in search of Truth and happiness. Let us rejoice in knowing the Jesus can use each and every one of us—just as He did Paul—as instruments of His Divine Plan if we are but willing to let Him transform us!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Will Make You Fishers of Men

Reflections for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Jonah 3:1-5, 10/1Cor 7:29-31/Mark 1:14-20

I love this Gospel reading as there is so much 'action' in it. John the Baptist has been arrested. I can only imagine what his followers must have been thinking. They are without their leader, fearing the worst. They turn toward the "Rabbi" John identified for them. Now this Jesus, the one whom John called the "Lamb of God," picks up the Baptist's proclamation and continues even louder! "This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel." These words compliment the proclamation of Chapter 4 in Luke's Gospel, which tells of Jesus reading the scroll of Isaiah in the temple (Is 61), announcing that He is the fulfillment of the prophecy.

As for the Romans, I am sure Jesus' cry did not go unnoticed. The breaking of the Pax Romana (keeping of the peace) was a major crime--punished by crucifixion. John the Baptist was stirring the pot with his preaching on the immorality of King Herod's family. Despite John's arrest (and ultimate beheading), the voice is not silent. Along comes Jesus--not only calling for repentence--but in addition claims to be the anointed one. It seems as if the governing bodies cannot quiet the voice of God!

Jesus not only speaks out, but as he travels, invites others to "Come after me and I will make you fishers of men." These are dangerous times, yet there is something about Jesus that attracts others so much so that they literally drop everything to follow Him. His life attracts. Truth has a way of doing that!

The invitation to follow as "fishers of men" did not end with Jesus' crucifixion or with the dying out of the Apostles. Today we are to be the voice crying out in the wilderness. We are the disciples called to be apostles--that is--to take the Word out and proclaim it in a way as to invite all to "repent and believe!" Jesus calls each of us by our baptism but it is up to us to respond. What will our answer be? Are we willing to drop everything and place Him at the center of our lives or do we scan our calendars and worry about finding time to squeeze in a quick prayer or Mass? Do we proclaim the Gospel in a way that invites others to inquire of us, "Who is this Jesus that inspires you?" or do we worry about being labeled politically incorrect, "holier than thou," or a "Jesus feak"?

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) said, "Whoever comes to me, I want to lead to Him." What a wonderful way to live! Reflecting on this, we might ask ourselves:
  • Do we live in a way that attracts others to the Gospel message?
  • Do our actions, life choices, and speech give life to the Savior who loves us so others may know Him too?
  • Do we orient our life's compass to Heaven or are we meandering through life directionless?
  • Do we invite others to walk the path of faith with us, including our spouses, children, co-workers, and others, inspiring and encouraging them along the way or do we keep our beliefs private and silent for fear of being challenged?
John the Baptist was not a wallflower. Jesus did not shrink back from the Truth or defer from acting in ways that reflected who he was or what He expected of others. He is our example and teacher--the portrait of unconditional love, mercy, and forgiveness. The disciples, apostles, and great saints of the Church were not shrinking violets, either. They lived  their faith boldly, whether in the quiet works of compassion in the streets of Calcutta as did Blessed Teresa, through prayer and love for others in the horror of the concentration camps of Auschwitz as did St. Maximillian Kolbe, through the dignity of work in the dark days of the depression and war in the footsteps of Dorothy Day, through prayer and contemplation from behind the grille of the cloister speaking words of love as did St. Therese of Lisieux, or through the docility and humility of one crying out to the world embroiled in war to deliver the message of Christ's Divine Mercy as did St. Faustina.

Jesus calls us to be His voice in a world desperate for Truth and Life. What will our answer be? Are we willing to get in the boat, go out into the deep, cast the net, and proclaim the Gospel message?

Let us beg to be filled with the Holy Spirit, so we can courageously go forth to announce that Jesus is our Savior and invite all to konw to Him. The world is begging for a Savior to deliver us from the darkness and distractions that are leading us astray. We have the answer and it is Jesus! Echoing the words of St. Paul (1Cor 9:16): "Woe be to me if I do not preach the Gospel!"

Monday, January 16, 2012

You Did it To Me

Today as a nation we commemorate the birth of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a day to honor a man who stood up for the rights of those who could not speak. He did it in a way that was cloaked in the Gospel, inspired by Christ.

On Saturday, I had the honor of meeting Dr. Paul Wright, the cardiologist of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Dr. Wright, successful both professionally and financially, found that he was restless and so went in search of the holiest person he knew in hopes she would be able to answer his quest for knowing what it is that we must to do to have internal peace and eternal life. In asking Mother Teresa these questions, she led him to Matthew 25:31-46. Holding up one of his hands, told him the answer he was seeking was as simple as five words. Touching each of his fingers she recited with one word on each digit, “You did it to me.”
 This same verse was foundational to the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Both Dr. King and Mother Teresa lives reflected the living out of this passage and can inspire us to do the same as we seek the path to eternal happiness and life with Christ.
Does that mean we must go out and open a soup kitchen or begin a housing project for the homeless? Not necessarily—but it does mean reflecting on the gifts and talents God has given us and asking ourselves how we can live out the vocation of love that each of us has been called to do through our baptism as disciples of Christ.

Going past the obvious, let us reflect on the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words, for when I was…

Hungry, you gave me food: When have we fed one who was hungry, not solely physical food, but spiritually? Do we lead people to the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith? Have we invited those who felt left out to the banquet of the Lord? Have we helped them to discover the richness of the Word of God?
Thirsty and you gave me drink: When have we taken the time to quench the thirst of one who hungers for knowledge or Truth? Have we shared how God has enlightened our lives with others and listened to their story? Have we loved someone enough to help them search for the Truth that is God, shattering the lies and distortions of society that lead to unhappiness?
A stranger and you welcomed me: What is our reaction when we encounter someone from a different culture or socio-economic background? Do we see them as individuals and as helpers? Do we welcome them into our community, whether it is the parish, neighborhood, or family? Do we see the foreigner as friends or enemy?

Naked and you clothed me: What has been our reaction to the homeless person who crosses our path? Have we tried to ignore them or have we engaged them in conversation? What is our response to one whose skin color, faith, or opinions are different than our own? Have we stripped those not like us of their dignity or do we see all men and women as created in the image and likeness of God? Do we love everyone as brothers and sisters as Christ commands?
Ill and you cared for me: How to we console those who are suffering, not only physically but emotionally, and spiritually, walking with them so their suffering and our compassion join together in union with the suffering of Christ? Have we seen the face of Jesus forsaken in those who suffer and reached out in compassion to alleviate His suffering through compassionately caring for them?

In prison and you visited me: How many are living in prisons of their own doing, trapped by addictions or self-imposed life goals and commitments that take away their freedom? How do we help those imprisoned to break free of the chains that weigh them down and hold them back from the freeing power of the Gospel?
God is love. We are called to be His eyes and ears, hand and heart, hands and feet, and voice in this world. Let us sing the sweet melody of God’s love in this world so as to still the restless hearts and comfort the souls of those who are weary. As our voices join together may we raise up a mighty chorus that will ring throughout the world! Amen.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Edith, Faustina, and Me: We are Called

Edith, Faustina, and Me: We are Called: Readings: 1Sm 3:3b-10, 19/1Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20/Jn 1:35-42 This upcoming Sunday’s readings are a reminder that our destination in life is ...

We are Called

1Sm 3:3b-10, 19/1Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20/Jn 1:35-42

This upcoming Sunday’s readings are a reminder that our destination in life is heaven and the path to eternal life comes through Christ. Following the feasts of Epiphany where the Lord’s Incarnation is recognized by the world and Jesus’ Baptism where the Father and Spirit together declare the Presence of the Son in our midst, the Sunday readings remind us God calls and it is up to us to respond.

In the first reading, Samuel hears a voice calling. Thinking it was Eli, he responds. After going to Eli three times, Eli realizes it is the Lord calling Samuel and instructs him to respond to the Lord with these words: “Speak, for your servant is listening.” I cannot help but think of the words of Mary when the angel Gabriel calls her to be the Mother of God. Her answer to God’s invitation? “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your Word” (Luke 1:38). As with Samuel and Mary, when God calls our response must be one of humility, docility, and openness.

John’s Gospel tells the story of John the Baptizer and two of his disciples. Seeing Christ, John tells his followers: “Behold, the Lamb of God.” “Rabbi, where are you staying?” they ask. So powerful is Christ’s presence that the two follow Jesus. “Come, and you will see,” is Jesus’ response. Following the Lord, they not only stayed with Him but as the day wore on, Andrew went to get his brother Simon Peter, telling him that they have found the Messiah (Anointed One).

Can you imagine what it must be like to be in the presence of Christ? What if we saw Him walking down the street? Would we drop everything and follow Him? Would we go and find others so they, too, could come to know Jesus?

That is our call as disciples—to respond to the call of the Lord to “Come and follow.” Once we discover the Jesus in our midst and encountering him in a personal way, we proclaim Him as our Messiah—the one who will save us. Filled with faith, we bring others to Him so that they, too, can receive the gift of eternal life. That is evangelization.

We may think, “If only we lived when Jesus lived, then we could know Him too.” Thing is, we can know Him more intimately than the disciples who only saw the physical presence, observed His work, and heard His Words. We not only know Christ through the Living Word of God (Scripture), we also have witness of his miraculous works through the Gospels and also through the works carried out by those saints and holy ones who believe. Additionally, we receive Him Body, Mind, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. His Divine Presence courses through us. His Being becomes one with our being. He lives in us as we live in him.

Believing this, our every action should reflect the sacredness of this relationship. Hence the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians take on new meaning. Through our baptism we are the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, sacred vessels, walking tabernacles, and efficacious signs of Christ in this world. What would our culture look like if we recognized the sacredness of our own being and saw others as signs of Christ in this world as well? Does our presence call others to Christ? Do we respond to the cries of the poor out of compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and love because in them we see Christ? Every part of the Body reminds us of Christ!

I had the privilege of meeting Blessed John Paul II during a visit to the Vatican in 2001. Sitting in a large hall, I vividly remember the door sliding open and him stepping into the room. It was as if energy emanated from him that reached into each and every one of us. I was in awe; our hearts were stirred. My daughter, who was with me, was in tears. There was no doubt—we were in the presence of one who was holy. I never met Mother Teresa, but my guess is that she had the same effect. Holy people draw us because we are intrigued. We follow because we are curious and we believe because we come to know the One who drives their actions. Because they have given their life to Christ we, who are called to know the Lord intimately as well, respond to the call to do the same.

May we respond with an open and heartfelt ‘yes’ when we hear His call, giving all we have to Christ! Amen!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Importance of the Family

I was recently reading an article in our local paper written by Mario Batali, a well-known chef and cookbook author. He was starting a weekly syndicated column with recipes designed to bring the family back around the dinner table. His concern was that we have abandoned family mealtime because of over-loaded calendars and hence, we have lost the art of conversation and relationship, which are the building, blocks of family life.

As I was reading his article, I couldn’t help but think how easily this could be applied to faith.  We don’t need to look far to pull up statistics on the state of religious practice in this country. Belief in God and the desire for a relationship with Him, across all age groups but particularly among youth and young adults, is dismal at best. Another sad reality is the rise of pornography, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, and violence, among other vices. People have given up God and are searching for happiness—but as statistics prove, folks aren’t doing a very good job of finding peace and contentment.

Pope John Paul II writes in Familiaris Consortio, his Apostolic Exhortation on the family, that the family is the “first and vital cell of society” (FC #42). Within the context of family we learn how to nurture, form, take care of the elderly, nurse the sick, and give and receive love, mercy, and forgiveness. All the elements required for a healthy society are learned within the context of the family. In today’s modern family, we can begin to see the heart of the problem with not only transforming our culture, but also enkindling an evangelizing spirit within our Church.

The divorce rate is over 50%. Many children never experience a parent’s unconditional love or witness how to have a loving relationship that survives the joys, conflicts, trials, and sufferings life throws at us. Commitment to an ideal is not witnessed. On top of that, many children do not have the experience of extended families or of tending to ailing family members, thus learning the reality of redemptive suffering and consolation.

This brings me back to Mario’s article. In our desire to have the brightest, most athletic, well rounded, talented, (keep adding the adjectives) children, we have diminished or even eradicated the idea that spending time together as a family around the table is important. Taking this to the next level, what we have done is said that things are more important than people and relationships. It is not a big leap to conclude we are sending a message to our children, through our actions, that a soccer game (or any other exterior activity) is more important the spending personal time-sharing as a family, growing in relationship with each other.

When relationships with those around us, especially those between parents and children, are devalued, why are we surprised that religion or faith, whose foundation is a relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is considered a burden? If we cannot set aside time to be with our family in a meaningful way, how can we possibly think we would place an importance on having a personal relationship with Christ?

Don't get me wrong--we need to give our children experiences and support them in their endeavors. However, standing on the sidelines cheering your child at a game cannot take the place of sitting down with your child and having a meaningful conversation. The health of our families depends on this. Sharing our story of how Christ has transformed our life with our family is equally important. Our Church and world depend on this!

The most important thing we can do for our children is to show, through example, how to have an loving relationship with Christ and those around us. When we do, we will give them the tools to transform society. Nowhere in the Bible does it indicate that how many goals we scored, medals won, or scholarships are awarded will matter if we did not first place God at the center of our lives!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Come, Follow Me...

As we approach Epiphany, it gives us an opportunity to reflect on our search for Christ. Who are the 'stars' in our lives that guide us to Him? How willing are we to make the sacrifices necessary to find Him? Once we find Him, do we proclaim His glory to all or do we keep Him all to ourselves?

As disciples, we not only are called to grow closer to the Lord and to proclaim His Presence to all--but we are also called to be guides for others on the journey. I often think about Christ crucified. As He looked down from the cross, did He wonder who would carry on His work? As He sent out His Spirit, the Advocate, to enkindle the hearts of the disciples, did He wonder who would carry on His work? As we minister to each other, do we ask ourselves, who will carry on His work? We can either be discouraged by the culture, statistics about declining faith, and the media who constantly seems to work against Christ--or we can be a people of hope.

Today I witnessed His work being carried out in marvelous ways. Women sharing their faith, joy, and zeal for Christ and His Church in a new ministry to young girls, gathered together with a thirst for the Lord and eager to learn. I gathered with fellow evangelization coordinators, on fire with a desire to proclaim Christ's saving Gospel and to grow disciples. All around there is hope--but our eyes, ears, and hearts must be open. The Holy Spirit is moving and calling each of us. How will we answer? Will we be willing to carry on His work, despite the cost? Let our efforts be like the Magi--who searched, found, and proclaimed!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

When They Saw This...

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. The Gospel reading from Luke (Lk 2:16-21) is the familiar account of the shepherds coming to the manger after heeding the words of the angels to go to Bethlehem.

If you notice, the Gospel writer was careful to tell us the shepherds went in haste. They did not first check their calendar to make sure it was clear or that there was nothing else more pressing for them to do. The shepherds dropped everything and went to the site of the Miracle of the Incarnation--much like the men who dropped their nets and left their tax posts when Jesus called them to be disciples. What is the message for us? When God calls, we are to respond--nothing is more pressing in our lives than God's Will and Plan for us.

Another important point is that once the shepherds saw, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. After encountering the Lord in a personal way, they could not contain the Good News! They had met their Savior! The question then becomes, how do we respond when we meet Jesus? You might be thinking, "I've never encountered the Living God," or "I am not so lucky, like the shepherds and the saints, to have met Jesus personally." When we receive the Eucharist, we do meet Him personally. We enounter Him Body, Mind, Soul, and Divinity. His Divine Presence dwells in us. This is actually a meeting much more intimate than the one of the shepherds, if we think about it! To add to this, when we read Scripture, we encounter the Living Word. When we pray deeply, we meet the Living Lord. We have had the opportunity to meet Him, but did we take the time to realize the depth of the meaning of the encounter or the call to respond?

The last part of this reading that always strikes me is the reflection on Mary and how she "kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart." As a mother, I often think about all the times I was with my children and how I would take in every moment and hold it in my heart. Can you imagine what Mary must have been thinking? While she knew that this baby, her baby, was God's Son, did she have any idea of the magnitude of her motherhood? What must have her reaction been when the shepherds appeared, being told to come by a choir of heavenly hosts? Now we must ask ourselves, what do we hold in the depths of our heart? How do we reflect on the Presence of Christ who dwells there?

Luke's Gospel reminds us that like the shepherds, we are not to keep the glory of the message to ourselves, but must proclaim it! We cannot be afraid of offending someone or worried about being 'politically correct.' The message of salvation was meant for all who have ears! When we have had an encounter with the Living God, we must tell the world! That is our mission as disciples of the Living God--Jesus who lives in our midst! God will give us the strength, courage, and zeal to do the mission if we but open our hearts to the encounter. Amen!