Friday, July 27, 2012

God's Little Angels

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
2Kgs 4:42-44/Eph 4:1-6/Jn 6:1-15

Part of the glory of God is that no matter how many times you hear Scripture proclaimed, the message is as new as the first time you heard it. This especially rings true with John's Gospel story of the fishes and the loaves.

As I was walking out of Mass this morning, one of our resident homeless approached me. Diane has been on the streets for over 10 years. She is in her 50's or 60's--it's hard to tell. While some faithful get their inspiration through visions and locutions, God has a sense of humor with me. Somehow He sends me signs through an interesting collection of people. I believe that He has sent Diane to me in a profound way.

I have had a lot on my mind lately. Do you ever have times in your life when you can't imagine one more thing being turned upside down? That's where I am right now. I was walking into Mass running through all life's trials and tribulations, when Diane approached asking if I could spare some change for coffee. I promised her I would stop after Mass to help her out.

After a very prayerful Liturgy, I found Diane waiting for me in the vestibule. I apologized for not being able to give her more than the dollar I had on me. "That's okay" she replied. "I have something for you."

From her pocket she pulled out a small metal relief of St. Therese of Lisieux that included a piece of cloth which had been touched to one of the Little Flower's relics. On the back it had St. Therese's promise to us: “I will let fall of shower of roses. I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.”

"Someone gave this to me but I want you to have it. I know that you need it. I am really happy, you know. I stay here in the Church and pray and read my Bible. I get along okay and I love you. God loves you, too." She gave me a hug as I took the gift.

As I walked out to my car, I broke down. Diane has nothing. No job; little education. No transportation save walking or buses when she can get the fare. No family to care for her. She lives in a flea bag motel when she can scrape together enough from begging for a room--other than that she lives on the streets. Diane grocery shops at local gas stations and wears the same tattered clothes winter, spring, summer, and fall. She has suffered abuse from being on the streets and her health is getting fragile. She lives solely off of the kindness of others. Despite all this, she is concerned about my welfare and always reminds me how much I am loved.

St. Therese is a special saint to me for many reasons: her struggles of faith, the spirituality of her Little Way, and so much more. I pray for her intercession frequently and had been asking for her guidance and light, as recently as last night. In a very special way, I believe Therese sent Diane to me this morning to let me know my prayers were heard. God is good.

When we hear John’s Gospel of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes, we may be drawn to all of the theological implications and understandings. It contains the foreshadowing of the Eucharist, a foundation for His teachings on God's generosity, and much more. Today, that reading speaks to me in a very profound way through Diane.

Diane has very little, yet her presence has made a huge impact on me. She has taken the five loaves and two fishes and through her presence--begging from us to be fed, feeds us in a multitude of ways as she reminds us to love all, embrace all, and remind all of how much God loves us. The Gospel lives in her and is proclaimed by her in all its simplicity and awesomeness. She is God's evangelist, for sure.

I have the small metallic relief of St. Therese in my car, tucked in my visor. She is watching over me as I travel about, and the relic will remind me that I have powerful intercessors both in heaven and here, on earth. As I said earlier, God is good. He reminds us of that in the simplest and most profound ways--through the glory of Scripture and the Liturgy, the Sacraments, and the special angels he sends to us each and every day.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

His Heart was Moved with Pity

16th Sunday in Ordinary TimeJer 23:1-6/Eph 2:13-18/Mk 6:30

The summer movie season is filled with super-hero movies. I love superhero movies. There are good guys and bad guys. Good triumphs over evil. Whether it is Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, or any of the others, they are symbols of hope against a world full of evil and despair. I admit I anticipate each of the premiers--and have seen some twice. I think it is especially prophetic that we have had a summer filled with such movies--with Superman coming next year. Movies are indicators of our times. People are desperate for a hero--someone who will give them hope.

In reading the papers over the last week, we see what living without hope does to people. There was the massacre in Aurora, Colorado--a bright young man who wreaks havoc, violence, and death. Why? In Detroit, child suicides are at an all-time high--with a 9-year-old just recently jumping to his death because he had stolen from a dollar store and was afraid of what his parents were going to do. How sad. These, too, are signs of the times. To me this speaks volumes of a society who does not have hope. We need a super-hero to come and save us!

Today's Gospel has the answer. The vast crowds that follow Jesus and His disciples, hungry for the miracles they bring. As news of the wonders spread, more and more congregate--to the point that Jesus and His disciples cannot get any rest. You would think this would bring Jesus great joy--yet--Scriptures tell us, "When He disembarked and saw the vast crowd, His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things" (Mk 6:34).

How like we are the people of the Gospel, clamoring after Jesus? In Him they see their "superhero" but many of them are fickle. The minute Jesus does not meet their demands, they will leave--or worse yet--crucify Him. We are no better. We are constantly looking for the "rockstar" to hang on to--whether the latest Hollywood idol, presidential hopeful, fitness or weight-loss guru, or financial wizard. It seems we are always chasing after something or someone to bring us the rush of exuberance and joy--yet we are not satisfied.While our family brings us great joy--even they cannot promise eternal joy and peace. Who then, can triumph over evil? Who can free us from the chains that hold us back from true joy and happiness? Who can give us hope?

Only Jesus can. He knows that--yet He watches us strive for instant gratification and the 'quick fix' kind of happiness that doesn't last. He knows what we need-- but He loves us enough to let us freely come to Him---for it must be our free-will choice to give ourselves completely over to Him.

There is a painting by Russian artist Ivan Kramskoy of Jesus in the dessert during Satan's temptations. He has a look that is haunting--a look that I am reminded of when I read Mark's Gospel passage and ponder Jesus being moved with pity as He gazed upon the crowds. Any parent knows the feeling--the one when you are trying to get a point across to a stubborn adolescent or young adult child who is intent on doing things 'their way.' You know the path they are choosing is not sound--but out of love--you let them go, knowing you will be there to lift them up and bandage their wounds once they have learned the lesson the hard way.

I know how exasperating that can be and can only imagine how much more it is for Jesus, who sees a much bigger picture, for I am not only a parent, but I was that child. Thank God for His Divine Love and Mercy--picking us up and holding us close--each and every time we stumble, fall, cry out to Him, and beg forgiveness. That is the message of hope as we struggle to find everlasting happiness, which can only be found when we are in union with God, our Creator. We are never so lost that Jesus cannot find us--but if we live by His teachings which lead to holiness and virtue, how more joyful all of life--including the struggles--will be!

Pope Benedict reflects on this in his Encyclical Letter, Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope), noting: "Life in its true sense is not something we have exclusively in or from ourselves: it is a relationship. And life in its totality is a relationship with Him who is the source of life. If we are in relation with Him who does not die, who is Life itself and Love itself, then we are in life. Then we “live”" (SS, 27).

While we may not have Batman or Superman or the myriad of other superheros to rely on, we have Jesus. Not only that, we can be the image of the superhero who triumphed over sin and death--the one who gives hope and brings peace. Let us be that image of Jesus so that others may know Him too. This week, contemplate how to extend His Love and Mercy to others, thus spreading His Gospel message so future headlines and newsreports will be those of joy and not violence.

Let us live as a people of hope so as to be a beacon of light, leading all to Christ!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

God Gives Us What We Need

15th Sunday in Ordinary TimeAm 7:12-15/Eph 1:3-14/Mk 6:7-12

The readings today require us to trust fully in the Divine Power of God to give us everything we need. That should be pretty easy, shouldn't it? God, in His Almighty Power, created everything. We, His creatures, cannot. God, whose Power sent His only Son out of love for us, shows us the magnitude of that love by laying His life down for ours, saving us from eternal separation from that Infinite Love. We, His creatures, cannot get through a single day without ruffling someone's feathers or getting irritated by another's foibles.

We are a pretty sorry lot, when you think about it aren't we? Why then, would God, in His Infinite Wisdom, depend on us to carry on His Church? Because He trusts us! When you think about it, that is pretty amazing.

In Mark's Gospel, Jesus assembles the Apostles and sends them out two by two. He tells them to take nothing with them save the clothes on their back and the sandals on their feet. That is the equivalent today of telling us we can't take anything on the road for this task. This means no cell phones, laptops, (or any other electronic devices), extra outfits (just in case the weather turns or we want to go out for a night on the town), or snacks and beverages to keep us fueled. What was Jesus thinking?
Not to mention the fact that Jesus was sending them out among wolves (Mt 10:16-23), knew they would be called names (Mt 16:24-33), and that people most likely reject them and their message (Mt 10:7-15). Who, in their right mind, would sign up for this gig? The great saint Teresa of Avila noted in reference to doing the Will of God that, "If this is the way you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few!"

The pearl of great price, however, is the Heavenly Kingdom and eternal life with God. The Apostles knew this. So did all those who were transformed by the Power of the Gospel Message. But we still have to ask ourselves, why would Jesus send these men out into a world that He knew would reject, persecute, and even kill them, all in His Name? Isn't that a bit unfair?

Not really. Jesus knows us. In our human state, we want everything handed to us--but isn't it all the sweeter when we have to struggle for something? We are a stubborn lot and in order for us to change, Jesus knew things couldn't be easy. Our own will had to be broken in order for us to turn, humbly and with open hearts and hands, to Him. Only then would we listen and obey. If anyone has ever parented with a toddler through the 'terrible twos', you know what I am talking about!

There are three things I think Jesus was asking of us when He sent the Twelve forth with so little. First, He wanted the Twelve to trust in Him. The fact is, we cannot do anything without God. We cannot create, we cannot save ourselves. God will take care of us. He also created us in His image and likeness. If God can trust us to carry out the task of evangelization, despite our faults and sins, then should we be able to trust in Him who is perfect? This also requires us to trust others. Those who are filled with the love of Christ will be transformed by, through, and into the Love, Mercy, Compassion, and Forgiveness of God. They will receive, welcome, support, and tend to us on the journey.

Second, His desire was for all to be saved--not just a chosen few. Now, being God, He could have waved a wand at the Cross and for all time released us from sin and death--no response from us required--but He didn't. Instead, He gave us hope that through Life in Him, our faith would transform us. This would allow us to grow, leading down the path of virtue and holiness that truly saves. It is only when our eyes are opened, our hearts be softened, and our minds are willing to allow God's will to form us that we may be one with Him. Once we have "seen the light," the Spirit fills us with the words to bend the stiff necks and soften the hard hearts. We love differently and see our brothers and sisters differently. This new vision of relationship is inviting and will draw others to Him. This leads to my third point.

Jesus gives us everything we need to proclaim the Gospel Message with an ardor, zeal, and conviction that will call others to conversion. How? Through the Power of the Holy Spirit--His breath and spirit of Love that flows between Father and Son and all who believe. We are animated by the very Spirit breathed out by Christ on the Cross and delivered to those gathered on Pentecost. We receive this same Spirit in baptism. When Christ lives in us, others 'see' Him, too and come to know, love, and serve Him.

Is sharing the Gospel easy? No--in fact it takes great love and a thick skin to do so--but those that do experience a joy and energy that is indescribable. This powers us onward. The urgency of the message also propels us forward as we see the world suffering and know that Christ is the answer to their pain, captivity, and anguish.

I want to end this reflection with one of my favorite prayers--the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila. She is an inspiration to all who evangelize for she suffered greatly in her efforts to proclaim the Gospel and reform the Carmelite Order, yet her great trust in God and sense of humor kept her always moving forward. Let us pray:
"Let nothing disturb thee; let nothing dismay thee; all thing pass; God never changes. Patience attains all that it strives for. He who has God finds he lacks nothing: God alone suffices.”


Sunday, July 8, 2012

When I am Weak, I am Strong

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ez 2:2-5/2Cor 12:7-10/Mk 6:1-6a

The readings over the next several weeks speak to discipleship--not only what it takes to be a disciple of Christ, but also, I think the readings prepare us for the response that we often will receive. Why do I say that? Being a disciple of Jesus calls us to be counter-cultural. In short, to go against the flow; to play 'outside the box'; to march to our own drum; to not be afraid that we aren't 'just like everyone else.' All this is a bit amusing to me, since we live in a society where being an individual who can think and act--be independent--is greatly prized. That is, until my 'independence' infringes on yours. In short, it is human nature (tracing all the way back to Adam and Eve) that no one likes someone else telling them how to think, act, or behave.

With Jesus, however, we never have to worry about that. When we give our life to Christ, He frees us. This seems like a contradictory statement. How can Jesus free us when He (and His Church) are constantly laying down 'rules'? The simple fact is that when we love someone deeply, we will do whatever we can to please them, making sure that our every action works towards strengthening and deepening that relationship. When our focus is so sharp, the distractions and opinions of others or outsiders become diminished. Funny thing about loving Jesus is that the more we love Him, the more we understand that we are called to love others--that is the fruit that is borne out of that relationship. Another contradiction for if we fall madly in love, our relationship with Jesus propels us out towards others--it is not a selfish relationship that makes us give up all others.

When you talk to people who are deeply religious--in a mystical and deep union with the Father, through the Son, and led by the Spirit--they are very peaceful, content, and filled with joy. Not that they do not suffer the same misfortunes, obstacles, and pitfalls all of us do, but somehow, they cope better, see things 'differently', and are able to anchor themselves most steadfastly to Christ and not to the passing fancies of the world around them. The less they have, the more generous of heart they are. Again--more contradictions--but all of this brings great freedom.

That is what St. Paul, I think, is referring to when he notes that, "I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong." He knows most assuredly that Jesus is with Him always and will never abandon Him. His Spirit breaths in and out of him as sure as the breaths he takes. This confidence brings about a zeal and urgency to share the Gospel so that others may know Jesus, too and thus share in this joy.

Here's the rub, however. Just as Mark's Gospel notes, oftentimes those closest to us are the most difficult to talk to about the faith. Rather than seeing Christ speaking through us, they see their parent, spouse, relative, or friend, with all of our warts and faults. The call to transformation and leaving of old lifestyles and habits may sound more like convictions than invitations and hence, rather than turning towards Christ, they commit the very 'sin' they accuse the proclaimer of--judgment.

This is where the role of disciple gets difficult. It's easy to be a disciple of Jesus when everyone loves Him and life is good--but when challenges arise, when we have to stand for Truth and trust in Jesus rather than appease another--that is when we must hang on. That is when we must turn to the Lord and with all humility beg for the grace to be strong, to love others all the more, and not let go.

As disciples, we must cling to Christ. Whether people listen or not, that is their choice--but it is our vocation to proclaim the Good News of salvation with love, joy, conviction, and compassion. The words of the Lord to the prophet Ezekiel are as true today as when written long ago: "Thus says the Lord God! And whether they heed or resist--for they are a rebellious house--they shall know that a prophet has been among them."

St. Faustina Kowalska, in her conversations with Jesus on Divine Mercy, connects the importance of trusting Jesus and the graces and freedom that flows from such complete giving over the Him. She writes as the Lord instructed her:

Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity. The torrents of grace inundate humble souls. The proud remain always in poverty and misery, because My grace turns away from them to humble souls (1602). Entrust everything to Me and do nothing on your own, and you will always have great freedom of spirit. No circumstances of events will be able to upset you (1685).

That, sisters and brothers, is true freedom. Let us proclaim this so that all may dwell in the freedom, love, joy, and peace of Christ!