Thursday, August 30, 2012

Be Doers of the Word

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Dt 4:1-2, 6-8/Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27/Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

My Father almost lost his life to pneumonia last April. Through grit, determination, and a lot of prayer, he pulled through. The illness has not left its scars, however. Still healing, his memory isn't what it used to be and his gait isn't as quick, but his resolve is pulling him through each day. If you ask him how he is, he will tell you, "Well, I got up it's good."

My sister and I have walked with him through this whole experience. We are grateful for the care received, but I cannot help but notice something very disturbing as time has passed. His recovery is typical for someone his age--which is the problem. Medical personnel, after seeing the diagnosis of memory loss, treat him as if he isn't in the room. They talk to my sister and I, but do not look at or address him. It is as if we have a child in the room that has little to no ability to comprehend. Nothing could be further from the truth. In exasperation he finally asked the nurse during a recent visit, "Why is everyone treating me as if I am not here?"

My heart breaks to see my Dad, who was the strength and foundation of my childhood, weakened. It hurts even more to see him being treated as if he has been discarded by society--unworthy of even the dignity of recognition.

In a way, though, isn't that what we do to Jesus, too?

Moses speaks in the first reading of the great nation of Israel, whose foundation is the laws and decrees of their Creator, and whose greatness is due to Him alone. James reminds us that we must "Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves." We can claim nothing of our power, success, or esteem--it is all due to God and the graces He has showered down upon us. We are not here to lord over, but rather, to humbly serve in love and charity, just as Jesus showed us.

We so often complain about society, the media, and all the other ills of our times that seem to be dragging our society down. Problem is, it isn't what's out in the culture that is destroying us, but rather, the lack of virtues flowing from within that allows us to live lives of sin that destroy the very fiber of our humanity.

I shudder to think of what is to come if our worth is calculated by what we can do and not who we are--children of God. If we cannot see each other with the beauty the God created us in; if we cannot show compassion to those who are struggling; if we cannot acknowledge a sorrowful soul, then we have become hardened hypocrites. We complain and point fingers without taking responsibility; we judge and toss aside without considering the gift of another.

We have a responsibility to all of humanity--not solely those who are productive and capable, but the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable. Jesus is in our midst--but do we recognize Him? Jesus is also in our hearts--do we take time to search Him out? Or do we treat him, like so many professionals seem to be treating my Dad, like an insignificant being who has outlived his usefulness?

St. James' words are clear--what is at stake is the salvation of our souls. "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

Let us contemplate how we humbly allow the Word of God to settle into our heart and transforming us so we may be living examples of Christ in our midst, lifting up and drawing all to the Savior who loves us so.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Urgency of Sharing the Good News

St. Therese at the Carmel in Lisieux
As I write this I am on the plane returning from a trip with my family to Germany and France. While there we had the opportunity to visit many beautiful cathedrals, basilicas, and churches. The trip also included a visit to Lisiuex, childhood home and site of the cloister of St. Therese of Lisieux. We attended Mass with people from all over the world and observed faithful coming to walk in the footsteps of saints.

I could not help, however, to notice the throngs of people who visited the grand cathedrals, walking by statues, mosaics, and murals, admiring the art and architecture of man's creative mind. It was as if they were in a museum.

We attended Mass on the Feast of the Assumption in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. As we worshipped, tourists strolled around the gathered faithful, snapping photos of the consecration and worshippers as if we were on display.

The priest, in his homily, spoke of Mary as disciple and evangelist and how we are called to evangelize, yet he did not invite those passing through to join us. Tour guides in Lisiuex told visitors of the life of Therese and how she entered the convent at 15, but spoke little of her relationship with the Lord and how, through His love she was transformed.

The sites were filled with beautiful art and yes, we very much enjoyed the craftsmanship of the artists, architects, and builders, but I could not help but be a bit sad as well. Not once were we invited into relationship with the same Lord who spoke to the great saints whose sites we visited. Not once was the name of Jesus proclaimed as the one who has the power to radically changes lives and worlds.

If the Gospel message is to have any effect, then we must be willing to share the Good News. These cathedrals and basilicas are erected giving glory to God. In their majesty they are witnesses to the power Christ can have in the lives of human beings just like us. Saints are not perfect, but they were open to God in profound ways and are examples to us of the extraordinary life we too can experience when we open ourselves up to the grace and the transforming power of Christ.

In Notre Dame a banner hung in honor of the Year of Faith. On it appeared an image of St. Therese of Lisiuex and her quote: "It is confidence, and confidence alone, that I give my Love." In many ways, the message of St. Faustina is the same, "Jesus, I trust in you." Both are modern day saints with a clear message: faith in Jesus Christ must be the cornerstone of our life. This kind of faith is deep and complete--it is unconditional. It is with full confidence that these believers gave their lives to the Lord and it was with their complete selves that they lived their lives for Him.

These great saints are not just historical figures. Their writings are not just good reads. Their monuments are not just showcases of art. These saints are people to whom we are called to imitate, as they imitated Christ. They are teachers, who through their lives offer us the path that leads to Jesus. But most of all, they are our friends, who in the intimacy of relationship, love us enough to open themselves up to us, so that we may walk with them as we learn how to find Jesus alive in our own lives. They are mentors who assure us that through great suffering comes great joy and that life in Christ is always the path to true happiness, joy, and contentment, not only in this life but for all eternity.

As Catholics we are blessed to have so many who have walked the path of sainthood, acting as beacons for us as we, led by the Spirit, grow in discipleship. These holy men and women plumbed the depths and found Christ, who transformed them. They invite us, too, to resist the temptation of just "skimming the surface" of our faith, calling us to discover the richness of life lived in and for Jesus. When we do, we will discover life to the full.

Friday, August 3, 2012

What Can You Do?

Adoration Chapel,
National Shrine of the Little Flower,
Royal Oak, Michigan
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ex 16:2-4, 12-15/Eph 4:17, 20-24/Jn 6:24-35

We live in a society of high-tech. There is an app for just about everything imaginable. Our cell phones, notebooks, and laptops make us available 24/7. Social networking and the Internet makes us privvy to information about other people, sometimes I think to the point of voyerism. We know more about each other than ever before. Googling is a verb and surfing nowadays has little to do with water. Think about it--for all the technology that allows us to be informed and communicate, we are little better off than in the days of smoke signals and carrier pigeons. We still have a hard time opening up and having meaninful relationships.

If you don't believe me, check out the divorce rate, surveys about satisfaction in the workplace, and  the multitude of reality shows. All prove we can be a pretty sorry lot. What will it take to bring us together? That is truly what God wants for us--unity with each other and with Him.

Jesus offers that--not only in His life, death, and resurrection, but through the lasting gift of the Eucharist. Through His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity offered at Mass, the Eucharist is the connection not only to God through Christ, but also unites us to all those who receive, who have received, and who will receive. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that the Eucharist is the "source and summit of the Christian life" (CCC, 1324). Through the Power of the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist is truly communion, drawing all as one.

That's why John's Gospel is so telling. We, like those gathered around Jesus, are still asking, "What can you do (for me)? When we contemplate the magnitude of the gift Christ has given, I cannot help but think we should, rather, fall on our knees in humility and grateful praise. How many do we know who would lay down their life for us? For me?

As we meditate on the precious gift of the Eucharist, let us, like St. Paul, put away our former self and put on the new self.. Let us allow Christ to live through us so that we may be the image of Christ--His love, mercy, and forgiveness, building relationships that draw all into one. Communion is just that--a unity of heart, mind, and soul so that we, as a people, reflect Christ and thus, through His saving Power, invite others to know Him in profound ways.